Left Coasting : Family Fight

Harman vs Winograd : the Democratic Party at war, with itself

by Rosalea Barker

Somewhere in the United States is a company called Wallpaper From Hell in which I’d like to invest, because it seems to have a monopoly on the convention hotel market. Everywhere that people gather for a confab—and there’s nothing Americans like more than a confab—the meeting room walls and dividers are covered in the kind of wallpaper you used to see in 1970s hotel public bars, only now the pattern is in beige and cream instead of purple and orange. Even the toney FW Marriott in Los Angeles has not been able to resist WFH’s ghastly wares, as I discovered when I went to meeting room “Platinum D” for a panel discussion put on by the Progressive Caucus at the recent California Democratic Party (CDP) state convention.

Political party conventions are a peculiar beast. They came into being in the 1830s as a means of ridding party candidate selection of the “secret deals” and “smoke-filled rooms” that characterized the earlier method of incumbent legislators meeting as a caucus to choose who would run for office. As one poli-sci text describes conventions: “Delegates, usually chosen directly by party members in towns and cities, chose the party standard-bearers, debated and adopted a platform, and provided a chance to whip up party spirit and perhaps to celebrate a bit. But the convention method in turn came under criticism. It was charged that the convention was subject to control by the party bosses and their machines. Delegates were freely bought and sold, instructions from rank and file party members were ignored, and meetings got completely out of control.”

In 1903, Wisconsin was the first state to institute a “direct primary”, which gives every person affiliated to a particular party the right to vote on candidates in a primary election. The state supplies the ballots and supervises the election, which takes place sometime before the general election in November.

The California State Democratic Party has managed to retain the worst of all three systems—caucus, convention, and primary—along with a fair smattering of “political machine” and “secret deals”. When you see how legislative office passes from one politician to their mentee, you can’t help but wonder if the original system is still in operation. And, as any candidate wanting to run in their party’s primary knows, it’s the candidate to whom the local and national party bosses want to give the money to run a campaign who will probably win it. Not to mention the all-important party “endorsement”, which guarantees that the endorsed candidate will be the one that people registered to that party will be encouraged to vote for.

CDP members hold “pre-endorsement” caucuses in each legislative district, at which the candidate with 50 percent plus one of the vote gets the party’s endorsement. If nobody gets that number, the endorsement caucus is scheduled for the state party convention, where a candidate has to get 60 percent of the vote of the convention delegates from that district, and if nobody does, the result is “no endorsement”. Eleven such caucuses were scheduled at the Los Angeles CDP convention, nine of them for State Assembly districts and two of them for Congressional Districts. I asked to attend one of them to see how the voting was conducted, but was told that press are not allowed because the rooms are too small.

The district I was interested in is California’s 36th Congressional District, which encompasses a series of LA beachside communities described in the 2008 Almanac of American Politics as “still, as if in the 1950s, filled mostly with white Anglos. … This has been one of America’s leading defense and aerospace areas, where Howard Hughes built planes half a century ago and where much of the 1980s defense buildup took place.” It is home to Boeing and Northrop Grumman and an Air Force base that “has no runways but works closely with nearby aerospace companies [and] survived the 2005 base closure review” of the Bush Administration.

The district’s Representative is Jane Harman, who is married to Sidney Harman, founder and Chairman Emeritus of Harman International, an electronics company. Harman, pictured at the beginning of this article with a campaign assistant, is seeking her ninth term, and since 2001 has usually garnered over 60 percent of the vote in her district, in both the primary and the general elections.

In 2006, Harman was challenged in the Democratic Party primary by Marcy Winograd (pictured left), an LA Unified School District teacher and president of the Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles. Winograd’s 2006 self-description on Smart Voter can be seen here. She received 38 percent of the vote. This year, Winograd is hoping to do much better, and aggressively sought endorsement at the party convention in April, going as far as forcing the endorsement to a “floor fight” in the convention hall at the closing session on Sunday morning. I wasn’t able to stay for that, but you can read the liveblog from FireDogLake reporter David Dayen here.

