Is the Local Democratic Party Pushing an Undemocratic Process?

By Gwyn Lurie   |   November 1, 2021

“Let the Chips Fall Where They May Say”

More and more I hear people say: “I hate politics.” But is it really politics we hate, or is what we hate the subversion of democracy by small groups of people who work hard to amass and hold on to power so they can determine who we even get to consider for leaders?

Three weeks ago, Montecito Journal, followed by the Santa Barbara Independent, endorsed James Joyce III for mayor as an intelligent, fresh choice for Santa Barbara leadership. These endorsements were meaningful for a candidate who was denied access to the gravy train that comes with the local Democratic party’s endorsement. Shortly after receiving these important endorsements, at least three fear-driven, DCC-motivated things happened in rapid succession:

1: County Supervisor Das Williams met with mayoral candidate Deborah Schwartz to ask her to drop out of the race and throw her support behind DCC-endorsed mayoral incumbent Cathy Murillo. In exchange, Schwartz would receive Das’ help to get her “back into the good graces” of the DCC. (Apparently Schwartz agreed to do this when hell freezes over.) 

2: Lee Heller,a close ally of the DCC and a major DCC funder, sent an email to EJ Borah, a board member with the Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County (DWSBC), an organization that endorsed Schwartz for mayor and Nina Johnson for the Santa Barbara City Council District 4 seat, requesting she take on the job of getting the DWSBC to reverse its endorsement of Johnson.

And finally…

3: Daraka Larimore-Hall, former head of the DCC, who apparently still thinks he’s calling the shots, took to the airwaves in what was a stunning lack of self-awareness (or I-don’t-care-ness) and complained about “self-appointed opinion makers” trying to influence elections – as if he himself is not exactly that.

All of this left me asking the question: Has our local Democratic party, of which I have long considered myself a proud affiliate, become its own special interest, placing its heavy thumb on the delicate scales of our democratic system? Whose interests is the DCC representing?

I’m well aware that backroom deals are a mainstay of politics – at all levels, so none of this surprises me. What surprises me is the length to which a small cadre of “party leaders” will go to make sure that the local chips fall not where they may, but where they say.

In case you don’t have an hour to burn watching the one-ring circus that is Larimore-Hall’s conversation with Josh Molina on “Santa Barbara Talks,” here are a few lowlights:

Larimore-Hall calls Randy Rowse a “chucklehead.”

Larimore-Hall says that “some folks think Cathy Murillo is not Mexican enough,” which is, according to Larimore-Hall, “not a thing white people have to deal with.” Fair enough. But Larimore-Hall, who is himself Black, then went on to question Joyce’s bona fides as a Black candidate claiming that if James were a more “black power” candidate, he would never have gotten the Independent’s endorsement. 

According to Larimore-Hall, the Independent’s endorsement of James Joyce III displayed … “white liberal racism… it was like an artifact from that movie Get Out,” Larimore-Hall said.

I say just… wow. 

It becomes “an absurd oppression Olympics,” Larimore-Hall says. James Joyce becoming mayor “is not going to keep one black person from being murdered by a cop.”

Wow, wow, wow.

Larimore-Hall claims that “Deborah [Schwartz] knows better [than to run without her party’s endorsement] …because she’s been around for a while.” Interesting how Larimore-Hall has been a top Democratic operative yet eschews the democratic process. Democratic Party brass would do well to recall that in 2016 our last president presided over (quoting The New York Times) “the most significant expression of party dissent since 1976” when 721 delegates cast their votes for candidates other than Donald Trump. If memory serves me, Trump became president. Is the Democratic party really ready to concede upward mobility and the idea that “anyone can win” to the GOP? It sure sounds that way listening to Larimore-Hall.

According to Larimore-Hall, “Laura Capps wasted everyone’s time and money running for Supervisor.” Based on what? Her showing? To refresh Larimore-Hall’s memory, Laura Capps almost won. She got 47% of the vote to Das Williams’ 52%. And that was without the blessing of the DCC. Capps’ run was hardly a waste of time, and isn’t one of the fundamental tenets of our democracy that anyone can run for any office for which they are legally qualified?

Larimore-Hall believes that these should be straight elections with one progressive candidate (of his choosing) and one conservative candidate. The suggestion being, in this case, that Randy Rowse can be shoved into the “conservative” box and Cathy Murillo into the “progressive” box and there’s nothing in between. According to Larimore-Hall this election has become “all about personalities and vague bullshit. And that’s very disempowering to voters, ultimately.”

That “vague bullshit” happens to be where we find things like leadership skills, character, and shadings of perspective that I personally find critical in deciding whom to support. And I suspect most voters feel the same way.

May I remind you, according to the Constitution of the State of California, all these positions we’re talking about are nonpartisan. This clearly is not about what’s good for you and me as citizens and residents of Santa Barbara. This is about the acquisition and consolidation of power. It’s about the power of a small coterie of individuals who want to decide who even gets presented to voters as options. It’s far beyond partisan politics. These are inside-baseball tactics designed to keep capable and talented people who can’t be controlled from ever running for office. It’s a subversion of the democratic process by deliberately shunning and silencing some candidates in favor of those who will do what the DCC wants.

All of this from a man that ran for the Chair of the California Democratic Party and drew a mere 6% of the statewide vote. That’s a clear indication that his kind of divisive thinking was not deemed good for California, it’s not good for us here, and it’s not good for the Democratic Party in general. Which is likely why the state party rejected Larimore-Hall because he doesn’t speak for them. And I don’t think he or his small coterie of operatives speak for a lot of Democrats and other good folks who are deeply supportive of democratic values. 

The Democratic Party has always been a big tent with room for many points of view. As Will Rogers once famously said, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” 


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