In Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, Sr. Political Reporter Carla Marinucci writes about the race for chair of the California Democratic Party:
“Even as the Democratic Party rides an Obama-fueled wave of youth, enthusiasm and “change,” the Democrats of California look to be bucking the trend: They’re preparing to elect former state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, 77, the iconic, battle-scarred veteran of state politics, as their party leader.
It’s a move not without controversy: The powerful former legislator, who first held the job of party chairman 36 years ago, is to his fans a colorful idol of progressive politics and to his critics the very symbol of old school, insider machine politics.”
The article goes on to paint Senator Burton’s election as nearly inevitable. But the comments are fascinating. In 6 pages of comments I read this morning, two supported Senator Burton. The rest were pretty consistent–the CDP needs to stop recycling retired politicians to lead the party. One poster wanted to know if this meant disco was coming back too. As hilarious as they were, they pointed to a pretty disturbing perception among California voters–that the CDP is resistant to, and even actively hostile to change.
Marinucci also points to a possibility that others have noted, saying “Republicans watching the show say Burton’s election would provide them with plenty of material for attack.
“It’s the party of clogged arteries,” says GOP consultant Kevin Spillane, who advises GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner. “They’re going to be led by survivors of the 1960s and 1970s, when people are looking for 21st century solutions.”
But Barbara O’Connor, professor of political communication at Cal State Sacramento, says “I think it is an homage to long years of public service and friendship. Many people owe him their careers, their electability … and it’s payback time,” she said.
While “his demographics are not similar to Obama’s,” he has a constituency that is key, she said: “He brings labor solidly behind him – and the old party guard.'”
And she is exactly right. That’s who will be in charge of the CDP–labor and the old party guard. As Marinucci points out, that’s an unusual choice when the desire for change was obviously so high. In a year when Barack Obama won California by 24%. When the grassroots activists we depend on all over the state to do the Party’s business all year–between elections and during them–are clamoring for more accountability, transparency, and control.
Is that what California Democrats want? Homage? Or do we want a Party that can be effective? That can support the issues and candidates that matter to us? And a chair that can actually lead our party into this century and the next.
Before I heard about the column, I sent out a second email to CDP delegates about my campaign last night. I’ve been fairly stunned at the response. At the number of people who have taken the trouble to email back to say they’ve heard of me, or heard me, and are going to vote for me.
Like many others, Marinucci doesn’t give my campaign much of a chance. But most people didn’t think Americans were ready to elect a black man as president. Few people believed Jerry McNerney could win a seat in Congress. But I worked in Jerry’s campaign, and he never doubted it.
One lady today asked me if I would appoint her to the state standing committee she currently serves on after I was elected chair. Maybe she’s just being nice. But maybe in an era where a wind engineer can go to Congress and a black man to the White House, the CDP can stop electing members of the old guard as chair.
One commenter to Marinucci’s story said he nearly snorted his corn flakes when the story painted me as the defender of California’s youth. At 59 myself, I am a pretty unlikely champion for the future. But my vision for the CDP is vastly different than John Burton’s. My dedication to change is what has kept me going through a physically and financially taxing campaign. And my commitment to the California Democrats who answer my emails and come up to talk to me after central committee meetings is what keeps me going.
Change is possible. If only enough state central committee members believe in and vote for it on April 25.