The background to it is that Harman originally won the March 20 pre-endorsement caucus in her district, but Winograd was able to get enough of her supporters to sign a petition to have the endorsement brought to the convention instead. Again, Winograd lost. And again she collected the necessary number of signatures to take it to the floor, where the final count was 599-417 in Harman’s favor.

As one blogger quoted by John Amato on Crooks and Liars put it: “Harman vs. Winograd is the quintessential battle of opposites; conservative vs. progressive, corporate donations vs. grassroots donations, power broker vs. people power, special interests vs. people’s interests, war vs. infrastructure, war vs. jobs, war vs. education, war vs. housing, war vs. health, war vs. the environment, and on…”

You can access the candidate’s respective websites here (Harman) and here (Winograd), but the only place you can read what they said as panelists at the CDP Progressive Caucus is below.

Note: I got to “Platinum D” a little after the discussion began, so Winograd begins here in mid-flight. I’ve also edited out most of the answers the other panelists gave to questions Solomon posed. The panelists are, from left to right, Marcy Winograd, Loni Hancock (State Assemblywoman and champion of public financing for political campaigns), Jane Hamsher (creator of FireDogLake), Jim Hightower (columnist and radio personality), Jane Harman, Norman Solomon (moderator, and author of War Made Easy).

WINOGRAD: Maybe we should just give up. Shall we give up? No! No, the answer is for us to keep doing what we are doing right now—come together, organize and elect people who are not corporate candidates. I’m not taking a dime of corporate money. It’s about Our Street, Not Wall Street! Jobs, Not Wars! Right? We’re going to send that message tonight and tomorrow. Please be with me.

SOLOMON: [unclear] Marcy, I’ll ask you the same question that I would want to be asking Congresswoman Harman as well, which is, as we know, there’s a Progressive Caucus in the US Congress—about 82 members—and there’s a Blue Dog Coalition, which is also self-selected—about 40 members. What does that break-down signify in terms of the party itself and how are those caucuses conducted in [unclear] the way to influence policy, and what would you like to see happen in the future?

WINOGRAD: Well, I have to say that we probably could take a lesson from the Blue Dogs in that they do often stand together when they take a position, and they don’t really fund progressive candidates, that I know of. Whereas, the Progressive Caucus has thrown a lot of money at the Blue Dogs, in getting them re-elected, helping them retain their power. So I would say what we need to do here in California, is we need to be very clear with our representatives: We want them in the Progressive Caucus, but we want the caucus to mean something. This progressive caucus, we mean business, am I right? Yes! Yes! We’re not going to throw money at someone who continues to take us to war and occupation! Right? We’re not going to throw money to re-elect a candidate who votes to foreclose on our homes! No! We’re not going to throw money at a candidate who votes to deny us affordable medication for cancer, HIV, Parkinsons. No!

No! What we need to demand, I believe, as a progressive caucus in California is that our representatives in Congress, who are either leaders or members of that caucus, they work in tandem with us. Right? This is not about silos operating independently. That’s not organizing. This is about a synergy, that we need a relationship so that with a progressive caucus here, we see a progressive caucus there, and there, and there, and there, in every of the 50 States, and all progressive caucuses have a relationship with the Progressive Caucus in Congress. That’s we how we have to organize.

Solomon poses questions to the next panelist, Jim Hightower. Then Jane Hamsher of FiredogLake. Followed by Loni Hancock, State Assemblywoman.

WINOGRAD: I’m really sorry, because I’d love to be here the entire time. I feel very honored to be up here, and to be with you. However, I do have to go vote. For myself! So please forgive me and carry on. [unclear] outside Platinum D around 6:30. We’ll be there with the petitions. We have until 11 o’clock at night to get the signatures. You don’t have to be a delegate to circulate this, and you don’t have to be a delegate of my district to sign it. So please be with us, stay with us until tomorrow so we can vote for progressive change. (Winograd leaves.)

