Commentary: Calif. Democrats: Are they really democratic?


It was one of the biggest disconnects in last year’s elections. In early 2018, three months before the June primary election, 54 percent of delegates to a convention of the California Democratic Party voted to desert longtime U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and endorse the termed-out former president of the state Senate, Kevin de Leon of East Los Angeles.

Voters demurred. In the primary, rank-and-file Democrats backed Feinstein by about a 70-30 percent margin. But the party organization ignored them. Its executive board voted to endorse de Leon anyway in their Democrat-on-Democrat November runoff election. Again, Feinstein won.

This proved the state party organization comes nowhere near representing the wishes, philosophies or preferences of the party’s membership. The question for many analysts was, why the disconnect?

For an explanation, fast forward to January, when Democrats staged caucuses in all 80 California state Assembly districts, choosing 14 delegates per district for the next party convention, set to begin May 30 in San Francisco.

Trouble was, the party didn’t notify most Democrats of the vote. No postcards, no emails, no phone banks to let voters know the where, when and who. There was notice on the party website and via its internal listserv. But most who attended were informed by candidates or word of mouth.

The vast bulk of candidates leaned strongly left, many sporting “Bernie” t-shirts and pledging universal health care, free college tuition and more, but never mentioning how to pay for anything.

Those who turned up for caucuses could hear a few speeches, for no more than half an hour in most districts, then wait in line to vote. When they voted, no one verified where they lived or whether they had voted before and then gone to the end of the line and waited to vote again. The only hindrance to this was a hand stamp some (but not all) voters received, which could be washed off in moments. In this “honor system,” anyone could vote, citizen or not, district resident or not, Democrat or not, multiple times.

The only check on this was one laptop computer per caucus, used to verify identification via a voter database – but only if someone challenged the legitimacy of a would-be voter.

This, said state party spokesman Roger Salazar, made becoming a delegate “depend on the organizational skill of the candidate.” It also set apart California Democrats as “the most (lower-case) democratic political party in America,” he claimed. Certainly more democratic than this state’s Republicans, most of whose party convention delegates are chosen by elected officials, past candidates (winners and losers; mostly losers in California), and by the party’s county central committees.

There was also the matter of who won these delegate elections. First, the party created two gender categories: “self-identified female” and “male/other than self-identified female.” Voters could mark seven in each category, but no matter who got the most votes, the top seven of each would become delegates. So if 14 self-identified other-than-females got more votes than the leading female, seven would be knocked out.

This is democracy?

“This is the type of election system the Democrats want not only for their party, but the entire state and nation,” chuckled Republican campaign manager and blogger Stephen Frank, a candidate for his party’s state chairmanship in the GOP’s state convention starting Feb. 22 in Sacramento.

“Honesty and integrity is not the hallmark of that party,” Frank added. “They stuff ballot boxes even against themselves.”

Responded Democrat Salazar, “At least we vote, and we’re working to make it better. The Republicans have no democracy at all and that’s the way they like it. Yes, we need to give more notice of our caucuses. But we can’t afford to send everyone a mailer or an email.” This excuse comes from the free-spending party that inundated virtually every California mailbox with election flyers last fall.

The bottom line: Neither of California’s major parties is really democratic. While Democrats make a token effort, there’s little participation in their process, along with huge potential for corruption and cheating. Which goes far toward explaining why wise voters in actual elections pretty much disregard whatever the parties recommend.

Email Thomas Elias at [email protected]

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