I Have to Disagree with Joel Block about Half of His Article on the CDP Convention

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Bauman’s Brow, detail from pic illustrating May 21st LA Times story on outcome of CDP Chair’s race.

It’s so nice to disagree with someone whom I like, because it shows that not all disagreement has to be disagreeable.  So it is with former 72nd A.D. candidate Joel Block, a real mensch (which is a good thing) and fellow target of ravenous attention vampire Lenore “7 Votes” Albert.  Block yesterday published a provocative piece in the excellent Voice of OC entitled Coup in the California Democratic Party?  Good question!  The answer is sort of yes, sort of no — but not for most of the reasons that Block concludes that the answer is mostly “yes.”

Block is right that the CDP Chair’s race is critically important and he’s correct as far as describing the outcome of the race through the end of Saturday, May 20. where Eric Bauman was reported (or reportedly reported) to have defeated Kimberly Ellis by 62 votes.  It’s after that that he goes a bit awry, misconstruing the nature of what is — for the moment, anyway — a successful “auto-coup.”

Block writes that “Party officials, by action and inaction, have secretly and unlawfully proceeded on their own to resolve the Chair election dispute.”  “Secretly” at times, yes — though I’d use the word “confidentially” — but in my opinion not unlawfully.

Block argues that “there is to be complete transparency in Party official business, including elections, according to the California Election Code, the Democratic National Committee Charter, the California Party’s Bylaws & Rules, its Rules Committee Policy Statement on open meetings, and the Convention Rules.”  I won’t quibble with the term “complete transparency” here or with the applicability of all of the above sources of rules to what he finds objectionable, but I think that he misconstrues the term “official business.”

Yes, the election itself has to be transparent — for reasons now being driven home — but not all ancillary executive (rather than legislative) actions do.  If the Chair perceives a conflict between two candidates in a close race that has the potential not only to rive the party but to invite legislation, then I think that the Chair can try to reach at least a temporary truce between those parties.  This is a negotiation, problem-solving, not the proper subject for a vote.  If it succeeds in even temporarily producing a modus vivendi, that’s great.  So long as that result does not violate the Bylaws that is part of what a Chair is supposed to do.

Block then loads up his bullet points and identifies a series of “unlawful actions and inactions [that] have taken place in the aftermath of the close election vote.”  I’ll number them for convenience, and because I like numbering things, and offer an opinion on the impropriety of each.

(1) The Congratulatory Tweet

So this happened:

There’s a reason that revolutionaries in a coup take over the radio and television stations, and this is a good example of it: to declare victory and lead the “enemy” to give up and go home.  But there are mitigating factors here.  Bauman had declared victory and — incredibly — those on the stage of Kimberly Ellis’s “Victory Party” had bought it entirely and were declaring moral victory.  (Neither Ellis or her closest advisors were present at the moment.)  The party is supposed to congratulate the victor, and at that moment it might have been excusable to think that Bauman was the undisputed victor.  It was simply inaccurate.  The problem is not so much that this tweet was sent — though it would be nice to know who ordered it, wouldn’t it? — but that when it became clear not so long afterwards that the result was actually in dispute it remained “policy.”

Coup Verdict: Slightly coup-y, later becoming somewhat coup-y

(2) Secret meetings

I’m taking this one someone out of order as to proceed chronologically.

“Secret meetings were held by unidentified Party officials, Campaign representatives and unknown staff to negotiate and determine how to proceed to resolve the disputed close election. No notice to Convention delegates was given.”

Just one “secret meeting” took place, between Ellis, Bauman, then-Chair John Burton, and some other party staff to address Ellis’s complaint regarding reports of election irregularities and her demand to hit the pause button on calling a winner in the election.  Ellis got some of what she wanted — expedited review of the ballots and ancillary materials — but not all.  However, what she got was enough to allow her to provide the basis of a challenge to the election result, which she did within the seven-day deadline.  The Convention delegates were actually notified by Burton, as negotiations pushed back the opening of the Sunday morning session, but there was nothing for convention delegates to do there because a legislative assembly is not appropriate to mediate a dispute.  Secrecy could have been a problem, especially if it led to a quid pro quo resolution, but it didn’t.  The actions were appropriate.

Coup Verdict:  Not very coup-y.

(3) No announcement of winner

“No official body of the Party or Convention ever announced Bauman’s alleged election victory- not the Rules Committee (which supposedly conducted the election), the Executive Committee (the governing body of the Party when the Convention is not in session), nor any other standing Committee of the Party.”

To the extent that the result of the election was in dispute, this was appropriate.  The victory could not be announced because it hadn’t officially — and still hasn’t officially — happened.  Making such an announcement would have been part of a coup; not making one was the opposite of one.

