Contra Costa Labor Backs Steve Filson
I’ve been running around the last couple of days and haven’t managed to put up a decent blog post. But now I have some time, and boy do I have some stories to tell.
The big development is that Steve Filson was endorsed by the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council (CCC-CLC) on Wednesday night. Their endorsement is certainly a boost for Filson. But I suspect that the process by which the CCC-CLC went about endorsing Filson is going to generate quite a bit of controversy, especially among the Lamorinda Democratic Club folks who are hosting their candidates forum tonight.
So to start off with, let’s first look at the endorsement itself, divorced from the process by which it was awarded. The endorsement itself helps Filson. I have a lot of respect for Labor, and I know that union activists play a big role in Contra Costa County’s Democratic (and non-partisan but progressive) field operations. And there’s no doubt that this will ensure Filson has the support of (at least a significant number of) Contra Costa County union members and activists. This means that Filson will have organized, effective, and experienced volunteers to call upon to help him with his ground game in Contra Costa County. It also will probably open (or keep open) some funding sources for Filson.
Also, had the CCC-CLC endorsed McNerney, it would have been a virtual certainty that the California Labor Federation would have endorsed McNerney and not Filson. (Remember, McNerney has already been endorsed by the San Joaquin County-Calaveras and the Alameda County CLCs). Instead, now it looks likelier (although I have no idea how likely) that the CLF will give a dual-endorsement to Steve Filson and Jerry McNerney. I’m not sure how to handicap this possibility, especially since I don’t know which unions support Filson and how many members they have in proportion to the unions that back McNerney. But a unitary endorsement from the CLF requires a higher threshold of votes from union delegates than a dual endorsement. From what I know it seems almost certain that the CLF will vote to endorse McNerney in one way or another. But if enough delegates come to the CLF endorsement convention backing Filson, it could lead to a dual endorsement. Obviously, since it looks assured that McNerney will get some type of endorsement from the CLF, it would be much better for Filson to be endorsed along with McNerney rather than not being endorsed at all.
Now for the context, and the controversy.
The meeting that the CCC-CLC had on Wednesday night was not supposed to be an endorsement meeting, at least not officially. It was billed as a meet and greet and from what I can tell neither Jerry McNerney nor Steve Thomas were invited. In fact, I’m confident that they told Jerry McNerney that he could not come. He had had a meet and greet with the CCC-CLC over a month ago, and now it was Filson’s turn. Or something like that. But it was never intended to be a meet and greet. The important people involved knew going in that they were going to have an endorsement vote. But they excluded the other candidates. And that’s bound to rub people the wrong way.
To be clear, nobody who is in the Democratic grassroots will be upset, in their capacity as a Democratic grassroots activist, that the CCC-CLC endorsed Filson. I mean, everyone recognizes that Labor has the prerogative to endorse whomever they want and for whatever reason they want. I want to state this explicitly because I do think there will be some important Labor activists involved with the grassroots of the Democratic Party who are bound to be upset at the very fact that Filson was endorsed by the CCC-CLC full stop. But their disquiet is probably going to revolve around a perceived lack of solidarity within the House of Labor. But aside from the people who approach the endorsement as union members, I do not think you will see much in the way of indignation or controversy in the Democratic grassroots that revolves around the brute fact that Filson was endorsed by the CCC-CLC. I’m sure a lot of people would strongly disagree with the wisdom of the endorsement. But it’s not the place of the Democratic Party to tell Labor whom to endorse, and everyone understands that.
But here’s the thing, a lot of people are going to think that the CCC-CLC did not operate in a transparent and even-handed manner prior to the endorsement. From what I can tell, the CCC-CLC both planned to endorse Filson last night AND tried to make it appear as if they spontaneously decided to endorse Filson last night. Jerry McNerney wasn’t invited to the meeting last night because it was a “meet and greet” for Filson, not an “endorsement meeting.” Had it been billed as an endorsement meeting, then they couldn’t have excluded McNerney. So they got everyone in a room with Steve Filson there and neither of the other candidates and then held a vote about whom to endorse. In essence, the whole process is going to look like it was rigged for Filson. And that is going to piss a lot of people off.
To put things in perspective, on Monday I wrote an e-mail to Nagaraja Rao, the Chair of the Contra Costa Democratic Party, about an anonymous e-mail I had received. The e-mail said (non-pejoratively) that the CCC-CLC was going to have an endorsement meeting on Wednesday and exclude McNerney from it. It wasn’t clear to me whether the writer was a support of McNerney or Filson, or if the writer was just giving me the inside scoop.
Here is part of what I wrote in my e-mail to Rao:
As you may know, I run an anti-Pombo website called Say No to Pombo that tracks both Pombo's antics and the state of the Democratic primary. I got an anonymous e-mail today (apparently from a reader of my site) saying that the Contra Costa Central Labor Council was planning on holding its endorsement meeting on Wednesday but was not inviting Jerry McNerney.
