The Riggs Report: Democratic dysfunction in Sacramento

May 25, 2017

California’s party in power faces internal drama

There are very good reasons why Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein did not attend last weekend’s Democratic party state convention in Sacramento.

They were following an axiom that Jim Brulte, now chair of the state Republican party, was fond of reciting to me when he was Senate Republican leader.

“Only harm can come to an elected official at events like this,” Brulte said to me prior to a GOP gathering in Los Angeles. And as usual, Brulte was right.

Consider last weekend’s raw display of anger, bitterness and division—this from members of a party that has absolute, unconditional control at the state Capitol.

The Democrats hold a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature. They hold every single one of the state’s eight constitutional offices, from governor to insurance commissioner.

Instead of celebrating and making plans for further gains in 2018, the party’s dysfunction and division were on full display. Eric Bauman, a party insider who’s been state vice chair since 2009 and head of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party since 2000, was narrowly elected state party chair.

The losing challenger, Kimberly Ellis, who is allied with the party’s most liberal wing, including Bernie Sanders’ supporters and the state nurses’ labor union, refused to accept the results and alleged voting irregularities.

At one point, Ellis’ backers stood up and walked out of the convention hall as Bauman was introduced as the new party chair.

The nurses’ union engineered a march on the state Capitol during the convention to promote a single-payer health care program and took the unusual step of threatening to back primary candidates against Democratic officeholders who would not fall in line with the single-payer issue.

The nurses’ union and its leaders assert that the party is ignoring its base. As if to underscore that argument, Democratic National Party Chair Tom Perez found himself as the target of boos and jeers during his convention appearance.

The left-wing activists, the so-called “Berniecrats,” believe that governing from the middle is unacceptable.

It’s the same concept and the same defiance shown on the other end of the political spectrum in Washington, D.C., where the House Freedom Caucus regularly questions the authority of the Republican leadership.

It’s a given that mainstream voters go nowhere near political conventions like the one in Sacramento, so we shouldn’t make too much of how the party feuding will impact voter behavior.

Still, the bad blood on display is something that Bauman, the new party chair, will have to bring under control if the Democrats, California’s dominant party, want to focus on winning in 2018.