Gomez Reyes Blasts Democratic Tilt Toward Aguilar In Endorsement Process

(November 26)  Eloise Gomez Reyes, a lawyer and longtime Democratic Party activist who is vying for Congress in the 31st Congressional District, has decried what she identified as unfair endorsement processes being used by local Democratic clubs to favor another Democrat in the race, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar.
Reyes, Aguilar and fellow Democrats Danny Tillman and Joe Baca are vying to unseat Republican incumbent Gary Miller in the 31st, which stretches from Rancho Cucamonga to Redlands.
Miller captured the Congressional Seat in the 31st in 2012 through a combination of factors that offset the Democratic Party’s 41 to 33.7 percent registration advantage in the district.
Gary Miller, who had represented the  42nd district in northeast Orange, southeast Los Angeles and southwest San Bernardino counties before the reapportionment that followed the 2010 Census, opted out of running against fellow Republican Ed Royce in the newly-draw 39th District and instead declared his intention of seeking the voters’ nod in the newly drawn 31st District.
In the 31st, four Democrats – Pete Aguilar, Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean, and Renea Wickman – sought election last year, as did Miller. In addition, another Republican, Bob Dutton, joined the fray in the 2012 primary. Despite the seven percent Democratic voter registration advantage in the 31st, simple mathematics hurt the Democrats as their vote was divided four ways, while the Republican vote was split two ways. Dutton and Miller proved to be the two top vote-getters and under California’s open primary arrangement wherein the two top vote-getters qualify for a run-off in the November general election regardless of party affiliation, the contest came down to a race between Republicans Miller and Dutton. Miller prevailed in that race.
Intent on preventing a repeat of that debacle, Democrats are seeking to discourage an internecine war within their ranks that depletes the party’s energy and unity. An early strategy among national party leaders has emerged in which they are seeking to have the party coalesce around Aguilar, who received the greatest number of votes among the Democratic candidates in the June 2012 primary. In this way, last May the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee selected Aguilar as one of five candidates nationwide to be included in its Jumpstart Program, which is intended to assist early-emerging Democrats seeking to unseat incumbent Republicans deemed to be vulnerable. Party leaders convinced California’s two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, to endorse Aguilar. Party donors, inside and outside California, were encouraged to provide him with campaign cash. In September, in a rare if not unprecedented move, the Redlands Area Democratic Club endorsed Aguilar. Normally, party clubs hold off on making endorsements until after, in some cases  well after, the filing deadline for a particular office is closed, giving all potential candidates an opportunity to make the case for their candidacies. The Redlands Area Democratic Club’s action defied that tradition. In reaction to the Redlands club’s move, the state Democratic Party adopted new rules and bylaws that called for Democratic clubs holding off until after the final filing date for office to ensure that no candidates are left out of the endorsement evaluation process.
Yet so intense was the pressure to promote Aguilar, four more Democratic clubs – the West End Democratic Club, the East Valley Democratic Club, the Helen L. Doherty Democratic Club, and the Stonewall Democratic Club – on November 16  announced their support for Aguilar, in defiance of the new rule.
On November 19, Reyes wrote to the California Democratic Party and its chairman, John Burton, complaining that she had been excluded from the endorsement process and that the endorsement votes by those four clubs announced November 16 “appear to have been held without notice and with apparent disregard for the democratic process.  I was never contacted by any of the four endorsing clubs prior to their votes being held. I was neither informed of their upcoming votes, nor was I invited to address the members of their clubs alongside the other candidates in this race.”
Reyes said a “conflict of interest” had developed by which party higher-ups were using their influence to push Aguilar’s candidacy forward by foreclosing other candidates from making a case for themselves within their own party structure. She said this was strongest at the level of the county central committee.
“I have recently heard from the leadership of several area Democratic clubs that members of the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee have personally delivered the message to their membership that the local Democratic clubs should follow the lead of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee by issuing their endorsements for Pete Aguilar. This would be a clear violation of the California Democratic Party bylaws, which state that central committees should work “to protect the integrity of the endorsement power by precluding other entries from representing themselves as purveyors of a Democratic Party endorsement. This conflict of interest has clearly influenced the integrity of the Democratic Party endorsement process in our race. All of the candidates running for this seat have not been given a fair chance to earn the endorsements of the local Democratic clubs. The institutional bias and lack of transparency in the endorsement process have disempowered several of the Democrats running for this congressional seat and, most importantly, it has disenfranchised members of our local Democratic clubs as well as area voters.”
Ironically, the stampede to line up a bevy of early endorsements of Aguilar is aimed less at Reyes, who has been the most vocal in protesting it, than at Baca, a former Congressman in the heavily Democratic-leaning 42nd and 43rd Congressional districts, who was voted out of office last year in a race in which he faced another Democrat, Gloria Negrete-McLeod, in the newly-drawn 35th Congressional District. Baca lost that race after Negrete-McLeod’s campaign was infused with $3.8 million in donations from a political action committee controlled by Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which paid for a $2.3 million television advertising blitz during the last week of the campaign which included negative hit pieces that trashed Baca on his record as well as upbeat mailers that lionized Negrete-McLeod for her service in the California legislature.
Baca, who was in Congress for 13 years, is not without resources. In addition to bringing name recognition to the political table, he possesses, as a former member of Congress, indirect and residual political clout, together with an insider’s knowledge of issues and alliances, which he is working assiduously to bring to bear. An independent poll taken in September showed Baca ahead of the other Democratic candidates in the race, though all of the Democrats tallied behind Miller.
On September 25 and 26, Political USA conducted a survey of 2,559 votes in the 31st District, determining that Miller was the choice of 28 percent, Baca received the support of 20 percent, Aguilar was the choice of nine percent, Tillman had seven percent and Reyes was favored by six percent. Nearly 29 percent were undecided or showed no preference.
A poll carried out by Public Policy Polling at the behest of MoveOn.org, a Democrat-affiliated organization, shows that 48 percent of the district’s voters would vote in favor of any Democrat running against Miller and that 13 percent of the remaining voters are undecided, while Miller has firm support from 39 percent of the district’s voters.

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