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Discovering the Democratic Party of Monterey County


After the meeting I attended Tuesday night, I looked up the word “conspiracy.” I was disappointed to see that most of the definitions included the notion of illegality, because I did feel like a conspirator but not the kind who should be arrested.

It was a meeting of the Monterey County Democratic Central Committee, held in a bare-bones union hall in East Salinas. It’s a neighborhood that relatively few Republicans have visited, unless it was to collect the rent.

I was there for a couple reasons. One, I had become interested in the mechanics of party politics during the tragic presidential election of 2016. I kept reading about how the Democratic Party had sold its soul and had cheated and ultimately failed but I realized I knew almost nothing about how the party actually works, about the people who run it locally and nationally. Last week, I read various outbursts by people who were appalled that liberal Tom Perez had beaten leftist Keith Ellison for the post of national Democratic Party boss but I could tell that, for the most part, many of those doing the shouting had no better understanding of the process than I did.

Two, I was there to be sworn in as an alternate member of the committee, someone who could fill in at a meeting if regular member Bill Leone can’t make it. Which I guess makes me a card-carrying member of the Democratic machine, if that label can be applied to such a conglomeration.

From now on, when the Partisan endorses a political candidate, pretend there’s an asterisk next to the name, signifying that the Partisan has become semi-officially partisan. Since I’m an alternate, does that make the Partisan alternatively partisan?

(At some point in the heat of some future election, look for the Carmel Pine Cone to breathlessly report on this as though one of its crack reporters had dug it up.)

So what did I see and learn Tuesday night? First off, it seems a lot like a union meeting. It took me back to all those union meetings I attended and led when I was with the Fresno Bee a couple decades ago.

The members sat in a large circle, nearly 30 people, of which about a third were people of color. There were more men than women. If there was a back room, I didn’t see it. There was cheese but no white wine. Just grape juice and organic apple juice. The meeting place alternates between Salinas and Seaside.

I recognized a few people. Running the meeting was the committee chairman, Alan Haffa, the Monterey Peninsula College instructor who sits on the Monterey City Council and wonders if he will ever be on the winning side of a motion now that Libby Downey is gone from the council and Timothy Barrett has gone off on a tangent. Haffa, you may recall, was a stalwart of the local Occupy movement.

There was Mr. Grassroots, Gary Karnes, who has worked tirelessly for every good cause since before the days of grape strikes. And Ron Chesshire, the Carpenters Union heavy, and Erin Fogg, the charming PR practitioner.

Supervisor Luis Alejo came in late. I was surprised to see Scott Dick there. He ran for what would have been the Carmel Valley City Council while also working to prevent Carmel Valley from being incorporated. I always figured he was a GOPer. Carl Pohlhammer, the longtime MPC English professor, was there, looking and sounding wise.

The meeting started while Donald Trump was addressing Congress for the first time. I don’t think Trump’s name came up during the meeting but he was on everyone’s mind. Especially Eric Bauman’s. He was there to pitch his candidacy for state party chair.

I have to admit I had never heard of Bauman but he’s a big deal in Democratic Party circles. He’s headed the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee forever and he’s vice chair of the state party. With state Chairman John Burton about to step down, Bauman’s the heavy favorite to replace him.

I really didn’t know what to make of Bauman. He is the ultimate party insider. He’s gay, Jewish and a former head of Southern California nurses’ unions. He’s dynamic and he knows the art of politics well enough to make the worst idea sound great. Tuesday night, he pitched pragmatism to the pragmatists and ideology to the idealists. He didn’t actually endorse the idea of keeping oil, tobacco and pharmaceutical money out of the party as many are pushing but he said there must be a way to replace it.

Bauman told the group about how he had worked up to the last minute to try to win the national chairmanship for Ellison, the Muslim legislator who couldn’t overcome Perez’s closer ties to the party establishment. He didn’t spend much time on that topic, though. He wanted to talk  about the times he was on the winning side. I appreciated his energy but he also reminded me a little of the local GOP party bosses, the Peter Newmans and Paul Brunos, who aim to turn every city council in Monterey County into a Republican fortress despite the region’s heavy Democratic majority. Despite the name of this blog, I don’t like seeing local, non-partisan offices become trophies for the political parties.

Running against Bauman is a Bay Area woman, Kimberly Ellis. She is an African-American who runs the Bay Area’s chapter of Emerge America, which supports women running for office. She’s campaigning as a change agent. If it was my choice to make, I’d likely go with Ellis over Baumann. Business as usual doesn’t seem like the way to go at the moment.

