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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Why Snub of Susan is a Bad Look for Dems

Days after Gregg Hart won the Democrat’s endorsement for 2nd District Supervisor, some women activists remain perturbed by the process, reckoning that Susan Epstein got jobbed.

“At best it was confusion, at worse disenfranchisement,” said one Epstein partisan.

Breaking down the dispute (explained below) requires little more than a mastery of Roberts Rules of Order, knowledge of differential calculus and a passing familiarity with quantum physics.

The major issue, however, boils down to this:

a) Because the Democratic Women of Santa Barbara organization has not yet decided its own endorsement, the representative of the influential group abstained, and then was not counted among those “present and voting” on the 32-member board;

b) If the organization’s vote were counted in the tally, Hart would have failed to win the 60 percent needed for the party endorsement, which he captured with 61.2 percent.

“It was not disenfranchisement,” party chair Gail Teton-Landis, herself a former head of Dem Women, told us. “We followed Roberts Rules.”

Beyond procedural technicalities, however, the political optics of the episode for Democrats are bad, bad, bad, for at least three reasons.

1-#Not Me Too. In a season when Democratic politics are being shaped nationally by sexual harassment allegations, apparent creepo crimes and just plain moral outrages, the county committee’s hair’s-breadth endorsement of a middle-aged white male party warhorse over an emergent and clearly qualified progressive woman – for a seat that has been held by a Democratic woman for nearly 20 years – suggests that cognoscenti connections outweigh a broader commitment to electing more women.

It’s a penchant that’s mirrored statewide.

While California is the leader of the resistance to crotch-grabber Trump and his radical right-wing agenda, women candidates up and down the state are finding it hard to gain traction with entrenched party types – from the governor’s race to key congressional campaigns and the state Legislature:

As our friends Carla Marinucci and David Siders wrote in a piece headlined "Women Candidates Hit a Wall in California," over at Politico this week:

Delaine Eastin (the lone women running for governor) is polling in single digits. London Breed, the interim mayor of San Francisco and the first black woman to hold the post, was bounced from her position last month by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She was replaced by a white man.

And in a round of caucus meetings last weekend, Democratic Party activists in three competitive Southern California House races overlooked three EMILY’s List-endorsed candidates and threw their support, by wide margins, to three men.

Women in California politics are still running at the margins…The phenomenon is especially striking in this heavily Democrat state, where no woman has ever held the governorship and women account for only 26 of the 120 state legislators.

2-Those who ignore history, etc. etc.The Hart-Epstein dynamic approximates that of last fall’s 4th District city council race; Kristen Sneddon won with strong support from local elected and high-profile Dem women who bucked the party’s endorsement of Jim Scafide, a, um, middle-aged white male backed by the county committee.

The Sneddon-Scafide set-to featured a cringeworthy event that some women Democrats found symptomatic of the party’s tin ear, as reported at the time by Nick Welsh:

Charlie Clouse, enforcer of party orthodoxy, accused Sneddon of having the effrontery to knock on his door and say she was the best candidate running. Sneddon, for the record, denies ever knocking on Clouse’s door and demanded a retraction.

By breaking ranks with the party, Clouse argued Sneddon was going to split the Democratic vote and get a Republican elected. As for her list of impressive endorsements, Clouse said: “Perhaps not incidentally, they are all female,” adding, “They should know better.”


In the current race, Goleta school board member Epstein is campaigning with endorsements from Sneddon her own self; incumbent 2nd District supe Janet Wolf; state Senator Hannah Beth Jackson; Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte; ex-SB Mayor Helene Schneider and former supes Susan Rose and Gail Marshall, among other prominent progressive women.

It must be noted that there are significant differences between the two races. Scafide was a little-known newcomer while Hart has paid his dues as an elected official for several centuries; he also is expected to have the support of Mayor Cathy Murillo, a Democratic stalwart, among others.

Nonetheless, resentment about the rebuff of Epstein and the award to Hart of party resources and the crucial Democratic imprimatur, by the most miniscule of measures, can only feed the narrative that Democratic women must wage dissociated campaigns to get elected.

3-Why not a dual endorsement? As of now at least, there is no Republican running in the 2nd district. So in a race with two good Democrats, what’s wrong with letting both employ the party's seal of approval?

It is not exactly unheard of for liberal organizations to do just that when two worthies oppose each other – shout-out Planned Parenthood. Nor does it tax the imagination for party leaders who understand the Third Rule of Political Reporting* -- Politics is Perception -- to devise a way to make that happen.

As Maynard G. Krebs liked to say, "Barba crescit caput nescit."

Into the weeds: Insomnia cure ahead. Two separate factors combined to create the endorsement imbroglio:

First, our sources say, was the aforementioned ruling by party chair Teton-Landis that Luz Reyes-Martin, a Goleta Union School District Trustee and City College honcho, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Dem Women organization, could not be included in the vote total because she cast a ballot for “abstain.”

Second, we hear, was the approval of a new Santa Barbara County Young Democrat club, whose representative was allowed to vote, and backed Hart.

The charter for the club was approved early in the endorsement meeting as part of the secretary’s report – the functional equivalent of the city council's consent calendar; some Epstein backers complain that it was sneaked through because it wasn’t on the agenda as a specific item.

As a practical matter the second issue is irrelevant. The key to the episode was the non-count of the Dem Women abstention in determining the "present and voting" total in calculating the percentage necessary for endorsement.

For those keeping score at home. Here’s how the Newsmakers card has it:

---If the Dem Women ballot were counted, along with the Young Dems, insiders say, Hart would have won 19 of 32 votes or 59.4 percent.

---If the youthful donkey party partisans (no one over 35 need apply) were not allowed to vote and the Dem Women were counted as present and voting, Hart would have fallen short by a slightly larger margin: 58,1 percent..

Luz-Reyes declined to comment, referring us to Women Dem's board President Christine Pizzaro, who did not respond to several inquiries.

Teton-Landis, evincing just the slightest, teeny-weeny bit of frustration with the whole subject, maintains that a) the Young Dems club charter approval was SOP; b) Roberts Rules clearly disallows an abstention to be tallied as a vote.

“I thought it was a great meeting – everyone got a chance to express their view,” she said. "Nobody was disenfranchised."

There were no injuries.

* The first two Rules of Political Reporting:

1-They all want to be President.

2-Never pass up a chance to eat or take a piss.

You could look it up.

Images: Susan Epstein: Kristen Sneddon; Sexual harassment Twitter handle (The Verge); Gregg Hart; Baseball scorecard in the press box (Art of Manliness); Gail Teton-Landis.

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