By and large, Democratic Party reformers are thrilled with the apparent outcome of last weekend’s California Democratic Party Assembly District Election Meetings (ADEMs)—the official results of which will not be final until Friday. But progressives in Carson’s Assembly District 64 did not fare so well. Every candidate on The Blue Revolution reform slate lost his or her election.
AD64 reform slate entrants and witnesses have raised concerns over election tactics which they say undermined Party Rules allowing public oversight to make ballot counting transparent, intentionally confused constituents, suppressed the vote, and prevented candidate access to voters. In fact, unidentified AD64 event organizers went so far as to call Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies to the election, preemptively, although no actual disturbance had taken place, in an effort to poison the well by making reform candidates appear to be causing trouble.
The accusations go back to a January 3, 2017 email sent on behalf of Democratic Caucus Chair and California State Assemblyman Mike A. Gipson, by aide Chris Wilson. The email addressed to “AD64 Commissioners” purported to invite AD64 Commissioners to attend a “mandatory” legislative briefing at the Carson Community Center in Hall B at 8:00 am. Nothing unusual about that, except that next door in Hall A, ADEM votes were scheduled to begin at 10:00 am. Assemb. Gipson was not on the ticket but was supporting candidates on the Democratic Caucus slate. Gipson, a former LAPD police officer mentioned in Dan Morain’s scathing 2014 Sacramento Bee op-ed, was backed by $2.7 million in big money contributions from the unions, oil producers, casino owners, payday lenders and tobacco companies, among others. In his 2014 campaign against Prophet Walker in South Central Los Angeles, Gipson went low and found himself embroiled in scandal after manipulating a photo to make it appear as though a hoodie-clad Mr. Walker was pointing a gun at voters, and juxtaposed it with his own photo in police uniform.
Compton Democratic Party member and Education Advisor to Assemb. Gipson, Linda Bassett, was one of the people who received an invite to the “Mandatory Legislative Briefing” set up by Assemb. Gipson’s office. In a January 8, 2017, videotaped interview streamed live by Lauren Steiner on The Robust Opposition, Ms. Bassett said:
Gipson had a slate he was running. He invited his constituents, mostly African American, a few Hispanics, and then me and my friend, Stacy. [Ms. Bassett and her friend are Caucasian.] Gipson spoke about what he’d done for his constituents over the year and what he was planning to do. When he was done, he passed the mic to a Council Member who said, ‘When you guys are here you don’t just eat and go. You’re going to eat, then vote and then go. When you go outside you’re going to see some people who don’t look like us. They don’t belong here. They’re not even from our area. I just want you to take your paper. Don’t talk to them, don’t listen to them. We’ve had to call the police on them because they’re out there causing trouble.’
After his speech, Ms. Bassett told Steiner her friend approached the Councilman and said, ” ‘Hey when you said that, I felt really bad because I don’t look like you.’ And then he apologized immediately, which was good. I went outside and they had called the police on Lucio, one of the Bernie candidates.” Ms. Bassett said:
I think they may have had two breakfasts, Lauren. There was one by Albert Robles who is the Mayor of Carson City. He was having a breakfast at the Double Tree Hilton across the way. So there were two buses. Maybe he bought a bus, and Mike Gipson’s group bought a bus. There were two breakfasts, two buses and we were being told ‘You can’t be there, you have to leave, can’t hand out your pamphlets and they were going to call the police–and actually they did call the police, which was really shocking.
Carson Mayor Albert Robles has himself been embroiled in a series of controversies going back to his 2012 election. He has been fined $90,000 for campaign finance violations. That sum does not include fines which could be assessed regarding more recent allegations surrounding his 2016 campaign. Witnesses say the people who were bused in were elderly. Friends and family of some of the seniors stated that one bus picked up people from the Watts Community Center and the other, from Dollarhide Senior Center in Compton.
Lucio Reveles, a Candidate for AD64 election, said, “If they were there for a breakfast and not for an election, there wouldn’t be a problem. But I knew that [the Democratic Caucus slate] were giving those same people their flyers. So I called them out on it. Regina said, ‘They rented a room and can do whatever they want with it.’” When he walked inside to see where he could set up a table, Sheriff’s deputies followed and told him he needed to leave the premises. Mr. Reveles stood his ground:
‘Why do I have to leave? There’s an election in this building today. I’m a candidate and I’m speaking here today.’ They gave me no reason for leaving other than I was being boisterous. They eventually let us in and we set up our tables. They can’t have it both ways. They claim they’re not being political, but at the same time they booked an election breakfast event right next to the voting room.
