Party Activists Must Object to the Automatic-Endorsement of Incumbents to Prevent This.
California Democrats have a big problem. Two sitting Assemblymembers, Raúl Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh, resigned after they were accused of sexually harassing and committing other improprieties against women. But these two are the tip of the iceberg. According to rumors circulating within party activists and legislators, the Los Angeles Times has a list of twelve legislators with credible complaints of sexual harassment against them. Two of those legislators are said to be Republicans, which leaves ten Democrats. One of the Democratic legislators included in the list I was given, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, recently resigned citing health reasons. Another, Senator Tony Mendoza, has been publicly accused of luring a 19 year old intern to his hotel room and giving her alcohol, and inviting a potential employee to his apartment to “review her and other resumes” and then firing the staffers that reported this. Mendoza has taken a forced leave of absence, but he is still running for re-election and seeking the Democratic endorsement. He has been calling party delegates to demand they support him.
Chances are both Mendoza, and the other six still publicly unnamed Democrats supposedly in the list of accused sexual harassers – some of whom may even be rapists -, will receive the California Democratic Party’s endorsement. That’s because of recently passed rules that make it almost automatic for incumbent Democrats to get the Party’s endorsement and impossible to challenge them once they are placed in the consent calendar. In trying to protect its incumbents, the California Democratic Party is taking the risk of being known as the Party that endorses sexual harassment.
As the rules stand, an incumbent Congressmember, Assemblymember or State Senator will be automatically placed in the Party’s endorsement consent calendar, unless 20% of the voters at a pre-endorsement conference file an objection by January 17th. These voters are mostly composed of party delegates , county central committee members living in the district and representatives from democratic clubs based in the district. Incumbents themselves are delegates and they get to appoint another 5 or 6 delegates, depending on the office. Incumbents also often endorse and fund slates of candidates for elected delegate and central committee spots, thus controlling a considerable percentage of the votes at pre-endorsement conferences. Even when incumbents do not control voters, it’s very difficult for Democratic Party activists to sign a formal objection like it’s required. The incumbents are still in office and will be for at least another year, and they could easily retaliate by voting against bills activists support or sabotaging the activists’ incipient political careers. Fears of retaliation run rampant within the Democratic Party and with good reason.
Still, if the California Democratic Party is going to retain any dignity and credibility for the 2018 elections, Party members must put those fears aside and file objections against incumbents. They must do it in the case of Tony Mendoza, but they must also do it at the very least against all the incumbents rumored to be in the list – and perhaps against all incumbents altogether as an insurance against any abhorrent information about them that may appear between now and the Convention in late February. Challenging an incumbent does not mean that the incumbents will not get the party’s endorsement – rather, it means that there will be opportunities to remove them from the endorsement consent calendar in the future, if negative information comes to light. But if they are not challenged now, they cannot be removed later if that occurs.
There are, of course, other reasons to challenge incumbents. It is healthy in any democracy to have representatives periodically have to make their case for re-election and endorsement before the voters. Just as we don’t automatically elect incumbents to their next terms, we shouldn’t automatically endorse them either.
I therefore urge my fellow delegates, central committee members and club reps throughout the state, to file objections to the automatic endorsement of incumbent legislators in their districts.
If this is not done, and any sexual harasser makes it to the consent calendar without the possibility of being removed – then CDP delegates will only have one choice to prevent sexual harassers from receiving the Party’s endorsement and making the CDP the party that endorses sexual harassment: to vote down the whole consent calendar. There will be no possibility to vote on the individual endorsements of Democratic candidates in the consent calendar – they must all be approved together. The consent calendar will includes all the Democratic Assemblymembers, State Senators and Congressmembers that have been recommended for the endorsement – up to over 180 candidates. It seems, on its face, unfair to punish so many good Democrats by denying them the party’s endorsement simply because it’d be the only way to deny it to sexual harassers. But if it’s a choice between that and endorsing sexual harassers, I believe we should vote to not endorse anyone. Let’s hope we don’t have to make that choice.