Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Dem Schism Gets Real

Posted By on Thu, May 10, 2012 at 12:29 PM

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Now it's on: The struggle for control of the Democratic Party in Humboldt County has officially gone ballistic.

Two weeks ago we reported on an ideological rift in the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee -- a schism between liberal Democrats such as Eureka City Councilwoman Linda Atkins and her more conservative nemeses.

We assumed the showdown would take place at the ballot box on June 5, when eight candidates -- four from each camp -- vie for just four available seats in the committee's fourth district. Turns out Atkins couldn't wait that long.

At last night's central committee meeting, Atkins introduced a resolution to remove her opponents, most of whom have just recently become associate members. Namely she sought to oust fellow Eureka councilmembers Marian Brady and Melinda Ciarabellini, Humboldt County Supervisor Virginia Bass, Harbor District Commissioner Richard Marks and his wife, Robin. [Update, 2:15 p.m.: Marks just called to say that his wife has not endorsed Bohn. He's not sure why her name is listed on Bohn's website, but he's working to get it removed.]

On what grounds? All five [four, says Marks] have publicly endorsed Rex Bohn for First District Supervisor. The committee, meanwhile, has officially endorsed Cheryl Seidner, the lone Democrat in the race. (Bohn is now registered independent, though he was a Republican as recently as June of last year.) In a ballsy move, Brady even turned up at the meeting wearing a "Rex Bohn for Supervisor" hoodie.

Turns out this is a violation of committee bylaws (pdf here), which allow for the removal of any committee member "publicly advocating that voters should not vote for the Democratic endorsee for any office ... ."

Atkins stood at the front of the room, reading her resolution while the committee, including Brady and Bass (along with her husband, Matthew Owen), followed along on print-outs provided by Atkins. It was a bold and aggressive move, and it appeared to throw her intended targets off guard -- along with most everyone else.

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Awkward moment: Brady, in her Rex Bohn hoodie, stands up to give Atkins back her seat. Atkins had just moved to have Brady and others kicked off the committee.

The resolution sent the meeting into procedural chaos. Committee Chair Milt Boyd explained that in order to consider a special resolution introduced at the same meeting, the committee first had to bypass standard voting procedures, and to do that they needed approval from two-thirds of the committee. In other words, 12 of the 18 voting members present had to agree to consider the resolution before they could even talk about ousting Brady, Bass, Ciarabellini and the Markses.

It didn't get that far. After several minutes of cross-talk, head-scratching and points of order, only 10 members voted to consider the resolution -- two shy of the number needed. Confusion was largely to blame. After the meeting, several members admitted that they weren't sure exactly what they were voting on. Another said she would have voted yes but had "nodded off."

This doesn't mean that Atkins' resolution has failed; it's merely been delayed. It will be put on the agenda for the next scheduled committee meeting, which won't take place until June 13, eight days after the election. (If the committee had agreed last night to consider the resolution, the vote on removal would have taken place at a special meeting on May 30.)

This could potentially set up an even stranger scenario: There's a good chance that at least one of the four more conservative candidates will win a voting position on the committee on Election Day. If that happens, Atkins said, the next committee vote will determine whether or not the insurgent victor(s) can be seated. This is political hardball at its fiercest.

After the meeting, Bass said she agreed to endorse Bohn a year and a half ago, "long before" she decided to run for a seat on the committee. She won't take back that endorsement now. Bass alleged that the committee has not been consistent with its application of the bylaws, and she said Atkins' resolution "seems contrived." She also questioned whether the committee's bylaws are consistent with others in the state.

Brady left the meeting before we could ask for her response.

Atkins said she'd written up the resolution the previous night after she learned that a TV commercial for the Bohn campaign was touting the endorsements of Democratic committee members. This issue, she said, goes to the heart of the committee's mission.

More local politics: District Soup

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Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns worked for the Journal from 2008 to 2013, covering a diverse mix of North Coast subjects, from education, politics and marijuana to human suspension, sex parties and amateur fight contests. He won awards for investigative reporting, feature stories and news coverage.

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