About the police presence, AD64 election Candidate, Maria Estrada, told The Progressive Times:
Miguel Martinez from AD62 election on Sunday said that the police were called because they were concerned something might happen. Six cops showed up. One night I was in my bedroom in the front of the house. I hear gunshots and I hear men yelling and screaming. I call 9-1-1. One cop shows up with a flashlight looking for bullets in the dark. No ambulance came. Yet we have six cops show up here because something might happen at an election. They admitted nothing had occurred. The cops didn’t look very happy they’d been called out for no reason. One of the people said that Lucio was taunting them and was aggressive. Lucio is one of the most mild-mannered people I’ve ever met. Are you kidding me? Maybe if they’d said Maria was aggressive, I might believe it. But this was Lucio.
The Council Member referenced by Ms. Bassett was identified by other witnesses in subsequent telephone interviews as Councilman Jawane Hilton. Councilman Hilton’s name was featured front and center in a prime spot at the top of Democratic Caucus slate literature. That literature was being distributed to bus passengers as they entered the building. However, Councilman Hilton’s position was misrepresented on the flyer as “AD64 E-Board Representative”—a seat to which he had not yet been elected.
In the aforementioned YouTube interview on The Robust Opposition, Tiffanie Smith, another Blue Revolution Candidate in AD64, recalled,
…the people were coming out [of the breakfast room] and a lot of people had this strange energy. But apparently that’s what they’d been told inside: that we’d had the cops called on us and we had no reason to be there and all of these things. Lucio had told me that when they called the police apparently the wording that they’d used was that they were told that Lucio had been taunting them. And he was just simply saying something to the effect that ‘This is supposed to be a democracy. I should be allowed to give out my fliers.’
In a subsequent telephone interview with Ms. Smith, she told The Progressive Army:
Barbara Calhoun was on the [Democratic Caucus] ticket. She’s a real sweetheart of the area. She got 209 votes. She’s already on the advisory board. She has held different positions. She’s been an assembly person before. She’s been in politics a long time. She’s well-known and liked. They got the high profile people on their state to get more seniors on the bus and to turn people out at the breakfast, because they like her. Barbara was complaining that she’d applied to the E-Board but she wasn’t even put on the ballot. She got sixteen of her friends to write her in on the E-Board but they’d already chosen who they wanted.
Location, Location, Location
The Carson Community Center is much more swanky than the name might imply. In the middle of AD64, one of the state’s most impoverished districts sits a 40,000 SQ. ft., 21-room meeting facility with a 12,000 SQ. ft. ballroom and a theater. When Blue Revolution learned where the ADEM would be held, they looked into renting a small room there where they could organize and offer coffee and donuts to voters. But it was too expensive. Ms. Smith recalled,
The area where it was held, it was such a big money situation, obviously. Because we tried to have a little something for people that we knew were coming down to vote for us. A little donuts or coffee. And so we investigated if we could do it and we couldn’t do it anywhere on the grounds. They said only if we rented a room. And then we had to pay all kinds of money and we had to use their food and everything else so we couldn’t do anything like that.
Mr. Wilson is a Los Angeles County Young Democrats Executive Board Member, for Regional Board District Four, and serves as Assemb. Gipson’s Senior Representative. Wilson’s LA County Young Democrats Bio says that AD64 includes nearly one-half million people and ranks as one of the most impoverished districts in California. Voters want to know who paid to host the ADEM Election in a Hall next to a free and supposedly “mandatory” breakfast for an estimated 100 people and to charter two private buses to bring seniors to the Carson Community Center. Vendors would not comment about who hired their services, but election events in AD64 appear to fall under the purview of the District Director, Mark Lomeli.
The Progressive Army initially reached out to Assemb. Gipson, Chris Wilson, and District Director Mark Lomeli on January 8th for comment on reports that Gipson’s staff had hired buses and paid for a breakfast event in an adjacent room prior to the ADEM Election. Dir. Lomeli responded on January 9, 2017, characterizing the ADEM Election as a non-state function. He wrote, “…[A]s a member of Mr. Gipson’s legislative team, I will not be able to comment on non-state issues. Moving forward, please use this email strictly for legislative inquiries.” Within minutes of his response, The Progressive Army reached out again to Dir. Lomeli at his private email address and received the following reply, “Thank you for the inquiry. All political questions should be directed to John Shallman or Megan Carvalho.” Neither John Shallman nor Meagan Carvalho of Shallman Communications and its sister corporation, West Coast Public Affairs, returned our telephone calls. A review of Ballotpedia.org shows the companies have spent and received, respectively, very large sums of money on legislative initiatives and consulting fees for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Blocking Voter Access
This diagram, drawn by Lucio Reveles over a printout of the Carson Community Center floor plan, corroborates the stories relayed in multiple witness interviews. Witnesses described voters as streaming in through the atrium doors (indicated by blue lines) to one of two doorways: the entrance to Hall A where the ADEM Elections were being held, or the entrance to Hall B where Assemb. Gibson’s by-invitation-only breakfast for the Democratic Caucus slate was taking place.