Bauman talked so long that there wasn’t much time for local issues. Some fellow whose name I didn’t catch wanted the committee to lean on the Salinas City Council to reverse its decision last week to not declare Salinas a sanctuary city, but it looks like there will be another council vote on that topic before the central committee will get a chance to weigh in.

There was quite a bit of talk about the budget – the central committee’s budget, not Trump’s. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the local Democratic apparatus is a shoestring operation.

So, for me, some of the mystery is gone. In its most local form, the party is neither slick nor ragtag. I didn’t sense that there were any corporatists there or any bomb throwers. I didn’t detect any one faction running things and, with Haffa leading things, I’m comfortable it is operating fairly and democratically. The people all seemed serious and committed.

For most of my adult life, I have mostly written off political parties and, to some degree, national elections. We labor under an economic system more than a political system. “One dollar, one vote” sums it up pretty well.

But now, watching this ugly new Republican regime take shape, I realize that those of us with relatively few dollars need to fight back on as many fronts as possible. We’ll never agree on one strategy, so we’d better try several. I believe the arsenal needs to include open debate, active protest, organized resistance, civil disobedience at times and, yes, better engagement of the electoral process.

To do this thing, I had to change my registration. I don’t remember for sure if I was a Green or a Peace & Freedom. Whichever, neither required much of a commitment. I’m not convinced party politics is the way to right this ship, but I believe that almost all the members of Congress elected in two years will be Democrats or Republicans and that the next president will most likely be a Democrat or Republican. I am not one of those hopeless folks who want things to get worse because only then will the masses awaken. I fear that worse begets worse, not better.

So, bottom line, I don’t see that it will hurt anything to dip a toe into party politics. It may result in more GOP spitwads being sent my way but I think I’ll be able to handle it. Unless the party bosses make me shut up, I’ll try to keep you posted on what I learn.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Bob Coble March 1, 2017, 1:02 pm

    Welcome aboard Royal. The local Democratic leaders are NOT machine politicians and you’ve come to the best group locally. Kimberly Ellis met with the Progressive Democrats at the Center For Change (C4C) in Seaside back on January 24th, and was extremely impressive. My sense was that nearly everyone, if not everyone, there supports her for state party chair. The local Democratic leadership is definitely way, way above those GOPers you mentioned in integrity and honor.

  • Trish March 1, 2017, 1:39 pm

    Thank you Royal and Bob. We need strong leadership and involvement right now…Thanks for walking the walk.

  • Judy Karas March 1, 2017, 2:14 pm

    I just got off the phone from calling Friends of Bill Monning at 429-1688, Friends of Mark Stone at 234-5885, and Friends of Anna Caballero at 818-415-2548. I called to ask them to support Kimberly Ellis for state chair of the Democratic Party. She has done extensive work at the grassroots’ level; she isn’t in the pocket of the special interest groups; and she is committed to clean elections. She wants to “change the party from the inside out.” She’s also helped women and people of color to win elected offices. I’ve heard that Eric B. is hierarchical and authoritarian. Thus, my support goes to Kimberly Ellis. I urge others to contact the numbers I’ve given and ask the three state officials to also throw their weight behind Ellis.
    Thanks for attending the meeting last night. I couldn’t watch Trump’s speech after the second long outburst of applause for Trump’s lackluster speech.

  • Amit Pandya March 1, 2017, 2:28 pm

    Welcome to the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Monterey County.

  • joyce March 1, 2017, 2:59 pm

    Royal, good for you for taking an active part in this. Those of us who can’t attend these meetings
    are grateful to you who can, and to keep us informed… Especially now when so many of our
    bedrock democratic institutions of the Judiciary, the Press, and the Intelligence agencies are under threat from the likes of Bannon & Trump, now that the inmates are in charge of the asylum. Mil Gracias for your work… Your neighbors, Dave & Joyce

  • Lisa H. March 1, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Thank you, Royal, for giving us an insiders look at the demo’s central committee. I do wonder why you felt it necessary to identify Bauman as being gay and jewish. You didn’t mention the sexual orientation or religion of Ellis.

    • Royal Calkins March 1, 2017, 3:34 pm

      Good question, Lisa. I guess it was because he announced during his talk that he is an observant Jew and he brought it up again later, and he mentioned his sexual orientation two or three times, seemingly to enhance his credentials for dealing with LGBT issues. I should have said that he brought it up.

