Civil War Erupts Between Democratic Establishment and Progressives in California

Eric Bauman / Getty
• August 10, 2017 4:13 pm


A feud is roiling the California Democratic Party and highlighting divisions that persist in the national party as Democrats look to rebuild after their losses in 2016.

Longtime party leader Eric Bauman is facing continual resistance from activist Kimberly Ellis, who refuses to concede defeat in the party chairmanship election, the New York Times reports. Ellis is a leader among Bay Area progressives and alleges Bauman won through voter fraud, while Bauman accuses her of trying to tear the party apart.

"The truth of the matter is, Kimberly Ellis cannot accept that she lost the election," Bauman said. "She's willing to allow the party to be torn asunder in an effort to prove that she really did win."

A final decision on the matter is expected August 20, but Ellis has called for binding arbitration and threatened legal action.

"If their goal is to avoid a legal battle, here it is," Ellis said about arbitration. "The ball is in their court."

Ellis' supporters have chanted "not my chairman" at Bauman, showing a divide that runs deep among Democrats running the government of the nation's largest state.

"What we are seeing in California is similar to what we are seeing on the national level," said Democratic state controller Betty Yee. "If we don't do our work to really heal our divide, we are going to miss our chance to motivate Democrats."

Both supported Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary, but Ellis has received support from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and touts her progressivism. Ellis spent years running a program to recruit women to run for office and has positioned herself as a party outsider, while Bauman has been a party insider for three decades.

Ellis ran on a platform of "Giving the Democratic Party Back to the People." She has not shied away from standing in opposition to party leadership.

"There are a lot of things that have gone on here that have really caused folks to feel that leadership doesn't care about them or their voices," Ellis said. "The Democratic Party is not only changing but has changed. There are folks who haven't gotten that memo."

She also compared the party's current position to Republicans' situation during the rise of the Tea Party.

"The Democratic Party is in many ways right now where the Republican Party was when the Tea Party took over many years ago," Ellis said. "We are in a rebuilding moment."

Yee is one Ellis supporter who has criticized Bauman on a personal level, saying he can be "dismissive." That is the same word used by the president of Sanders' Our Revolution group to describe the Democratic National Committee's attitude toward grassroots activists.

Ellis ties Bauman to the party and its endemic problems, saying its "environment includes bullying and a lot of bad behavior."

Bauman does not exactly deny that characterization.

"A lot of people perceive me as a Tammany Hall kind of guy," Bauman said. "Because I do have that personality. And it works."

This squabble has worried many within the party. As they are fighting, some are calling for unity in the face of deep-seated conflict lines.

"It's basically up to those who supported Kimberly: Do they want to help elect Democrats, move the state forward, or do they want to sit at home and suck their thumbs?" said John L. Burton, departing state party chairman.

Ellis dismisses that position.

"One of the false narratives that has been promoted is that if we don't unify that we are going to break the party," Ellis said.

Published under: California, Democratic Party