The problem, as witnesses describe it, was that breakfast attendees were ushered immediately from the breakfast in Hall B, to the ADEM room in Hall A across a narrow entry way (the red arrow). The voting line extended from Hall A all the way into Hall B. But when voters and Blue Revolution candidates attempted to join the back of the voting line by way of the door to Hall B (the red X), they were refused entry. The only means for Blue Revolution candidates to introduce themselves to the attendees at the breakfast and talk to them about their slate, was by cutting in line before breakfast attendees in Hall B. Likewise, voting members of the community who had not been invited to Assemb. Gipson’s breakfast were refused access to the end of the line in Hall B and were instead forced to cut in line through the other door. Mr. Reveles explained,
The place where the election was held was just one room with dividers. The main room is where they had the breakfast and attached to it was a smaller room for the ADEMs. They shared a lobby. [Democratic Caucus supporters] wouldn’t let us put up tables in the lobby or outside the lobby. They were trying to shut us out completely. I walked into the lobby and police said, ‘You can’t be here, this is a private lobby.’
Community members attending the election who came in from outside literally had to cut in line to vote, because there was no way to get to the back of the line since they were not allowed in there by the police. We made our stand. There are all these people coming in, we may as well shake their hands and talk to them because this is the only chance we’ll get to talk to them. So we gave them our flyers and we talked to them. We were told that people in the breakfast meeting were instructed to vote and leave immediately. After an hour or so most of the people in private room had voted and left on the buses so that they could be given a ride home.
The guy Mark [Lomeli] told me that [Democratic Caucus slate was] going to waive their speeches that morning because they didn’t need them. I heard from a person who was at the Gipson breakfast that all of their slate members had already spoken at the breakfast. We didn’t have access to hear or give the speeches. I think they were instructed not to stay for the speeches. When I was finally allowed to speak, the room was only about 25% full.
According to the ADEM website, candidate speeches were not supposed to begin until 9:30 am. Those speeches are typically made in an open forum in front of the entire voting pool. In this case, attendees at the Gipson breakfast were behind closed doors, guarded by security, listening only to Democratic Caucus slate candidates’ speeches.
According to Ms. Smith:
There was this guy at the front for people who were coming in. He would grab them around the shoulders and escort them as close as they could get to the back of the line, like he was a body guard. I even had a lady come to me and say, ‘They told me I can’t go here in this line. Where are the progressives supposed to go?’ I didn’t know what we were supposed to do. You had to be ready to be aggressive and cut into the line. I went out and tried to talk to staff and explain. They said, ‘Okay, we’ll talk to our captain.’ But I never saw anybody come out to do this.
Ms. Estrada saw two Security Guards escorting people to the breakfast room line. Gipson aide, Chris Wilson, was witnessed by several sources bullying Blue Revolution reform candidates and intimidating voters who had not been invited to the private breakfast.
A lot of elderly people weren’t told it was an election until they got there. Wilson, who’s an aide of Gipson, told one elderly woman, Barbara Evans, she couldn’t even sit in the lobby. This kid can’t be much older than my son. I told him, ‘Yes, she can sit here.’ He said, ‘We rented that room,’ so I told him, ‘Then you need to get your ass back in that room. You can’t tell me that I can’t be in this lobby. Who is “we”? If it’s the taxpayers, I paid for that room.’ The fact is that if I hadn’t stood up for them, he would have ran over them.
People warned me ahead of time saying, ‘I’m telling you right now this is going to be like the caucuses. This is going to get nasty and it’s going to be contentious.’ So here you have this Wilson kid talking down to an elderly woman who was just sitting down. A lot of people don’t know how it works, don’t know the rules and their rights. This machine has been going and running for all this time. Now we know how to use those tools and they don’t like it. They’re trying to do everything they can to stop us.
Tyler Morrison is a City Council Candidate. He told Wilson, ‘We just want unity.’ Wilson refused to shake his hand. His attitude is reflective of the Democratic Party and the establishment politics that goes on. We were treated as if we didn’t belong there. Lucio is a candidate and he has the right to speak. It doesn’t matter what they said.
Not only were voters blocked from the polls, but Blue Wave reform candidates were physically blocked from approaching candidates to talk about their slate’s platforms. Mr. Morrison told The Robust Opposition host, Lauren Steiner:
We tried sticking up for our rights. Linda and I had a talk with the security guard on multiple occasions trying to stand our ground to be able to talk to the folks who were there to vote. …[T]he laws and rules regulating ADEM delegate elections are determined by the California Democratic Party, which says in these elections we can go and pass out flyers to talk about issues and the candidates. It’s not a public election. It’s only for registered Democrats in that district. Normal electioneering laws, where you have to be 100 feet from the polling location, don’t apply in this case. But they were trying to enforce those rules only on us. Only on the people who were advocating for the Bernie Slate. If you paid for or were invited to that breakfast event, then you had free range.
