Thursday, February 12, 2009

California Dem Party Sausage Making 101

It's been distressing to see the race for CDP chair turn from an election into a coronation, with John Burton lining up institutional support, muscling out the grassroots and forcing his competition to the sidelines. Coming off an historic Presidential election, with the demographics squarely on the side of Democrats and a new generation of activists who have boundless ideas to bring a different organizing philosophy to California, the right chairman of the Party could really leverage the energy and activity into something special, to lay the groundwork for a re-imagining of the political structure. Sadly, the best can be said of Burton is that he's an old workhorse, but there are troubling signs that he is unaware of the changes in modern campaiging, unconcerned with reforming the broken institutions both inside and outside the party, and unable to use the new energy and excitement to any decent ends. It appears that the frenetic organizing outside the party structure may be the only hope for progressives in the near term.

But it could be even worse than that. The new site Burton Watch offers a substantive critique of the former State Senator, with information that every delegate and voting member of the Party ought to know before turning over the reins to this guy. The initial post surveys how Democrats could lose California under this version of leadership:

Because the public instinctively knows that when power and money compete with the public interest, we all suffer. If you’ve ever registered voters or walked precincts for a candidate, you’ve undoubtedly been greeted with this response: “I’m not going to vote because it doesn’t matter. All politicians are the same.” And as the cynicism grows, voter turnout declines and the Decline To State registration escalates -- now approximately 20% of all Californians are registered DTS. So how do we combat the innate distrust that drives a large segment of our population to disengage from political parties and even voting? Well, Obama showed us a part of the solution [...]

When previously disenfranchised voters, minorities, and the young are all flocking to the Democratic Party because we represent a new way, a vision of hope and change, why on earth would we want to take a giant step backwards to the bad old days? And yet that’s exactly what Democrats in California are poised to do this April. The California Democratic Party, instead of rising to meet the challenges of a new millennium with openness and inclusion, is set to reach back to one of the oldest and most entrenched political machines in California history for its leadership. 

Enter John Burton, California’s much older version of Rod Blagojevich. There are so many reasons why John Burton is unfit for the role of Party Chair in California, that I’ll be doing a series of posts, each one dedicated to a disqualifying aspect of his background. All of the material I’ll be using has been obtained through basic use of the google, and the state’s Republicans could easily find and use it against California Democrats. And trust me, they will.

At the end of this series, I think you’ll agree that John Burton is the wrong person to lead the California Democratic Party in 2009.

The next installment recounts perhaps the most infamous episode in Burton's past - the very public sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former staffer, with excerpts from the complaint filed by Kathleen Driscoll in San Francisco Superior Court:

During DRISCOLL’S employment, BURTON engaged in hostile, demeaning and sexually abusive conduct such that DRISCOLL’S working conditions were significantly altered. His conduct over the past year easily rises to the level of severe or pervasive conduct for a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim both in California and under federal law. The harassing acts started in approximately September 2006. They consisted of numerous events, which took place throughout DRISCOLL’S employment, including but not limited to:

Asking DRISCOLL over the phone, “What are you wearing?” on approximately 10 occasions;

On one occasion, DRISCOLL sent a temporary employee to deliver paperwork to BURTON. BURTON ordered DRISCOLL to never send someone on her behalf again by berating her, “When you drop stuff off, stop in will ya? I mean I’m not getting laid under the fuckin’ table.”

Singling DRISCOLL out for exorbitant demands and attention, included but not limited to excessive demands for immediate and frequent meetings to go over routine matters, including on weekends after the work week was over in contrast to her co-workers;

There's more at the link, and it's pretty graphic. It goes without saying that women make up an extremely large bloc of the Democratic base.

I don't know what more Burton Watch will trot out, but here are some facts: Californians have little connection to their state government other than knowing that they don't like it. They hear things like how politicians are living high off campaign donations and it's both alienating and corrosive. The rules are already rigged in favor of a conservative wipeout of government and the last thing Democrats need as they seek to make structural changes is the spectre of an old-school pol with a lot of skeletons hanging over their collective heads. John Burton has the potential to take the state backwards and it's a chance that delegates should think long and hard about.

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