This is how California does Democratic Party. Ask yourself why we don’t.

Activism is part of the CA Dem Convention, here calling for a single-payer platform plank (LA Times)

UPDATE Jan. 3, 2019 – A huge part of what made watching California’s 2017 Democratic Convention worth watching (live-streamed by CA friends), was a contentious battle for CA Dem Chair between Kimberly Ellis and Nick Bauman. Bauman won a highly-debatable vote – longtime party insider over talented, younger organizer – with all kinds of accusations flying from the Ellis camp against Bauman – including accusations of fraud including ballots destroyed and threats against Ellis’ delegates, and CADEMS refusal on a recount request.  A month ago, Nick Bauman was forced to resign, after multiple accusations of sexual harassment and unwelcome touching.  Ellis lost by 62 votes (of nearly 3,000 cast), and months later still hadn’t conceded. I’m convinced there were shenanigans.  But what’s clear to me is that the life in this party is with the reformers. The alliances were damn interesting:  Ellis would have been the first black woman CA Dem chair;  Bauman was the first openly gay in the role. Ellis was the Bernie-backed candidate; Bauman the more establishment choice. But Ellis was actually instrumental in Clinton’s California primary win, and in fact was training women candidates to follow in Hillary’s footsteps as director of CA’s Emerge training for Dem women candidates. Interesting.  But not why I’m flagging California’s messy but vibrant party for you.  I stand by my call – with CA’s as example – for a true and visible Dem convention in NJ where decisions are made, as better than having key decisions made by only a few dozen state committee members in a meeting of foregone conclusions and figurative cigar smoke, or by unseen, unelected party bosses in turf battles. We deserve a more representational & transparent party. I also respect the contrary arguments made in Comments below; change is hard and discussions like this IMO make our party stronger. Read on. This is from May 2017:

This is the California State Democratic Party Convention, below live-streamed by a Facebook friend of mine, Brian Lis. Going on right now in Sacramento. Elected representatives from all over CA are meeting to set the party’s platform, hear from Gov candidates, and elect a Party Chair and officers. This isn’t how we choose our party leadership. or decide our party’s direction; that happens in a much smaller room with insiders on first-name basis. And our gubernatorial nominee is decided 6 months before county conventions (which rubber stamp as chairs expect). It’s all set before the locally elected county committee people hear about it, faster still if money is involved.

This is how California does Democrats: Every 2 years, there are local party elections – “ADEMS,” read more here – selecting Dems who work regionally then rep their districts in this giant convention in the state capitol. In January’s ADEM elections, the coalition of Berniecrats won 60% of the seats, in a coalition with Labor and progressive groups. Bernie people are taking over CA’s party, which insists it was already progressive before that election (it was not). A marker of that progressive surge will be the election of CA’s new Dem Chair; the progressive wing largely backing Kimberly Ellis, outgoing EmergeCalifornia director, over Eric Bauman. That’s not how our next chair will be chosen; that will be the choice of the Guv nominee, rubber-stamped by the state committee, who in most or all counties are effectively chosen by the county chairs, who effectively choose the nominee, months before most active Dems are clued in.

Ask yourself why we don’t have anything like this in New Jersey. Ask why big decisions are made in undemocratic ways, why who’s on the State Committee isn’t on the NJDSC website if that small team is making so many big decisions for us all. Ask questions, if you think they should be asked. I love my party, and we have both good and less good people in it. But we have nothing like the democratic process I see below – a real convention, where decisions are made, factions vie for control and issues are on the table. Ask why.

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Comments (15)

  1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    Kimberley Ellis, California Berniecrats & Labor’s choice for CA Democratic Party Chair has t-shirts that say UNBOUGHT & UNBOSSED. That’s a nod to Rep. Shirley Chisholm; in 1972 the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. And a wonderful woman. That’s a good sign.

  2. ken bank

    I’ll take exception to those comments that seem to imply that those of us who attend county conventions are just a bunch of moronic zombies who do nothing but take marching orders from our “fearless leader” when it comes to voting for who gets the county endorsement. I was at the ocean county convention, and even though the press was kept out I’m rather glad they weren’t there as it gave more of us an opportunity to meet with and talk to the various candidates who did show up and exchange views and opinions. I spent several minutes myself talking to Phil Murphy, who was very outgoing and forthcoming, and I heard from Ray Lesniak and Mark Zinna as well. Unfortunately The Wiz, Bill Brennan, and Jim Johnson didn’t think that local activists like myself were important enough for them to bother and show up. Nobody told us who to vote for, and despite his absence The Wiz still got a respectable number of votes, and doubtlessly would have gotten a lot more had he been there and spent as much face time with activists like myself instead of staying away while doing his Rodney Dangerfield shtick about not getting respect.

