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Are Dems Opening the Door to the Next Villanueva?

GUEST COMMENTARY - For most Democrats throughout deep blue L.A. County, the incumbent Sheriff is a disaster whose misconduct each day escalates the urgency to replace him.

So a top priority for party leaders would seem to be closing the loopholes that allowed Alex Villanueva to garner the party label in 2018 and ride it to a scandal-plagued four-year reign.   

Instead of resolving these problems, L.A. Democrats on our party’s governing board are now facing a very different proposal: To give up authority over endorsement in contests including the Sheriff and give it to a small committee of insiders.  

This shift could open the door to yet more candidates like Villanueva gaining the party’s seal of approval and actively betraying our core values. Under this new rule, delegates like me, elected to the party’s governing board precisely to scrutinize, debate, and vote on such endorsements, could be bypassed and have no say. That simply is not right. In our deep-blue county, it also holds dangers for all Angelenos, based on how the Democrats we elect here use or misuse power, and for the reputation of our party.  

On May 10, 2022, the Los Angeles County Democrat Party will consider amending the LACDP’s candidate endorsement process to create a pathway to cut out locally elected Democratic Party delegates from the candidate endorsement process. LACDP is considering changes to its Early Endorsement process, a procedure by which the LACDP can choose to endorse a candidate early on during an electoral race to allow the Party to coalesce around and support a candidate during the nascent stages of a campaign. 

The proposed bylaw amendments remove the role of local elected party delegates in the early endorsement process by creating a separate early endorsement process that bypasses the involvement of local party delegates. The current early endorsement process requires input from locally elected party delegates in selecting candidates for early endorsement. The proposed bylaw amendments would instead assign that responsibility to LACDP’s Campaign Services Committee and Policy Committee, over both of which the chair exerts strict authority. 

The proposed changes take the Party’s endorsement power out of the hands of popularly elected local delegates and put it into the hands of appointed party officials. The proposed amendments are contrary to the Party’s commitment to grassroots democracy. They are not democratic, and they are not wise.  

As Democrats, our party is strengthened by relying upon the collective wisdom of our local party delegates who are well positioned to understand the needs and concerns in the areas that elected them. These proposed bylaw amendments would remove local party delegates from having a say on candidates seeking early endorsement.   

As a party, we need to be embracing the benefits of diversity in thought and opinion and protect the role of locally elected party delegates in selecting candidates for endorsement. Without that process, we merely increase the likelihood that LACDP will make another regretful decision, as the Party did in 2018 when we endorsed Sheriff Villanueva. 

On June 9, 2021, L.A. Democrats passed a resolution demanding Sheriff Villanueva resign from a position that the Party had endorsed him for just three years before. LACDP members cited Villanueva, who had run on a platform of progressive policing, for perpetuating a culture of police brutality and failing to rid the Sheriff’s department of deputy gangs. Despite this stinging repudiation, Villanueva still holds a seat on the County Central Committee. How does he still have a voice while delegates elected by Democrats explicitly to have a say in endorsements face a measure that would deprive us of ours?  

L.A. Democrats want and need our endorsement decisions to be ones we can be proud of — ones that better our lives and communities and build trust with voters we ask to choose us as their representatives. Instead, the proposed rule change at LACDP threatens to make more regretful endorsement decisions a more frequent occurrence.  

(Mitch Tsai is an attorney, environmental advocate, son of Taiwanese immigrants, and resident of South Pasadena. In 2020, despite being listed last on the ballot, he won election by fellow Democrats in the 41st Assembly District as a delegate to the central committee of the L.A. County Democratic Party.)