Richmond’s Kimberley Ellis and Los Angeles 
County Democratic Par ty Chair Eric Bauman
at a debate in Alameda for state party chairship.

With more than a month before California Democrats choose the next leader of their state party next month, debating and jostling between candidates is becoming repetitive. This isn’t unexpected as Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman and Richmond’s Kimberly Ellis criss-cross the state looking to gather the support of party convention delegates, while participating in a bevy of local debates across the state.

During a debate Wednesday in Alameda both candidates appeared exasperated with each others well-worn applause lines and political attacks. From the start, when Ellis delivered her opening statement, Bauman, rolled his eyes and pursed his lips in response to her reasons for running for party chair that included her contention that the state Democratic Party’s registration is flat while “No Party Preference” voters rise. When asked about the national party’s poor electoral performance, Ellis said, “We’ve been losing for a long time.” Ellis, herself, often displayed incredulous facial expressions in response to Bauman’s contention the state party is strong and without many of problems and fault lines afflicting the national party.

There are some clear reasons for the abrasiveness of the two candidates, aside from extreme familiarity with each others playbook on the campaign trail. Bauman, as leader over the past 16 years of the largest concentration of Democrats in the state, undoubtedly represents the status quo. It’s an attractive stance for many in the party since California Democrats over the past two decades and more have dominated state politics while holding large majorities in the Legislature and every statewide office. On Wednesday, Bauman was left to merely lament lost opportunities last November of just three congressional seats. “People like us,” Bauman told the crowd, “understand how to win elections.”

But Ellis wants more, she said. “Now is not the time to rest on our laurels.” Despite the party’s electoral success, said Ellis, the legislature has not passed single-layer health care insurance, banned fracking, or reformed Proposition 13. “We haven’t had strong leadership at the top,” she said. Ellis’ candidacy is buoyed by a deep progressive surge among party faithful in many ways unleashed by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ run for president last year. So-called Berniecrats were highly successful last January in winning Assembly delegate races across the state. These are the same people who will help decide who replaces the retiring John Burton as the next leader of the state party at its convention May 20 in Sacramento.

In the 18th Assembly District, which includes Alameda, Oakland and San Leandro, Berniecrats won every delegate seat despite not having the endorsement of its Assemblymember Rob Bonta. Not surprisingly, the City of Alameda Democratic Club voted, 36-12, on Wednesday night to endorse Ellis’ candidacy.

Throughout the roughly 90-minute debate, it was Ellis who was often on the offensive. She charged the state party with being lax about attracting millennials into the fold. “We go to to millennials when we need their sweat equity, their money,” she said, and later added Bauman’s Los Angeles County had the lowest voter turnout in the entire state. Bauman disputed this, saying the entire party has grown under his leadership.

Bauman said he would not only engage the party’s Young Democrats, but invite them to the “grown-up table.” Bauman said in the past party leaders urged the creation of Young Democratic clubs not to bolster their strength within the party, but to marginalize them to outside its power structure.

Ellis also lodged a forceful attack on Bauman’s ties to Big Phrma. She again urged him to reveal his ties to a consulting work work he performed for Big Phrma last year that opposed Proposition 61, an initiative strongly backed by Bernie Sanders that would have lowered prescription drug prices in California.

Copies of his consulting firm’s campaign finance report were placed on every seat at Wednesday night’s debate. But, Bauman, sdestepped the call by Ellis to acknowledge his ties to corporate money, saying his campaign committee finance reports from the last 10 years are publicly available on the Federal Election Commission’s website. Bauman called Ellis’ assertion “fallacious.” ” You can see there’s no oil, no pharma or tobacco,” he said.

Bauman, though, believes California’s Top Two primary system, also known as the “jungle primary” was intended by Republicans to bankrupt the state Democratic Party. As chair, he vowed to overturn it. “This is our big fight and we have to take it on,” said Bauman. Millions are being “flushed down the toilet” on Dem-on-Dem races during every election cycle that could be better used to challenge Republican seats, he added. “We can’t have a circular fire squad,” said Bauman. “Now is our time, now is our possibility, and now is our capability.”