Democratic Establishment Targets the Left in Primaries (WOT)





Electrifying Democratic centrist Rep. Steny Hoyer!, the website of the PAC for PCCC, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (associated with Sen. Elizabeth Warren), wants your money — and, as the fair price of reposting their interesting fundraising pitch, here’s their link for you if you’re so inclined.  The first three paragraphs below are from yesterday’s bombshell report in The Intercept about a recording made of pressure tactics by Congress’s #2 Democrat, moderate -to-conservative Dem Steny Hoyer, to a progressive House Candidate to hound him out of the race:

Levi Tillemann, an author, inventor, and former official with the Obama administration’s Energy Department, moved back home to make a run against Coffman. He focused his campaign on clean elections, combating climate change, “Medicare for All,” free community college, and confronting economic inequality and monopoly power.

Another candidate for the nomination, Jason Crow, a corporate lawyer at the powerhouse Colorado firm Holland & Hart and an Army veteran, meanwhile, appeared to have the backing of the Democratic establishment, though it wasn’t explicit…

With Hoyer in Denver, Tillemann met the minority whip at the Hilton Denver Downtown to make the case that the party should stay neutral in the primary and that he had a more plausible path to victory than the same centrism that Coffman had already beaten repeatedly. Hoyer, however, had his own message he wanted to convey: Tillemann should drop out.

You should read the whole Intercept piece.  The PCCC pitch continues:

They’re also doing it in a swing Nebraska district with a May 15th primary. The DCCC opposes progressive hero Kara Eastman — who is running on Medicare For All and decided to run after her mom had cancer and was paying $2,500 per pill for treatment. They’re backing Brad Ashford — a former Republican and corporate “New Democrat” who opposes many abortion rights in a district Trump only won by 1 point.

They’re also doing it in a key Pennsylvania district with a May 15th primary. The Washington Post reported: “Greg Edwards, a pastor running for a newly drawn swing seat told The Washington Post that the DCCC had approached local Democrats to ask whether he could be persuaded to seek another office. “As far as I know, they only targeted one candidate to leave this race — the most progressive candidate, the only candidate of color,” Edwards said. Greg is also running on Medicare For All.

Here’s more from the Intercept report on Colorado: “So your position is, a decision was made very early on before voters had a say, and that’s fine because the DCCC knows better than the voters of the 6th Congressional District, and we should line up behind that candidate,” asked Tillemann during the conversation. “That’s certainly a consequence of our decision,” responded Hoyer.

In all of these districts, progressive ideas are popular and give Democrats the best chance to win in November

Of course, in Orange County, “progressive” doesn’t mean what it does in most other places.  It has come to mean some good things: a strong inclination to protect women’s rights and specifically reproductive rights, LGBT rights, some environmental issues, and “jobs” issues defined as slavish support for the positions of the Teamsters and Building Trades — and usually only perfunctory support (if at all) for the rest of the progressive agenda, which is largely anti-corporate, including anti-military-intervention.  And so, people calling them “progressive” in OC are often perfectly happy with the DCCC and Blue Dogs — leaving those who would called themselves “progressive” in most other counties to have to identify themselves , frankly with greater precision and accuracy, as being democratic socialists.  (I just prefer the term “leftist” because it’s broad enough that I shouldn’t have to quibble about particulars.)

The mask slipped a bit at last Monday’s DPOC meeting as Region 18 Director Deborah Skurnik, a “civility” advocate known for vituperative screaming tirades (and like me a supporter of John Chiang for Governor, which can be awkward), lit into various leftistish targets while trying to defer blame for what seems likely to be a humiliating slaughter of Democratic candidates in the Top Two primaries in less than 40 days.  (More on that below.)

Skurnik, whose Region 18 Director race against Iyad Afalqa was protested for voting hinkiness — as was Region 17 Director Florice Hoffman’s against  Mirvette Judeh, although appeals to the state party’s internal judicial body were, as usual, futile and unappealable — angrily demanded, upon pain of relentless persecution for crossing her, that delegates fall into line and personally endorse the endorsed candidates for Congress in the competitive races of CA-45 and CA-48.  In 45, this means supporting endorsee Dave Min over leading rivals Katie Porter, Kia Hamadanchy, and Brian Forde; in 48, this means supporting endorsee Hans Keirstead over leading rivals Harley Rouda, Omar Siddiqi, and Rachel Payne.

This would have been a dramatic attempted extension of formal requirements for DPOC members.  The DPOC Bylaws require that central committee members not endorse or work for opponents of endorsed candidates, nor disparage the nominees, but they don’t require affirmative statements from members in these areas in the face of an endorsement that a given delegate dislikes.  Simple silence, as to a given race, will suffice.

