Back during my boyhood, I absolutely loved KISS.
There was a larger-than-life mojo to the band. First, obviously, was the kabuki makeup. Gene—the fire-breathing demon. Paul, the star child. Ace, the spaceman. Peter, the cat. The music was loud and fierce. Drums pounding; lunging electric guitar solos; Paul’s voice attacking each note. It was, for my young ears, intensity personified, and I’d sit by my parents’ record player and listen to the songs over and over and over again.
Then something changed. In 1980 the band released an album, “Unmasked.” And it was brutal. Hard rock was replaced by ballads. Subtlety was substituted for ferocity (Here, take a listen). Worst of all, I came to find out that KISS—as a band—hadn’t even played the album. Peter Criss, the drummer, appeared on none of the tracks. Ace Frehley, the lead guitarist, came to the studio every now and then. Even Gene Simmons was a no-show for a good chunk of the time.
In short, on the surface it was KISS. But if one dug deep enough, he/she could see what was going on behind the scenes.
And it wasn’t pretty.
I evoke KISS because, as I sit here at my kitchen table on a Monday night, what transpired over the past few days in the 48th Congressional District race has brought forth certain familiar feelings and emotions. Or, put different, it seems like what we’ve all been witnessing for the past, oh, year (or so) is mere mirage. Illusion. The 48th Congressional District: Unmasked.
OK. To begin …
As many readers here know, on Saturday at the Democratic state party convention in San Diego, the local party caucus voted to endorse Hans Keirstead, the noted neuroscientist, as its preferred candidate to take on Rohrabacher. Here is how the voting went down:
I wrote at length about the evening (which you can read here). I was, admittedly, angry—as were m-a-n-y. With good reason. From the very start of this website, I was told by folks who (very much) know that Hans was the state and national party’s candidate of choice, and that people with influence were committed to bringing him forth as the one to face Dana Rohrabacher in November’s general election. This was hardly a secret. I imagine—gun to head—Hans would admit so much himself. Hell, it’s no crime.
That said, it’s one thing to hear “The party wants Hans” and another thing to actually see it delivered. And that’s what so infuriating about the vote. Anyone who has paid attention to the 48th Democratic race will tell you Hans has been … what’s the word? Milquetoast. Not awful. Not wonderful. Just … meh. Of the debates I’ve witnessed, he’s never stood out. Of the talks I’ve heard, he’s just … sorta … kinda … there. Straw polling has supported this. Again—nothing dreadful. Seems pleasant. But find me a room filled with people who are inspired and pumped at the sight of Hans Kierstead, and I’ll find you a room of Kiersteads.
But the party wanted Hans, and they delivered him. And it feels shady and sneaky and sorta bullshit. Not illegal, to be clear. I’m not saying any laws were broken. But the spirit of this race—as well as the joyful, inspired spirit of local political action—seems crushed. It reminds me of post-Bernie Sanders v. Hillary Clinton, when supporters of the Vermont senator (I was not one of them, in full transparency) were presented with myriad good reasons to believe their guy was never going to be allowed to run in the general election. Or, to put in different (and local) terms: A lot of people woke up Sunday and Monday wondering why they wasted so much time and energy getting involved in a 48th race that was, from the start, pretty much pre-determined.
By pre-determined, I mean this:
• Throughout the past few months, the Democratic candidates worked to secure delegates. They all knew the rules, all agreed to play by them. But then (according to multiple people I’ve spoken to) shit started to change. I spoke at length with Laura Oatman yesterday—of all the candidates in the race, she has (in my opinion) handled herself with the most dignity and class. There’s nothing to read into with that sentence. Hell, I’m the one who wrote a post a few weeks back saying she couldn’t win.
Anyhow, Laura has been doing what candidates do: Calling delegates, asking for their support. But recently, she said something changed. She noticed that backers suddenly went gun shy. “Delegates who had agreed to vote for me started turning quiet and backing away and out of their promise,” Oatman said. “Terse text messages. ‘I really appreciate you so much, but …'”
This was not mere coincidence. Throughout the past few weeks, the Democratic Party has been pushing the narrative that delegates need to get behind one candidate—ASAP. Why? Because if a bunch of entrants split the votes, you could wind up with two Republicans in the general election. And, indeed, this would be a possibility—were a major Republican entering the race to take on Dana (apologies to Paul Martin—a genuinely great guy who just doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to be a player this time around). By now, though, it’s pretty clear Dana Rohrabacher—and only Dana Rohrabacher—will be defending his crown for the GOP.
Still, delegates were urged (some might say thugged) to back Hans. Behind the scenes, his campaign pushed this, too. And—to be 100-percent clear—I don’t blame them. It was a smart strategy. Politics isn’t soft and genteel. It’s brutal, ugly, nasty, crappy. That’s unfortunate, but also true. So I’m not mad at Hans or his staff for this one. I’m mad at the party.
• This is a list of the delegates, acquired by crazydana.com.
I’ve been told each candidate had the opportunity to purchase the delegate list for $75. The list I received had addresses and phone numbers for every delegate. Some of the candidates, however, said their lists included incomplete information. Maybe e-mails were missing. Maybe phone numbers were missing. Addresses here, but not there. I’m not saying there was duplicitous behavior in this regard. I’m saying, if you’re charging for a list, it damn well better be complete.
Anyhow, there’s some quirky shit here …
* First, Anita Narayana—political director of the Keirstead campaign, Secretary of the Democratic Party of OC (unpaid position) … and delegate. Now, that’s a weird thing, right? I mean, why would someone working for a candidate (being paid by a candidate) also be allowed to vote in the small, hyper-specific election to determine which person will earn the party’s support? Hell, call me Wayne Tolleson, but that makes no sense. Especially in the Democratic Party, which (we’re all told 1,000 times—and choose to believe) is far more reasonable and honorable and ethical than the Republicans.
I actually haven’t been able to get past this one. How can you serve as a delegate and work for a candidate? How is that even slightly legit? Slightly OK?
So, I asked Anita. To her credit, she answered. Here’s the exchange:
Soooo … yeah.
I mean no beef toward Anita. I truly don’t. But this is the sort of thing that only seems perfectly fine and kosher when you’re deep, deep, deep into a movement, and what matters is solely the outcome. Because, from afar, it’s ugly. The optics are horrific.
To digress, Anita Narayana is a riveting piece of this election; one of those lingering-in-the-background figures who—depending on where one stands—you either love or loathe. There are people who see her as a beacon of light. There are others who think she symbolizes everything wrong with local politics gone sinister. Narayana actually began as Harley Rouda’s communications director (Said Anita: “I worked on social media and getting him meetings with unions and other community leaders.”), but shifted to a position with Hans’ rival campaign. When I asked Rouda, on the record, why the relationship ended, he said, “We found her behavior to be unethical so we parted ways. We did not believe her behavior represented the ethics we wanted to see in this campaign.” (For her part, Narayana (who was very vehement in defending herself about this) e-mailed: “I understand that Harley Rouda told you he fired me. That is simply not true”). In her e-mail to crazydana, Narayana included a resignation letter, dated July 17, that she said she sent to Rouda. Whatever the circumstances, it does strike me as a bit weird to resign from one campaign to join another campaign in the same election. Because doesn’t that mean you were talking to the rival of the guy you were working for about leaving the guy you were working for for his rival?
After Narayana began working for Keirstead, members of Rouda’s inner-circle say weird things happened with their Twitter feed. They would log on in the morning and find @harleyrouda following pornographic accounts (According to one person familiar with the campaign, Rouda would instruct staffers what to Tweet, but didn’t generally use Twitter himself). There was also a Tweet, from @harleyrouda, supporting Kierstead. The Rouda campaign made clear its belief that either Narayana or Kyle Quinn-Quesada, Keirstead’s campaign manager, had been responsible for the Twitter mischief. The following exchanges, the first between Quinn-Quesada and Rouda’s campaign manager; the second between Quinn-Quesada and a Rouda supporter, took place on Oct. 25 and Oct. 27, 2017, respectively, and seemed to support the suspicions.
Both Quinn-Quesada and Narayana, though, vehemently deny the allegations. This is the exchange I had with Narayana:
Furthermore a delegate I DMed with said he felt borderline harassed by the Keirstead campaign and, specifically, Narayana. This is what he wrote: “She was extremely aggressive calling us delegates and getting Hans to call multiple times. I felt hounded by them and when I quit taking calls they even called my business and had the receptionist put Hans through to me. [I don’t know if they had our information before the other candidates], but it makes sense because as a delegate we were getting a ton of calls from her and Hans way before the others had access to the delegate list.
“Anita came across as extremely aggressive and, like I said before, almost hounding the delegates. I guess you could say she did an extremely good job because she got her candidate the endorsement. Everyone tells me that’s just politics get used to it … but if we don’t speak up and voice our opinion and frustration with the process things will never change.
“The crazy part is I don’t think any of this is against the party rules, it’s just the way they’ve always done it. But they’ve never had a year like this year and if they don’t make changes it will drive people away from the party.”
I don’t disagree.
* Second, the various candidates and campaigns had all sorts of complaints about the delegate process. Among them:
— One of the delegates became a delegate two days before the vote.
— Another delegate arrived after the cutoff time to pick up credentials, but was still allowed to vote.
— Several delegates didn’t actually vote, and were represented by proxies. “How responsible do you take your role as a delegate if you can’t even bother to attend?” a party representative told me—and it’s hard to argue this point.
— One of the proxies was not a District 48 resident.
The biggest gripe came Saturday night, when Rouda—knowing Keirstead would take the delegate victory—tried a Steve Bartkowski-to White Shoes Johnson Hail Mary. As I wrote the next day: “There’s an odd-yet-well-known rule whereas one can temporarily table an endorsement of an opponent if he/she can collect 300 signatures from the 1,000-plus delegates in attendance at the convention (geography be damned). So Rouda did what you do in this world—he went after the autographs.”
In California, Democrat @HarleyRouda (Rohrabacher) walks collecting signatures from convention delegates as Democrat @drhanskeirstead has assigned a member of his team to tell delegates not to sign his petition. Wait until the very end…Democrats don’t do this. #CADem2018 pic.twitter.com/KPE31aT0or
— Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko) February 25, 2018
Seriously, this was bad. Really bad. Say what you want about Harley Rouda, say what you want about Hans Keirstead, say what you want about Diet Coke’s new soda lineup—this crossed myriad lines. And I’m not the only one who feels as such. Howard Dean, the former governor and Democratic Party head, saw the video clip and didn’t mince words …
I asked Narayana about it. This is what she said:
Yes, that’s a poor try at defending the visually indefensible.
Later in the day I spoke with Mike McLaughlin, Rouda’s campaign manager. He was upset with the process of signature collections for two reasons. (A). Because even though a campaign needs 300 signatures to table the party endorsement, they were given one piece of paper, with 24 lines on it. “You have to find a copy machine somewhere and make enough copies so there are 300 spaces for signatures,” he said. “We ran to the Hilton across the street and asked the nice lady if we could use the copy machine. It was obviously made to be hard.” (B) Because he said, come 10:50, he believed they had 300 signatures. “I went to the room to hand in the signatures,” McLaughlin said. “I met with staffers and they said I needed to wait in the hallway. So I went to the hallway, and a security guard came out at 11:02 and said the room was closed and not accepting signatures.”
I asked Narayana. This was the exchange:
And there it is.
The thing that drives me crazy about politics.
Two weeks ago, the Orange County Register’s Martin Wisckol quoted Vigna defending the endorsement process as “transparent and fair.”
“Our endorsement is decided by our delegates, the vast majority of whom are volunteers who contribute their time and energy to our party—teachers, nurses, labor union members, environmental activists and civil-rights advocates,” Vigna said. “Transparency is a core value of our party and that’s why every vote is cast in public.”
But then, in the immediate aftermath of the vote, Vigna is simultaneously praising Keirstead’s campaign and bashing Rouda’s. Keirstead is a beacon of positivity; Rouda is a guy using “scorched-earth tactics.” Again, this is in the immediate aftermath of an election you (the California Democratic Party) supposedly had no influence upon. The CDP didn’t care who won, right? It didn’t matter. It was about the people picking their desired leader.
Here’s the thing, by the way: I don’t think Hans Keirstead is a bad guy, and I don’t think Harley Rouda is a bad guy. Politics suck, because everyone enters hoping to make a change, and everyone leaves covered in soot and dog shit.
For all the, “We’re just the innocents here,” Rouda’s efforts have turned—in my opinion—far too negative. There’s a lot of trash talk (and trashing) via social media. One of his people told me he/she would never vote for Keirstead—that he/she might as well go for Dana Rohrabacher because it’d be the same thing (To be clear—that’s a fucking insane sentiment).
When I asked a person close to this election who was more in the wrong, Rouda or Keirstead, he took a long pause. “I don’t know,” he said. “Have you seen some of the negative ads out of Harley’s camp? Not cool. But with Hans, there’s a lot of slimy stuff. So … I really don’t know. It’s gotten ugly.”
The final point I’ll make is this: Over the weekend, I was angry. Really angry. And not because Hans seized the day. Truth be told, while I don’t think he beats Dana Rohrabacher in the general, I do believe he’d be a perfectly fine congressman; one I’d vote for over Dana sans reservation.
No, I was angry because the party picked their guy and did everything possible to make sure he’d win. I feel—to a certain degree—as if this website has been a big waste of time, because why try and educate and inform when that education and information gets you nowhere but the very spot where you began?
And yet maybe, just maybe, there’s a different way to look at this. Say what you want about Hans Keirstead’s campaign, but it’s not run by a bunch of softies. Anita Narayana rubs me wrongly 100 different ways. But would I want her on my side in a sure-to-be-ugly election against Dana Rohrabacher? Yeah, I think I would. Same goes for Kyle Quinn-Quesada. They’re probably not people (from afar, at least) I’d enjoy more than 10 minutes with. But they attack. They spear. They fight. They jab. They cross lines. In a world of Mother Theresas, they’re Mike Tysons.
Is that pretty? No.
Is it the route to chalking up a win against a longtime incumbent who has rarely been smacked in the mouth during an election?
PS: Just received this e-mail, from a friend who tightly follows SoCal politics: