California Democratic Party is “Neutral” on Prop 89, Clean Money Initiative, Despite Strong Democratic Club Support for the Meas

By Frank D. Russo, California Progress Report

Yesterday evening the Executive Board of the California Democratic Party, after an impassioned debate, voted to take no official state party position on The California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act of 2006, Proposition 89, on the November ballot.

Despite an AP story that the more than 300 members of the Executive Board vote was unanimous, the complete story is that more than a third of the members present voted to endorse a “yes†vote on the ballot proposition and to reject the recommendation of the resolutions committee of the party that it remain neutral. Only after that motion or amendment was defeated, did the recommendation of the resolutions committee remain intact, resulting in the final position of the state party.

All of this took place only after an unusual plea from Art Torres, the Chair of the California Democratic Party (CDP), and a fair amount of behind the scenes maneuvering over the course of the weekend.

The Progressive caucus of the party voted overwhelmingly to recommend support of Proposition 89, as did a number of the other caucuses meeting on Friday. The sole exception was the party’s labor caucus.

The state party resolutions committee, which actually dealt with the agenda items of positions on ballot measures that were to go before the Executive Board, also met Friday night and voted overwhelmingly in a different direction--that the party take no position. Their action was taken only after they were addressed by State Party Chair Torres who focused his remarks on Prop. 89, during which he advocated that the CDP take a neutral position rather than a yes vote. He said the party has friends on both sides of this issue. Those present said they assumed he meant that several unions were opposed, but Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides was for it. Torres told the committee that public financing was desirable but in Prop. 89 the devil was in the details, a refrain later repeated by others. His main objection was that the CDP would probably have to go to court about the initiative, and if the CDP had supported it, the CDP would not have standing in court to challenge it.

However, on Saturday, Jo Olson, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, acting at the request of that caucus, pulled the recommendation of a neutral position on Prop 89 by the resolutions committee from the consent calendar of the executive committee, urging that the Party endorse the proposition instead.

Opposition speakers to this came mostly from the California Teachers Association (CTA), which had three different speakers state the union’s concerns about Proposition 89. The CTA speakers were rather bold in what they had to say, including that "Labor are the ones who spend money and elect Democrats. CTA spent $68 million last year."

Jay Hansen, Legislative Director for the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, said that the Building Trades was officially neutral, but spoke strongly in favor as a private individual who has worked with labor for years. He stated: "We can't win the money war" and "We shouldn't be spending on endless fundraising, we should be spending on organizing our members".

Chris Stampolis, President of the California Democratic Council, an association of Democratic Clubs and County Committees in the state, said they had just voted to endorse Prop 89 the day before, and that in excess of three-quarters of their members had voted for that position. The vote of their officers was unanimous. He emphasized the overwhelming support from grassroots Democratic clubs across the state in favor of Prop 89.

On the heels of a CTA speaker in opposition to the ballot measure, Ahjamu Makalni, Vice Chair of the Progressive Caucus and an African American, arose and spoke passionately about how minorities and the disabled almost always vote Democratic and yet they are mostly shut out of the system because their communities don't have enough money to give as others do, and how that wasn't just.

It was pretty much right after that, with what observers describe as many in the hall feeling that the passion and arguments of the pro side might possibly carry the day, that Chair Art Torres made a very unusual move, and came down off the stage. One of the opponents ceded his time for Torres to speak. He repeated his argument from before and said that while he truly supports public financing and wants AB 583, Hancock's bill, to succeed, the party needed to stay neutral so it retains standing to challenge parts of Prop 89 in court.

Other speakers followed, but after Torres spoke, the supporters of clean money felt their remarks were falling on deaf ears. By a two to one margin, the vote was for the party, as a state organization, to be neutral.

The California Democratic Party, at its annual convention this Spring, with approximately 1,000 delegates in attendance, voted to place in the Party’s platform support for Clean Money and AB 583. The year before a similar resolution had been placed in the platform.

Despite being passed by the California Assembly, AB 583 failed passage out of the Senate Elections Committee earlier this year.

See the article on California Progress Report website

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