Supervisor Chris Daly has filed to run for Regional Director of the California Democratic Party – challenging long-time incumbent August Longo. In an e-mail sent to State Party delegates (who will pick the Regional Director on April 25th at the annual Convention in Sacramento), Daly stressed his credentials as a “community organizer,” and the need to build on the grass-roots success of Barack Obama. But Daly’s decision to run also comes after Longo cast the lone dissenting vote (albeit through a proxy) at a S.F. Democratic Central Committee meeting against an immigrant rights resolution. Following that vote at the DCCC meeting, Daly objected to a motion endorsing Longo for re-election – but at the time, his colleagues overruled him 15-4. Longo now claims he would have voted differently on the resolution if present, but Daly says he’s not running against Longo’s record. The job of Regional Director, said Daly, can be transformed to engage the grassroots and push for progressive change within the Party. Delegates from San Francisco and San Mateo Counties will get to vote at the Convention, and the outcome is very much in doubt.

What is a Regional Director?

The California Democratic Party has 21 Regional Directors – elected every two years by delegates from their respective regions. According to the party by-laws, Regional Directors shall “assist the statewide officers [i.e., Party Chair, Vice-Chair, etc.] in the maintenance and development of the Party organization within their respective regions. They are responsible for developing, assisting, and coordinating the County Central Committees, Clubs & other Democratic organizations within their region.” In practice, the Regional Director serves as a liaison between local Democrats and the State Party.

“I stand by my record,” said August Longo – who has served as Regional Director for San Francisco and San Mateo Counties for the past eight years. “I work very closely with delegates, while Chris [Daly] hasn’t been a part of the State Party. I welcome his participation, but I think I’ve done a really good job.” A few veteran delegates are backing him up. “I support August Longo because he’s been very efficient about holding meetings,” said Jane Morrison. “When I was Chair of the San Francisco DCCC,” added Scott Wiener, “there were a lot of ‘nuts and bolts’ issues with the State Party where August was very helpful.”

But Daly says a Regional Director could do a lot more. “August is doing the minimum of what the job requires,” he said. “I had a good conversation with John Burton [who is likely to become the next Chair] about what regional directors can do, and it’s really what you make of it. We have to figure out how to better engage the State Party. Every Democrat is talking about change, but who in the State Party is engaging the netroots, who is engaging issue-based activists, service providers and folks organizing around liberation struggles to make the Democratic Party more relevant? Regional Director is not a high profile position, but we can create models of organizing that work and replicate.”

It’s a message that resonates with progressive San Francisco delegates. “I support Chris Daly because he’s an organizer, and could really bring a whole new dimension to the job,” said Robert Haaland. “It would make me more excited to be involved with the California Democratic Party.” DCCC Chair Aaron Peskin added that in the aftermath of the Obama victory, and with a new generation of Democratic activists coming of age, “it’s time to change a lot of old blood in the State Party structure. I’m with Chris Daly.”

But not every San Franciscan of Daly’s ideological bent is on board. John Burton told me he respects Daly’s decision to run, but committed his support to Longo “a long time ago.” When Burton was in the State Senate, August Longo was his proxy on the DCCC. “I love Chris Daly,” said DCCC member Hene Kelly, “but I just don’t think this is a job he would want to do ... if he understood what it is. It’s a lot of organizing, it’s a lot of getting people to work together, and it’s a lot of getting information out to the region. Regional Director is really a ‘nuts and bolts’ job, and that’s what August has done. We need Chris in a different position to influence policy in the state Party. I want Chris Daly on the Resolutions Committee.”

Concerns About Longo’s Voting Record

As Regional Director of the State Party, August Longo has a seat on the San Francisco DCCC. This by-law change was added in July 2005 to allow him to serve on the DCCC, and some progressives have argued it was pushed by moderates to manipulate endorsement votes in local elections. But the roll call vote proves it was a move supported by most DCCC members (including many progressives), and it is quite customary for most county Central Committees to give their state Regional Directors a seat.

Nevertheless, it’s also true that Longo’s voting record on the DCCC has been very moderate – which will give some progressives ample reasons to support Daly. In February 2007, Longo was the only member (along with the proxies for Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi) not to support a Resolution asking Congress to de-fund the Iraq War. In the very high-stakes July 2008 race for Chair, Longo voted for Scott Wiener over Aaron Peskin – and there were allegations of Mayor Gavin Newsom influencing his vote. On the endorsement votes for candidates and propositions, Longo did not side with progressives.

At the March 25th DCCC meeting, Longo was in the hospital – but had instructed his proxy to vote “no” on a Resolution demanding that Mayor Gavin Newsom “redirect law enforcement efforts away from criminalizing the immigrant community.” Public comment on the issue was very emotional, and Longo ended up being the only “no” vote. This prompted Chris Daly to oppose a motion later on in the meeting that the DCCC endorse Longo for re-election as Regional Director. Some members felt it unfair to presume Longo would still have voted that way if present, but four colleagues voted to publicly oppose the motion endorsing Longo – and another four members abstained. Daly has since filed to run against Longo.

“I had to make a decision about the Immigration Resolution before the meeting,” said Longo, “and it’s hard to send your vote in. I am the son of immigrants, and I understand immigration issues. For Chris to attack me on this is unfair.” When asked if he would have voted differently on the Resolution if he had been there to hear the public testimony, Longo said “yes.”

Some DCCC members, however, expressed concern that it took so long – almost three weeks – for Longo to repudiate his proxy vote. They compare it with what happened at the DCCC’s February meeting, when Scott Wiener was out of town – and his proxy cast what turned out to be a controversial vote. Within less than 24 hours, Wiener sent out an e-mail apologizing for the mistake – and said it did not reflect his personal position.

Playing Well With Others

Despite concerns that progressives may have with Longo’s voting record on endorsements, his supporters argue that he takes his job as Regional Director seriously – and follows the Party line once a decision has been made. “August is a Party worker,” said Hene Kelly. “After we endorse progressive candidates or ballot measures, he has worked to help us win.”

This may end up presenting quite a contrast with Chris Daly – who in June 2008 printed a highly deceptive campaign door-hanger that suggested a Bay Guardian endorsement of Carole Migden (while the paper had endorsed Mark Leno.) The Guardian editors were unhappy, and felt that their good name was being used. Will delegates be willing to elect a Regional Director with such a track record, given that a big part of the job involves disseminating the State Party’s position at the local level?

Hogging the Spotlight?

Another criticism of Daly running for Regional Director is a familiar one we’ve heard before: he’s already on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the Democratic County Central Committee, and was an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention. “I don’t understand why he would want to do this,” said Scott Wiener. “Why does he need to have yet another elected position? I read his e-mail about wanting to do more grassroots organizing in the State Party, and he can already do that work with his position on the DCCC.”

Daly doesn’t buy that critique. “I’ll be termed out of the Board of Supervisors next year,” he said, “and I’m interested in building progressive politics for the long term.” He ran for Obama delegate, because at the time there was legitimate concern that there would be a floor fight in Denver. He ran for the DCCC, because “we had a job we had to do” to get progressives elected locally – which was very successful. “I’m using my political capital to build progressive politics in the Democratic Party,” said Daly. “If the main criticism is that I’m hogging seats, I must be doing a good job.”

If Daly gets elected Regional Director, he has promised to resign from the DCCC. Under that scenario, DCCC Chair Aaron Peskin would appoint a replacement – which would hopefully be a young activist who is trying to get more involved.

Who Gets to Vote for Regional Director?

If just the San Francisco DCCC got to pick the Regional Director, Daly would probably win – based on the political bent of that body. But other people who will have a vote in this election include (a) the 36 State Party delegates from the 12th, 13th and 19th Assembly Districts who were elected in January at caucus meetings, (b) other delegates from those districts appointed by various officeholders, (c) state and federal elected officials who represent the Region, and (d) members of the San Mateo DCCC who live in the 19th Assembly District.

Longo says his “proudest accomplishment” as Regional Director over the past eight years was helping the San Mateo County Committee become financially self-sufficient – which implies that he has strong ties there. Daly admitted that he only just started reaching out to the San Mateo delegates, with not much time before the Convention. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano wasn’t even aware that Daly had filed to run when I called him, and proxies for State Senators Leland Yee and Mark Leno voted to endorse Longo when the issue came up at the San Francisco DCCC. At this point, it appears to be an uphill fight for Daly – although it’s certainly winnable.

The state Democratic Convention will be in Sacramento April 24-26. According to the agenda, Regional Directors will be chosen on Saturday afternoon. It’s safe to say that the Region 4 meeting will be by far the most interesting.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul Hogarth was appointed by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano to be a State Party delegate for the 13th A.D., which means he will have a vote in this race.