Party Insider Claims Democratic Chair After Dramatic Race
Longtime Democratic party leader Eric Bauman narrowly beat back a challenge by progressive activist Kimberly Ellis to claim the role of state party chair this weekend after a raucous convention that belied schisms between the party faithful in California.
Bauman won by just 62 votes in a race where just under 3,000 delegates weighed in. When the tally came in late Saturday, Ellis refused to concede, even as Bauman claimed victory.
On Sunday morning, party leaders huddled with lawyers for Ellis and Bauman to sort out questions over voting irregularities raised by Ellis supporters. Those supporters also drafted a petition calling for a recount.
Ultimately, Ellis agreed to simply have her campaign review the ballots, which include each delegates' name. But her supporters were still angry, meeting Bauman with sneers of "Not our chair!" as he attempted to make a victory speech. He ultimately gave up.
Alexis Edelstein, a 40-year-old Los Angeles delegate for Ellis, said he believes the vote process was opaque and that there could be irregularities. He said the vote -- combined with Bernie Sanders' loss last year in the presidential primary and the defeat of progressive candidate Keith Ellison for national Democratic Party chair -- is starting to sour some younger, newer party activists.
"We got screwed in Philly, we got screwed in Atlanta and now we got screwed here," he said. "They’re alienating the grassroots and activists that got involved. I can’t guarantee that anyone here is going to stay, after Philadelphia there was a large Dem exit, we don't want to see that happen again but at this point I don't know what to tell everybody to try to stay in the party."
The close race was driven by the hundreds of delegates new to party politics who ran for seats in January and won. Many of those new delegates -- who were moved to get involved after last year's divisive Democratic primary and President Donald Trump's surprise victory -- backed Ellis. Clad in bright pink shirts that read "Unbossed, Unbought," they packed the convention hall and at times interrupted speeches to call for single-payer health care and support Ellis.
Bauman, a longtime labor leader who has led the Los Angeles Democratic Party since 2000 and served as California Democratic party chair since 2009, said even before the vote that he wanted to mend fences with Ellis' more liberal, younger supporters. The weekend convention in Sacramento recalled tension between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters at last year's Democratic National Convention.
Bauman said he knows that many of Ellis' supporters may be disappointed by his win but pledged to give everyone a seat at the table.
"I know how to steer the ship, run the ship, but the energy and new ideas come from the new people and young people and I’m not afraid of that," he said. "I welcome that because that’s what keeps our party vibrant, that’s what keeps us alive, and that's what keeps us moving forward."
Bauman replaces former Congressman and state lawmaker John Burton, who led the party for the past eight years. He inherits a party that has made great strides -- all of California's statewide elected officials are Democrats and the party enjoys two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature -- but is struggling with tensions between urban and more rural areas, and outsiders who want to push the party further left.
In her campaign, Ellis -- who previously led an organization that recruits women to run for office -- had promised to help heal wounds within the party and make space for new people and their ideas.
It's unclear how deep those divisions now run -- or if the many delegates who are new to party politics will stay involved. On Saturday during her speech to the convention, California Nurses Association RoseAnn DeMoro, warned that progressives won't blindly continue to support Democrats if they don't feel its representatives are willing to take risks.
"If you dismiss progressive values and reinforce the dynamic status quo, don’t assume the activists around California and the nation are going to stay with the Democratic Party," she said.
DeMoro's main priority -- enacting a single-payer health care system in California -- is up for debate in the state Legislature; its success or failure will hinge on if more moderate Democratic lawmakers and Governor Jerry Brown can support it.
But as outgoing chair John Burton repeatedly reminded convention-goers this weekend, single payer is already enshrined in the state's party platform.