    It’s easy to blame the “bosses” for everything from crooked politicians to ballot stuffing, but maybe we should take a good, hard look in the mirror once in a while. Perhaps the real enemy aren’t the “bosses” but ourselves, specifically apathetic voters too busy with other priorities to get involved at the local level. In my town half the voting districts have no representation on either the municipal or the county committee. We have to go begging for people to fill these spots, and even when they are filled many, if not most of them, don’t bother to show up at the county convention to cast their votes for one candidate or another. The “bosses” aren’t the problem, and nothing will change until more Democrats take the time and trouble to get involved with their municipal and county committees.

    1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

      No, I’m not knocking county committee members; I am one. But I’m also not going to skip over the impact that it has when a candidate is presented to a county committee as (1) already chosen & talked up by the chair (2) county committee is told that their endorsement is just “advisory,” (as one county was told, it was reported to me today) and (3) voting members hear that the check that accompanies a favored candidate will pay to rent a Dem HQ, or buy lit for local candidates.

      I agree that it would be good if CC members went against the strong tide that comes from some chairs. The reality is that going upstream isn’t easy, and reform isn’t easy either.

      And now it’s my turn to defend county committee members; they are generally NOT who you can describe as “apathetic voters,” they’re quite often the best Dems around. When it comes to filling empty county committee slots in GOP-dominated places, remember that’s part of the chair’s responsibility; some do that with enthusiasm and build their parties in doing that by bringing more people in. And some chairs will only sign off filling empty CC seats with people they know will exercise as little independence as possible, and do whatever the chair wants. The fact that chairs have the latitude to choose either to grow the party and fill slots or not to might suggest to you that how we do things could stand review. This isn’t about any one chair – I know and like your chair.

      It’s about process, it’s about being more democratic, more transparent, and more representational. Don’t take it personally.

      1. ken bank

        Sorry if I was misunderstood. The “apathetic voters” I was referring to are Democrats who decline to serve on municipal committees when vacancies are available. In my town there are 26 committee seats, only half are filled. When I was at the county convention, less than half a dozen people from my town were there. We have a very dedicated municipal chair, and she does the best she can in the face of incredible apathy. Many times we don’t even have a quorum for meetings. One suggestion I’ve made is suspend the rule for equal gender representation where there is a long-term vacancy, or allow the municipal chair to appoint someone from a different district. Maybe then we can get more people involved at the local level.

        1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

          Ken – Sorry if I misread you. You bring up an important point. Particularly in ‘crimson’ places. But sometimes it’s not only about the laziness or lack of engagement of locals who could & should be their party’s key local electeds. A bunch of years ago, I got some large number of people to sign on as county committee members in vacant slots. But with a couple exceptions they didn’t run when their terms were up. Because during the time they were on the committee nobody asked them to do anything besides give money, and (said at least a couple back then) it seemed like all the real stuff that was decided was done (by the exec committee) before they walked in the door.

          My county is tougher than some; red counties are uphill work. I’m not blaming individuals. But an experience like that suggests to me that our ways could stand review.

  3. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    Reading additional coverage of last night’s opener at the CA Dems convention – more about the healthcare rally the photo above shows and the trouble new DNC Chair Tom Perez had over delegates who see him as a corporate Dem.

  4. vmars

    The only real difference I see between the way CA Dem elections are presented here and New Jersey is the line “Berniecrats won 60% of the seats.”

    In New Jersey, every year during the June primary we elect county committee members in half the towns. Any member of the party have every opportunity to file for those seats, or to run as write-ins (undeclareds can write in as long as they vote in that primary, as well). In California progressives/liberals/Berniecrats did so and won 60% of the seats, but in New Jersey they have not.

    After each municipal committee is elected, they hold a vote within a week or so for their municipal chairs. If a group wins 60% of the seats, they can easily control their municipal chair. In many towns, there’s no fight for chair. I know in my county four towns had no chair after the fall election, and now have newcomers who took over and filled all the seats. Progressives could easily do that all over, if they are there.

    After the municipal chair selection, there is a county convention to select the County Chair. There have been competitions in certain cases — my county had one a decade or so ago — but mostly not. However, if progressives took 60% of the seats they could force a change in their County Chair.

    And that would change whether or not someone could lock up the gubernatorial nomination six or more months before the primary.

    But what it takes is progressives or Berniecrats or liberals or lefties or whatever we are called at a particular time to organize, to build support, to win a majority of seats, and to take the party over.

    The structure is in place for any significant group of activists to take over one of the top New Jersey political parties, and it’s encoded in state law.

    What’s happening in California could be happening here. That it is not is on us for either not having the support, or not organizing that support.

