The Democratic Party of Orange County (DPOC) has stripped an executive title from one of its leaders, Victor Valladares, who became controversial among county Democrats for recent social media criticisms of the party amid the 2020 presidential race.
DPOC Central Committee members at their Monday, May 25 meeting voted to remove Valladares, who lives in Huntington Beach, from his vice chair position for Democrats in west county among the DPOC’s seven executive officers, which includes party chair Ada Briceño.
His removal as vice chair got 40 votes in approval among committee members, with 11 opposed.
Only two other officers have been removed in the last 10 to 12 years, Briceño said over the phone Tuesday.
Valladares still has voting power on the committee.
He became a topic of controversy with a number of social media posts he made criticizing Democrats following the April dropout of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders from his bid for the party nomination for the 2020 presidential race against fellow nomination-seeker and former vice president Joe Biden. Whoever wins the nomination will face Republican incumbent, President Donald Trump.
Valladares’ May Facebook remarks — one of which proclaimed “Fuck the party” — captured an ongoing national debate over the role of far left and young progressives in the Democratic Party who viewed a party “establishment” as a significant obstacle to Sanders’ nomination. Valladares also worked for the Sanders campaign out of Orange County.
“Obviously, I could’ve chosen better words to express my frustration with the party,” he said in a Tuesday phone interview.
“But there are young people of color like myself who are going to be touching on certain issues that may be too politically inconvenient for some establishment Democrats — at the end of the day, y’all are going to need our vote,” he added.
His social media remarks were criticized by local Democrats, including Central Committee member Dan Chmielewski.
“On April 8, after candidate Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign for president, Valladares posted on Facebook, ‘I don’t believe in this party.’ On May 7, he posted a Facebook message that he places people before the party and wrote ‘Fuck the Party,’” Chmielewski said in a May 9 post to his blog, Liberal OC.
Chmielewski called Valladares’ remarks “harmful” to the party, demonstrating he was “clearly unfit” for the executive leadership role.
“My gripe with the party is that certain members can get away with murder while others risk membership with a side eye. That hasn’t changed under current leadership. The party leadership should step up here and remove him,” Chmielewski’s post adds.
Other Central Committee members like Jose Moreno, who’s also on the Anaheim City Council, defended Valladares’ remarks as a criticism of the national party — not his fellow, local committee members.
“He chose to articulate his frustration in a way that was offensive to enough members at the local level that a disconnect was created,” Moreno said.
While Moreno said fellow committee members “were offended by the language and certainly were fair in their assessment that it’s just not appropriate to speak that way in a vice chair capacity,” his efforts to mobilize new, young voices into the party and move it in a new direction “really did threaten some people and some folks may have taken advantage of the situation to exploit what is a fair condemnation by traditional hard working party people.”
Valladares, an outspoken organizer and advocate for Huntington Beach’s Latino community, had also questioned decisions by the local party. In September last year, he said an immigration reform resolution passed by the Central Committee didn’t go far enough to denounce U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE).
In a 30-minute Facebook Live broadcast on the night of the DPOC meeting, Valladares defended his criticism of the national party following the end of Sanders’ presidential bid. “Dissent is what makes America great, whether you like it or hate it.”
“We have to question authority and the decisions our elected members make on us,” he added. “We should always be pushing our party.”
His Facebook Live broadcast drew praise among supporters in the video’s comments section. One comment read: “True power comes from the ability to transform communities. In transforming communities you are building generational change.”
Among Valladares’ critics was south county Vice Chair Annie Wright, who before the May 25 vote said in a prepared statement: a question “we will answer tonight is: what do we expect of ourselves?”
“No one denies that posts that are disparaging, defaming, discrediting, and denigrating the party is unacceptable,” she said. “They show a lack of respect for this institution and undermine the work that we’re doing as a party to elect democrats and preserve the seats of those in office.”
Valladares was also criticized for not attending Democratic club meetings as part of his duties as a party leader. Over the phone, he acknowledged not attending many of those.
“That is accurate,” he said.
Valladares said he stopped going to meetings because he didn’t feel “welcomed” in his role as a representative of west county Democrats and that other members of the party wanted someone else for the position.
Ray Cordova, a Latino activist and former committee member and labor union organizer, in a letter to the party criticized Valladares’ behavior at one west county meeting spanning the 72nd state Assembly district, saying he “spent the entire time texting and did not offer anything of substance as the west Vice Chair.”
“How dare you as a Latino leader resort to Gutter Language when on Social Media,” Cordova said, adding that he himself “had many political disappointments, yet I have always been true to my Party even though some of my candidates fell a tad short.”
Regarding his decision to stop going to meetings, Valladares said “I ultimately threw my hands up in the air and said ‘screw it, they don’t want me, I’m organizing throughout the county … I will help elect Democrats throughout OC, not just the west end.'”
“They say that I did irreversible damage to the party,” he said during his Facebook Live broadcast. “But people just don’t talk about the irreversible damage that some — not all — Democrats make when they’re behind the dais that hurt, disproportionately, me and people of color.”
Briceño, responding to some of Valladares’ claims, said there’s an ongoing effort among local Democrats and Democrats in general for everyone to “have a seat at the table.”
“We have the most diverse officers that the county has ever had,” she said of party leadership. Other non-white executive officers in the party include Wright, fellow vice chair Betty Valencia, and Secretary Luis Aleman.
The Central Committee last night “spoke loud and clear, united and moving forward,” Briceño said, adding that, after all, only 11 Central Committee members at the Monday meeting were opposed to his removal as vice chair.
Briceño herself had originally nominated Valladares for the position, but over the phone said “We need to move forward and speak with a united voice toward November.”
Still, some DPOC members like Valencia were opposed to removing Valladares.
“We need to really reevaluate what it means to be a ‘diverse’ party,” she said in a Tuesday phone interview. “Really trying to encourage deeper critical dialogue in terms of how we talk about including different perspectives, from folks of different class, different gender, etc.”
She said her hope is that the May 25 vote is a “learning moment” for the party to move away from “taking a reactive, punitive measure” against differences of opinion in the party. “What can we do as a party so we don’t get to a point where we have to take actions like this – we need everybody and we’re not going to be perfect and we’re going to disagree, but there is a level of critical thinking that has to happen decisions like this.”
Valladares emphasized he’s still a member of the party and a voting member of the committee. “I’m still a governing board member – I registered as a Democrat for a reason.”
Moreno said the DPOC on Monday “set a standard of what it should expect from its vice chairs and its chair, and what it should expect from Central Committee members.”
“I am very much going to pay attention to the metrics and the standards that were set last night,” he added. “I am hopeful that people will be as resolute in their condemnation when other instances such as this come up.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @photherecord.