(Nota bene: Given that some readers might wonder, the Orange County Young Democrats has the right to endorse contrary to the local party — and this year, it has done so at every opportunity.  The choices of the party establishment seem clearly to be Mike Levin in CA-49 and either Gil Cisneros or Andy Thorburn in CA-39.  And yet, on April 11, OCYD endorsed:

  • Sam Jammal for California Congressional District 39
  • Brian Forde for California Congressional District 45
  • Omar Siddiqui for California Congressional District 48
  • Sara Jacobs for California Congressional District 49)

Individual OCYD members who are also DPOC members can still be expelled from the DPOC for furthering OCYD recommendations in CDs 45 and 48 — but, as such punishment is discretionary and DPOC delegates generally don’t want to piss off the OCYD, punishing their members is unlikely.  Similarly, no one was going to get ejected from the party for supporting Loretta Sanchez over Kamala Harris in the 2016 Senate primary.  After all, as a party leader might ask — if party rules can’t be enforced arbitrarily, then what good are they?)

Skurnik supported her for demand members’ obedient compliance based on her own experience ten years ago, when she supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries over Barack Obama, yet had ultimately swallowed her feelings and came around to supporting Obama against John McCain.  Good for her, although nothing we Californians do in voting for President has mattered in decades, given how entrenched we are in the electoral college — we might go red in some election, but we’d be among the last to do so, where it wouldn’t make a difference — so I wouldn’t feel upset if she’d followed her wishes and wrote in Hillary.

Of course there’s a big difference between the 2008 primary and 2018 — no one, least of all Hillary’s lawyer Lanny Breuer, had any credible argument that Obama had fixed a damn thing or cheated in any way during that process, and Obama as the non-establishment candidate would have been in no position to do so even if he had wanted to.  (The leading procedural arguments for Hillary in that election were that Obama and the DNC had followed the rules. Obama had figured out exactly how and where to focus his efforts given the DNC rules of that year, largely by courting Democrats in red districts, who were given disproportionate power in choosing delegates — and Hillary’s advisor Mark Penn didn’t realize his mistake until it was too late.  The DNC enforced delegate penalties against states such as Michigan and Florida who had “jumped the gun” in holding their contests — as they had been warned would happen.  Pledged delegates were, in accordance with their rules, held to their pledges even though Hillary tried to get them to change their votes.  In terms of procedure, giving into to any of Hillary’s demands would have constituted “cheating” — and the sorts of insider favoritism that drives people crazy about the political parties.

Hillary’s actual arguments with any arguable power were substantive ones — that she was better qualified, that he was too inexperienced, that its being “time for a woman” was more compelling than it being “time for a non-white” because there are more women than minorities.  (I myself don’t endorse these notions, but they are at least more persuasive than “we shouldn’t follow the rules because Hillary has to win.”)  As substantive arguments, though, the voters had already considered and rejected them — so as a democratic matter they were moot.  Hillary’s supporters like Skurnick were arguing for reversing the result based on hurt feelings, not on fairness — and it’s fairness that is the sine qua non of democracy.

Contrast that with 2018 in Orange County — as well as California and the country generally.  The party establishment is clearly — openly — biased against those who would try to wrest the power to determine the results of party contests and ultimately public elections from the party figures like Skurnick who have put in their time waiting to get to the point where they could muscle through the candidates of their choice.

  • The elections of Skurnick and Hoffman — the latter of whom I’m getting along with pretty well these days for reasons neither of us can fathom, so I’m not saying this to be mean — were both challenged on procedural grounds, in terms of fairness in the process by which delegate-electors were admitted and the way the elections were run, to the benefit of Hillary-associated candidates and to the detriment of Berniecrat opponents.  (I don’t even remember all of the details, but I know who does in case they become an issue here; I hope that rather than rehashing them we can just agree that there were controversies over both.)
  • The state party Chair election was dirty — only time and cost have kept me from suing the party over it so far — and the presence of Eric Bauman (Hillary’s most effective advocate in California) as Chair has ensured that substantive reform is unthinkable and a purge of Berniecrats — and most critically changing the rules to make it far harder for Berniecrats to be competitive in the ADEM elections in early 2019.
  • Most relevant, the endorsement caucuses in these districts have been accused of substantial unfairness — as was the ratification on one race, at the convention — and CDP Chair Bauman’s hand-picked internal judicial review commission is not at all inclined to seriously consider procedural challenges on grounds of fairness.  (More on that in a separate post tomorrow.)