    The opportunity is there in two weeks. There are tons of open county seats, and others held by people who don’t care.

    Take the opportunity this year to take some seats, and next year take more.

    1. vmars

      I just checked my home county Democratic committee seats from the clerk’s website, and it suggests there are 528 potential seats, and 324 filled. That’s about 40% open seats. Fill those and take another 55 (12%) and you pick the county chair.

    2. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

      Vmars, This isn’t about whether Berniecrats take over. It’s about process difference between 2 parties, 2 states. In CA, the convention is where about 3,000 locally elected party members decide platform, hear and meet Gubernatorial candidates (presumably others also), and elect State Chair. Accounting for the state population difference, our set-up is very different.

      We don’t have a state convention. In years we have anything, it’s a conference (and called that). Most county committee members don’t go, or even know it’s going on – because they have no role there. Atlantic City’s an insider schmoozefest, not a meeting where the local electeds decide party direction. The key decisions – platform, electing State Chair etc – are made by a very small group of people; the state committee. The folks whose names are not listed anywhere on NJDSC’s website, which I think they should be.

      1. vmars

        I talked about process in my comment, and only brought up Berniecrats because I was commenting on your post.

        Sure, we don’t have a party convention but with only the Gov elected statewide — Cal has 6 offices (not counting LG since it’s a ticket) — we’re in a different situation.

        I’d prefer to see all counties required to have their committees vote on lines rather than leaving the process up to tradition or the chair’s whim.

        But even in CA the county committee people don’t automatically get to go to the convention. About a third of the seats are appointed by state and federal office holders, and another third by party organizations (including county committee people). Only the last third is selected at caucus. (I went to their site.)

        1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

          Vmars, to your 1:20pm comment –

          Yes, CA has 6 state officers. But they’re elected for 4 years and all the same year. But CA’s Dev convention is ever 2 years; they’re obv doing more there than meeting potential Govs.

          CA Dems have to set platform; So do NJ Dems
          CA Dems have to elect State Chair; So do NJ Dems
          CA Dems have to pass party rules; So do NJ Dems

          I wasn’t actually comparing, as you are, only CA county committee to NJ county committee. I’m saying CA appears to have more layers of electeds, who have responsibilities, and these are the people who set party direction at convention. Besides local county committees, California also elects: ADEMS (14 people x 80 Assembly Districts), Regional Directors (for 20 regions). The Central Committee is about 3,000 people. There are 3,000-plus people at the convention right now. I’m not comparing CA population to NJ’s; we’re smaller. I’m talking about who makes decisions and how open those decisions are.

          CA is doing it in a more representational way. In NJ, these things are all decided by the state committee, a few dozen people, whose names are not on the party’s website, and many of whom have served for many years. And those big decisions made in NJ – platform, rules, party chair etc – are made in sessions that are not open or publicized.

          1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

            Also to your 1:20 comment, Agree with you re: the line.

  5. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    Vmars, I think you’re also skipping past a nuance in NJ re: county committee. Yes, lots of seats open, esp in red counties. But the reality is, except in years when the count is “up,” it’s the chair’s discretion when/how/if to fill empty slots. A chair building their party will always be looking for new people & fills those slots with a note to the county clerk. If the chair doesn’t want to, it doesn’t matter how willing a person is to join; they have to wait 2 years (I think one county’s on a 3-year cycle) to run. Or the chair might only approve who they think is politically loyal to themselves; they have and exercise that power.

    And there are places where a more activist and progressive slates are challenging; we’ve written about the slate in LD-17/Middlesex; the Central Jersey Progressive Democrats. It’s also going on in Cherry Hill.

    1. vmars

      I don’t skip past that. The County Chair election is right after the biannual committee seat election. Win 60% of the seats and you pick the chair. The ability to appoint doesn’t have much impact on that since it’s less than 10 days ’til the chair’s seat is up.

      What does have an impact is the line, and the chairs to control that for county committee seats which I think is an issue.

      1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

        Agree on the line. Far as I know, NJ is the only state that does things this way (and one reason why our structure has a bad rep).

        I think you misunderstood something I wrote; it’s not about what the chair can appoint during that 10 days between primary and chair election. I was talking about the period of years during a chair’s term. If they don’t want to fill vacant CC slots, or fill them only with people politically loyal to them; that’s their discretion.

        In addition, things don’t always line up. The counties elect on different schedules, so mass party organizing such as going on in other states post-Trump doesn’t present the same opportunity here. And county chairs and county committees don’t always have the same terms of office. In Burlington for example, Chair’s term is 2 years, but CC is 4 years. So if a chair chose to not fills slots, potential candidates may wait 4 years before being able to run. If that’s incorrect, somebody LMK.


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