–SNIP–

SOLOMON: Our other invited panelist has arrived and I’d like to introduce Jane Harman. Congresswoman Harman (pictured left), I’d like to ask you the same question, basically, that I asked Marcy Winograd when she was speaking earlier. And that is, we have, of course, in the US Congress, the largest caucus is the Progressive Caucus, and then we have the Blue Dog Coalition, which is quite a bit smaller. I wonder which you feel best represents the progressive spirit that, for instance, is in the California Democratic Party platform?

HARMAN: Well, if I might say first, I appreciate the invitation to come. And I appreciate the support from many progressives here and in the Congressional Progressive Caucus—like Lynne Woolsey, and Jim McGovern, and John Conyers, and others. I really appreciate the support, and I recognize that serving in Congress and running for Congress are not an entitlement. I have to earn it and I embrace the fact that other people seek to run. That’s a good thing in the United States of America. I also want to say I support public financing of campaigns, and that is how I actually voted in Congress. There was only one vote, sadly, in 1993, for partial public—Jim Hightower will remember it—partial public financing of campaigns and I [unclear] voted for it. But I would support full public financing of campaigns. I think everybody should have [unclear].

To answer your question, which one best reflects progressive values? Well, I would guess the answer to that is the Progressive Caucus. However, I’d say both of them build a big Democratic Party tent, and it is important to me to have a big and successful Democratic Party that can help us do things like, 1) achieve public financing of campaigns, 2) insist that President Obama give us an exit strategy for troops from Afghanistan, 3) provide more funding for jobs. We need more jobs in California, and more jobs in America, and I do support the Jobs Agenda, and 4) I would like to see us improve on the huge victory we had just a month ago when 219 of us, including me, only Democrats—but actually including Progressive Democrats and Blue Dog Democrats—voted for comprehensive health care reform. We have more to do. I still want a robust public option. I still support the Kucinich Amendment to let states enact single payer plans, and I want to [unclear] that Senate language on abortion coverage because I think it’s rolling us back and I’m a strong pro-choice Democrat, as I’m sure all of you know.

SOLOMON: Could you give us an insight into why you’ve chosen to be a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and chosen not to be a member of the Progressive Caucus in the Congress.

HARMAN: Well, I don’t know that I’ve chosen not to be a member of the Progressive Caucus. Since you mention it, are you inviting me to join the Progressive Caucus?

SOLOMON: You know, you’re always welcome to do that. Eighty-two of them HAVE become members, so…

HARMAN: I didn’t think about it that way. But I will take that as an invitation, and I may actually do it. Get ready, folks! It could happen. On the Blue Dogs…

SOLOMON: Just to clarify, were you not aware until now that you had the option to become a member of the Progressive Caucus?

HARMAN: [unclear] invitation. The Blue Dog caucus, which I joined in the Nineties, was focused solely at that time on fiscal responsibility, which I think is an important plank for the Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party. Those happen to be my views. Maybe some of you share them. I do not share other views that the Blue Dog caucus has, and I’ve voted against that caucus, specifically on health care and on any part of the social agenda. It doesn’t really have views on the social agenda, but I don’t share its views on healthcare, I don’t share its views on cutting domestic spending only in the budget. I think as we look for fiscal responsibility in the future, everything has to be on the table. That means cutting defense spending, and raising taxes where appropriate. Don’t you agree?

[During the applause that follows, Marcy Winograd returns to the room and to the other end of the stage.]

SOLOMON: Let me turn to the panelists. Anyone else want to comment?

HARMAN: Okay! I see we have another panelist.

