As a matter of background, I served as the North Area Vice Chair for the San Diego County Democratic Party (SDCDP) for two years – 2014 to 2016. In that time, I was responsible for the recruitment and campaign support for many candidates. Along with helping candidates, I interacted with local chartered Democratic clubs. While the clubs hold autonomy over much of their business, the County Party does charter them and has certain requirements each local club must meet to maintain their charter.
The Democratic Club of Carlsbad and Oceanside (DEMCCO) is one such chartered club of the SDCDP and has – prior to, throughout, and now after my tenure as Vice Chair – always had trouble balancing the requirements of the County Party over their local processes.
This problem has once again come to light as the club, just under 14 months before the November 2020 election, will consider endorsing its perennial favorite, Esther Sanchez for Mayor of Oceanside, and is willing to ignore its bylaws, the wishes of many of its members, and the SDCDP.
DEMCCO’s Executive Board voted 5 to 4 in favor of holding the “early endorsement” vote with its membership without fully accounting for its responsibility to notify all potential Democrat candidates at least 14 days in advance of the endorsement vote and its membership 30 days in advance.
This seems to be directly contrary to the bylaws of the County Party and to DEMCCO’s own bylaws. The SDCDP requires a club to notify the Party of an endorsement vote 14 days prior and to notify its entire membership 30 days (SDCDP Bylaws, Article XIII, Section 3, Item G) prior to an endorsement vote. According to some reports, there was a vote of the members present at the August DEMCCO General Membership meeting, but that would not meet the requirement of a 30-day notice to all registered members.
Also, DEMCCO seems to be violating its own bylaws which state (DEMCCO Bylaws, Article V, Section 6, Procedures, Procedures for Assessment, Items 3 and 4) “candidates will be invited at least 2 weeks prior to the meeting” and “DEMCCO shall notify all voting members of an endorsement consideration at least 2 weeks prior to the meeting.”
This is nothing new for DEMCCO. In 2016, prior to my stepping down from the Vice Chair position, I attended a meeting of DEMCCO. On the agenda was a requirement from the County Party to add languages to its bylaws requiring a 14 notice to candidates and membership of an endorsement meeting. After much debate, the language was adopted.
Immediately after adopting the new language, the next item of business was to endorse Esther Sanchez for her City Council run in direct violation of the bylaws the club had just adopted. And they did.
What is the concern with this, you may ask? In 2016, there were two council seats up for election and there was a possibility of having a number of Democratic candidates come forward, put their name in for consideration, and possibly win the endorsement of the club. Having an endorsement without any challengers, as Sanchez won in 2016, she does not have to defend herself against any Democratic opponents and one endorsement was taken away from a potential candidate.
Consider the election in 2018 where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, US Representative from New York’s 14th Congressional District. She ran against and defeated a fellow Democrat because she ran on a platform which resonated with the members of her district. She defeated a ten-term Democrat, Joe Crowley, who was the Democratic Caucus Chair in the US House of Representatives.
Sanchez has never had to face a major challenge in the 19 years she’s run for council in Oceanside because she has always had control of the endorsement process of the local club. And this year’s extremely early endorsement for the mayor’s seat is nothing new and serves to lock out any potential challengers to her for the seat.
DEMCCO thought it would be able to maneuver an endorsement for Sanchez but ran into problems when two other Democrats threw their names into the race, Chuck Lowery and Ruben Major. When news of Major’s campaign for Mayor reached DEMCCO President, Linda Slater, she refused to print Major’s candidate statement for the DEMCCO membership to review.
According to a Facebook post on September 19, Major’s campaign is still “negotiating” to “have it [the statement] released prior to the endorsement vote.” He did continue in his post to say, “We are against censorship of any candidate statements.”
Why would DEMCCO not want to publish the candidate statement of a potential mayoral candidate? In a newsletter dated September 18, Slater indicates Ruben Major’s statement was not published because “the other candidate has not provided a letter suitable for including in this newsletter yet.”
I asked Linda Slater about not publishing Major’s statement. Slater said, “There were 3 requirements that Ruben was asked to meet to submit his letter, He did not meet any of them while the two other candidates were able to meet all 3 of them.”
I also asked Slater about the holding an endorsement so early in the process. She replied, “It wasn’t really anything nefarious about doing an endorsement more than a year in advance. The County Party is planning to consider which races for the November 2020 ballot should be designated as strategically critical first in the Areas in October then at the Central Committee in November.”
