Commentary: Welcome to the Machine

I see a lot of reference to a local Democratic Machine these days. It is an interesting concept, but I’m not sure it really applies all that well.

I saw a comment posted by Charlie Schaupp, who is running for Assembly against Bill Dodd. He writes, “You already know there is a political machine in Davis. This stuff is not new. They supported Dan Wolk over Joe Krovoza and the result was they ended up with ‘New Minted Napa Democrat’ Bill Dodd as their candidate. I also noticed that there is a huge number of Adams, Archer and Sunder yard signs in the precincts I have walked in Davis. It’s politics as usual!”

Following the June election, we wrote an article: “Decline of the Yolo County Democratic Machine?” We noted that, in local races, the Yolo County Democratic Party has endorsed Dan Wolk for Assembly, Norma Alcala for County Supervisor, Don Saylor for County Supervisor, Jesse Ortiz for Yolo County Superintendent of Schools, Rick Cohen for Yolo County Judge, Sheila Allen for Davis City Council and Angel Barajas for Woodland City Council.

How many won? Just Don Saylor (unopposed), Jesse Ortiz and Angel Barajas.

As we noted, “The Democratic Party has lost influence for several reasons. First, they did not put resources into the races – either money or precinct walkers – and therefore they relied only on their namesake. Second, they made odd choices in some of the contested races. Third, they backed flawed candidates, in part because in some cases they dogmatically adhered to partisanship rather than ideology.”

Furthermore, “The strongest machines in Yolo County were probably never the Democratic Party to begin with – we had the firefighters’ union in Davis which put real money and personnel into the races they backed and the Wolk-Craig Reynolds machine that has backed two Assemblymembers and a Senator, among others.”

A classic party machine controls the entire process – they train and recruit the candidates, they run their slate of candidates, they put in money and resources to back their candidates, and anyone who is not on their slate is attacked and bludgeoned.

That is really not what we see in Yolo County. Occasionally you see a candidate who is recruited to run, but more often a candidate emerges on their own.

Recently, Bob Dunning wrote, “City Council elections in Davis, of course, are nonpartisan, even if every candidate with any chance of winning in this town is a Democrat.”

That’s actually no longer true – if it ever was. On the current council, three of the elected city councilmembers are not Democrats. It is true that none of them are Republican, but Rochelle Swanson, Brett Lee and Robb Davis are not Democrats.

The bottom line here is that there is not a true machine in Davis, much less Yolo County.

First, there are too many candidates that emerge on their own rather than being recruited by a larger organization.

Second, there has never been monolithic control by a single entity or organization. We have often cited the firefighters as controlling the city government through four election cycles.

In the Davis City Council from 2002 to 2008, the firefighters’ union backed seven of nine winners – all of them Democrats. The only two winners not backed by firefighters at that time were Lamar Heystek in 2006 and Sue Greenwald (backed by them in 2004) in 2008.

And yet, even then, from 2006 to 2010, it was only a 3-2 vote that the firefighters held, which was sufficient to keep their agenda flowing, but far from dominant.

Moreover, it really didn’t take a whole lot to break the firefighters’ hold on the council. The Vanguard has made backing by the firefighters into a political issue and, as a result, in 2010 and 2012, none of the candidates for city council took firefighter endorsements or money. Prior to that, firefighter endorsements meant bundled contributions up to $4000, as well as an independent expenditure campaign that saw door hangers and sometimes a mailer.

In 2014, Sheila Allen became the first candidate to accept an endorsement and money since 2008. However, her backing was a shadow of its former self – simply an endorsement in name and a $100 direct contribution.

Third, based on that, there really is no overall control. Three of the five councilmembers in Davis are non-Democrats. The Democratic Party has had only mixed success on their endorsements.

Much has been made of Davis holding the Assembly seat until Bill Dodd is elected in November, but even there, Mariko Yamada was the outsider who upset Christopher Cabaldon in 2008. Prior to that Helen Thomson and Lois Wolk were backed by Craig Reynolds, and Lois Wolk successfully moved from the Assembly to the Senate, whereas Helen Thomson had her district altered which prevented her from attempting to move to the Senate.