WINOGRAD: Certainly this is not personal. My opponent is very eloquent, she’s smart, she’s tough. I would argue, however, that we really need representation who is going to represent progressive values and not be a member of the Blue Dog Coalition. I agree that fiscal responsibility is very important. However, when we are spending nearly a trillion dollars on perpetual war and occupation that’s not fiscal responsibility. I also want to say that, as a progressive, I would fight very hard to protect the greatest safety nets that we have, which is Social Security and Medicare. The Blue Dog Coalition, you know, in supporting a commission to study Social Security, this is code. This is code for cutting Social Security, raising the eligibility age, and eroding the greatest American safety net. So, regardless of whether we individually say we support that or not, to be aligned with that coalition is to send a message that anything’s up for grabs in America, everything’s up for privatization. That’s not acceptable.

SOLOMON: Are we done on that topic?

HARMAN: If I could just respond, the commission that was just mentioned is in the healthcare bill. I didn’t put it in the healthcare bill. It was in the Senate healthcare bill, and you all, I’m sure, followed the careful, painful, endless process to pass any healthcare reform, and finally it came down to taking the Senate bill and adding a few improvements. That was the only path forward and that path forward was embraced by the leadership of the House—you know this—Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and others, and I’m proud to have her support in my election—and President Obama and his Administration, and the Senate Democratic leadership. Well, you can boo, but that was the path forward, and I think most people who followed this—and I appreciated the enormous help. As Nancy Pelosi said, we were inside the gates trying to pass it, but there had to be this huge groundswell outside the gates to get it passed. I appreciate that support. Was this my perfect healthcare bill? Absolutely not? Would I cut Social Security and Medicare? Absolutely not.

HAMSHER: I realize that a lot of people made compromises on the healthcare bill that they didn’t want to, but does that mean you opposed the creation of the Fiscal Responsibility Panel?

HARMAN: It means I supported the healthcare bill… my ideal healthcare bill would have had a robust public option in it, would have had no language that made it harder to get abortion coverage in healthcare plans, and would have had—as far as I’m concerned—more language in it to roll back the cost of prescription drugs. We don’t permit the government to bargain for lower prescription drug prices, something that is offensive and that I voted against five years ago, obviously, in a vote that was held open all night to get enough Republican support.

HAMSHER: But the Fiscal Responsibility commission is the brainchild of Jim Cooper and Judd Gregg, who both very much want to cut back entitlements. So the question is: Do you support this [unclear] agenda?

HARMAN: I don’t know what its agenda is. I support the healthcare bill. I think it wouldn’t have been in the healthcare bill that I wanted, but I think we have it now and my goal is to make to work for us, and make it come up with ways that better care can be more efficient—and we all agree it can be more efficient—but that it can serve more people at reasonable rates.

SOLOMON: Are there any more comments from the panel before we go onto the next topic?

WINOGRAD: Yes. I would just like to comment on something that happened with the passage of that health reform—or health insurance reform—legislation, and that is something that Jane and I are particularly aware of. This was an amendment that my opponent voted to kill, which would have fast-tracked affordable medication for breast cancer, brain cancer, HIV, Parkinsons, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other illnesses. You know, the Federal Trade Commission did a study of the clinical trial data that was used and is being used by Big Pharma, and the FTC said, You know what, there should be no exclusivity over this trial data. First of all, a lot of it’s funded by us, taxpayers, the government. Secondly, it will promote a free market, not to give Big Pharma exclusivity over this clinical trial data. So that others cannot fast-track affordable medication. All right? Congressman Waxman wanted five years, President Obama seven years. My opponent voted with others to kill this amendment to give Big Pharma twelve years exclusive control—to life, to life! Because there is a [unclear] clause in this legislation. If you had it to do over, would you vote differently?

HARMAN: If I had it to do over, I would vote for a better healthcare bill. Why I voted for that provision is… you know who put it in the bill? Can anybody guess?

HAMSHER: That was a committee vote, I believe.

HARMAN: Do you know who the author of it was, and its strongest supporter? Do you know? Who? Ann Eshoo supported it in the House, but whose amendment was it originally in the Senate healthcare bill reported out of the Senate health committee?

