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.