Congress has been controlled by Mike Thompson and John Garamendi, both figures from outside of the immediate area and prominent in their own right. Both came to Yolo County through re-districting – they did not emerge in Yolo County.

What we do see here is:

First, Democrats are by far the majority party in Davis and, by extension, Yolo County

Second, there may be intra-party battles but, come November, if the race is Democrat versus Republican, Democratic establishment and voters are going to back the party pick.

Look no further than the Assembly. That was a hugely divisive primary race, as Charlie Schaupp points out. But by September, Dan Wolk and Joe Krovoza had both endorsed Bill Dodd and hosted a fundraiser in Davis for him.

That is not really evidence of a machine.

From our perspective, the biggest impact here may be the efforts by individuals or groups of individuals to gain control of various local government apparatus. Again, a prime example might be the firefighters, who align themselves with politicians that they consider favorable to their policies.

But the evidence increasingly is that there is no control.

As we asked in June, is the Democratic Party brand declining? Our view is that the party cannot have influence by name alone, the endorsement must mean something. The Democratic Party is not backing its candidates with money and campaign volunteers, therefore, they have lost influence.

What the Democratic Party does have is numbers, and that means that most voters are going to support like-minded candidates.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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24 thoughts on “Commentary: Welcome to the Machine”

    1. wdf1

      Also, for local issues, there is less alignment along party lines.  For example, Republicans used to be more heavily identified with a policy of local control over federal or state control.  I think locally, a majority of Davisites would appreciate more local control of school policy than exists.  One example is of standardized testing; standardized testing is a federal/state mandate.  If Davisites had their druthers, I think a majority would come down against the amount of mandated standardized testing.

    2. Davis Progressive

      they were the establishment and yes, they largely were unanimous.  name one major establishment person in davis who supported krovoza over wolk?

  1. Gunrocik

    I guess it should really be called the “Craig Reynolds Machine” and yes, they aren’t undefeated but his machine does cast a very long shadow over local politics–from Council to School Board to Board of Supes to the Legislature.

    And what does the machine stand for?  That is a better question.  I believe the main goal of the machine is accumulation of power — which means accumulation of candidates beholden to them and connection with interest groups — such as the Firefighters and Teachers Unions — who can help them hold onto their power.

    It is the typical Sacramento model, you have all these long time Legislative Chiefs of Staff who develop power bases — and actual belief in a political philosophy is secondary to accumulating power and influence.

    It is just unfortunate that this amoral (more likely immoral) way of conducting politics spills over into our local races–and into the selection of City Manager.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think you’re largely correct, but even craig lacks the ability to control everyone.  he only really controls one on the council now.  bobby controls lucas.  rochelle tries to suck up to the establishment, but she’s not one of them.

      “And what does the machine stand for? ”

      the machine stands for giving personal power to craig and bobby.

      “It is the typical Sacramento model, you have all these long time Legislative Chiefs of Staff who develop power bases — and actual belief in a political philosophy is secondary to accumulating power and influence.”

      and it’s very parochial.  craig is not well respected in sacramento, in fact they redistricted davis into machado’s district in 2000 just to make helen have to retire rather than seek the assembly.  however, craig got lois elected to both assembly and senate and thwarted them.

      “It is just unfortunate that this amoral (more likely immoral) way of conducting politics spills over into our local races–and into the selection of City Manager.”

      that’s the last bastion – craig was dirk’s boss.  hard to see dirk standing up to his former boss who is aligned and controls his new boss, but i guess we’ll see.

  2. Frankly

    Davis has its own form of Tammany Hall.  The “machine” is more a Rube Goldberg type lubricated by the soft money of government.

    There is less a direct connection with the Democrat Party as the party has been infiltrated by all of the groups having agendas more likely served by the Democrat Party.  And, again, what they all have in common is a demand for that soft money to pad their pockets and/or push their agenda.