I am worried, if what I heard is true, that the people in the grassroots will view such an exclusionary endorsement meeting as little more than a power play undertaken on the part of Ellen Tauscher and her surrogates. You know as well as I do that McNerney enjoys, at a minimum, considerable support from the Democratic Party grassroots in Contra Costa County. I fear that excluding him from the endorsement meeting will be taken as a message to the grassroots that they aren't considered valuable by Labor. And I am concerned that even people who are fully cognizant of Labor's prerogative to endorse whomever they want will still feel like the endorsement of Filson was made needlessly antagonistic by excluding McNerney from the endorsement meeting. That is, I am worried that the process, much more than the outcome, will be seen as inflammatory and divisive.
Again, I hope that this is a rumor and you can disabuse me of it. But if it is true, in whole or in part, I hope that you will consider providing me with your perceptions about it. I know that you are a member of a union and the Chair of the county Democratic Party. As such, I think you can speak to this issue with considerable authority.
I then requested that, if what I heard was true, he provide me some context (whether on or off of the record).
Here is the entirety of the response I received from him on Tuesday:
I know of no congressional endorsements [sic] scheduled for today. N Rao
Now when I received this e-mail I was fairly sure that the Rao was essentially punting on the question. For one thing, I explicitly said that I heard that the endorsement would be on Wednesday. So by him narrowing the focus of his comments to “today” (meaning Tuesday) he was able to commit a lie of omission rather than an out and out lie. And at the time I was pretty much sure it was a lie of omission. As a member of a union in Contra Costa County, as a prominent Democrat, and as someone who is involved with the generic Democratic effort to fight Pombo, there’s no way he couldn’t have known that there at least would be a Filson meet and greet at the CCC-CLC meeting on Wednesday. He could have told me that there was going to be such a meet and greet, but doing so would have most naturally led him to telling me that the meeting was not an endorsement meeting. Or he could have told me that they were going to have an endorsement vote, thereby providing evidence that the rumor I heard was true. I figured he knew what was up and that he was trying to stay out of it, or at least I was charitably assuming that that was the case.
But then last night a prominent Filson supporter told me that Rao “went to bat” for Filson on this endorsement with the CCC-CLC. So we know that Rao wasn’t just trying to avoid entanglement in someone else’s political machinations, he was actually hiding something that he was involved in himself. And the fact that he dissembled about this before it happened goes to show that he knew he had something to hide. And it looks like the CCC-CLC essentially behaved in the same way with people. They hid what they were up to instead of following the normal endorsement procedure. And in doing so they clearly and obviously stacked the deck in Filson’s favor.
As I suggested in my e-mail to Rao, I think everyone’s going to look at this whole ugly process and see Ellen Tauscher’s fingerprints all over it. People are not naïve. If Ellen Tauscher (or perhaps the DCCC) drew a line in the sand and more or less demanded that the CCC-CLC endorse Filson, people would understand why they’d do so. Not only is Tauscher powerful, she’s actually a pretty good friend to Labor. But it’s fair enough for the CCC-CLC to endorse Filson to make Tauscher happy (or otherwise weigh what’s in their own best interest and act accordingly).
Still, the process they undertook to endorse Filson does not send the message that, in sum, it’s better to endorse Filson. It sends the message that the support McNerney has from other union activists, and the support he receives from the grassroots base of the Democratic Party, is so inconsequential that McNerney does not deserve a fair hearing at the endorsement meeting. And I suspect that the ultimate feeling is that people in the Democratic Party grassroots feel like they are strong enough allies with Labor that, at the very least, they deserve enough respect to warrant a full and fair endorsement meeting that included their candidate. I mean, it’s pretty minimal to expect that their candidate would have metaphorically his day in (kangaroo) court.
Lastly, I have to say that although I view this endorsement as a net positive for Filson, I still think it demonstrates a certain weakness on his part. If he was confident he’d get the endorsement he ought to have insisted that McNerney be allowed at the meeting and otherwise worked to assure that everything was done above-board. Doing so would have minimized the type of resentment I’m speaking about. It would also have been the right thing to do from an ethical perspective.
So on one hand, it may be that Filson’s team wasn’t sure they’d get the endorsement (or maybe a unitary endorsement) in a full and fair endorsement meeting. As such they hedged their bets and went with what they knew they could get. A bird in the hand and all.
On the other hand, it may be that he was confident about getting the endorsement, and was simply blind to how this would come across to the grassroots. That too would be troubling. Everything about this reinforces things grassroots activists tend not to like about Filson: the fact that there seem to be a lot of power plays made on his behalf, the fact that he seems more concerned with winning than with playing by the rules, the fact that he seems unappreciative of the importance of the grassroots.
Now I’ve tried to get Filson’s side of this. I’ve spoken to Colin Bishopp, one of Filson’s staffers about this. He had no comment. I e-mail Rao, who apparently didn’t think this merited any response. Maybe I’m missing something. I kind of hope I am. But I can tell you, if I’m missing something, I’m not the only one. And right now I really don’t like what I see.