Public Oversight Of Ballot Count Compromised
Another point of controversy surrounds the ballot counting and tallying process, which is typically open to public oversight. Procedures for Assembly District Elections Meetings, section D.4. on page 8 specifies, “…Butcher paper, a large paper pad, chalkboard or whiteboard should be used to write the names of delegate candidates and a space provided to write the number of votes each candidate receives.” But witnesses say that procedure was not followed in AD64.
Ms. Estrada stated,
There’s usually a big sheet of paper and the names are printed on that paper and they write them down and do the count. That’s the way everything is announced. Once the count has been finalized, they write the count on that sheet. Everybody points at their name and then take a pictures like that. That wasn’t even up. I went and observed four elections and AD64 were the only ones who didn’t have a piece of paper to list the names.
Mr. Reveles’ account corroborated that of Ms. Estrada. He said:
After close of election they said they were going to have to close the doors and anybody who wants to be there for totals has to be here now, because are closing the doors and locking them. I went in around noon and was there for about fifteen minutes but I had to drop off another person, so I went over to AD70. Then I got a call from Tiffanie saying they had opened the doors again. So I went back to Carson around 1:30 and watched them count. A volunteer, Matt Lyon from AD63 came to help with the count and they dismissed him. They said, ‘We don’t need you’ and sent him on his way. They proceeded to take more than five hours to count ballots–longest of any of the ADEMs–and around 4pm they said, ‘Oh, we have to leave this room. There’s going to be another event here. We are going to continue counting outside.’ So they opened the doors, lifted up the tables and carried the ballots and everything outside. When they sat down to pick up their counts, one woman lost count. She wasn’t sure if they’d counted the ballots. There was this moment where the people were looking at each other and asking, ‘Did we count this ballot?’ ‘I don’t know, did you?’ We told them they had to recount those ballots and they had this sudden moment of certainty. ‘Oh, wait, we didn’t. We know what we were doing.’
They went on counting and at 5:30 said they were ready to release the tallies, but they released them verbally. Somebody was writing it down, but we were not recording it. When they first released the verbal results, they said two of our members got seats. Barbara Evans & Christian Guzman each got a seat. We were celebrating, very happy, and congratulating each other. Then they said, ‘Oh, no. There’s a mistake. None of your people won.’
When they posted the results they only posted the top seven winners. None of our people were shown. I looked at their list of winners and compared them to the slate that Gipson was running, which included Mayor Robles and other elected officials. They got all the seats except that one man [Cedric Hicks] and one woman [Emma Shariff] who had won seats weren’t part of any slates. That was suspicious, because if you’re not on a slate, you’re not gonna win. They were able to bring people out who were just for them. It’s suspicious. They didn’t release the totals, either. They only released the names of the winners. Initially, it was all all done verbally. Some members say they should never have locked those doors.
Tiffanie Smith added, “There was a man I spoke to while I was waiting for the ballot count who was affiliated with [Democratic Caucus slate]. He said, ‘Wow, that was smart of the Assemblyman to do this, with the breakfast.’ When I told him that it wasn’t right, he said, ‘But it was smart.’”
As they spoke about the taxpayer dollars spent on the so-called “mandatory legislative briefing” to interfere with elections she said the man told claimed, “‘No, he can do that. He had a meeting. All he has to do is say a couple of things about Trump. He can use taxpayer money for all that.’”
What’s really sad about this is there’s no acknowledgment on Democrats’ part that they did anything wrong. “They don’t get it,” said Ms. Estrada. “They have no message. The best that they can offer is that they are not GOP. Speaking to Hillary people is as bad as talking to conservatives.”
On January 9, 2017, Ms. Estrada sent an email to Chris Wilson, Mark Lomeli, and Miguel Martinez addressing the problems. She told The Progressive Army, “We have 7 days to protest and I intend to do so.”
California ADEM tallies from across the state are still being reported. Unofficial tallies indicate large numbers of Sanders-style Democratic reform candidates were successful, overall. At the time of this publication, approximately 75% of ballots have been counted statewide on the California Democrats ADEM website. 1,120 candidates ran on California Democratic reform slates as Berniecrats, Progressives, and Labor Party candidates. So far, 623 of those reform candidates have unofficially won their races, while 46 were elected to Executive Board seats. Tallies are still being updated and official results will be released on Friday.