Block: A Special Democratic Party Convention

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Last weekend’s California Democratic Party Convention was, well, “Special.”

[I participated as a proxy Delegate, bound by a credentialed Delegate to cast my vote for their candidate for Chairperson.]

I suffered the unfolding drama first-hand and up close.  I even had a part.

Some people use “Special” as a substitute for “flawed, but loved nevertheless.”

That describes this Convention.  Like many contentious political conventions in history, there were allegations of dirty campaigning, suppression of voting, rigged ballot counts.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.  Party Chair ex-Senator John Burton was retiring and LA Democratic Chair/State Vice Chair Eric Bauman was his expected successor.

Then Kimberly Ellis, a northern California candidate, entered the race and that changed everything.

Ellis, an African American, is the former head of Emerge California, part of a national organization which recruits, trains and supports women to run for political office.

Ellis earned recognition for her fund-raising abilities around the state and her outreach to potential female candidates of color, a category historically under-represented in political leadership and government.

She undoubtedly decided this was the year to practice what she was preaching.

Her campaign slogan, “Redefining what it means to be a Democrat,” pointed to one centralizing principle:  Change.

This slogan became a magnet for thousands of Bernie devotees who earlier fought  their way through local Party elections to become delegates to this Convention.

The presence of hundreds of first-time young delegates was an awesome sight at the Convention. It was notable that many of the new delegates came from the few Republican areas remaining in California — the OC and rural areas like the Central Valley.

Whatever your opinion is of the Bernie movement of young people, it is clear that California Democratic politics has now been infused with a very large base of very young (20’s), very savvy, very energetic, and very independent-minded leaders all across the state.

That youthful interest in civic duty is worthy of our love, whether you are a Republican, Independent or Democrat.

The Chairperson election was not strictly a repeat of the Hillary vs. Bernie fight.  By coincidence, both Ellis and Bauman had (1) strongly supported Hillary in the Democratic primaries, but (2) both had supported Bernie’s candidate for National Party Chair, Rep.Keith Ellison, against Hillary’s candidate Secy. Tom Perez.

This battle for control of the State-wide Party was repeated at our local OC level.  Incumbent Regional Director Florice Hoffman from the City of Orange, whose Region 17 covers Assembly Districts 65, 68, 69, 72, was expected to easily win re-election.

At the last minute Mirvette Judeh, an Anaheim activist, decided to challenge Hoffman for the important Party leadership spot.

Both Officer elections were bloodbaths.  On Sunday, May 7, Bauman sent an email out to Delegates stating he was the victim of anonymous accusations that he was a pedophile, which is a classic homophobic attack.
[Bauman has a long-term same-sex relationship/partnership/marriage.]

Strangely, the most visible distribution of the accusation online was the very email Bauman himself sent out complaining of the accusation and media reports of his email.

In the OC Regional Director race, prior to the Convention I witnessed incumbent Hoffman using the power of her position to recruit Proxies on the condition they be bound to vote for her, a very questionable practice.

At the Convention Saturday, May 21, it got even worse.  In the same OC regional election, many delegates were prevented from voting because the Party officials closed the polls over 45 minutes before the scheduled ending time for voting.

Prominent Orange County Democrats such as State Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva from Fullerton showed up to vote well within the Agenda’s election time frame, yet were prevented from casting a ballot.

This triggered a loud protest demonstration by rank and file delegates from both camps, including me.  The shouting and heated exchanges led to police officers being called, with one maintaining a position at the front of the polling location near where ballots were already being processed.

When the shouting still wouldn’t stop, the Party officials relented and permitted delegates to cast “provisional” ballots.  At that point approximately ten disenfranchised delegates were permitted to vote, but several had walked away in frustration. No provisional ballots were counted, however.

In the end, Hoffman was declared the winner, although she received votes from only 52 of the 121 credentialed delegates.  It was unclear as to how many delegates didn’t vote because of the early poll closing.

The State Chair election was extremely close.  It was initially informally announced on Saturday night May 20 that incumbent Bauman had beaten Ellis by 62 votes of the the 3,000 cast. The informal vote totals released did not include details on invalidated ballots.

Overnight, rumors of election irregularities pervaded the Convention.  In the back rooms the Ellis and Bauman campaigns secretly attempted to negotiate a resolution, presumably with State Chairman Burton.

The Party has an official Open Meeting Rule, described in a Policy Statement of the CADem Rules Committee. None of the five exceptions (personnel, contract, litigation, campaign strategy and member discipline issues) apply to the meetings convened for purpose of resolution of the close election and alleged irregularities, which were participated in by the Rival Campaigns, the incumbent Party leadership and the staff.

Sunday morning’s General Session began very late with no official presentation of vote totals for any of the State-wide Officer elections.   Party officials ran the Convention as if there was no need to transparently involve rank and file Delegates in the resolution of the Chair election.

Delegates Joel Block and Kelly Welsh Dwyer camped out Sunday, May 21 at CADem Convention floor Mike #1. They were awaiting an official Rules Committee Report of election vote totals for the razor-thin election for Chair and all other State officers. In their efforts to initiate a floor vote to obtain the required Report, the two unsuccessfully attempted numerous points of order and initiated floor appeals of Chair John Burton’s rulings that they were out of order. The Convention ended with no Rules Committee Report to the Delegates of vote totals from Convention Officer elections.

 

Delegates supporting both candidates started getting impatient as Sunday morning wore on into Sunday afternoon, with no official report or announcement concerning the ballot count or what was going on with the election.  Speakers droned on but no official business on the election was brought before the Convention.

With many Delegates leaving the floor to start their trips home Sunday afternoon, a floor rebellion began.  It started with Delegates at the floor microphones shouting and demanding recognition for points of order.