  • Donald Slinkard March 1, 2017, 5:03 pm

    Welcome to the Democratic party, Royal. It ain’t much but it’s the political straw I cling to. I got active myself last Saturday when I joined a group of a hundred or so who stood on the sidewalk and waved signs outside Devin Nunes’ office in Clovis. He’s my representative in Congress, a Republican who doesn’t represent me at all. Of course, he wasn’t there. Nunes represents one of the poorest districts in the country but can’t wait to pull the rug from under the thousands served by the ACA. He’s also
    chairman of the House intelligence committee and is on the Trump transition team. In short, he’s

  • Holly March 1, 2017, 6:52 pm

    Thanks for the recap of the meeting. I couldn’t be there so my alternate was. Sorry you missed the meeting with Kimberly Ellis. I would like to see more of her in one of your blogs. Best article on the central committee I’ve read.

  • Wendy Askew March 1, 2017, 10:32 pm

    The local Democrats who sit on our Central Committee are most certainly hardworking and dedicated public servants. I am deeply grateful for their leadership.
    PS – Kimberly Ellis has my support. Your instinct is right on!

  • bill leone March 2, 2017, 2:38 pm

    Eric’s revelation that he is Jewish & Gay is a point of pride in the Democratic Party; however, I don’t believe it would be to anyone’s advantage to be Jewish &/or Gay in the GOP.
    I am in favor of Kimberly for California Party Chair, not because she is Black, a Woman, or that she seems to have a deeper respect for other people’s time, but because she has a no-nonsense, straight-talking, take-no-prisoners attitude.
    Thanks for agreeing to take the time & trouble (in these troubling times) to serve as my alternate.

  • Joyce Newell March 2, 2017, 7:23 pm

    I just stumbled on the PARTISAN and am so glad to discover people who can lead me in the direction most helpful for the democratic party. Have voted DEM all my life but other than wearing a McCarthy button to work in 1968 (not really allowed as I was Santa Clara Co employee) I have never been active in elections, other than jawboning others on the faults of the rep candidate(s). Trump has put me over the edge. I know that $$ is what all orgs need the most but I have none to spare. I need to know what I can do to ensure that there are more DEMS elected to congress in 2018. That is the only way I see that Trump will be thwarted. Obviously our representatives are fairly safe (Harris, Feinstein,Panetta) in our district so I’m looking beyond that. Maybe this is not the right forum as it seems to be dedicated to CA politics but please offer any advice/direction. And thanks for anything.
    Joyce Newell

  • Scott Dick March 3, 2017, 12:35 am

    Hi Royal,
    Welcome to the party.
    You are hilarious. I interviewed with you twice when you were editor. I received the Herald’s endorsement for the no-city council race. Ran against the GOPer for water board, interviewed with you there as well. So let’s see, I have been a progressive radio host (when KRXA was still Ginsburg’s), past vice-chair of the MCDCC, AD29 executive board representative to the state party (two-terms) and current president of Democratic Club of the Monterey Peninsula.
    I admit it was the ill-planned and misguided effort to incorporate the entire GP area of Carmel Valley into a city that propelled me to get involved in politics, but I’m no GOPer. So if there is something you are not sure about me, email me anytime if you have a question.

    Just a side note. Eric Baumann has worked tirelessly for the Democratic Party in California. In the four years as a delegate and member of the executive board of the state party I never saw Ms. Ellis, never heard of her or even knew she existed until she started her campaign for chair. Kimberly is running as a change agent – fine. What does that mean? What does she want to change? California Democrats, called CADEM for short, have set the example for the rest of the country. What kind of change occurs from “the inside out?” The people of CADEM have done a terrific job. So it’s easy to talk, but will she, or can she raise the millions necessary to keep California blue? That will be the next chair’s number one priority and Eric has the skills to do so, but more importantly he has built relationships across the state that enable him to raise the money the party needs. Those relationships take years develop and I’m concerned that the party will languish as Ms Ellis painstakingly begins the relationship building process.
    CADEM is a coalition with 22 different caucuses, with a lot of competing interests and it’s a pony that is untamed – and entirely voluntary (so there won’t be any head bashing or arm twisting to get things done).
    That’s my two cents.
    Anyway, welcome again – and I hope to see you next month.

    • Dan Turner March 4, 2017, 9:41 pm

      No room for the likes of you in any party I’d want to be a part of. Are you still proud of shilling for CalAm against Measure O? You are exactly what’s wrong w/CADEM.

      • Scott Dick March 8, 2017, 7:53 pm

        Thanks for the feedback Dan.
        For the record I based my opposition to O on the facts and not on ideology. Two generations of voters painted the Peninsula into the corner that we are now in with their voting over the last 50 years long before I arrived on the Peninsula. I did the research on my own and I was and remain concerned that spending the money to buy CAW will not save us any money over the long or short-term. The explanation is longer than I care to write here.

        The G campaign was also almost exclusively based on ideology with little common sense applied to the financing or the plan. Trying to incorporate a 12-mile long city and then engaging a part-time public works director was nonsense and they didn’t like it when I called them on it.