Given all of that, Regional Director Skurnick’s lambasting of any delegates still refusing to personally endorse endorsed candidates Min and Keirstead — and Lord do I wish that I had video of that spectacle to post here for you to view, but DPOC (unlike its Republican counterpart) prohibits videorecording of its meetings for understandable even if unjustifiable reasons, especially to address moments such as this — was most likely met with a hardening of attitudes against her position.  (I’m going to use unusual amounts of discretion in not translating  the reactions I saw around the room into words.  Sadly for my party, they will become evident in time — although mostly in the non-participation that will allow leaders like Skurnick to stay in their positions.)

It’s arrogant party insiders who are most responsible for the public’s unfavorable view of both major parties, and their demand to reject democratic reforms (because that’s what procedural fairness most requires) — which were surmounted on the Republican side in 2016 with the advent of President Trump, who while no kind of real populist or even conservative still holds the key to the hearts of the utterly mad Republican electorate — which won the 2016 election in much the targeted way that Obama won the 2008 primary.

The machinations described in the earlier part of this story are exactly the sort of thing that lead most voters to retch at Democratic politics and impede most potentially powerful activists from putting in their hard time and effort to elect people who are committed not to do the right things, either procedurally or substantively, if elected.  The arrogance of declaring that the refusal of people to go along with the results of what they see as a slanted — not entirely fixed, but fixed enough — system is the fault of the followers rather than the fault of the leaders is wonderful for advancement within the party and poison for making connections and motivating electoral activism outside the party.  People just don’t want to volunteer time for people whom they don’t like or trust — and (at least on the Democratic side) who will put the interests of big donors far ahead of those of Big Numbers of Voters.

People don’t want to feel like chumps.  The attitudes of the Democratic Party from the DNC down to the DPOC and its clubs — that it is the party leaders’ province to command and “all decent peons” province to obey — is just not going to do the job.  It may work in California at the state level only because so many conservatives have fled, but it won’t work in races that aren’t big enough to be fought over the airwaves, and that can’t be won by activists too high a proportion of which are members of Young Democrats — here, by the way, being asked to carry flyers and promote messages against their own endorsements, and how do you think that is going to turn out?

It was in this spirit that I argued in the March endorsement meeting, almost alone, against endorsing Joe Kerr, despite my liking him personally.  (I have no idea which candidate has the best chance to win.)  There was simply too much disagreement on the ground to come to a consensus on what election materials would be distributed.  Our #1 goal, as I argued — or tried to argue, I don’t recall anymore when it was that Chair Fran Sdao shuts me down — was to get people out there to support Josh Newman and the recall, and to post signs on their back (metaphorically) advertising for a candidate that they don’t prefer was simply going to lead them not to come out and work for him through the party.

“Bigfooting” — forcing people to carry and convey messages that they don’t like, and committing to endorse candidates that they oppose, because one can — may be within the rights of the party, but when the leadership has intentionally disengaged itself from the popular vote, it is STUPID, STUPID, STUPID — and if Josh Newman loses, a main reason why will be that supporters of Rose Espinoza, Cynthia Aguirre, and lame Doug Chaffee aren’t going to want to carry water for Joe Kerr.  The party leaders honestly think that their earned right to tell people how to vote in the Supervisor’s race outweighs the need to defeat the recall election.  (They don’t see it that way, of course, but I think that they are highly motivated not to think it through.)

I’ll have more to say about this month’s meeting — particularly Vice Chair Diana Carey’s lambasting former CA-48 candidate Laura Oatman because she didn’t withdraw from the race in time to remove her name from the ballot, and will thus continue to some degree to split the Democratic vote, although I think that this would be considered far less of an offense if she hadn’t endorsed Harley Rouda and encouraged other candidates, of whom only Michael Kotick has agreed so far, to do the same — sometime next month.

For now, I’ll just point out that if my party continues to rig the system to make it far harder for someone like Bernie Sanders to win our Presidential nomination, or for Kimberly Ellis to win the Chair’s election — and for Doug Applegate to win the CA-49 seat, and on and on — then we’re going to keep on losing in places where our overwhelming registration advantage doesn’t prohibit it.  And Orange County is the prime place where that will happen.  I don’t want it to happen, but tin-earned inward-looking groupthink-saturated arrogance and cluelessness-fueled hubris makes it seem pretty much inevitable.

