Last Wednesday was the first meeting of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee of the year, as well as the swearing-in of the elected and re-elected members of the Committee. We were sworn in by Senate Majority Leader and San Leandro native Ellen Corbett, in a very uneventful ceremony.
Every member of the Committee, including “ad-hoc” members (Democrats elected to state and national offices who live in Alameda county), picks an alternate who can represent them when they can’t make it to the meetings. The alternates then have to be approved by the whole committee. My alternate this term is Tim Holmes. He is the owner of Zocalo Coffeehouse in San Leandro (where many a Democratic event has taken place), and a co-founder of the San Leandro Community Action Network. He is one of the most influential political voices in San Leandro, but he is also very liberal, perhaps even as liberal as I am. He is a better communicator, however.
We also voted to approve the Committee’s delegates to the state convention (basically, all the Committee members plus some of the alternates) and for Committee officers (Chair, Vice Chair, Recording Secretary, Corresponding Secretary and Treasurer). All of the latter ran unopposed and all but one were unanimously approved.
The one exception was Royce Kelley, who was running to be re-appointed Vice-Chair of the Committee. He is currently one of the state party’s regional directors. There was one vote against him: mine. I could not in good conscience vote for him, given the conflict of interest that holding his position signifies.
Royce Kelley is one of the principals at Alliance Campaigns Strategies. He and Angela Ramirez-Holmes, another member of the Committee, specialize in managing the political campaigns of Democrats running for office in Alameda county.
Candidates for local office usually seek the endorsement of the Democratic Party as a “seal of approval” to use in their literature; in the case of local candidates for non-partisan office, this means endorsement by the county Central Committee. Candidates are first interviewed by the Committee’s Executive Board, which is composed of the Chair, Vice-Chair, Treasurer, Secretaries and the District Vice-Chairs (each AD delegation gets to appoint its own vice-chair). The Executive Board then votes on which candidates should be put on the consent calendar to get the party’s endorsement. While it’s possible for regular Committee members to pull candidates from the consent calendar, it’s pretty rare. Usually, if you make it to the consent calendar, the endorsement is yours.
Both Kelley and Ramirez-Holmes are members of the Executive Board, as was their former partner, Shawn Wilson. Robin Torello, the Committee Chair, is very close to Kelley and they often speak with one voice. What this means is that Alliance Campaigns has an inordinate amount of influence on who gets the Democratic endorsement in Alameda county.
Now, I will not presume to say that Kelley and Ramirez-Holmes vote or lobby for the candidates that have hired them. However, they do seem to have represented quite a few candidates that have gotten the Democratic endorsement, even when running against more progressive candidates. And many candidates believe that they must hire Alliance Campaign if they want to get the Democratic endorsement, or at least prevent their opponents from getting it. I find this very problematic from an ethical point of view. A democratic system that is not or has the appearance of not being clean, an endorsement system that is based on something other than an objective evaluation of who is the best candidate for that often, is a corrupt and undemocratic system. And that’s what I ran to stand up against.
I understand why even fellow committee members who agree with me, are reluctant to speak out loud about this matter. If you hope to have a political career, it’s not a good idea to make powerful enemies. But I also believe that we need to vocally stand for what we believe, and I believe in a fair and open process.
Margarita Lacabe is an elected member of the Alameda County Central Democratic Committee, representing the new 18th Assembly District (Alameda, San Leandro and parts of Oakland). She lives in San Leandro and blogs about local politics, often complaining about lack of transparency at City Hall. This blog is her attempt to put her money where her mouth is.