|(February 13, 2021, 4:20 p.m.) -- A slate of Democrats backed by Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Congressman Alan Lowenthal captured 10 of 14 available seats making them delegates to the CA Democratic Party's platform-steering Central Committee. Full results are at this link. The election revealed division within the party locally in Assembly District 70 ("ADEM70") encompassing most of Long Beach as well as Signal Hill, San Pedro, and Avalon.
Assembly District Election Meetings (ADEMs) can be seen as a bellwether for the direction of the state party and give opportunities to party members to become more prominent and activists to gain representation. Elected every odd numbered year, some cycles have proven more significant than others, especially for those in the party’s progressive wing who hope to wrest power away from more moderate, establishment elements.
The Party's Central Committee decides party officers, the party platform, and state and federal endorsements. Elected delegates (seven self-identifying as female with the other seven non-female identifying) comprise a third of Central Committee decision makers. The other two-thirds consist of elected federal officials, state officials, party officers, and their respective appointees and appointees by members of the County Central Committee.
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In 2017, fresh off the heels of a successful primary for Bernie Sanders in California, progressive delegates nearly took control of the party’s chairmanship via candidate Kimberly Ellis who narrowly lost to longtime insider and former Los Angeles County Democratic Chairman Eric Bauman. Bauman won by just over 60 votes but stepped down in 2019 amid allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
This year, observers are keeping an eye on the race for the Party’s vice-chair after State Controller Betty Yee jumped in to challenge current state party secretary Jenny Bach. It’s unusual for a statewide elected official to run for the seat and may signal an expectation that current party chair Rusty Hicks will vacate his seat prematurely. Two slates in AD 70 ran as the "progressive" and "grassroots" option. The Blue Revolution slate was largely made up of activist sand community organizers along with a Long Beach City Council staffer and former Long Beach Councilmember Jeannine Pearce. That slate's candidates included Ben Hauck, a co-founder of Public Bank Los Angeles; Dr. Elaine Villanueva Bernal, a member of Long Beach Alliance for Clean Energy and faculty member at Cal State Long Beach, who won her seat; and Jerry Garcia, an ILWU member and chairman of Our Revolution Long Beach.
Blue Revolution ran on policies including defunding the police, abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and enacting Medicare for All while the Community slate ran on more moderate prescriptions such as increased education resources, criminal justice reform, and health care for all. "(Blue Revolution) has a shared a common goal to advocate and bring a voice to the needs of everyday, ordinary people without the influence of corporate money," said Blue Revolution candidate Reverend William Summerville via email.
Though only securing four delegate seats, Blue Revolution’s Vandearlynn Vong, 21, was the night’s top vote getter with 624 votes and won a coveted position on the Executive Board. Vong is a legislative aide to Long Beach Sixth District Councilmember Suely Saro and was a Bernie Sanders delegate at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. "Our group is running to push for policies that will bring equity," Vong said prior to the results being announced. "We are very interested in making rules changes and utilizing the leverage we have as delegates to push for policy."
Seven of Community slate’s members were elected officials and five were staff members of elected officials. The slate’s newly elected delegates include:LBCC Trustee Herlinda Chico, LBUSD Board of Education member Megan Kerr and District Director for Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell Marisol Barajas.
.'Elected officials already get one-third of the seats within the state party. These fourteen seatsare meant to provide a voice to the local community," Ms,. Vong said. "I find it disgusting that Mayor (Robert Garcia) and Assemblymember (Patrick O’Donnell) and Congressman (Alan Lownethal) endorsed this slate when they already have power in the party."
Connor Lock, a Community Slate elected delegate is Chief of Staff for newly elected Long Beach 2nd district Councilmember Cindy Allen. He points out that while he’s understanding of this argument, local elected officials are technically nonpartisan and are not granted the same voting power as state and federal Democrats within the state party."Some folks may think they have special access to party infrastructure but formally they don't,"Lock said. "A nonpartisan councilmember in Long Beach,San Pedro, (or) Signal Hill doesn't have a formal role in the Democratic party and if they want to be a member of the State Central Committee, they’re a voter just like everyone else."
"There are some great folks on their slate, it’s not about that," said Vong. "The largest distinction between our slate and the Community slate: intention and will to push the party."
Early on, the state party faced criticism for its handling of the election. Normally an in-person event, past ADEM elections were a tactile form of party politics with campaigning occurring while voters waited in line to receive paper ballots which were eventually tabulated with party members looking on and results announced on a dry erase board. Not possible due toCOVID-19, this year’s ADEMs were done solely by mail with candidates posting their statements to social media and Youtube. Numerous reports of late ballots forced the party to extend its deadline for receiving ballots.
On election night, ADEM 70 results were posted later than promised and were initially inaccurate causing frustration."This entire process has been flawed from the start,"said Ben Hauck on Tuesday night. "We totally understand that, with COVID, having to move to a mail-in ballot is very challenging... but party leadership, including Chair Rusty Hicks, is well aware that a very large number of people who requested their ballot did not receive their ballot and that a lot of people who returned their ballots never received confirmation that they were received. "Requests for comment from the California Democratic Party were not returned as of this story's publication time.
Despite hiccups and an ad hoc strategy for managing the election, Signal Hill Vice Mayor Keir Jones (among those elected as part of the Community slate) believes that ultimately mail-in may have allowed for more participation and could be effective going forward once the lessons of this cycle are implemented.
"In the past, you had to show up in a short window of time and participate," Jones said. "Mail-ins are the best way to get participation, it gives more access to more folks."
Vong says that she will advocate for future ADEM elections to be language accessible. This year’s ballots were only offered in English and Spanish. A member of the Cambodian-American community here in Long Beach, many of her supporters are monolingual Khmer speakers. "A process needs to happen where the regional director works with the candidates or volunteers to make sure the election materials are in all languages relevant to that assembly district," Vong said
Mr. Brizzolara, an independent journalist based in Long Beach, can be reached on Twitter @BrizzolaraJoe.
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