Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The War Within The War

Someone posted a comment here a while back that said something about “wheels within wheels.” I was thinking a little bit about “wheels within wheels” yesterday. Sure, there is a war to be waged against Richard Pombo between June and November; nobody here questions that, just as nobody here questions that Pombo is a menace to the American way of life. And suggestions that Democrats would support Pombo over Filson, were he to win the primary, are frankly ludicrous. No one has lost sight of the ultimate war to be fought.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn't a war within the war. In one of his comments to my most recent post jbmendel made the following statement:

That said, I generally don't have a problem with the posts that give (Filson) a hard time, because even when people criticize/attack, everyone here can take a step back and remember that we're on the same side.

The same side? Well, no. Maybe in the final war, but definitely not in the initial battle. You see, that’s where the history of the 2004 race against Pombo comes into play. For those of you who weren’t involved in that race and don’t understand its relevance to where we find ourselves today, here’s a little history.

In 2002, Elaine Shaw, another Tauscher protégé, ran a well-financed race against Pombo, complete with DCCC support. She lost by nearly 20 points, and subsequently the DCCC officially abandoned CD-11.

In 2004, the Democratic Party was content to cede CD-11 to Pombo, preferring not to go to the trouble of recruiting a candidate and providing funding for a challenge to what they saw as an unbeatable incumbent. But a funny thing happened in 2004. Slumbering Democrats throughout the region suddenly started to shake off their stupor and refused to be ignored by the political insiders in Washington, DC. In CD-11, Jerry McNerney, realizing that there was no candidate opposing Pombo, mounted a last-minute write-in campaign to get on the ballot as the Democratic nominee. I know that the talk of grass-roots progressives has come to be somewhat of a cliché in this current race, but it is a simple fact that lots and lots of local activists, when confronted with the clear fact that the Democratic Party was not going to support its own candidate in CD-11, took matters into their own hands and mounted an essentially self-financed and totally volunteer Congressional campaign. With not one red cent from the Democratic Party. And with that, they got almost exactly the same percentage of the vote as Shaw, with more actual votes than any other candidate had ever received against Pombo. And let me stress again –- with not one scintilla of help from the Democratic Party.

Now, I have never hidden the fact that I was a McNerney supporter in 2004. As I’ve previously stated, I sure didn’t support Pombo; so that means, a prioi, that I supported McNerney. But I have also never maintained that McNerney was the greatest thing since sliced bread. As a candidate, he has many flaws: his presentation is wooden; he is often inarticulate. But he was willing to challenge Pombo and the Democratic Party establishment when no one else would, even going so far as to take out an additional mortgage on his house, because he believed that the people of CD-11 deserved a choice on their ballot when they went out to vote in November.

Ah, but what a difference a year makes. Suddenly, in 2005, when it became apparent that Pombo’s outrageous environmental stances and clear pattern of corruption had made him an attractive target in the 2006 election, the Democratic Party sat up and took notice of CD-11. But they just couldn’t let that upstart McNerney be their candidate; he was too much like that uncool kid who dared to crash the cool kids’ party.

And that’s the crux of it. It wasn’t that McNerney had lost in 2004; it was that he and his supporters had challenged the top-down hierarchy in Washington, DC. You see, they don’t want average citizens getting all uppity and taking politics into their own hands; you have to realize that at a certain level, the sole function of the parties, both Republican and Democratic, is to hold tightly to entrenched power.

So it was no accident that Steve Filson, supporter and protégé of Ellen Tauscher –- Blue Dog Democrat, member of the DLC, and diva of corporate cronyism –- was parachuted into CD-11 as the “favored” candidate of the DC establishment. And it’s no accident that incumbent Democrats from all over the Bay Area rushed in to prop him up with their endorsements as the PACs made their donations. It was a stick in the eye aimed at the progressive grass-roots. A message writ loud and clear: “Go home. We’re in charge here. This is OUR party.”

So, jbmendel, while I believe Democrats will join together for the war, regardless of the outcome of the primary, I think it’s clear that they are not on the same side in this battle; and, yes, some of them are pretty angry. Between now and then, they will be fighting like hell to take their party back from the Boss Tweed contingent in DC. Steve Filson appears to have chosen his side in this battle; I don’t think it’s an accident that he has cultivated party insiders and failed to engage with the grass-roots. Likewise, it’s hardly surprising that local activists view him with suspicion and dislike. And if you think they’re being mean to Filson by expecting him to be accountable for his behavior, his actions, and his (mis)representations, so be it. But everyday citizens have developed these quaint notions that integrity and fair play and a government that works for their interests is something worth fighting for. Maybe one day they’ll learn to step aside and let the “professionals” run the Democratic Party. But not just yet.


Blogger VPO said...

