by Max Ghenis
In the next week, Democrats across the state will vote to shape the Democratic Party.
California is really blue. President-elect Joe Biden won the state by nearly 30 points, and Democrats have a super-trifecta, with 75 percent of seats in each of the Assembly and Senate, as well as the governorship. Ventura County isn’t quite as blue — Biden won by 21 points — but Democrats still hold healthy majorities here.
That means that most of California’s policymaking happens within the Democratic Party, in primaries and other party operations. Party platforms set the direction, and party endorsements translate that direction into elections. But who controls those platforms and endorsements?
An election happening right now will decide. The Assembly District Election Meeting, or ADEM, elects 14 delegates in each of California’s 80 Assembly districts. Those delegates serve two-year terms, during which they vote on platforms, endorsements, and rules at annual Democratic Party conventions. In Ventura County, ADEM delegates also sit on the Democratic Central Committee, which controls endorsements and platforms at the county level.
Historically, the ADEM has been a literal meeting: an in-person caucus at a specific time and place in each Assembly district, with voters often waiting an hour or more in line before voting in a hectic auditorium. This year, the Democratic Party moved to a mail ballot system due to the pandemic, but registered Democrats still had to request a ballot. The ballot request deadline passed on Monday, and voters are now receiving them by mail. They can then vote for up to 14 of the candidates in their district and mail their completed ballot in time for the Democratic Party to receive it by Jan. 27.
This election will have major policy implications for California and Ventura County. While California Democrats agree on many high-level goals like poverty reduction and environmental sustainability, real disagreements divide its members.
Perhaps no internal party disagreement is as pervasive as the one I’ve worked most on in Ventura County: housing. In 2019, I co-founded Ventura County YIMBY, which stands for “Yes In My Back Yard.” We’re a grassroots organization that fights for a more affordable, inclusive, and sustainable Ventura County by supporting dense infill housing projects, as well as laws and leaders that make such projects possible. Polls show that most Californians support housing in their communities, but we face routine opposition from people of both parties who want to preserve exclusive low-density suburbs. This opposition slows housing production locally and stymies state legislation that would legalize affordable housing options in more places.
The discrepancy between popular support for housing and failure to permit its development reveals cracks in our democratic process. Some of that may come down to the extremely low turnout in ADEM elections: in Assembly District 44 where I live, the top vote-getter in 2019 got 544 votes, half a percent of the 100,000 Democrats registered in the district at the time.
I’m running to represent Assembly District 44 to address these issues. As a delegate, I would vote for the Democratic Party to take a firm stance on ending our housing shortage. I’d also vote for more inclusive rules that better align party leaders with party members: We should never revert to in-person caucuses, and registered Democrats shouldn’t have to request an ADEM ballot to receive one.
These aren’t my sole priorities. For example, I’d also fight for the Democratic Party to tackle poverty and the environment systemically with solutions like universal basic income and carbon fee-and-dividend. I’ve completed the two questionnaires that organizations have sent to candidates, from YIMBY and Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and my campaign website includes a comprehensive platform. Voters deserve to know what stances candidates would bring to the California Democratic Convention and Ventura County Central Committee, and I’ve ensured that mine are clear.
If you requested a ballot, I hope you’ll join me in researching the policy positions of each candidate before casting your votes. The winners’ policies will become the public’s policies.
Max Ghenis is the founder and president of the UBI Center, the co-founder of Ventura County YIMBY, and a candidate for Democratic Party delegate in Assembly District 44.