Coup Verdict:  Not coup-y

(4) No report of totals of the races

“No official report of the election vote totals was ever made to the Convention delegates for their consideration and approval.  This was not only true for the Chair election, but for all the Statewide officer elections.”

I’m not even sure that this is true; I know that I had seen what looked like official sheets of numbers on Sunday morning.  The problem may have been with their dissemination to delegates.  Not providing the numbers in races that were clearly determined (Male Vice-Chair, Treasurer) was weird and a departure from what I remember as precedent, but not necessarily indicative of a coup.  But: weird.  It might lead one to suppose that the election had been cancelled, which would be an extreme indicator of a coup.

Coup Verdict:  Semi-coup-y

(5) Allegations of election irregularities kept secret

“Allegations of election irregularities were kept secret and not reported to the Convention Delegates for their consideration and action concerning how to proceed to resolve the allegations.”

Expecting the Ellis campaign to have a fully baked allegation of exactly what election irregularities had existed, when rumors had been flying around and most of the people who could testify to their experiences were still asleep, is pretty unreasonable.  And how to resolve the allegations is indicated in the Bylaws and is not a proper subject for a legislative vote.  Yes, this may be characteristic of a coup, but it is also characteristic of elections that end less than conclusively only a handful of waking hours before their results are customarily revealed.

Coup Verdict:  A little coup-y

(6) Secret Agreement for Resolving Dispute

“A secret agreement by undisclosed parties, presumably the Campaigns and Party officials, was arranged to resolve the Chair election by way of an “Audit” or “Inspection of the Ballots” [The Campaigns differ on the the label for the process they agreed upon.]”

“Inspection of the ballots” is a right of every State Central Committee member, as I recall.  The only issues at hard were the likes of these: how quickly it would happen (quickly!); who could attend (what you’d expect); and what scope of materials to be examined (not merely ballots, but also ancillary materials  supporting their legitimacy and validity.)  These are executive rather than legislative decisions.  Abusive and unfair executive decisions could well have come before the body for resolution, but if neither party objects to them they would presumptively not be abusive or unfair.  Yes, it could be indicative of a coup if collusive towards some nefarious end, but there was no reason to think that it was.

Coup Verdict:  Not particularly coup-y

(7) Terms of Agreement for Resolving Dispute

“The terms of the agreement, including the scope of the “Audit/Inspection of Ballots” and who was to conduct the “Audit/Inspection of Ballots,” was never reported to Convention delegates for consideration and ratification or rejection.”

Same reasoning as above.  A right expressed the Bylaws, non-collusive, didn’t have to be reported, executive rather than legislative action.  If someone had  wanted to bring these issues to the body but was rebuffed, at that point you’d have some coup potential.

Coup Verdict:  Not even generally coup-y

(8) Secret Meeting Not Authorized

“No vote to authorize secret meetings to resolve the Chair election was ever submitted to, or authorized by, the Convention delegates.  Even if secret meetings had been proposed, they would have been illegal.  Party rules specify only 5 authorized exceptions from the Party’s Open Meeting Mandate:  matters involving personnel, contract, litigation, campaign strategy and Member discipline.”

This is the crux of the problem.  The negotiation as to how to resolve an evident difference between the parties was not something that needed to be “authorized”; so long as the Bylaws were not being betrayed, it was an administrative or executive action.  All sorts of disputes among staff and among interested parties are handled informally without coming before the legislature.

Coup Verdict:  Not hardly coup-y

(9) Announcement of Bauman as Chair

“On Sunday, May 21 near the end of the Convention, despite the fact no official action on the election had been taken by the Convention or any other official body of the Party, outgoing Chair John Burton announced to the delegates that Bauman was the new Chair.”

There’s your problem, right there!  If there was an election dispute, then the announcement of a permanent Chair should have been postponed.  And, if this was going to happen, then all of the things that Block says should have happened beforehand really should have happened.  What is unclear is why Block thinks that Ellis, as a participant in the “secret meeting,” is at all implicated in this event.  Does anyone really think that she wanted this to happen?  (She didn’t; she just couldn’t stop it.)  From the outside, it looks like she made a decision to accept a process that gave her what she was entitled to on favorable terms, because she knew that either Burton or Bauman would block any parliamentary attempt to prevent Burton or someone else to declare Bauman to be Chair.

Coup Verdict:  Highly coup-y

(10) Burton saying that Ellis agreed to process

“Burton also told the Convention delegates that he spoke for Candidate Ellis and that she had agreed to a process to resolve the election dispute.  [As stated above, all aspects of the negotiation and terms of the “Audit/Inspection of the Ballots” were secret. Ellis never appeared at the Convention Sunday.]  Burton never put approval of the “Audit/Inspection of the Ballots” to the vote of the Convention delegates.”

