Opinion

Democrats in control, and already fighting

Eric Bauman, was senior advisor to Assembly Speaker John Perez at the time, was part of a forum with Los Angeles City Councilmember Nury Martinez in 2014. Bauman is being accused of sexual harassment.
Eric Bauman, was senior advisor to Assembly Speaker John Perez at the time, was part of a forum with Los Angeles City Councilmember Nury Martinez in 2014. Bauman is being accused of sexual harassment. Los Angeles Times

Political conflicts are wars without guns, and ordinarily, they pit one political party against another. But what happens when one of the two major parties becomes dominant in a city, a county, a state or the nation?

History tells us warfare continues, just within the hegemonic party. Soon, it fragments into quasi-parties based on differences of ideology, personality, ethnicity or geography. These intra-party rivalries often get quite nasty.

For decades, that’s been true in San Francisco among Democrats and was true for decades in Orange County when it was controlled by Republicans.

Democrats’ grip on California became even tighter in this month’s elections as the party flipped six or seven of the Republicans’ 14 congressional seats – one district is still too close to call – and gained even stronger majorities in the state Legislature.

True to form, Democratic gains appear to be sharpening the power struggle among three major factions – the establishment, the moderates and the leftist acolytes of Bernie Sanders.

Capturing legislative seats in relatively conservative regions that had been formerly held by Republicans strengthens the ranks of the Capitol’s “Mod-Squad.” That could frustrate left-of-center advocacy groups, such as environmentalists and unions, which hope the election of a seemingly more liberal governor, Gavin Newsom, would advance their agendas of more spending and more business regulation.

The most obvious indication of an intra-party conflict, however, is a demand by the state Democratic Party’s second vice-chair, Berniecrat Daraka Larimore-Hall, that chairman Eric Bauman be removed, alleging Bauman “sexually harassed, and in some cases sexually assaulted, individuals during party functions.”

Larimore-Hall said he had spoken with two victims and a witness whom Bauman allegedly intimidated, though he offered no details – a scenario reminiscent of the battle just weeks ago over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation.

“I believe the victims,” Larimore-Hall continued. “Their stories illustrate a clear and escalating pattern of chairman Bauman’s horrific and dehumanizing behavior. This is unacceptable for a political organization dedicated to feminism, human rights and just working conditions. Our activists and voters look to us as a force for social change, and we must embody the values we fight for in society.”

Immediately, others on the party’s left wing joined Larimore-Hall in demanding Bauman step down or be removed. Rep. Ro Khanna, a Fremont Democrat, for example, urged the party to replace Bauman with either Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor who led the recall of former Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky, or Bay Area liberal activist Kimberly Ellis.

Bauman’s statement did not directly deny the charges: “I take seriously any allegation brought forward by anyone who believes they have been caused pain. To that end, a prompt, thorough and independent investigation of the allegations has been undertaken by a respected outside investigator, ensuring these individuals making the charges are treated with respect and free from any concerns of retaliation.”

Monday, a statement from the California Democratic Party said Bauman will take a leave of absence until the investigation is finished.

Bauman, who is gay, chaired the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and was a legislative staffer before winning the party’s chairmanship with establishment backing. He staved off a strong challenge from Ellis, winning by just 60 votes of 3,000 cast – an outcome the leftist wing still questions.

No matter how the allegations against him play out, it tells us that while Democrats may control California, who controls the Democrats is very uncertain.

Dan Walters writes on matters of statewide significance for CALmatters, a public interest journalism organization. Email: dan@calmatters.org.

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