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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

8th Assembly District Battles Causes Waves For Pre-Endorsement Conference to the Democratic Party

On Thursday March 13, 2008 the local area of the Democratic Party will hold its Pre-Endorsement Conference for recommendation of candidates for State Democratic Party endorsement. Those candidates who achieve the necessary amount of votes from Designated Representatives or Eligible Voters (delegates) will have their names placed on the Consent Calendar at the Democratic State Convention which convenes at the end of the month in San Jose.

At stake primarily is the endorsement battle for the contested primary in the 8th Assembly District between West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada.

According to a party official, the delegate process is somewhat complex, much like that of the national party. There are elected delegates from each County Central Committees and the Assembly District Committee. There are also delegates who are only able to vote in the Pre-Endorsement portion of the endorsement process but not during the convention. These delegates come from local clubs such as the Davis Democratic Club, the West Sacramento Democratic club and the Northern Solano Democratic Club.

A candidate that receives 70% of the Pre-Endorsement Conference vote goes to the Consent Calendar for approval by the Convention Delegates. It can be pulled from that Consent Calendar and debated under certain circumstances. If a candidate receives between 50% and 70% of the vote at the Pre-Endorsement caucus, their nomination must go to the floor of the Democratic State Convention for approval there. Finally, if no one gets over 50% of the vote, there is no endorsement.

It is these delegates produced from the local Democratic Clubs that have led to a source for both dispute and manipulation from the campaigns for the 8th Assembly District.

As recently as last summer, the Democratic Club in West Sacramento was small in membership numbers.

Complaints from the Yamada Campaign drew my attention to the fact that almost overnight the West Sacramento Club has 760 members and therefore is eligible for 38 delegates.

According to Mariko Yamada's Campaign Manager Brian Micek:
"We received a list of certified delegates from the California Democratic Party. It shows 38 delegates from the West Sacramento Democratic Club, meaning they have an active roster of 760 ¬ making it, in theory, by far the strongest Club in the region. According to these numbers, West Sacramento has surpassed Davis as the engine of Democratic politics in the region."
The Davis Democratic Club has long been one of the premier clubs in the region, but now in terms of membership it has been surpassed by the West Sacramento Club.

How did this happen? We asked Christopher Cabaldon's Campaign Manager Robbie Abelon.

According to Mr. Abelon:
"The week before and leading up to the February 5th Presidential Primary, the West Sacramento Democratic Club did a large phone bank every weekday to high propensity Democratic voters asking them if they will be voting in the Presidential Primary. If they said yes, the caller would thank them for their participation in the Democratic party and asked if they'd like to continue their activism by joining their local club. If they said no, we asked them to consider voting because the November 2008 election is very important and asked if they wanted to do their part in helping the Democratic party by joining their local club.

For every time they explicitly said yes, we marked them down and filled out a membership form for them. Also, when we were walking for Christopher in West Sacramento, we asked the high propensity Democrats to join the club as well after we made the regular campaign pitch."
Robbie Abelon further informed me that the phonebanking was not done using Christopher Cabaldon's name. However, once an individual agreed to be a member of the club, the payment for that membership was made from Christopher Cabaldon's mayoral campaign account.

There have been suggestions that the Mariko Yamada campaign was likewise practicing similar tactics.

One such question focused on the Northern Solano Democratic Club, most of whose officers are supporting Supervisor Yamada. One of that club's members, Jeniffer Green-Hawkins received a $5000 check from the Yamada campaign as reported in the campaign's December 31, 2007 FPPC financial filings, and this payment drew questions.

According to Brian Micek:
"Jeniffer Green-Hawkins has a monthly retainer and is a regular staff member of this campaign. She is responsible for coordinating outreach events and volunteers. She also did our opposition research (a public records search that included voting and attendance records, as well as statements of economic interest) ¬ she is a bargain compared to the professional firms we received bids from, one of whom declined to talk to us because it was already working for the Cabaldon campaign. We have never asked Jeniffer to do a membership drive for the NSDC, however she is an active member of the club. That is how Mariko got to know her and her interest in working on Mariko’s Assembly campaign."
According to Mr. Micek and independently verified by a Democratic Party Official and a roster that we received of the delegates, the Northern Solano Democratic Club has but two delegates. Certainly not a number that would draw suspicions.

Of greater concern is our own Davis Democratic Club. The Vanguard spoke with Club President Arun Sen and he confirmed that he was unaware of the delegate process until he received a call from Mariko Yamada inquiring into the delegation.

According to Mr. Sen, this was the first he was aware of it. The call occurred in early February and was just before the deadline to submit the names of the delegates to represent the club.

In the past, the delegates have come from the leadership of the club. Not this time. Arun Sen tells the Vanguard that he and fellow club member Bob Bockwinkel selected the 12 delegates. According to Brian Micek these delegates were selected in consultation with the Yamada Campaign.

The fact that not all officers of the club nor its executive board were informed of these decisions is concerning in terms of an open and transparent process. These twelve members selected by Mr. Sen and Mr. Bockwinkel all appear to be Mariko Yamada supporters: Sheila Allen, Shelly Bailes, Corky Brown, Rick Gonzales, Tony and Rhonda Gruska, Teresa Kaneko, Ellen Pontac, Jim Provenza, Julia Sanchez, Arun Sen, and Richard Yamagata.

All of these are good Democrats, fine individuals, and most of them are even personal friends. However, the process in which they were selected is opposite of a fair, open, and transparent process that we should expect from the Democratic Party and any of it's affiliated organizations including clubs. Not on the list were a number of Davis Democratic Club officers and board members who are not Mariko Yamada supporters.

Arun Sen told me that unfortunately he did not have a lot of time to make a decision. That is understood, but since the club is not bound by the Brown Act, the President has more latitude with regards to serial meetings than the Central Committee Chair would have. Mr. Sen could have easily emailed or phoned the entire Davis Democratic Club Board of Directors to inform them of the Pre-Endorsement Conference and gain their consent to allow him and Mr. Bockwinkel the authority to appoint the club's delegates. He instead chose to work solely with Mr. Bockwinkel and the Yamada Campaign in selecting who would represent the Club without informing the entire elected board.

According to the Democratic Party Official that I spoke with, complaints have been lodged with the party and a decision will be forthcoming in the next few days as to what action if any will be taken.

The Vanguard will monitor this situation and will provide updates as they become available.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting