Anatomy of a CDP Endorsement: How Sacramento Insiders Rig The System Against Grassroots Candidates

Grassroots activists in Assembly District 50 received a hard lesson in “Incumbent-Protection 101” this weekend. Despite losing every Democratic Club endorsement in the district, candidate (and current 53rd AD Assembly member) Betsy Butler managed to get 57% of the vote at yesterday’s California Democratic Party “pre-endorsement” caucus, beating her opponent, Torie Osborn, who had won the support of every local club who voted to endorse, often by overwhelming margins.

Welcome to the myopic world of hard-ball Sacramento politics.

Every year, CDP delegates meet a few weeks before their yearly state convention to “pre-endorse” (aka recommend) Democratic candidates they believe are worthy of their party’s institutional support.

Candidates who received between 50% and 70% of the votes at their local weekend meeting are now eligible for, but not guaranteed of, the state Democratic party’s seal of approval at the February convention. And if no one received at least 50% of the votes, Dems won’t offer any endorsement in that legislative or congressional primary.

(And don’t even ask me the rules for how Democrats in these local party meetings gained eligibility to vote. Instructions from IKEA make more sense.)

Again, these meetings and subsequent endorsements are notable because of the brave new world of party primaries, ushered in by 2010’s Proposition 14 top-two system. It’s a world unsettled, too, by new district maps that have left more open seats than at any time in recent history.

As such, a number of Democratic candidates are scrambling for an advantage. And the gold standard is thought (by many) to be the official “Democratic Party candidate” come June.

The CDP endorsement is particularly important to Butler, who has little name recognition in AD50, having moved from the South Bay to avoid running against Tea Party candidates in her home district.

Theoretically at least, the delegates voting in these caucuses are supposed to be from the home district of the candidate they’re voting to endorse. And actually, the delegates themselves are. However, the politicians who “own” these delegates don’t have to be.

Only about a third of CDP delegates are elected by popular vote. The other two-thirds are appointed by politicians or elected by Central Committees. And in contested races like the one for the 50th Assembly District, delegates can be traded amongst politicians like playing cards.

That’s exactly what happened yesterday in the AD50 pre-endorsement caucus.

Of the 64 votes Butler received, 5 of those came from delegates she herself appointed. Forty-two delegates were assigned by Assembly Speaker John Perez, who pulled them from assembly members in districts as far away as San Francisco and Riverside.

Torie Osborn, on the other hand, not being an elected official, could not assign herself delegates. The numerous Democratic club endorsements she secured weren’t particularly helpful either, since party rules severely limited the number of delegates they’re allotted. Some endorsing clubs weren’t eligible to send delegates at all.

Dorothy Reik, President of the Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains – one of the clubs endorsing Osborn – attended the pre-endorsement caucus.

“John Heaner, the chair of the 13th District who was running the meeting, tried to claim that other electeds had a stong interest in our district and had sent the delegates on their own.” said Reik,”That is ridiculous. Those delegates were not even in the room for the most part. What should have been an example of local democracy in action turned into a farce.”

Butler failed to get the 70% needed for unanimous consent at the CDP convention, so she’ll have to wait until February for another endorsement vote at the convention to seal the deal. It’s entirely possible grassroots activists won’t let this go without a fight, and could organize to block Butler’s endorsement.

But such moves are rare, success rarer still. The grassroots are woefully underrepresented at the State Convention, the delegation an almost perfect microcosm of Sacramento itself – insular, inclined to protect the status quo and resistant to overcoming institutional inertia.

But in the age of “occupy”, grassroots activists seem less willing than ever to put up with the status quo. As one young Osborn supporter put it, “Folks in Sacramento should take note that AD50 supports Torie Osborn without a doubt,and will fight to make her voice heard”

Fasten your seat belts, kids, this could be a bumpy ride.

4 thoughts on “Anatomy of a CDP Endorsement: How Sacramento Insiders Rig The System Against Grassroots Candidates”

  1. The author of the article fails to mention she’s an ardent supporter of Torie Osborn (so much for objectivity and bias identification).

    But more importantly this author has railed against Democratic Clubs on her own BLOG describing them as useless and worse in recent months.

    Now that her candidate failed to get the CDP endorsement, she is now (the author) the defender of the very clubs she has criticized time and time again!

    It’s hypocrisy on steroids.

    It is this political hypocrisy, not the quality of the Osborn candidacy that infuriates longstanding club members and activists who have to read these mindless “insights” of an individual to my knowledge has never run a successful political campaign at any level, anywhere.

  2. Well that part is left off of this article and with good reason.

    They staked (they call it organizing) the clubs with supporters already committed to Torie. A wealthy donor wrote $1,000 checks to Malibu Dems, WeHo Dems and Stonewall to buy memberships for folks. The purpose? To rig the election in favor of Betsy Butler’s opponent. I think Torie got the endorsements fair and square, how you may ask? By playing the politics as usual game.

    I’m a grassroots democrat and I support Betsy Butler.

  3. Torie Osborn’s accusations are a lot like the pot calling the kettle black.  Torie accused Betsy Butler of stacking delegates in the state endorsement process.  But Torie admits she stacked the West Hollywood Beverly Hills Democratic Club by purchasing memberships for 49 new members – many of whom don’t even live in the 50th Assembly District.  If Torrie wants to complain about Sacramento influencing the state endorsement process, maybe she shouldn’t be paying for people in Norwalk to vote in WeHo’s endorsement process.

    And it’s not the first case of Torie’s hypocrisy.  She used a similar tactic in the Malibu Democratic Club where the club’s President estimates three quarters of those who attended did not live in Malibu and had never attended a meeting of the club before.

    Torie shouldn’t throw stones if she lives in a glass house.  If Torrie really is going to call to vacate the state party endorsement, first she should give up the endorsement of every Democratic club whose endorsement process she manipulated.  Anything else is hypocrisy.

  4. I think it is great that these community members in the area are getting up and having their voice heard. They realized that Torie is the change that they want in their community. I know from my own community organizing that the best way to have change in your community is to voice your ideas and to support the issues/candidates that will bring this change. These new members and community activists are simply having their voice heard.

    Also as a student who is constantly on a budget and dealing with cuts to my financial aid and courses I appreciate those community leaders that sponsor my club dues and help those in the community have a voice. Even if this isn’t the case I would applaud all of these new members for coming out to support their candidate of change.

    This idea that the needed to be members for a certain length of time or pay their own dues is the same backwards ideas that we have had in the country. That only those of status, wealth or experience can vote or have their voice heard. It doesn’t matter if you have been an activist all your life or are new to activism.

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