National News

Victories, Then Scandal. What’s Next for California Democrats?

Posted December 3, 2018 9:57 a.m. EST

The California Democratic Party has been rocked by a sexual misconduct scandal. The New York Times asked Adam Nagourney, The Times’ Los Angeles bureau chief, about what’s ahead for the organization.

Q: As you wrote recently, these are heady times for California Democrats. Orange County turned totally blue in the midterms, and even Rep. David Valadao, the last flippable Republican, seems likely to be out. But the state party feels a bit as if it’s in crisis. Why is that?

A: The California Democratic Party has always been a bit of a caldron, filled with some of the most activist, liberal Democrats in the state. Unrest is kind of a state of being there.

But last week, the party was roiled by sexual harassment allegations directed at its leader, Eric Bauman. Bauman originally said he would wait out an investigation into the allegations, which were raised by a party vice chairman, but when a Los Angeles Times article appeared detailing a series of accusations, he was out of there.

Q: Does Bauman’s resignation signal anything broader about the party or California’s political culture? And how likely is it that his resignation will pave the way for change?

A: There is a lot of talk now that the kind of easygoing, roughhouse culture of a political committee — a culture that Bauman, who was very much a creature of the Bronx, reflected — will have to change. I think we can expect that to be a top pledge of whomever takes over the job.

Q: What about politically? Does the Bauman exit tell us anything about where the party might be going?

A: Bauman squeaked into office by about 60 votes out of 3,000 votes cast. He was widely viewed as too moderate — and too old-school in his political tactics — for many in the party. His closest rival was Kimberly Ellis, a San Francisco Democratic activist and one of the leading contenders to succeed him.

Keep in mind: The California Democratic Party is clearly more liberal than the state’s overall Democratic electorate. The party refused to back Sen. Dianne Feinstein for re-election, supporting instead her more liberal challenger, state Sen. Kevin de León. She won handily. So we should be careful in drawing broad lessons about the politics in California from whomever is elected to succeed Bauman when the party convenes in San Francisco on May 31.