No, wait, I’ll foreshadow one more point from that piece-to-come:

Parties can contribute much to preventing this sort of logjam in California — starting by sponsoring the repeal of the Top Two primary system, which the major parties won’t do because the disruptive effect of the minor parties more than they do each other — but it’s by being the opposite of a “bigfoot” as depicted above, both nationwide and in Orange County.

Pushing around candidates who think that the party has ripped them off is not going to work — as you’d think that the DPOC would have learned when then-Chair Henry Vandermeir failed (thank God) to hector Josh Newman to leave the State Senate race against charmless and gormless carpetbagger Sukhee Kang.  (Nahh — if you really think that the DPOC leaders would have learned that lesson, reread the article again.)

The party has two things to offer: (1) the moral suasion that comes from being a fair broker and (2) the ability to aggregate money from various sources to do big things.  In January of freaking 2017, at the first DPOC meeting of the cycle (held in the Teamster’s Hall), I spoke to this, suggesting that we work with candidates in Congressional races to have them let us do their viability polling, through credible organizations, in large enough amounts and with sufficient input so that each candidate could be satisfied that they had had their say.  Agreeing to this, which would be supervised by professional pollsters not doing the polls and with candidate representatives submitting information as to how to conduct the polls, could have been made a requirement for being eligible for the DPOC endorsement.  Part of the deal would be that, within limits agreed upon in advance, candidates who failed to pass a test of viability would agree not to file until the end of the filing deadline, and not to file if they didn’t surmount the hurdles posed.  Another part, though, would be that each candidate would have gotten all of the data, to guide them in the primary (if they did run) and beyond.

“This would be expensive,” I was told — to which I said that failing to do this would be even more expensive in the end .  (That was a good call; we’re only Greg Raths having run against Mimi Walters in CA-45 for this to have been pretty much my worst-case scenario going into June, and if we get shut out of all four Congressional races — the odds of which I’d once put at 1%, but which I now think is just under 10% —  and becoming a national laughingstock and fiscal sinkhole this year will make our party radioactive for a long time.)

But to be honest, it probably wouldn’t have mattered, because to get the candidates on board DPOC would have first had to have achieved a reputation that it had done everything to avoid: it had to be trusted as an “honest broker.”  DPOC doesn’t want to be an honest broker, and neither does DCCC.  Both want to be “Bigfoot,” arrogating unto themselves the right to determine how everyone else acts.

But imagine for a moment that DPOC had somehow achieved such a valuable reputation, and could put together a poll for each district with enough versions to serve both as a legitimate poll and as a push poll for and against each candidate, if that’s what they really wanted to see.  A ridiculously high 4,000 respondents in ought to have done the trick, giving each of eight candidates their own 500-person poll, plus a core of questions on which each candidate would have 4,000 responses, enough to allow for substantial analyses by city and subgroup.  This would have cost the candidates less money than they spent on their individual, disgustingly slanted push polls, designed to get them the headline they needed for their advertisements.  (I think that I answered about four — one each for Janowitz, Cisneros, Thorburn, and one in which it wasn’t obvious.  It was clear each time exactly how the pollsters were going to give the candidates the bullshit that they so badly wanted to see.)

We might — we might — have been able to get candidates to do what Jay Chen and Phil Janowitz did in CA-39: drop out of the race before they signed on the dotted line as a candidate, thus irretrievably commiting to split the vote.  Only really good, believable data — from an unimpeachable source — could have achieved that end.  But DCCC and DPOC are both un-unimpeachable sources, ones that don’t make their decisions about viability based on what the data say that voters want, but based on their own untested (or even tested-and-rejected) theories that what voters hate most is anything that smacks of democratic socialism and that what voters want most is a perfumed pig in a poke who won’t commit to anything controversial, however much people like it — because that offends big donors.

DPOC leaders are not the main problem here; they’re mostly following the lead of both the DCCC (in Congressional races) and CDP.  But at those higher levels, at least, we are led by either imbeciles or knaves whose expertise lies in claiming credit, displacing blame, and currying favor among the like-minded.  It’s especially bad in California because they can be imbecilic knaves and win anyway, until they get down to a certain level of Republican competitiveness in a district (such as is true almost everywhere in OC.)  There, they are center-hugging, activist-phobic, rights-and-rules-repelling jokes — whose main success, deriving from their embeddedness into the system, is to prevent the emergence of anything better.

It wouldn’t be so much of a tragedy if we didn’t need banking reform and Medicare-for-All, and a war against greenhouse gases, and so much else.  But we do — and they will block candidates who favor them — and so a tragedy it is and a tragedy it will remain.

This is your Weekend Open Thread.  Talk about that, or whatever else you’d like, within reasonable bounds of decorum and discretion.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)