I was asked by individuals on both sides of a DCC controversy to attend last week’s meeting. On June 13, 2012, the meeting room at the local Democratic Party HQ on 5th Street was filled with elected (incoming and outgoing) and associate members, and a few visitors. Once the more mundane business was finished, two resolutions came up for discussion. One was tabled (essentially killed I think) and one was passed with some reluctance.
It was the first such meeting I had ever intended. I recognized some of the players. Others were new to me.
I was told to expect fireworks. I should say that while the meeting was fairly contentious, it was tame by Sohum standards. There are definitely some hard feelings carried over from election campaigns both recent and remote.
The gist of the controversy is that the Committee had made endorsements for this last election, and members had publicly supported opposition candidates. Specifically, the Committee had endorsed Cheryl Seidner, a Democrat, in the First District race and several members names (and one member’s photograph) appeared on an ad entitled “Democrats Endorse Rex Bohn.” So apparently at the prior meeting, Eureka City Council Member Linda Atkins made a motion to toss these individuals out of the Committee for a violation of the By-Laws prohibiting such public endorsements. A written version of the motion was brought to last week’s meeting, along with an alternative motion to “inform” members of the By-Laws and require an oath to abide by them. I’ve neglected to scan the first motion, but the second one can be read by hitting the link below. The preamble for each motion appeared to me to be identical. The resolutions differed in that the second one pretty much called for a warning rather than any punitive action this time around – an option the voting members eventually took.
The written motions were brought and distributed by Josh Drayton who was in as a proxy for an absent member (I believe that he and Conrad were in as proxies for Bob and Pam Service, both recently re-elected to the Committee).
The first motion did not even get discussed. Someone made a motion to table the discussion and vote to the July meeting, and an individual whom must serve as the parliamentarian informed the meeting that such a motion is not subject to discussion. It passed easily though far from unanimously. It was pointed out that even if passed, the members would all be reinstated again at the July meeting anyway, so tabling it will essentially mean that if passed the purge would last for minutes.
Then the second motion was brought forth and the motion to table was defeated. Discussion followed, though not before a bit of contentiousness as individuals making a point of order were accused of arguing against the motion (I’ve seen the issue come up often, and the line between an argument against the motion and a point of order calling into question whether the motion should even be made is often very ambiguous). Eventually the discussion ensued and after repeated objections from one woman that she didn’t have the opportunity to read the motion (it was only one page, and with the exception of the concluding paragraph, was identical to the first motion – an exasperated Josh Drayton responded “it’s one page!”).
Underlying the discussion was the perception by what I’ll call for lack of better term the left wing of the Committee of a hostile takeover of sorts by more centrist or conservative (depending on who you talk to) members. In addition to the written materials, Josh D. (who I’m told ran the Seidner campaign and other past contentious campaigns) distributed copies of the “Democrats for Rex” ad, which included a photograph of member (and recently elected) Virginia Bass and the names of others on the Committee including Richard Marks (who has his own account of the meeting), Marion Brady, and others who are “centrist” or “conservative” depending on your point of view.
At one point Virginia stood up, clearly rattled as she viewed the motions as directed at her. She sarcastically thanked Josh for providing a photo she hadn’t seen, and Josh sarcastically you’re welcomed her back. As she was speaking, and my notes don’t include the specific point, someone at the front table verbally acknowledged what she was saying. Virginia thought the woman was interrupting her as asked to be allowed to finish. The woman in the front quickly explained herself, and Virginia apologized for feeling “a little jumpy” as she felt that she was the primary target of the motions. While I tend to be on the opposite side of politics with Virginia, I thought she raised some good points about the tone.
During the discussion Sid Berg stood up and argued that the motion is hypocritical because Estelle didn’t get the endorsement (Estelle was re-elected to the Committee at the same time she was elected Supervisor – although the former was a little bit less of a feat considering that there were four candidates in the Second District for four spots). He argued that anyone on the Committee should not be denied an endorsement if there are no democrats opposing her – a suggestion which drew some head shaking and a sneer or two.
There was a little bit of confusion as to the second motion as some members didn’t realize that they were arguing against a By-Laws provision which was already in effect. A few argued the provision as if it was being proposed rather than cited. Someone, it may have been Josh D., suggested that if they don’t like the By-Laws then they should change them, but that they should be honored until such time. Some good practical questions were raised. What if you endorse a candidate long before the Committee gets around to its endorsement of the opposition? What if you give money? (apparently, according to interpretation there, you would be limited to 99 dollars so that your donation wouldn’t be public). What if you were hired as the opposing candidate’s campaign manager? What if you’re actually the opposing candidate?
The motion eventually carried, but nearly everyone agreed that the By-Laws need some revision and clarification. It was suggested that members be allowed to endorse whom they want, but not identify themselves as members. It was suggested that maybe the committee shouldn’t endorse non-partisan positions? It was suggested that the whole thing is outdated under the current system, which could for instance lead to a Huffman/Solomon runoff and people with both campaigns are members of the Committee.
Richard Marks had led a charge to “reform” the Committee through the election of “moderate” or “conservative” (depending on whom you talk to) members, but of his slate only Virginia won (she did come in a strong second behind Linda Atkins).
The North Coast Journal covered the schism following the denial of endorsement of Estelle.
For me it’s kind of a tempest in a teapot to be honest. I’m not indifferent to the feelings of those involved. I don’t know if I could personally hold down the discipline to be a member. I value my independence and if I want to endorse a non-Democrat I will. But then, I don’t have to be on the Democratic Central Committee. Nobody does. Whether the Committee is run by the “far left” or “developers” really doesn’t mean all that much to me. I guess the Committee’s endorsement sends a message if there are two Democrats in the race, or only one Democrat who doesn’t get the endorsement. And I guess the underlying discussion is about what constitutes the values embodied by the party – if any. The meeting reminded me that it’s a pretty big tent – much bigger in terms of ideological scope than the Republican Party which is probably closer to a European-style political party with a specific ideology than either party has been in decades. So do you make room for everyone? If you do, are you watering down the values the party ostensibly stands for? Is it contrary to Democratic Party values to support property rights against controlled growth? You can make an argument that it’s not “liberal,” but there are plenty of non-liberals in the party even if they bolt for figures like Reagan and Schwarzenegger (or did anyway). How do you maintain a tent for both labor and environmentalists when they are often at odds? For cultural conservatives who are economically liberal (or vice-versa)?
The fight for the soul of the Democratic Party. I’m sure the discussion will continue into the Eureka City Council elections. And if Norman pulls out second place in the Congressional race, expect a knife fight – within the left wing itself!
Okay, the photo above wasn’t really taken at the meeting. But I couldn’t figure out how to use my new Droid, and the photo just seems to capture it all.