Well, here we go again, but it is fun, in an odd way:

You know, basically I agree with Babaloo here, and my posts have also expressed this frustration with having Filson imposed on the district. I think it would be more acceptable if Filson was truly an outstanding candidate. But he is just as much a no name, no experience nobody as McNerney. I could see, maybe State Sen. Mike Machado coming in and running or a SJ County Supervisor or Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews -- anybody with some name recognition and who has done work in the Central Valley.

But Steve Filson of Danville? That is what is frustrating -- not only did Tauscher and Blue Dogs impose this candidate on the district, he also is no better in any substantial way (name recognition, experience) than McNerney.

Very odd, and makes me think the DCCC is delusional or out of touch or both. Their record in Congress is certainly nothing to be proud of. And on top of that, imposing Filson pissed off the grassroot activists who supported McNerney (such as Babaloo). All in all, the DCCC is like the gang that can't shoot straight. You would think they would have learned their lesson with Elaine Shaw. Pombo and Wayne Johnson are probably having a good laugh on all this.

Now, one other poster said it does not matter who the Dem candidate is, could be Fred Flintstone, as long as the person can raise enough bucks to put a bunch of 30 second ads on TV right before the election. Maybe that is true, but I have my doubts, since Pombo has more money (and Annette) and can do the same thing, only better.(Actually, Fred Flintstone has much more name recognition than Filson or McNerney -- and didn't he run for Mayor of Bedrock in one cartoon?).

I have watched this race since 2002. In that time, very little was done by the state or national party to build the Dem base in the district. Jerry McNerney made some progress during his campaign. But still, voter registration and Democratic activism in the Central Valley is not that strong. No slight on the people there, they are good people and work hard with what support they have. But, as Babaloo pointed out, the Dems "leaders" stuck with safe districts in 2004, and were focused on Kerry. They did not want to spend any money on the 11th District or work with it to organize.

So perhaps Babaloo is right, that this primary has a deeper meaning, a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party. If the grassroots can pull off an upset, that will show those DCCC bullies whose playground this is!

But I wonder if this will really happen, or how it could happen, that the "grassroots" throws off the Tauscher/Blue Dog yoke and goes for McNerney. What is being done to accomplish this? Does McNerney have momentum and enough committed activists to do this?

I see an uphill battle here, because Filson keeps getting the "management" stamp of approval -- like when you own stocks, and they send out those proxy votes. The company management always "suggests" a vote for those who don't follow the company workings too closely.

Don't you think many Dem party faithful will just by default follow the "suggestion" of the management, that is, the DCCC, Tauscher, and all the others endorsing Filson? Isn't that also why Filson is getting more $$ than McNerney -- he is seen as the Dem leadership's boy?

So how to counter that, how to build this grassroots uprising that will beat the DCCC-sponsored candidate? What steps are being taken, what actions do you see as the most effective to win the primary for McNerney?

8:41 AM, March 07, 2006  
Anonymous jbmendel said...

Not a bad post. I disagree with some of your interpretation of events, but more power to you.

To clarify, my comment about being on the same side was in reference to this November and Novembers to come. Since I've made similar comments before, I hope no one was confused by it.

I said yesterday that I like all our candidates (yes even the unrepresented Thomas), and while Filson is my favorite, I intend to spend the summer working for our nominee. I then asked if anyone on the other side of this argument is making a similar statement. I was by no means suggesting that anyone here would move to support Pombo. I was asking if everyone is going to maintain the same level of activity for a candidate who isn't a unanimous first choice.

On a different note, does anyone know if we have any candidates for the overlapping 15th Assembly District or the ??th Senate District? I keep hearing about 'the local party being energized,' and those are important seats to take back, too.

8:50 AM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger VPO said...

Given what I said in my first post above, I will now balance it by trying to present what I think is the argument for Filson:

This is how the pro-Filson argument goes, I believe:

"He is a moderate/centrist who has military experience. The District is not ready for a progressive candidate. The DCCC recognized this, and wanted a candidate who could raise big money for the inevitable TV and radio ads. McNerney had his chance in 2004, he lost, also he did not break any fund-raising records or run a spectular campaign. McNerney is not a natural candidate and would do poorly this time around also."

"He is not 'in' with the Dem party leaders and could end up being a maverick in the party when they want another Blue Dog, which will give them a chance to oust Pelosi as Minority Leader. With Tauscher supporting Filson, that means he will owe her one when leadership votes come up. McNerney would not be as reliable in this respect."

The main argument for Filson, then, is that imposed or not, name recognition or not, non-grassroots or not, he has a better chance of raising money and winning the office than McNerney, mainly because of his "moderate" stance and military background.

Maybe others can correct me, but that is what I think is how the argument for Filson goes.

9:13 AM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger VPO said...

