California Progressives Seek Democratic Party Overhaul at All Levels

Karen Bernal, chair of the California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus, says that progressives are competing aggressively at all levels of government in the June 5th primary

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Story Transcript

AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

Tuesday is primary day in California, and it’s a big day, because California could well decide who controls Congress in November. But California also has many important races at the local level, where progressive activists and organizers are bringing the same energy that they brought to national races in California and across the country. Joining me to discuss is Karen Bernal. She is the former chair of the California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus. Welcome, Karen. You’ve been especially involved in your area, in northern California, in the district attorney’s race in your area. And there’s been a lot of activism around that across the state. Can you explain?

KAREN BERNAL: Well, yes. I mean, it’s no secret that there has been a lot of focus recently, especially after Trump’s, you know, been president, about law enforcement interactions, especially with communities of color. I think it’s no secret. You see it on social media all the time about cop shootings, especially with young African-American men and women, and some Latinos, too. But it’s, it’s hard to deny.

So I think things hit a fever pitch when we had the Stephon Clark shooting here in Sacramento, and that’s, because of that there was a PAC started, Real Justice PAC, Sean King’s, along with Becky Bond and others from Bernie’s campaign. And what we’ve done is we focused on county prosecutor and law enforcement races around the country. Sacramento is definitely front and center in that fight. So yes, all the progressive energy, as it were, the, the burners, they’ve all come together over this DA’s race and the sheriff’s race.

AARON MATE: And the national races. California has some high-profile lawmakers in Congress who are being challenged, especially Senator Dianne Feinstein. She’s facing a very large group of candidates. And because of California’s system, the top two candidates in any, from either party are the ones who advance to the general, which means that come November, Feinstein could be facing off against a Democrat. Could you talk about that race?

KAREN BERNAL: Yes. I mean, she could be. We don’t know that that’s for sure. I have to say that you mentioned that there were multiple candidates, multiple Democratic candidates, at that. And that, that reality alone may be enough to kind of put the Republican, unfortunately, I say unfortunately, as a progressive, you know, up against Feinstein. We know from the polling that pretty much the Progressive Democratic field is kind of split the votes up, so to speak. And so Feinstein may be facing a Republican as a result.

But you know, that’s not for certain. And we do have some, we do have some candidates on the Democratic side that, you know, certainly between two or three of them could very well end up in the top two, as they call it. If that happens, it will definitely be a fight between the establishment and the progressive wing of the party.

AARON MATE: And the governor’s race. You have Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom who is in the lead, but that’s a situation where he could be, where his second place finisher could be a Democrat, which has led to concerns that in November that might split the vote, if you have two Democrats running against the Republican.

KAREN BERNAL: Well, the thing there, though, is we have a system here, again, top two. So in that instance, one of the things that happened recently which caused a lot of consternation was the fact that Gavin Newsom’s campaign, it was found out, was sending mass tweets targeted to Republicans in an effort to drive the Republican turnout, the thinking being that Gavin would rather face off against the Republican than another Democrat. The thing about that is, what caused the outrage, is that, as you stated at the top of the show, is that it is a priority for Democrats at the national level to try to flip some of these Republican seats for Congress. So in those swing districts, not to mention, of course, the impact that it would have with downticket races, trying to mobilize Republicans to turn out in the hopes of not having to face another Democrat has a very negative impact on those races that are in swing districts and those downticket races for Democratic candidates.

AARON MATE: You were part of a team of progressive activists who wrote an autopsy of the Democratic Party just a few months ago. An autopsy that, that famously the Democratic Party itself refused to write, refusing to do, sort of take stock of its massive loss in 2016. How have you seen the party respond to the many reforms that you proposed? And how has the civil war between progressives and corporate Democrats been playing out in your state, California?

KAREN BERNAL: Oh boy. I have to say, it’s sad to say, but I do not see, I do not see them taking anything that we enumerated and advised the party to pick up. I have not seen them take it to heart. As we all know, they came out with a lawsuit against WikiLeaks, and against Russia, and Trump. We would have much rather seen the focus be on, perhaps, some of those states where the Republicans have engaged in suppressing the vote, on a lot of that the voter ID laws, for instance, that disenfranchised many people in the 2016 election. We’ve also seen them, the DCCC, seemingly prioritize those Democrats that either had military intelligence or military backgrounds for these congressional races, in some cases against known progressives on the ground. And those are the kind of things that do not build enthusiasm in the base.

I think it’s fair to say that what cost us the election in 2016, that same dynamic, which is a lack of enthusiasm, the fact that the turnout was bad in a lot of those states, that dynamic, it hasn’t gone away. And really the only enthusiasm that we’re seeing are those which are races that are basically self-determined by the base itself, the progressive base. By the way, too, I am still current chair of the Progressive Caucus. And what I’m seeing in the Caucus is that the most enthusiasm we see out of our members there are those races that have been self determined by the base.

AARON MATE: Well, we’ll leave it there. Karen Bernal, the current chair, I misspoke in the intro, the current chair of the California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus, thank you.

KAREN BERNAL: Thank you.

AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.