State Convention: Democrat Betty Yee calls out hypocrisy within her own party

State Convention: Democrat Betty Yee calls out hypocrisy within her own party

Betty Yee, who has developed a reputation as an honest and effective numbers-cruncher at the state tax board, delivered a stinging critique of her party Sunday at its annual convention. She said California Democrats have become disconnected from the party’s core principles and allowed money to influence its values.

“Democrats, we are just as guilty of getting sucked iBetty Yeento the influence of money and power about which we criticize Republicans,” Yee, a member of State Board of Equalization, said in one of the more memorable speeches of this weekend’s annual state party convention. “It is time we have politics shaped by our values, rather than our values shaped by politics. If not, I believe Democrats will continue to lose ground with respect to the electorate.”

The blunt criticism of her party came less than 12 hours after she successfully blocked the party from endorsing anyone in a closely contested race for state controller, in which she is a candidate. The “no-endorsement” vote was considered a major blow to her Democratic rival for the controller post, Speaker of the Assembly John Perez, who wields substantial power and influence over delegate appointments.

This is the first election for controller and other state constitutional offices to be run under the Top Two system voters enacted in 2010 by passing Proposition 14. Under it, the June primary will select two candidates to face off in a November runoff. Candidates can run under any party, or no party. It’s even possible that two candidates from the same party could face one another in November. Political parties are reduced to deciding whether or not to endorse a particular political candidate.

Perez’s advantage in delegate appointments

In his own speech, Perez roused delegates by describing his party’s victories during his tenure as speaker, which ends this year due to term limits. “We’re expanding the map everywhere,” he said, according to the Sacramento Bee. “In California, red to blue is not a slogan. It’s a reality.”

With an army of campaign aides, Perez went against a request by California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton that statewide candidates not seek the party’s endorsement. Perez, who has been endorsed by all but six of his Democratic colleagues in the Assembly, made a major push for the party’s endorsement. He had a substantial advantage in delegate appointments. Members of the State Assembly, according to the state party bylaws, are entitled to make five appointments to the state party convention.

Yet, many convention delegates defied the orders of their appointing authority and openly backed Yee, who received 44.71 percent of the vote — just 3 percentage points less than Perez. Because neither got the 60 percent required by party rules, there was no endorsement.

Under party rules, all delegate votes are public in order to make delegates more accountable to their appointing official or committee. Following the vote, any member can review ballots, meaning some delegates backed Yee in the face of potential political retribution.

Perez spokesman Doug Herman said that the Perez promises not to take any action against delegates who defied their appointing authority in the endorsement vote.

Yee calls out party divide

Saturday’s no-endorsement vote, coupled with Yee’s rousing Sunday speech, exposed a simmering feud within the California Democratic Party between its principled idealists and power players.

“We as Democrats decry bullying and voter suppression tactics to silence the vulnerable among us,” Yee said. “Yet, within our party, similar tactics keep delegates and club members in line so power remain in the hands of a few political leaders.”

Perez had been criticized in 2011 for  retaliation against former Assemblyman Anthony Portantio. In 2011, after Portantino opposed the state budget, Perez retaliated by slashing his office budget, while also threatening to furlough Portantino’s government staff.

“There is no question that this is a punitive action because of my votes,” Portantino told the Sacramento Bee at the time. “Every member of the Legislature ought to have the right to vote their conscience.”

Women’s rights and the Democratic Party

“We as Democrats regard women’s rights as paramount, yet within our party, women are being manipulated and are being set up against one another, such that further advances toward pay equity and parity in representation continue to elude us,” Yee said.

Last year, a analysis of payroll records found that female employees of the California State Assembly face a glass ceiling, substantial pay inequities and limits to their career advancement.  Women have been paid less than their male counterparts, are less likely to serve in leadership roles and remain stuck in secretarial positions.

The 10 highest-paid employees of the state Assembly, as of last year, were all men, according to state payroll records for the period ending on May 31, 2013.

“John Pérez has let the money flow into his and other legislators’ campaign coffers,” wrote Patricia Bellasalma, president of the California National Organization for Women, in a February blog post at L.A. Progressive, which has been widely-circulated among party activists. “The results have not been good for California’s women and children, for workers, nor for California’s economy, especially if you measure a thriving economy by the number of good-paying middle-class jobs.”

According to state disclosure reports released earlier this month, Perez accepted nearly $38,000 in gifts and travel payments last year. A report released last December by California Common Cause ranked Perez as the second biggest recipient of gifts in 2012.

Yee: PACs erode our Democratic values

Yee criticized the party for allowing political action committees to erode the party’s bedrock principles.

“We as Democrats demand the highest levels of transparency and accountability in our government, yet within our party, we see PACs erode our very own Democratic values and for which we are unable to follow the money,” she said.

From Sacramento to San Diego, delegates expressed support for Yee’s stinging rebuke of the party.

“Betty Yee speaks truth to power and says we as Dems need to do better #cadem14,” tweeted Alice Mercer, a Sacramento elementary school teacher.

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