After these attempts initially failed, a chorus of shouting by more delegates prompted Chairman Burton to call all of the requests out of order.

When these actions failed to stem the shouting, Burton announced he would be stating the vote totals himself. But, then he didn’t.

At one point Chairman Burton entertained a floor motion to appeal his rulings that the points of order asking for the election results were themselves out of order.  He asked for a voice vote of the “yays” to overturn his rulings, but he was surprisingly greeted with a very loud outburst of shouted “nays” from all across the floor delegations.

He then decided not to ask for the “nays;” he just simply ignored the appeal altogether and moved on to some non-election matter. Even more delegates then left the Convention floor to go home.

Eventually, Chairman Burton made an announcement to the delegates that he, Ellis and Bauman worked out an arrangement to conduct an “Audit” of the Chair election results.  He provided no details of the terms of their deal.  As for the other four State-wide officer races, he just identified the winners with no vote totals.

This was definitely not the legal or usual procedure for either elections or roll-call votes by delegate bodies like conventions, city councils, legislatures, etc. Parliamentary procedure, unless modified by specific rules or statutes, mandates that official actions, such as the resolution of an election dispute be brought before the body for action.

This last announcement dampened the Convention delegates outbursts, but not completely.  I was recognized by Chairman Burton to speak a final time and moved that the Rules of the Convention be suspended and that candidates Ellis and Bauman be elected Co-Chairs by acclamation.

A substantial cheer erupted from the floor, but not nearly the overwhelming sentiment of the Delegates.  Chairman Burton did not rule the motion out of order, did not call for a vote, did not take any action.  He moved on.

The Convention then dissipated as Delegates had been consistently leaving the floor following announcement of the deal for the audit. Soon it was adjourned with no resolution of the Chair election.

Post-election tweets by the Democratic Party report that representatives of the two Campaigns, Party leaders and staff are “inspecting ballots” and that 500 were inspected Tuesday, May 23.

For me, like Dickens, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Joel Block is a retired attorney and freelance writer living in Rossmoor, CA.

 

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org

  • Steve Elzie

    Thanks for the excellent summary, Joel. I am one of those first-time attendees you mention. I came on late notice to the show, but was and am a big fan of Kimberly Ellis (who I think inspired a lot of people to attend, including me). There were definitely some interesting divisions and camps appearing this weekend. I agree with you that the infusion of so many young people and / or new participants directly into the party should be celebrated, without regards to differences of opinion. That’s my bottom line on the weekend.

    The rumors and confusion from Saturday night into Sunday were overwhelming and disheartening. No one seemed to have any answers, and there was definitely a feeling to me that the party wasn’t making a strong enough effort to communicate what was happening. This seems especially important with so many newcomers, who likely are not as familiar with the rules and procedures of the convention.

    It seems like every person who was in attendance has a different take and different perspective. With so many eyes on what happened in Sacramento, the (apparent) decision of the party to sequester itself and not come out front to address all these issues in a clear and concise manner is disappointing. You’ve done a great job of explaining the rules and procedures in terms of how they impacted the results and caused so much confusion. Hopefully the next step can be spreading this information (especially to all the new delegates and attendees) so as to increase transparency – and ultimately work to change the rules that caused the most problems.

  • Jeff LeTourneau

    Thank you Joel for the summary. I wish your Co Chair proposal would have been considered by both candidates months ago so there would have been time to change the rules and make it happen. As for proxies, it is important to note that the purpose and indeed the very definition for the term ethically mandates that the proxy serve as if they were the credentialed delegate. Indeed the proxies are issued credentials in the delegates name and their vote appears as if the delegate actually voted. Without the express permission to vote their own conscience instead of the person preferred by the delegate, it would be unethical to vote contrary to the delegates instruction. Therefore, if Florice Hoffman was requesting proxies to match the will of the delegate, that is exactly as it should be. We can change the rules, but that is how they stand as of today.

    • Joel Block

      Jeff- Totally agree with your point explaining the relationship between a proxy and the Delegate that chooses them. The preferences of proxies are subordinate to, and must be disregard when given specific directions byf the Delegate. I strongly agree with that principle, legally and ethically.

      A proxy is the agent for the Delegate, their principal, and must act according to specific directions if and when given by the Delegate. However, in this case, the incumbent Regional Director, Florice Hoffman, was also a candidate for re-election, and thus an interested party. The Regional Director should have left it to the Delegate the job of communicating to the proxy the Delegate’s specific instructions on how to vote.

      This is an ethical conflict-of-interest and also a legal one, because she cannot be the agent of the Delegate for the purpose of issuing specific voting instructions. The conflict of interest is this: the Regional Director’s main job is to insure Democratic Party rules and procedures are applied, especially in the conduct of elections. This role includes the supervision of delegate selection and proxies. In this case, the Regional Director was also a candidate in the same election for which delegates (and therefore their proxies) were chosen. She had a self-interest in winning the election, simultaneously with an obligation to monitor the delegate and proxy process for that election.

      It is my opinion it was an obvious conflict of interest for her to take on the the third, additional role of acting as an agent of a delegate in the communication of the delegate’s specific instructions to the proxy for an election in which she was a candidate. In this situation, the Regional Director, as an attorney, is required to be familiar with conflict-of-interest concepts in her law practice. She should not have been soliciting proxies on the condition they vote for her. It had at least the appearance of impropriety, which discourages confidence in the Democratic Party election process.

  • Falpherst

    Thank you for explaining what happened. Sounds like a combination of 1) event management miscommunication 2) a struggle to manage crowd disagreement, and most of all, 3) traditional party politicking – I bet a Republican convention is relatively draconian. This is exactly why they say politics is like “watching sausage get made.”