As President Chau stated in his August 11 post, at the next meeting the membership may vote on a proposed change to our Club’s Standing Rule F, governing the timing of endorsements. This article attempts to explain why such a change is needed and why it might be desirable.
What is this about anyway?
The process that the California Democratic Party uses to endorse Democratic candidates in the primary elections for State Assembly, State Senate, and Congress begins with local pre-endorsing caucuses. The CDP endorsements for statewide offices – Governor, Treasurer, etc. – as well as for Senators and Board of Equalization are made by the delegates to the CDP Convention in the even-numbered years. The CDP follows the Democratic National Committee nomination for President.
All delegates to the CDP, as well as representatives from chartered Democratic Clubs, who live in a district can participate in its endorsement caucus. In order to vote, club representatives must be registered as Democrats or Democratic Party Preference in the district of the election they are voting in. For example, voters registered in El Cerrito are in Assembly District 15, State Senate District 9, and Congressional District 11.
In 2018 our current Assemblymember, Tony Thurmond, is running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, leaving his Assembly seat vacant. As I write this, there are six people running for this seat, and we can expect a lively endorsement process as those candidates, plus whoever else decides to run, lobbies delegates and club representatives to try to recruit enough support to get 60% of the vote as is required to snag the CDP endorsement.
As of this writing, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier has made no announcement of his retirement; since he is a very popular incumbent as well as a staunch progressive, he is not likely to face a Democratic opponent. Senator Nancy Skinner was elected to a four-year term in 2016, so there will not be an endorsement in Senate District 9 in 2018.
The CDP Convention will take place in San Diego over the last weekend in February, 2018; the endorsing caucus meetings will take place around the state during the last weekend in January. Absentee voting is permitted for endorsement; proxy voting is not. Absentee ballots must be provided to the Regional Director convening the endorsement meeting before the candidates for each office make their public statement. We are in Region 5, and our regional director (RD) is Rocky Fernandez. He came to our club in April and introduced himself and asked for our support. (The CDP has divided the state into 20 regions of 4 Assembly Districts each; the regional directors are elected by the delegates at conventions during even-numbered years.)
The actual voting is by roll call, with each voter announcing his or her vote to those present for the meeting; the RD reads the absentee ballots aloud. The votes are tallied by hand on a blackboard or butcher paper visible to all attendees as the vote progresses.
The endorsement made at the local caucus meetings gets ratified at the CDP Convention. If no candidate reaches the 60% threshold required for endorsement, or if an opponent of the candidate endorsed in the local caucus goes through the process of disputing the local endorsement (which requires signature gathering and other steps), the convention delegates may make an endorsement that is different from the results of the local voters. That happened in our district in 2014 when neither Thurmond nor Elizabeth Echols received the enough votes to get the local endorsement, but Echols was able to muster the required number of votes from the smaller pool of delegate voters at the CDP Convention.
As a chartered Democratic Club, the ECDC has participated in these pre-endorsement caucuses. Our practice had been for the club president to recruit people to vote at the endorsing caucus. Because the vote was public, we were often not able to recruit as many people as we had slots. As more of our Club members participate in the Contra Costa County Democratic Party central committee and in the Assembly District Election Meetings and become delegates, our pool of possible recruits got smaller. For instance, currently half of our executive board members are also delegates to the CDP convention and as such already could cast votes at the pre-endorsement caucus.
In 2016 we had a very contested Senate race in which Nancy Skinner faced Sandre Swanson. Prior to the pre-endorsement caucus, we had not endorsed either candidate, and the people who had agreed to be our delegates were prepared to vote their personal preference. However, one of our 2016 members made the point that club members had had no opportunity to weigh in on either the selection of pre-endorsing delegates, or to advise those delegates to vote “no endorsement” to reflect the Club’s lack of solid support for either candidate.
In response to that point, the 2016 executive board proposed a change to the standing rules – which the membership approved – to elect our delegates to the pre-endorsement caucus in September of odd-numbered years. However, our September meeting agenda is already packed since September is our “Back to School” meeting (and we have our new WCCUSD Superintendent coming!) Also, at our regional meeting held on August 11, RD Fernandez announced that he will not have the final delegate counts for each club ready by then. Therefore, we are proposing that we postpone that vote until the November meeting, by which time we will have a better handle on how many seats we will have, and our members will have had time to consider whether or not to run.