This one is tricky.  Burton did fairly “speak for Ellis” when he said that an Audit/Inspection would take place; he did not do so when he said that Bauman  was now Chair.  Had Ellis wanted to mount a floor challenge to the results — with hostile forces controlling the Chair and obviously being willing to abuse the power of the role — should could have, but perhaps at the risk of not getting an expeditious and capacious review process.  That, frankly, was her call, not the body’s.

Coup Verdict:  Not that coup-y

(11) Chair Blocking motions regarding results

“When numerous attempts were made by Delegates on the Floor to demand an official report of the votes, to demand a recount and to otherwise challenge the unlawful determination of Bauman as the winner, Chair Burton ruled them all out of order and refused to carry out a successful floor appeal of his ruling.”

Three proposed motions; three different reactions.

  1. “Demanding a recount” would have done nothing and was far inferior to the more substantial review that Ellis had negotiated.
  2. “Demanding an official report of the votes” was not a problem if no permanent Chair would be seated that day,
  3. “Unlawfully determining Bauman as the winner” was a very bad problem.

Ruling lawful motions out of order — and at least a challenge to the last one should have survived scrutiny — is bad.  Refusing to honor a successful appeal is very bad.  Honestly, everything on that item (if not the whole balance of the meeting, which would be very unfortunate) after that point should be voided by the Executive Board.  (This will not happen, though, so long as Bauman’s coup remains successful.)

Coup Verdict:  Pretty darned coup-y

(12) Unilaterally Hiring Maviglio

“Also that Sunday, May 21, even before the “Audit/Inspection of Ballots” began, and with no official report of vote totals, plus no official approval of the election by the Convention, Baumann apparently hired consultant Steven Maviglio as his new Party spokesperson.”

Hoo-boy.  Well — at least it blew up in Bauman’s face!  If Bauman is/were legitimately Chair, I suppose that he could do this unilaterally.  But if he isn’t, then what the heck makes him think that he’s authorized to spend CDP funds?

Coup Verdict:  Spectacularly coup-y

(13) Chairing a Party Meeting

“The next day, Monday, May 22 Bauman again acted as Party Chair to conduct a meeting of Party Officers and staff, despite no advance notice of the meeting and its agenda.”

Yeah, whatever happened in that meeting is suspect if the Bylaws don’t legitimately make him the Chair at this point.  But this sort of meeting is executive/administrative rather than legislative, so one would not expect notice and an agenda.  It’s just a Chair doing Chair work — if he were Chair.

Coup Verdict:  Mundanely coup-y

(14) Ballot Inspections Begin

“On Tuesday, May 23, again without notice of the meeting or the procedures to be followed, the ‘Audit/Inspection of Ballots’ began.”

This is probably fine because it’s actually the execution of an administrative or executive decision issued under the previous Chair, John Burton.  And, again, it’s not a legislative sort of meeting.

Coup Verdict:  Just not really coup-y

(15) Reporting of Ballots

“No reports of the ballots counted, vote totals, or any other information has been disclosed as counting has continued.  The Party tweeted last Thursday, May 25, that counting would continue Tuesday, May 30.”

The notion that determining matters such as these should be a legislative rather than and executive or an administrative prerogative is absurd.  This is exactly the sort of thing that Staff or the Chair should decide so long as it is not an abuse of their authority.  The notion that Bauman himself should be involved in such decisions, though, is a great example of a reason that he should NOT be considered Chair at this moment.  That’s truly absurd.

Coup Verdict:  Not itself coup-y, but the consequence of a coup

Block concludes with a paragraph that is only off by a little bit, but that bit — italicized here — really matters:

A political coup does not necessarily involve violence.  It always involves a conspiracy to determine the leader without lawful process.  It happened at the Democratic Party Convention. It is still happening.

Nah, a coup doesn’t by definition always have to involve a conspiracy.  It can be just a flat-out use of force — Ugg Clubs Ogg and Takes Crown — by as few as one solitary individual.  It’s the “determining the leader without lawful process” part that is determinative.

Most of what Bauman takes to be evidence of a coup is not one.  It’s Bauman taking control from Burton when, in this sort of ballot dispute, I and many others read the CDP Bylaws as saying that THE ELECTION FOR CHAIR IS NOT YET SETTLED that is the problem.  And just imagine the sorts of trouble that Bauman could be asking for if and when he starts — make that “continues” — spending the organization’s money with what he should KNOW is not official authorization to do so.

I’m not a fan of Eric Bauman, and I didn’t vote for him for Chair, but I would never wish for him what he might have coming if he continues to usurp a position that is not yet — and perhaps never will be — his.

Coup Final Verdict:  Not much of a coup, but much more than enough

“Hubris,” Bauman — hubris.  It’s the paramount character flaw of classical tragedy — and potentially also of yours.  Follow the damn rules before they rise off of the pages of the Bylaws to bind you.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)