        If there were a list of 100 items that made us Democrats, we would probably agree on 95 of them. The ability to disagree without rancor should be a key component to being different than republicans. The Dems have created these circular firing squads for decades and this has helped put us where we are today.

  • bill leone March 3, 2017, 8:28 am

    Yes, Mr. Dick, you were probably the Only Progressive radio host who argued in favor of Monstrosity Downs, & against Public control of Cal Am, & that’s just a sample of your contradictory “progressive”
    Moreover, Progressive Change within the Democratic Party means following the 2016 Democratic Party Platform, which includes being serious about campaign finance reform, & not looking Anything like the 2016 Republican Party Platform…but most of all having Democratic representation that looks like
    All of California, which includes women & people of color, not to mention being clear about who our political opponents are, & not being long on hot air & short on political action.

    • Scott Dick March 8, 2017, 8:11 pm

      Hi Bill and thanks for the feedback.

      There is an economic component that people forget about when it comes to development. Sure I spoke my mind about development on the old Fort Ord. I’m not fooled by the idea “to keep Ft. Ord wild.” It hasn’t been wild for 150 years as it had tanks, trucks and thousands of troops chewing it to pieces for 80-something years.

      Robbing Seaside of the opportunity to develop the terrain promised to them 20 years ago seems paternalistic and patronizing. Out of 28,000 acres, 4,000 acres were left for development. There seems to be some breakdown in local understanding that lack of housing stock creates housing that is not affordable. I’ve seen a couple of peer-reviewed journal articles that make the connection between market rate homes and housing affordability.

      When a market rate home is built, it creates a path for a family that is maturing to move. When they vacate, it creates an opportunity for a family in a starter home to move up. When they move, it creates an opportunity for a family renting to move into a starter home. I personally told the developer I didn’t care if the race track was ever built. However the rally cry against betting rings hollow with me since there is an off-track betting site, open 7-days-a-week, at the Monterey Fairgrounds and I see no demonstrators there picketing.

      Marina is developing like crazy and once again I have heard of zero push back from local “concerned” citizens.

      Regarding CADEM diversity. Having served at the state level for four years – CADEM is proud to be the most diverse party in America. With 22 different caucuses serving the CADEM mission your comment does not ring true to me, based on my experience or my work with other members of the party. CADEM is diverse ethnically, racially, socio-economically and along gender and sexual orientation lines. I support public limits and financing of elections, especially at the state and federal level. However, I’m against unilateral disarmament. Raising money to fight state-wide campaigns might be tougher than you imagine – however I’m open to other ways of doing business. Whatever happens with the CADEM elections this summer I’ll support whomever is the chair and the E-Board. I disagree with some of their positions – but on that list of 100 things I still agree with them on 95 of them.

  • Louis MacFarland March 3, 2017, 9:03 am

    Scott Dick sits in that special corner of the Democratic Party where you find the likes of Dave Potter, and he was coupled with the local (loco) Libertarians in trying to interrupt the Carmel Valley incorporation effort.

    • Scott Dick March 8, 2017, 8:43 pm

      Hi Louis – your feedback is also welcome.

      Yes, I worked against Measure G, because it was ill-planned and ill-conceived. I don’t believe that ideology trumps economic reality. The majority of those pushing incorporation thought they knew what was best for me and they behaved in a paternalistic and patronizing manner. Years went by as the proponents created phantom enemies over and over – whom they said were out to destroy Carmel Valley.

      I’m opposed to the mentality of parochial self-interest that denies that anyone who might disagree is either corrupt or incompetent and that I should listen to them without questioning what they were writing or saying. I understand the greater democratic principles involved with their ideas about creating a city, I disagreed with their methods, their methodology and their vilification of anyone who disagreed with them. I served on the central committee with a number of supporters of incorporation and some of those are pretty nice people. Mr. Potter and Mr. Farr both supported incorporation as well as any number of other Dems with whom I worked with pleasure.

      • Royal Calkins March 10, 2017, 4:35 pm

        Scott — you say you disagreed with “their vilification of anyone who disagreed with their methods,” yet here you are, vilifying them. funny how that works

  • bill leone March 4, 2017, 9:20 am

    Not at All surprising, Louis. Thank you for the illumination & ventilation.

    Once again, Royal’s political sensitivities have proven to be correct.

  • bill leone March 17, 2017, 11:57 pm

    Mr. Dick, Here’s a bit more valuable feedback: In my humble opinion, you have Already committed political suicide. I am not the only person in town who believes you, Carlos Ramos, & Dave Potter are the Best political activists money can buy.