While this is may be true, strategically critical races are designations which allow for an early endorsement from the SDCDP, not a club. DEMCCO’s endorsement does not matter in the declaration of a strategically critical race. To make the intent of these actions clearer, the DEMCCO newsletter dated September 4th states that Sanchez herself raised the idea of a strategically critical race at the August 24th meeting and a motion was made to consider an endorsement of her in the Mayor’s race. Sanchez, being a former vice chair herself, knows and understands how strategically critical races work and she should know DEMCCO does not need to endorse her, neither does it need to take action to declare the race strategically critical. That is the work of the North Area Caucus, a completely separate entity within the SDCDP.
I also inquired about the apparent conflict in the bylaws to which Slater stated, “Actually, the motion to hold an endorsement vote was made at the August 24, 2019 general meeting which passed by a substantial yes voice vote. The consideration at the Executive Board meeting on September 12, 2019, was to consider putting it on the agenda. The decision was to include it on the agenda for the September 28 meeting and the justification was that it was the will of the members of DEMCCO.
“The membership was properly noticed about the intention to hold an endorsement vote. Please note that our website is not the appropriate method of notification according to our Bylaws. All 3 candidates who have indicated an intention to run for Oceanside Mayor attended the Executive Board meeting on September 12, 2019. Two of the three candidates have filed paperwork with the City of Oceanside and are listed on the City’s website. One candidate showed up at our meeting and verbally indicated his status as a “prospective candidate.” No other prospective candidates have filed with the City or communicated with DEMCCO about their intention to run.”
There is a problem with this logic on its face: the filing period for any candidate to run for the office of Mayor of the City of Oceanside opens in July of 2020 and closes in August, 2020. It is possible there are a number of candidates who are mulling over their run for the seat who will now be shut out of any consideration because of this early move.
The “prospective candidate” for Mayor, Chuck Lowery – former Deputy Mayor and Council member – raised his candidacy at the last moment in response to the quick actions being taken by the DEMCCO board.
“By shutting down the endorsement one year before the election, potential Democratic candidates are locked out of the endorsement process,” says Lowery. “That’s unacceptable and the County Democratic Party should stop such behavior.”
The process has taken a toll on members of DEMCCO and, in particular, a member of its Endorsement Committee. In an email provided to me, Laura Cunningham, Chair of the Endorsement Committee, has resigned due to “recent events.” She goes on to say, “At our committee meeting on 9/9/19, it became clear that President Linda Slater has lost confidence in my ability to lead this committee. My strong desire to enforce the club’s bylaws, and my wish to follow the timelines of SDCDP’s endorsement calendar, led to Linda questioning why I ‘oppose Esther Sanchez,’ though I had offered no opinion on Esther at all.”
Cunningham closes her email by saying, “I hope my resignation will allow her [Slater] to find someone who knows ‘their place,’ and share her thoughts on the purpose of an Endorsement Committee. As I have told her, even if I disagree with her on this matter, I think she is doing a good job overall. If the Board choose to continue with an Endorsement Committee, Linda should have a chair who is willing to work within her interpretations of the bylaws, and the duties and responsibilities of the committee. I am not that person.”
The statements made in Cunningham’s email seem to point to the reality of DEMCCO’s favoring one candidate over all the others and their desire to shut off any access of an endorsement – potentially very helpful in an election season to a candidate – from the local club and potentially the County Party.
On the outside, this seems to be the goal of Sanchez and DEMCCO: to shut down any Democratic opposition and have a proper vetting of her 19-year record on council. Sanchez has burned a number of bridges in the past with locals and county party members and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Her voting record demonstrates a concern not for Oceanside in general, but for Esther Sanchez in particular.
As an example, she voted adamantly against the work of the City to legalize and regulate medicinal cannabis. She not only refused to support the work of the City’s ad-hoc committee (she claimed because she wasn’t included on it, the process was unfair) but required a limit to be placed on the number of cultivation licenses. Now, as she’s running for Mayor, she seems to be in favor of both medicinal and recreational cannabis and has claimed she was against the limit on cultivation licenses.
This is just one recent example of the problems with her voting record. The voters of Oceanside deserve a proper examination of her record, the airing of difference ideas which might be in conflict with hers, and they deserve to hear from all the candidates, not just the chosen one. Perhaps she is concerned about a potential upset in her race as we saw in New York with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Relying on DEMCCO to ignore its own bylaws and create a air-tight endorsement has been the case in the past and, if history serves as any indication of the future, it will be the case on the 28th of this month.