The issue for the progressives and grassroots to consider is whether the DCCC and Tauscher may actually be right, that, given the makeup of this district, Filson has a better chance of winning. Ignoring the way he was "imposed" on the District, I am considering whether or not a "moderate" like Filson might appeal more to the voters of this district than a progressive candidate, as the DCCC seems to think.

I don't know. Just asking. I guess we never really will know, since only one of them will run against Pombo in November.

Either way, it is a long shot to beat Pombo, unless we see him doing a perp walk before the election. Even then, the R's could run Annette, who would probably still beat whoever the Dem candidate turns out to be.

10:57 AM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:40 AM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Great post Babaloo!!! I quoted it and linked back when I wrote my YES on McNerney endorsement at Down With Tyranny today. THANKS FOR THE HELP!!

5:35 PM, March 07, 2006  
Anonymous Some Other Guy said...

The term "grassroots" gets thrown around a lot here. Perhaps we should all take a step back and state just what each of us means when we say "grassroots". How and why is it that the term "grassroots" seems to belong to the progressives? How is it that McNerney is more "grassroots" than Filson? And why it is being assumed that Filson isn't "grassroots"? How and when is it that one moves from being part of the "grassroots" to being part of the "establishment"? And why is being part of the "establishment" necessarily such a horrible thing? If we are talking about "grassroots" in terms of field organization, such as going door-to-door, I think it is important to note that the Republican party has been out-grassrootsing the Democrats and the progressives in the past couple of elections, across the board.

Additionally, I also think this whole "us" (grassroots, progessives) v. "them" (DCCC, et al) is rather off-base. Does anyone here actually know the extent of the DCCC's and DC hierarchy's involvement in the Filson campaign? Based on my past experiences with the DCCC, I'm guessing it is little to none. Sure, the DCCC and others think Filson has what it takes to beat Pombo. It is foolish, however, to think those thoughts have or will translate into anything substantial. As a Democrat and voter in CD11, I don't view Filson as being "imposed" on the district.

6:07 PM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...

Some other guy: "Grassroots" refers to local, typically non-professional, political groups and organizations. It also can refer to the people who make up such groups and organizations.

Steve Filson has no significant support among Democratic Party clubs or among other organized progressive grassroots organizations. You're right, there is no necessity for the grassroots to be progressive, although in the case of the district the Democratic Party grassroots tends to be progressive.

Now nobody in the grassroots (progressive or otherwise) even knew who Steve Filson was before he had been anointed by his supporters in Washington. McNerney built his campaign among the grassroots, and the truth is that is where much of his support comes from. The Democratic Party activists and organizers within the district support him, as does the majority of the district's organized labor organizations.

Now I'd submit you just don't know the level of of involvement the DC folks have had in supporting Steve Filson. That's fair enough. And without knowing that, I'd understand your willingness to view his candidacy as organic and homegrown. Your ignorance of the their involvement notwithstanding, Filson had no indigenous support within the district when he started his campaign, and he has very little indigenous support now. And the people in DC backing him now were completely happy to cede the district in 2004. Now, without consulting anyone inside the district, and without making Filson prove he had any base of support, they've gotten behind him and provided the impetus for his campaign. That explains the resentment among the grassroots for the people in DC backing Filson.

6:38 PM, March 07, 2006  
Anonymous Rick said...

The recap of the 2002 and 2004 General Elections omitted some critical pieces of information:

The 2002 General Election in California saw one of the all-time lowest voter turnouts in state history (50% statewide; 52% in Alameda County; 56% in Contra Costa County; 51% in San Joaquin County; 51% in Santa Clara County). Of course, the top of the ticket race was Davis v. Simon.

In contrast, the 2004 General Election saw one of the highest voter turnouts in state history (76% statewide; 76% in Alameda County; 83% in Contra Costa County; 69% in San Joaquin County; 70% in Santa Clara County). The top of the ticket race was Bush v. Kerry.

Shaw lost to Pombo by 20% in 2002. McNerney lost to Pombo by 16% in 2004. There was a dramatic upsurge in turnout between the 2002 General and the 2004 General. The correlation seems obvious since more casual voters turned out in 2004 than in 2002. Not surprisingly, casual voters (i.e., people under 35, renters, lower income folks, etc.) tend to trend Democratic.

As for all the bellyaching about the DCCC taking an interest in CA-11, their primary mission is to increase their membership. Like any partisan political operation, they want candidates with (in no particular order): 1) message, 2) financial support, and 3) political support. (You can see where Filson has an edge). Moreover, the DCCC almost always wants candidates who have previously held elected office. It would be erroneous to conclude that they passed up backing a known commodity in Machado or Matthews in favor of Steve Filson.

BTW, if you think the DCCC machinations are so odious in this race, consider what it would be like to be a Democratic voter in one of the 170 or so Republican-held districts that the DCCC won't actively contest this year.

9:48 PM, March 07, 2006  

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