For Whom the Beall Tolls

Remember last year, when I detailed the bitter battle between then-Assemblyman Jim Beall and his former Assembly-mate Joe Coto in their race for the State Senate in District 15?

To recap: The 2011 redistricting process left Mr. Beall with a distinct electoral advantage over Mr. Coto. The former had represented much of the district over three decades in public office, and the latter had seen his primary voting bloc — Latinos in East San Jose—carved up between two Senate districts. Pundits opined that Mr. Beall could win the race without spending a dime.

Of course, Mr. Beall spent many dimes, primarily attacking Mr. Coto with a barrage of hit pieces, most of which were fair, but one of which could generously be called “insensitive.” Occasionally, Mr. Beall had something positive to say about himself, like how he built the Highway 85 extension with his bare hands and a glue stick, which amazingly isn’t true. But for the most part, it was a bitter campaign of trash talk—from both sides.

The bitterness extended beyond the field of play to the sidelines of party politics. Local Democrats flocked to one team or the other based on personal allegiances. Mr. Beall ended up securing the California Democratic Party’s endorsement after two attempts, but the fight left frayed nerves and fractured friendships in its wake.

As predicted, Mr. Beall won at the ballot box by a wide margin, and in any normal race, that would have been the end of the story, and this column…

Fast forward to last weekend, when California Democrats gathered at caucuses in every Assembly District across the state to elect delegates to the next two annual state conventions. In years past, these were genteel affairs, attended by only the most stalwart activists. In recent years, as career politicians have come to understand the importance of the delegate system as a powerful tool for winning endorsements in state and federal races, the caucuses have become chaotic chamber plays.

That was certainly the case in Assembly District 28, currently represented by Democrat Paul Fong. It’s no secret that Campbell Mayor and Fong staffer Evan Low is planning a 2014 run for the seat soon to be vacated by his boss due to term limits. It’s also no secret that Low supported Joe Coto in the SD15 race. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Senator Beall was not happy about that. But rather than let sleeping dogs lie, he chose to play sore winner and seek revenge in true political geek fashion.

When Mr. Low endorsed a slate of respected activists running in Sunday’s caucus, aiming to shore up support for an endorsement vote at the 2014 CDP convention, Senator Beall asked some friends to form a slate in opposition and threw his support behind them. Together, the Beall and Low contingents brought hundreds of supporters to Sunday’s caucus at the Campbell Community Center, where they stood in the bitter winter cold for up to two hours, waiting to vote while being bombarded with slate fliers, handshakes, coffee and homemade cookies.

In the end, after dozens were turned away due to ineligibility and candidates waited patiently for an hour and a half while ballots were counted, the two slates split the delegate seats. Whether this will be enough to make a difference in next year’s endorsement battle is anyone’s guess. But the delegate war triggers all sorts of intriguing questions: Why would Senator Beall seek revenge after winning his race in a landslide by picking a fight with one of the most popular elected officials in Silicon Valley? And who’s next on his hit list?

More importantly: What can Democrats hope to gain from these personal squabbles that deprive us of a more inspiring dialogue on the issues and ideas that define our times? The answer is simple: Nothing.

In order to inspire a new generation of leaders to take up the mantel of Democratic ideals and stem the current shift to the middle, we must divorce ourselves from the Chicago-style kneecapping of a bygone era and embrace a new party based on trust, respect and true leadership. Our elected leaders should take the first steps.

Peter Allen is an independent communications consultant and a proud native of San Jose. He served as an elected delegate to the California Democratic Party from 2009-2012.

Peter Allen was born and raised in San Jose and lives in Willow Glen. He is a board member of the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association and vice chair of the city of San Jose Arts Commission. Follow him on Twitter at @pjallen2.

10 Comments

  1. “…waiting to vote while being bombarded with slate fliers, handshakes, coffee and homemade cookies.”  This almost sounds like that “not the comfy chair” Monte Python skit.

    “..we must divorce ourselves from the Chicago-style kneecapping of a bygone era and embrace a new party based on trust, respect and true leadership.”  What the heck are you writing about?  Isn’t your story about some party caucus where delegates were selected?  It isn’t democracy when there is only one choice.

    The next time you write one of these please save us all some time and supply an executive summary:

    Evan Low good.  Jim Beall bad.

  2. Wow I was there and yet there was no mention of how the sole entry doorway was blocked by a member of the Evan Low slate who’d only give way if you stood and listen to his longer than 5 minute speech in the bitter cold or actively push him out of the way to get into the warmth of the room.  I had my 9 year old with me, so I after repeatedly asked him to please let us pass, I pushed on through and he never gave an inch.  Yet not once was I accosted by Beall’s slate supporters or even aware of similar intimidation tactics being used by them as obliqely listed as “being bombarded with slate fliers, handshakes, coffee and homemade cookies” unless I count the Fong/Low faction who were out in force. Also I take umberance at how the writer selectively forgets that this caucus was not solely for the next assembly race (with a sole purpose of selecting the next Democratic assembly candidate) but for the wider area of Democratic state delegates and that includes the selecting of future democratic State Senator candidates (which is pertinant to the current democratic State Senator Jim Beall), so Senator Beall has a very good reason for being there that has nothing to do with Mayor Low, and everything to do with his own position.  Mister Allen seems to have a very slanted viewpoint, almost bizarre as I saw none of the same things he did in my 2 hours being gladhanded solely by the non-Beall slate.

    • Zach,

      Thank you for sharing your experience of the caucus and your thoughts on the process. It’s obvious we did not have the same experience, but I respect your take.

      I do, however, feel the need to clarify that the delegates elected last week will only serve two-year terms and will NOT be voting on an endorsement in State Senate District 15. That will be up to the delegates elected in January 2015 as Sen. Beall’s first term in the seat does not expire until 2016.

      It’s also important to note that local incumbents are rarely challenged from within their own party. Therefore, it’s very likely Sen. Beall will not need to worry about the CDP endorsement in four years time.

      Cheers,
      Peter

  3. There were good people on both slates as I split my vote among those I knew. . .the others who got my vote were working the line.  Except for Kerry Hillis, Jeff Lease, and Noelani Sallings none of them were on a slate. . .but I give points to people who show-up and ask for your vote.

    Jeff Lease also worked the crowd, complete with his beautiful baby—you can’t beat a politician with a cute kid or puppy—

    But what was amazing is the length of time it took to vote.  I thought I was in Ohio—not to mention the $5 surcharge to off-set costs.  Who says Dems are unwilling to reach into their own pocket for the benefit of democracy?

    In the past, it never took this long or has it the caucus ever been that well-attended.  But congrats to our delegates.  As this is the Democratic Party I expect them to leave no turn un-stoned.  wink

    Finally, it is clear from your post that you have fully adopted the Politics of Trust as a philosophy.  It is the secret to longterm success in politics.

  4. > In order to inspire a new generation of leaders to take up the mantel of Democratic ideals and stem the current shift to the middle, blah blah blah . . .

    Ah, the simplicity and clarity of life in a one-party political culture.

    Journalists and pundits can devote all their energies to composing thoughtful thumb suckers about what the Democrats are up to and simply ignore the rest of civilization.

    What are Republicans squabbling about?

    Doesn’t matter.

    What are Libertarians in a tizzy about?

    Who cares?

    Independents?

    Who needs them.

    DEMOCRATS! DEMOCRATS! DEMOCRATS!

    The other sixty plus percent of society can go to hell.

  5. The “hit piece” which you deem “insensitive” was an ad with a picture of a car in a ditch which said something to the effect of “Coto ran two school districts into the ground” (Which he did). The reason why it has been deemed “insensitive” is because apparently the car looks like a chevy impala, which brings up the question- do those accusing Beall of insensitivity REALLY think that the consulting company he hired intentionally was making a racial insinuation. I find that hard to believe.

    The hyperbole in this article is ridiculous: “Why would Senator Beall seek revenge after winning his race in a landslide by picking a fight with one of the most popular elected officials in Silicon Valley? And who’s next on his hit list?” So apparently when Evan Low endorses a list of candidates it’s acceptable, but when Beall does it it becomes comparable to homicide? Because Low is one of the “most popular” elected officials? Maybe so, but Beall is far more experienced and has devoted much more time to Santa Clara County, and Low’s credibility dies in the hearts of anyone who watches his TEDx speech.

    • > The “hit piece” which you deem “insensitive” was an ad with a picture of a car in a ditch which said something to the effect of “Coto ran two school districts into the ground” (Which he did). The reason why it has been deemed “insensitive” is because apparently the car looks like a chevy impala, which brings up the question- do those accusing Beall of insensitivity REALLY think that the consulting company he hired intentionally was making a racial insinuation. I find that hard to believe.

      Oh, dear.

      I have actually ridden in a Chevy Impala, and had no clue whatsoever that I might have been racially insensitive.

      Help!  What should I do?

      Do I need to go on Oprah and express remorse?

      This is REALLY, REALLY deep politics and I frankly admit I’m out of my depth on this one.

  6. Things were just as fun at the voting on the slate supported by sitting elected officials Nobody Nora Campos, Gluttonous George Shirakawa and the Invisible Man (Xavier Campos).  Of the 12 seats they were trying to lock up with their slate only 5 won.  Its a clear sign that even though the other slate was endorsed by no one official that the people of the district are done with the Mexican Mafia led by that ridiculous & criminal group. 

    Can’t help but wonder if they all went out for lunch after the voting and who paid now that Georgie boys Pcard liberties have dried up.