Even as an internal party simmers in Washington, as moderate Democrats struggle to curb the influence of progressives, it seems a similar dilemma is occurring in one of the nation’s most liberal states, as several prominent Democratic figures fight for dominance.
Despite coming off an impressive midterm election cycle in which California Democrats picked up seven seats in the House and a supermajority in the State Legislature, there remain questions about the leadership, guidance and future direction of the California Democratic Party as a whole.
With leaders like Governor Gavin Newsom, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Speaker Nancy Pelosi occupying prominent roles on the national stage, it’s tempting to assume one of them calls the shots in the state party. Not so much.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked and unappreciated roles influencing California’s unique political landscape is the role of party chairman. Although the duties of party chairman are often quite different from that of a party leader, it would be unwise for any politician to disregard the authority associated with the position.
Leading the way in everything from campaigning, fundraising and recruitment, the chairman of his or her delegated party holds an immense amount of power. Often the chairman is also able to choose candidates, which means for anyone looking to climb the ranks, its best they get on that person’s good side.
With California Democrats in the overwhelming majority, it’d be easy to assume a strong party atmosphere. In fact, the current state of California’s Democratic Party—and specifically the party’s chairmanship—is dismal at best.
In November, former Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman went down in flames and was forced to resign when he found himself engulfed in a serious sexual misconduct allegation. Stemming from staffers within the Democratic Party, the allegation suggested that Bauman had engaged in highly inappropriate sexual misconduct and that he had been very ‘hands on’ with a particular employee. Following the news, the search began to fill his spot.
Last month, the California Globe covered Kimberly Ellis’s announcement to run for the coveted position. After barely losing the 2017 Democratic Chairmanship race to Bauman, this will be Ellis’s second attempt to lead the party.
At the time, Ellis stood alone as the only candidate gunning for the spot, however, since her announcement the race has heated up.
Daraka Larimore-Hall, a top official in the California Democratic Party has just publicized that he too wants a crack at the party’s chair. Serving as former chairman of the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County, Larimore-Hall has been a longtime state party representative and was one of the first to call for the resignation of Bauman. Compared to Ellis, he hails from a more conservative background.
Larimore-Hall promised in an email to supporters “both structural and cultural change at every level of our Party” and touched on completing the “top-to-bottom investigation” of all allegations within the Democratic Party.
“In order to be where we need to be for 2020, we have to confront the culture of abuse and fear that allowed someone to behave in such a vile way for so long,” Larimore-Hall told the LA Times. “We can’t brush it aside or think that our activists or our candidates or our donors are going to forget about this overnight.”
Larimore-Hall’s ‘vision’ and statements are very similar to Ellis’s theme. She told her supporters that an important goal would be to “reform the tone, tenor and culture of the California Democratic Party and rebuild the trust that has been broken.”
Larimore-Hall also currently serves vice chairman of the state party which would generally give him an advantage, however, Bauman’s exceptionally narrow victory over Ellis in last year’s election makes this race look like a toss-up.
The stage is set and the vote is expected to take place until May at the state party convention in San Francisco.
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