Democratic Disunion

*Party Chairman Dean’s call for unity rings hollow for some at Pasadena event


The rally in Pasadena’s Central Park Saturday had all the trappings of an old-fashioned, flag-waving political hoe-down, just the way Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean envisioned his so-called “Democratic Reunion,†here and in other places around the country.

Even without promised appearances by either gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides â€" who, depending on which poll you looked at, was running anywhere from 9 to 13 percent behind Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last weekend â€" or state Insurance Commissioner and lieutenant governor candidate John Garamendi, a handful of lesser candidates did attend the afternoon gathering, along with some 200 party faithful.

“One district at a time,†former congressional candidate and radio talk show host Barry Gordon exhorted before frothing up the crowd a little bit. “We know [Republicans] are full of anger and full of hate, and they hate compassion,†Gordon said as a woman in the crowd yelled, “They hate America.†“We know we are not like that, but we can’t be soft about it,†Gordon continued.

But while Gordon, a former president of the Screen Actor’s Guild who served as emcee throughout the festivities, was putting his best spin on the party’s virtues, what was being said privately among people in the crowd spoke volumes about what the party is not doing to win people’s respect.

In fact, outside of a few hallmark characteristics such as support for health care and living-wage laws, some Democrats said they believe the party has become indistinguishable from its Republican counterpart, particularly when it comes to waging war, throwing increasing numbers of people in prison, condemning convicts to death and perpetually raising huge sums of campaign contributions.

“Except for a professed difference of ideology, they’ve got nothing that separates them from the Republicans,†said longtime Democratic Party organizer and contributor Ralph McKnight.

McKnight and his wife Kitty have worked on numerous state and national Democratic campaigns over the past two decades. But this year he is supporting alternative candidates with more progressive agendas come the Nov. 7 election, among them Bill Paparian, who is running as a Green Party candidate against three-term Democratic incumbent Adam Schiff. Schiff did not attend Saturday’s get-together.

“They voted for everything the Republicans wanted. They voted for the war. They voted for [Republican] tax cuts. They are allowing Israel to continue the bombing [of Lebanon’s southern border]. They are spineless. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve morphed,†said McKnight.

For others, though, like longtime party member and former Los Angeles Councilman Nate Holden, father of Pasadena Councilman Chris Holden, Democrats still represent the best hope to provide for the social needs of average people.

“If you’re going to depend on Republicans to give you adequate health care, that ain’t ever going to happen,†said the elder Holden. “Or to make education affordable, or to provide jobs and job opportunities, or to provide affordable health care, and so on … That’s not going to happen. “With the Democrats, you have more than a chance; they will make it happen. They have always been right on these positions for people in need,†Holden said.

Scenes like these played out over the weekend in communities across the country, according to Dean’s plan calls for party members to reach out to 100 other voters in the just more than three months leading up to the midterm elections.

The last time the DNC sponsored such an event was on April 29. The next one is set for September, according to the party’s Web site. On Monday, the DNC launched a new Web site for people to get involved:

During Saturday’s rally in Central Park, political hopefuls Cynthia Matthews, who’s challenging longtime Sam Dimas Republican Congressman David Dreier, former Assemblywoman Judy Chu of Monterey Park, who is being termed out of office and is running for a seat on the state Board of Equalization, and state Controller candidate John Chiang worked the crowd as a variety of party clubs set up a circle of makeshift tents where the park faces busy Fair Oaks Avenue.

Longtime Democrat Otis Spencer, who attended Saturday’s gathering with his wife, Shirley, a local activist and head of Pasadena’s Friends of the Commission on the Status of Women, shares concerns about the party’s sometimes poor performances over the past few years, particularly regarding the state’s prison-industrial complex, but nevertheless remains unshakably supportive.

Although no Democrat, including Angelides, who has taken large contributions from the prison guards’ union and supports ongoing state prison expansion, has yet bucked the prison lobby or presented any ideas for reforming this rapidly growing industry, Spencer remains convinced that “Democrats have the opportunity to create some change. Republicans have created an environment of graft, stealing, doing whatever you can do instead of reinvesting in our citizens.â€

Others, however, were not as understanding or forgiving.

Tobi Dragert of Los Angeles said she let her party membership lapse, primarily because Democrats are just as awash in questionable campaign contributions as the Republicans.

“It’s just incredible. They don’t care what people think. It’s the money. That’s the important thing,†said Dragert. She was campaigning for Proposition 89, the Clean Money and Fair Elections Act, and wants to see Democrats get behind public financing of political campaigns.

Dragert said, “I would “cut my throat and slit my wrists†before voting Republican. “But I also wouldn’t vote for a Democrat. They’ve just been blathering the same old blather we’ve been hearing for 20 to 30 years: ‘We want better education, we have to have health care, we have to have jobs,’ and nothing ever comes of it. We don’t do anything about it. And it loses all its meaning. And they keep feeding people the same old rhetoric. Do they have a new idea? I haven’t heard one.â€

“Historically, the Democrats were supposed to be for the working people. They weren’t supposed to be for the elite. So, unfortunately, because of how much it takes to win elections now, the Democrats have become equally involved with money, the raising of money, therefore the need to do favors for the money. So I am more than a little concerned that there is not a big difference between Democrats and Republicans,†said a former party member who asked not to be identified. As she spoke, a lone trumpeter played “The Star Spangled Banner†to formally open the event.

“We need an entirely new way of not only looking at the country, but at the world,†she said. “But that is not popular, that would not win elections, that would not allow people to get into office and stay in office, and I am very, very concerned about this.â€

See the article on Pasadena Weekly website

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