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Dear AD54:

There have been a lot of elections lately. Democrat Isaac Bryan won outright the special AD54 assembly district primary for the seat fallowed by Kamlager-Dove’s senate upgrade – and by a margin of just 327 votes (± 0.78% of 42,288 certified votes; 42,717 ballots were cast comprising 14% of our 302,040 registered AD54 voters).

While inside the Democratic Party (DP) itself there have been four internal elections, very different by nature because these concern the Party’s own operations.

First were the “ADEM” elections (Assembly District Election Meetings) at the beginning of the year. The name is confusing because it references a former system where assembly district constituents once met regularly. Now these biennial assemblies meet in odd-numbered years exclusively to elect 14 delegates directly to the CA Sstate Central Committee (DSCC or CDP). Collectively across the state’s 80 assembly districts, these delegates comprise about one-third of the approximately 3500 DSCC, state party delegates (see the slightly-updated figure from last newsletter. Note carefully the totals represent a maximum in the PLEO column, and a changing approximation in the county Dem Central Cmtes (DCC) column).

As the DP is a private organization, elections to the CDP are conducted directly by the organization itself. Hence voters received their ballot through the mail this year by application to the state party.

However the state and county central committees are “quasi-autonomous.” Here in Los Angeles county, the LAC registrar-recorder conducts the LAC-DP’s elections even though the organization is non-governmental. Little wonder there is confusion, even ambiguity, regarding the public vs private nature of political parties.

A second cohort of DSCC members derives from the county DCCs (Democratic Central Committees). Each county’s nomination process varies but its total elected is a function of the number of county-wide registered Democrats. With over 3 million registered Democrats, LAC sends the most delegates to CDP by a factor of 3.5x.


There was a nominal, internal election regarding the LAC delegates to DSCC. However because in practice LAC sends so many delegates on an absolute basis, the process in LAC is not selective. Every member of LACDP that I am aware of, at least – whether elected, alternate, or appointed – all who asked were nominated and ratified by floor vote to become DSCC delegates.

Then was the mother of internal contests, elections to CDP leadership by the DSCC delegates. Five offices were at stake,:  Chair, two Vice-Chairs (of opposite genders), Secretary and Controller. However the debate was not between candidates, but regarding distribution of power among state Party officers. Formerly all committee appointments have been the exclusive prerogative of the Chair’s. And across the spectrum there is objection to such autocracy. How “reform” was addressed came down to anti-establishment sentinel votes (which I adopted) or acceptance of the Party-line that reform was at hand. That is, many who voted for the set of candidates putatively favored by the incumbent Chair, nevertheless conveyed in my opinion very clearly, that this is Change which is expected.

And indeed the new leadership has opened with a more transparent and inclusive style. While incumbent Rusty Hicks failed to run a slate explicitly, the group which was elected with him (David Campos, VC; Betty Yee, VC; Melahat Rafiei , Sect’y; April Verrett, Contrlr), is seemingly operating as a team. And though the “alternative” and in some cases even incumbent candidates (Daraka Larimore-Hall, Jenny Bach, Diana Love, Norma Alcala) did not gain a majority, their pressure to restrain cronyism may have.

The latest internal election winnowed a subset of DSCC delegates to represent LACDP on the CDP’s “executive board” (“Eboard”). At approximately 10% of the full state convention, this group meets at least twice more annually, addressing unfinished business more nimbly and efficiently.

I was not elected to represent us at this distilled Party session. Selection of all but one candidate was ordained from a large, predetermined slate of 30.

Mathematically, running a slate so large as to comprise more than 50% of the total candidate field, means that those who pledge a priori to vote for one another will foreclose the election before it is held. Functionally this maintains an ingroup and an outgroup. This slate comprised 72% of the total candidate field (30 of 42), and 17% of the electorate (30 of 175). Of its 30 constituents, all but four belong to the select set already chosen by LACDP leadership to serve on Party committees (and one of these is excepted by virtue of election to county-wide public office). This large slate, of LACDP insiders, is one means to obstruct any incorporation of new to the ingroup.

Moreover, a slate among a large set of candidates mandated to be representative individuals of a diverse group, instills artificial competition between the internal members of a body that itself is meant to be collaborative. These individuals are not elected to accomplish work collaboratively as a group, instead the slate functions simply to exclude others from it. The election of ADEMS is typically achieved via slate, with similar collateral damage to collegiality.

There are circumstances where a slate may be beneficial. For example in the instance where a small set of officers is required to work constructively together (eg, CDP officer elections, President & VP of the US). This eliminates unfortunate undercurrents of competition that could inhibit the collaborative work of future colleagues.

Ironically it may in part be collegiality itself that undermines collaborative growth, not deliberate design or deficiency. Among the electorate are two distinct subpopulations that differ as a function of familiarity, or collegiality with one another. “Party leaders and elected officials” (PLEOs; represented by the first column in the figure above reflecting the composition of CDP (not LACDP) membership), have less interaction in many cases with grassroots ADEM activists or LAC elected members (note that each ADEM election selects one member per AD for Eboard, who as well then becomes a member of LACDP and eligible to vote for LACDP Eboard members). And voting among these groups for the large slate is markedly different. Without the collegiality of interaction that flows among the more populist delegates, PLEO candidates are pressed to rely blindly on blanket slate recommendations. On average among those who themselves were not elected to the Eboard, PLEO members voted for 20% more slate candidates than elected members did. Thereby amplifying further the power of the large slate to ordain its predetermined constituents. And from among a class of relatively isolated, non-populist Democrats, disproportionately.

Our mission as Democrats is clear enough, but it is disconcerting that the Democratic Party may not faithfully reflect the ideals of free and fair democratic elections. There are instances when utilizing a slate would be more honest yet we do not; and instances when slates inappropriately dominate at the expense of individual excellence and novelty. Perhaps our internal systems, too, need realigning in order to be more true with our vision.

Click here for April’s 2021 statewide Democratic Party convention resolutions.