Did the California Democratic Party establishment deal Bernie Sanders-oriented insurgents another devastating defeat at the party convention in Sacramento this weekend, as some would have it? I was one of those insurgents and I don’t think so.
The sense of insurgency that caused me to become a first-time California convention delegate had to do with the desire to reorient the party from reliance on corporate funding and values toward the type of profound identification with working class aspirations and interests that Sanders had brought to the presidential primaries. From that perspective, I neither thought that I had a horse in the race, nor did I think that this fact invalidated the state Democratic Party as an institution to work with.
Eric Bauman, who moved up to party chair from being the party’s male vice-chair, and Kimberly Ellis, past executive director of Emerge California, who lost the race by 62 votes out of nearly 3,000 cast, actually displayed rather similar political profiles. Both had backed Hillary Clinton, Bauman perhaps emblematic of her party-insider base and Ellis her feminist enthusiasts. Afterward both apparently got a bit of the Sanders-religion and endorsed Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison’s unsuccessful run for national party chair.
Members of my San Francisco teachers union told me Bauman had been great on education issues as head of the L.A. County party organization, and the head of a health care workers union called to urge support for him. But the fact that a company in which he is a principal took over $100,000 to work against Proposition 61, an unsuccessful 2016 effort to reduce drug prices, seemed disqualifying to me.
On the other hand, I didn’t see Ellis as a real alternative. Her organization trains women to run for political office but its two most prominent trainees in San Francisco politics, supervisors London Breed and Malia Cohen, while undoubtedly capable and honorable public servants, generally line up on the corporate, big-money side on a lot of The City’s big issues. She was also known to enjoy the support of charter school enthusiasts. So while I understood the effort of organizations like the California Nurses Association and Our Revolution to get her elected — if you form the base of an insurgency, the candidate at its head does owe you something — I was not eager to cast my vote that way either. (I ultimately opted for a third candidate, although I was prepared to vote for Ellis in the run-off that would have occurred had there been no first ballot majority.)
And the weekend showed us that there are even more important races crying out for a real alternative. Is there, for instance, a gubernatorial candidate who fits the profile I’ve described? Several devoted much time, effort and money to trying to win us over this past weekend, but I didn’t hear the sort of approach I think the situation calls for.
The two take-aways for me here are that the Sanders forces (generally lionized at the convention, actually) did not really experience a rejection of their viewpoint, as it was not really on offer; and, that even if they had, that would be no reason not to soldier on. The new Sanders insurgents and the old Clinton regulars are really pretty much stuck with each other in the current so-called anti-Trump “resistance” and the Democratic Party is the arena where the opposition gathers. So while the pushing and shoving between the two sides may feel a lot like roller derby some days, that’s OK. The divisions are real — and deep: the now-sainted former President Barack Obama’s recent decision to accept a $400,000 speaking fee from a Wall Street firm reminds us how differently the two sides approach things. Nevertheless, the real action remains in finding our candidates and putting them in front of the voters next year. If we think we’re the real, effective alternative to Trump, that’s how we prove it.
Tom Gallagher is chair of San Francisco Progressive Democrats of America. He was a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention and is a past member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.