    From a Republican perspective the political battle has become more like the war on terrorism where the enemy is not a single entity, but a movement by a diverse collation held together by a shared goal of domination for personal gain.

    But absolute power corrupts absolutely… and the lack of Republican/conservative leaders having different friends with different agendas and private-side personal pursuits has lead us to a state of severe over-spending of the soft money.   And now the old Democrat coalition is beginning to fracture over conflict over the flow of the money.  For example, if the firefighters union continue to win at the labor contract bargaining table as they have for the last few decades, social and environmental service programs will be cut.  That doesn’t sit well with other parts of the coalition.   And a good sign of the resultant fracturing is the growing number of people quickly making the claim that they are not a Democrat even though their worldview sits snugly into the common ideology of the modern Democrat Party.

    One view from the political right is to just allow the Democrats to continue down this path of inevitable Party self destruction.  The problem though is that the media perpetuates the undeserving positive branding while continuing to negatively brand Republicans and conservatives.  Voters hang too long with the Democrats because the media pop culture continues to dissuade them from the alternative.  For example, Governor Brown is not even campaigning even though he has clearly destroyed much of the state’s economic development service infrastructure to reward the teachers union that backs him and other teacher-union Democrat Party faithful.  So the correction is too long in coming and the damage wrought by the delay to the correction has become massive.

    I do think that Davis local politics is less party-specific and more independent and moderate.  But the voting track record is strongly along the lines of the modern Democrat Party agenda and platform.  The current city council appears to have been a movement away from the strong Democrat agenda and platform… but to date they haven’t really taken any actions to prove this.  I am still optimistic that we will see more 3-2 votes in the direction of a more conservative approach… specifically with fiscal matters.  But it is a guarded optimism.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “I do think that Davis local politics is less party-specific and more independent and moderate.  But the voting track record is strongly along the lines of the modern Democrat Party agenda and platform.”

      craig, helen, and lois were not the liberals in the legislature.  but it’s less about party and ideology and more about personal power.

      1. Frankly

        But then “power” all comes down to the number of supporting constituents, and the number of supporting constituents comes down to the control and flow of money.

        The power of a politician is only as strong as his/her supporting constituency.   All past and present party machines are similar in that respect.

        Lois Wolk has stood up to the Democrat machine and got slapped by it.  She only got slapped because the voters gave power to those that slapped her.

        It is really a crack up reading how corporate money that previously flowed to Democrat candidates in many state races is now flowing to Republican candidates because they are favored to win.   On the private-sector side business is just trying to hedge its bet that the winner holds them in a good light so as to prevent policy that causes monetary harm and hopefully encourage policy that is good for business.

        But the public-side-Democrat money connection is more direct.  And any CC council member with larger political ambition is going to have to walk that Democrat party money-flow line that is the essence of the machine.

        Dan and Lucas cannot stand up to the public-sector unions at this point in time because it would result in damage to their ongoing political aspirations.  But if voters would reward them for standing up to the public sector unions, they could do the right things and not damage their future political career.

        As government grows and takes more and more of the economy with it, more and more people are naturally siding with the party that provides more protection of the flow of government money.  It is a self-perpetuating machine that is unsustainable because government cannot produce money, it can only take money from the production of others in the private economy.  We can only hope that true independents and moderates get their heads out of their rears and the Democrat coalition fractures so that more true business-side politicians can get in their and start pulling us back to fiscal reality.

        But then watch the media… those mean fiscal conservatives taking money away from those public sector “heroes” and all those needy people being harmed while the rich get richer.

        The media is part of the machine… and possibly the part that will ensure our ultimate degradation.

        I was thinking about this while reading a book on James Garfield… noting that politics was not much different in the late 1800s as it is now.  The difference is that you had to actually pick up the paper and read it to get the crap from a biased media.  And if you had to pick up the paper and read it, you were likely smart enough to figure out that the writer was full of crap.

        But today people are brainwashed to the propaganda that is blasted at them 24×7.  They don’t have to pick up a paper and read.  They eventually just “know” things and they don’t even remember how and why they know it.

