Democrats enjoy political control of California, but are splitting into three factions that struggle for power within the party.
Political conflicts are wars without guns, and ordinarily, they pit those of one political party against those of another.
But what happens when one of the two major American parties becomes dominant in a city, a county, a state or the nation?
History tells us that warfare continues within the hegemonic party, which fragments into quasi-parties based on even minuscule differences of ideology, personality, ethnicity or geography. And these intra-party rivalries are often quite nasty.
For decades, that’s been true in San Francisco among its dominant 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 Legislature.
True to form, Democratic gains appear to be sharpening the simmering power struggle among three major factions – the regular 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 that the election of a seemingly more liberal governor, Gavin Newsom, would advance their agendas of more taxes, more spending and more business regulation.
The most obvious indication of a sharpening 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 that 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, although 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.”
Almost immediately, others on the party’s left wing joined Larimore-Hall in demanding that Bauman step down or be removed. Congressman 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 did not directly deny the charges, saying in a statement, “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.” On Monday, a statement from the California Democratic Party said Bauman will take a leave of absence until the investigation is concluded.
Bauman, who is gay, chaired the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and was a legislative staffer before winning the party’s state chairmanship with establishment backing. He staved off a strong challenge from Ellis, winning by just 60 votes out of 3,000 cast – an outcome whose validity the leftist wing still questions.
No matter how the harassment allegation against him plays out, it tells us that while Democrats may control California, who controls the Democrats is very uncertain with the state poised to become a major presidential nomination battleground, thanks to its March 2020 primary.