Earlier this month, I attended my fourth California Democratic Party Convention as an elected delegate to the State Central Committee (or DSCC). If I tried to explain how CDP functions, I’d blow my word limit, and you’d still be confused. So instead, I’ll direct you to this fun and informative video.
At its core, the DSCC exists to set a platform for California Democrats and endorse candidates for state and federal offices. Candidates aggressively seek the party’s stamp of approval because it means financial and volunteer support from various party factions—labor unions, environmentalists, equal rights groups, etc.—and the chance to position themselves as the best choice for Democratic primary voters.
Primary endorsement contests generally amount to two formerly cordial Democrats nitpicking their respective records to death. Ideally, these squabbles would be resolved at the local level, but invariably, DSCC delegates are treated to gauntlets of campaign hacks chanting and waving signs, lobbying that borders on harassment, and piles of campaign cash expended on what amounts to infighting.
The Citizens Redistricting Commission— created by voters in 2008 and revised in 2010—threw a twist into this year’s process by dramatically shifting legislative district lines across the state without regard for incumbents or party strength. In some areas, incumbents of the same party were drawn into the same turf, triggering a boon for political consultants and realtors and a nightmare for party cognoscenti.
The top-two, open primary—see: Prop 14 (2008)—added another wrinkle by making it possible for two Dems to duke it out in June only to reprise the same fight in November in districts where no viable candidate emerges from another party.
Because nobody truly knows what to expect when voters begin casting ballots, this year’s “Dem-on-Dem” endorsement races became knock-down, drag-out fights for any shred of superiority, complete with mud-slinging hit pieces and ballot shenanigans.
At the local level, current Assemblyman Jim Beall, Jr., is pitted against former Assemblyman Joe Coto in the new 15th State Senate District, which stretches across the valley from Saratoga to Alum Rock.
Personally, I prefer to stay out of Dem-on-Dem races unless they involve family members, close personal friends, or candidates who have absolutely no business running. This is especially true when I know and like both candidates and have little interest in picking sides, similar to when two good friends who were dating break up.
My policy of neutrality applied to the SD-15 race. But it didn’t prevent me from receiving more than a dozen phone calls, texts and emails from both sides, nor did it keep a third-party organization (which shall remain nameless) from lobbying my mother to influence my vote.
But that seems tame when compared to the tussle over the new 30th Congressional District in the San Fernando Valley between fellow Democratic Caucus members Howard Berman and Brad Sherman. I’ll let you read about that one for yourself.
The end result of these primary wars will be millions of dollars and countless hours sucked up by races that Democrats will almost certainly win in November, while the party’s goals of taking back the House and winning two-thirds majorities in the state legislature fall by the wayside due to lack of resources.
So how much is the party’s endorsement really worth?
In the case of Beall and Coto (and Berman and Sherman), we’ll never know. Neither candidate secured enough votes to be endorsed.
Peter Allen is an independent communications consultant and a proud native of San José. He is serving his second term as an elected delegate to the California Democratic State Central Committee.