        1. Barack Palin

          It is really a crack up reading how corporate money that previously flowed to Democrat candidates in many state races is now flowing to Republican candidates because they are favored to win.

          Giants won last night and if next Tuesday goes as hoped it’s going to be a very good week. 

        2. Davis Progressive

          “Lois Wolk has stood up to the Democrat machine and got slapped by it. ”

          you’re failing to distinguish between the state legislative democratic party and craig reynold’s local operation.  as a result, you’re talking about a lot of things that are irrelevant to this conversation.

        3. Davis Progressive

          “Giants won last night and if next Tuesday goes as hoped it’s going to be a very good week. ”

          interesting that you regard political elections as a sporting event where you cheer on your side and boo the other side.

        4. Barack Palin

          Not at all, where did I say I regard elections as a sporting event.  You’re coming off sounding like you know that the Democrats are going to lose so you’re trying to marginalize what I stated.   That being said I will be very happy next Tuesday if the GOP can take back the Senate just as I’m sure you’ll be happy if the Democrat Party can maintain the Senate.  And if the GOP does indeed come through it will be on top of my favorite team’s World Series victory and it will be a very good week.

    2. Don Shor

      Voters hang too long with the Democrats because the media pop culture continues to dissuade them from the alternative.

      Yes, I’m sure that’s it.
      By the way, it’s Democratic Party, not Democrat Party.

      1. Frankly

        It was miss-named originally… I am committed to renaming it correctly.  Otherwise we would need to change the Republican Party to the Republicanic Party or start calling Democrat voters, Democratic voters… which is very awkward and in conflict with their tendency to disrespect democratic principles when it suits them.

        1. wdf1

          Don Shor’s link has the quote that it is “the partisan equivalent of flashing a gang sign.”  Used on the Vanguard, I think it’s more a form of trolling.

  3. TrueBlueDevil

    Wasn’t Nancy Peterson backed by The Machine?

    Decades ago, I get the sense that Davis used to be a more moderate / common sense kind of small town, with it’s own quirks. The expansion of the campus and the College of L&S brought the liberal tide into town. We are a liberal town surrounded by moderate to conservative regions.

    On a larger scale, the State Machine must be worried because they brought Bill Clinton out to push for some regional picks, including career politician John Garamendi.

    1. wdf1

      TBD: Wasn’t Nancy Peterson backed by The Machine?

      What does “the machine” mean to you?  This Vanguard article refers to a “Democratic Party Machine.”  I’m not aware that Davis Dems or Yolo Dems endorsed Peterson.   At one point, a commenter here claimed that Peterson’s political affiliation was not Democrat.  Do you know otherwise?

        1. wdf1

          Well, then that would make sense.  The Democrats want to see their party affiliation in a candidate before they will endorse, and I’m sure the Republicans feel the same.

          And I don’t think that many Davis voters were checking Peterson’s party affiliation (or lack of it) before deciding whether to vote for her or not.

    2. wdf1

      TBD:  Decades ago, I get the sense that Davis used to be a more moderate / common sense kind of small town, with it’s own quirks.

      How far back do you want to go?  John Lofland’s history of Davis refers to the 1972 City Council election as a watershed in city politics, tilting from a more conservative agrarian political perspective to a more liberal political orientation.

      In the 1950’s, the editorial position of the Davis Enterprise was definitely more Republican and vigilant about communism in the U.S., in other words, very pro Joseph McCarthy.

      1. Charlie_Schaupp

        WDF…I have been in the inner offices of the owners of the Davis Enterprise.  I noticed and noted they had photos of General Patton on the walls.   I was pleasantly surprised to see that.   Since then I  have been told the owners are Republican (but I don’t think the Davis readers know that…LOL)

         

  4. Gunrocik

    The sad thing about these comments is the general admittance that Tammany Hall does exist in Davis — but there seems to be no  energy to expose this sad fact to a wider audience.  Also sad that other than Frankly, there is not the outrage that there should be from the business community — as it seems like many of them have been co-opted or intimidated into going with a flow that is not in their best interests.

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