HAMSHER: Are we talking about a committee? The question is regarding a committee vote that you took.

HARMAN: Yes, I did. Ted Kennedy was the author of that amendment, because Ted Kennedy felt—and Ann Eshoo felt, and I felt—that biologics are very different from other forms of medicine. They are not identical. And I wanted to be sure that the products we use to do all the things Marcy Winograd just said, to cure diseases and cure cancer and treat all kinds of horrible things, are safe and effective. And that was why I made that vote.

HAMSHER: So, making them not available in generic form for twelve years makes them safer?

HARMAN: Well, the argument is that that makes them safer because it makes sure that they work. Yes. That’s why.

HAMSHER: [unclear] Even the pharmaceutical companies weren’t saying that.

HARMAN: I don’t talk to Big Pharma. They’re not supporters of mine.

HAMSHER: They wanted the data exclusivity to…

HARMAN: You know what, folks? Let me make a suggestion here, and you may not agree. We had a great victory in Congress. We passed comprehensive healthcare reform. Now our goal is to make that bill better and work together to do it.

SOLOMON: I’ve got one more topic to bring up and then we’re going to go with some quick questions. So, please, regular order, as the saying goes, and if you need to talk, please take it to the hallway. We had two anniversaries in the last month. One was of the invasion of Iraq, and then the assassination of Martin Luther King, who, of course, was a great critic of what he called the madness of militarism. I want to asks the panelists to reflect on what they think the experience of the invasion and the occupation of Iraq tell progressives for the kind of policies that we need to be fighting for in the future. Any comments?

WINOGRAD: I think that we need to revisit our economic agenda and say, You know what? We can no longer sustain—nor even want to sustain—this permanent war economy. We need to transition to a new green economy. What does this have to do with the race in the 36th Congressional District? Everything! Because in our district we have a huge aerospace industry. How criminal it is that we give our youth such limited choices: Build a bomb or build a rocket. You know what? We can harness the talent, the expertise, the knowhow of this district to create productive jobs. To invest in housing, education, healthcare, transportation. Not to perpetuate a war economy that is draining us, robbing us, of money that we desperately need for our own needs. I challenge my opponent to stop voting for this war machine.

HARMAN: Slogans won’t solve problems. Solving problems is hard, and the choice isn’t between healthcare and warfare, or jobs and war; the choice is between ways to project America’s good values to create more peace in the world, which I am strongly for, and to understand that we also confront some evil in this world. And I strongly believe that, and if you don’t believe that, you ought to travel to places like Yemen, or the tribal areas of Pakistan, where there are many good and decent people, but there also are some people hiding out and about who are trying to attack us and everything we stand for.

So. When we talk about the aerospace industry, let’s understand that the people who work there are well-educated women and men, and many of them are Democrats, and some of them, I’m sure, are at this caucus. And the aerospace industry doesn’t only build bombs; it also builds earth-orbiting satellites which study climate change. And I think these are good things. And drought patterns. And wht-all volcanoes are doing, and things, and homeland security in ways that make sure that if there are some natural problems, like wildfires and so-forth, we know how to protect our country. And the C17 built by the aerospace industry carries humanitarian supplies around the world to places where there’s no food or where, again, there are natural disasters.

So it’s not a slogan here. And I don’t think we really signed up for a debate in this room, but I want to say that this problem is much more complicated. And what I support are high-skill, high-wage jobs that are—to the extent possible—green jobs. I’m all for that. A lot of green technology comes out of aerospace, like solar panels, that are green jobs. But I also support making certain that our country will always be safe.

WINOGRAD: And I think that if you want our country to be safe—let’s put it in a larger context. If our world to be safe, then we have to address issues that are creating a great degree of tension. I’m talking about the situation in the Middle East. I stand with our President, Barack Obama, when he says we need to end this occupation of the West Bank, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, we need to end this brutal blockade of Gaza, which does not make anyone safe. It does not make the people in southern Israel safe, and denying clean water and medicine to 1.5 million people, forty percent of whom are fifteen years and younger in Gaza does not make anyone safe either. This is creating worldwide tension. And I would like my opponent to address this.

HARMAN: [unclear] I think this will be the last round, because I think we are short of time. And I will address it. And I’m grateful, by the way, for my support by the California Federation of Labor, the LA Federation of Labor, Planned Parenthood, The Human Rights Campaign, the Sierra Club, and major environmental groups. They support me for a reason. They support me based on my record, and I want to thank those of you who belong to those organizations for their support.

As for the West Bank and Gaza and the issues in the Middle East, I strongly support—unlike my opponent, who said a year ago she didn’t—a two-state solution, where two countries, one Palestine and one Israel, live in peace and respect each other’s security. And I have been to West Bank and I have been to Gaza, and I do care about the rights of the Palestinian people, and I thank you for your attention. It was really an honor to participate in this caucus. Thank you very much.

Solomon then calls for questions from the audience. The first question, from a self-described Jewish woman who has just come back from the Middle East and supports the two-state solution, is about Jerusalem being kept as a united city. Jewish people, she says, cannot go to East Jerusalem now, as it is divided.

WINOGRAD: Okay. My feeling is that everything needs to be on the table. We’ve had enough censorship. We need to be able to freely discuss everything about the Middle East. So, in response to that question, I think we need to think about how can we make ALL of it international. One voice. One vote. Equality and dignity for all.

HARMAN: I don’t think it’s our choice. I think it’s the choice of the people who live there, and we ought to respect them and let them come up with the best solution. I would say this, though. Without apology, I support Israel as a Jewish state living side-by-side with a free and independent Palestine, respecting the rights of all peoples. And I apologize, but I have to leave to go to another four more caucuses.

WINOGRAD: I would just say, that [unclear] support a two-state solution, and I would support that to end the misery and the pain and the suffering. But if you support that, Congresswoman Harman, I urge you to speak out on the settlements, because with ever-expanding settlements there IS no Palestinian state.

Harman was leaving the stage as Winograd spoke. The next question from the audience is addressed to Harman “if she can still hear me”, asking if she would support a Constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood.

WINOGRAD: Well, I certainly would support that. As I said, I’m not taking any corporate money, so I’m trying to [unclear] walk the walk.

Jim Hightower points out that the Progressive Democrats of America will be having a conference call on their Amend to Suspend Corporate Personhood action. The next audience question is concerned with how the PDA is all over the place: How can we pare down our message to the American people so that they can understand in simple terms what we are for? Not grandiose ideas.

HIGHTOWER: Don’t forget Mr. Humor. And also don’t forget to tell stories. It’s not about facts. It’s not just about details, but about stories. Remember Van Jones, who said that Martin Luther King did not say “I have a position paper.” That, I think, is what we’ve got to learn. How to tell the story; how to do it with humor.

HAMSHER: I think that last November, 2008, there was a tremendous vote of approval for progressive values. The trouble that we have is that everybody’s a progressive when they’re running for office (no names) and then the minute they get into office we’re told about the virtues of centerhood and making true everything that corporations want. So, our challenge is not to hone our message; our challenge is to make our elected officials responsive to public opinion.

WINOGRAD: I would say I agree; I also think that we really need to reach out to others beyond our comfort zone. It’s easy to sit in a room with people who are like-minded, but at the end of the day we need to reach out, and we need to establish common ground. Once we establish common ground, then we can have a discussion. But I think we all want safe streets, we want a good education, we want it protected with police and fire, we want a foreign policy that is not going to drain our treasury and make us less safe. So there are points of commonality.

SOLOMON: I want to thank everybody on the panel, everybody in the room, and the meeting now continues. Thank you.

–ENDS–