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Longtime Anaheim Latino Activist and head of Los Amigos Dr. Jose Moreno spoke yesterday at the Democratic Party of Orange County meeting, which was a little unusual because even as a Latino leader he has long refused to join the Democratic Party. And then this happened.
Believe it or not (and you should, because it’s true), I had no advance information that this was coming. When Jose said that he was going to make an announcement, I fired up my phone and was startled to find myself documenting some real news. Like several other Democrats in the county party, I’ve spoken to Dr. Moreno numerous times about joining the party — not in the pro forma “hey, when you gonna become a Democrat?” way that some have done, but in a more challenging and incisive way. Jose has always had considered, and not entirely gentle, reasons for his disappointment in the party — some of which I have had to concede even which choosing a different path. To me, this change of heart was completely unexpected — although I think that I should have seen it coming, for reasons very different than others may think.
I think that his decision makes sense — and not because he’s completely abandoned his previous reasonable critiques. Nor, in my opinion, does it necessarily mean (as some seem to think) that he has decided to run for City Council this year rather than for reelection as a Member of the Anaheim City School Board.
Maybe he will run for City Council now, but I don’t think that that’s the basic reason for the change. (I think that his better chance to win is in 2016, if that matters.) A run for City Council this year would give him a better forum for which to campaign for District Elections — but that doesn’t require him to become a Democrat. He could distinguish himself quite well as the only non-Republican running among the leading candidates for City Council. (Donna Acevedo is a Democrat, but much less widely known than Dr. Moreno.)
Dr. Moreno explained his change in registration this way: the local Democratic Party has shown some life and new strength in its focus on oppressed communities. He mentioned the DPOC’s strong stance for District Elections — largely achieved through the work of Jeff LeTourneau, Gloria Alvarado, Carina Franck, and myself — and DPOC’s stance in favor of the LGBT marchers in Westminster’s Tet Parade, where LeTourneau, Alvarado, and Mike Kinslow spearheaded efforts. This is very gratifying for the reform caucus within the DPOC to hear — but, alas, we are presently out of power and our influence has been waning while that of Business Democrats has been rising. (Sorry to say so, Doc!)
I think that the reason that Dr. Moreno has decided to take a stand now is not because being a Democrat is politically useful to him in Anaheim; rather, it’s because, in Anaheim, the Democratic Party is where he can be politically useful. And figuring out where he can be useful is a consistent theme in Dr. Moreno’s career.
Anaheim politics, I think more than in any other place I’ve known, is divided into a 2×2 grid. You have both Republican and Democratic parties with some history of success, but each one right now is divided in two, between what I would call self-service and stewardship.
It’s not hard to find people to identify with each position within the Republican Party. Mayor Tom Tait has been the major (well, sole) proponent of wise stewardship on the City Council, putting the long-term interests of the public ahead of both personal and private gain. Former Mayor Curt Pringle, and his spokesbot on the City Council Kris Murray, have been the main proponents of pie-in-the-sky proposals that borrow enormous amounts of money to be repaid at a premium in the far future, promising dubious payoffs for the public today and tomorrow, that in fact only have a few guaranteed outcomes: the developers, construction contractors, and middlemen get rich. It’s this serving the business community and their agents (such as uber-lobbyist Pringle) vs. serving the public both now and in the long-term future that create the rift within Anaheim’s GOP.
The same split occurs within the Democratic Party in Anaheim. The insider party among Democrats — often called the “Business Democrats” faction, was once represented by Tom Daly, and is now represented on the City Council by Jordan Brandman. Both have had enough sway in the Council Chambers and among party regulars over the years that their positions have often, and often perversely, because known as the Democratic Party positions — because most party members from Fullerton, Irvine, Huntington Beach, and beyond have only the vaguest idea what is going on in Anaheim. (To this, I can personally attest.)
Anaheim has its share of reformers as well — Amin David, members of OCCORD and some from (the multipartisan) Los Amigos, and Joanne Sosa come to mind. I and other reform Democrats have spoken on these themes at the City Council, but we come from out of town. Many of those who have sounded like the strongest Democrats have been those who, like Dr. Moreno himself before Monday night, have rejected the local Democratic Party itself. And you’ll notice one theme here: none of these people have been on the Anaheim City Council. To find an actual reform Democrat who knows the way to the party headquarters in Anaheim’s elected office, you would have to go to the high school board, where Al Jabbar serves.
(I’d have liked to say that former Councilmember and Mayoral Candidate Lorri Galloway could be the Democrat on display in the Reformer box, but while she was good on police abuse of power issues in 2012 she has been almost entirely AWOL on the major good governance and economic stewardship issues of 2013 and 2014. She was on the right side of the GardenWalk Giveaway issue when last on the Council, but that’s quite a number of giveaways ago on which she’s had no comment — or at least shown no leadership. Her candidacy seems centered on the safe and misty issue of how Anaheim needs a female Mayor — something with which her opponent Lucille Kring would agree. Why Galloway has not been taking the lead in bringing this issues to Council has been a continuing mystery to me — and by now doing so may simply be too late.)
So this has left a major gap in Anaheim’s Democratic Party. It’s a leadership gap that Dr. Moreno can fill.
Mohandas Gandhi famously said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The change that Jose Moreno has wished to see in Anaheim starts with a more vibrant and functional reformist Democratic Party. And so he has decided to be the change he wishes to see — which means that now he has to be a Democrat.
I don’t know if one has to go an inch beyond this reason to explain Dr. Moreno’s new party affiliation: he’s needed, and he’s needed now. We Reform Democrats who are working on Anaheim economic stewardship issues have needed an eloquent moral force on our side to rally us from within our own party.
We needed one; now we have one. Whether ascends to City Council this year — or in 2016, as I suspect — he’s now ours. He’s the change we wish to see in Anaheim politics.