War vs. Peace in the Democratic Party
The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro seems an unlikely place for a discussion on Iraq, Iran, and America's constitutional crisis. Just steps away from the manicured beach sands, the aquarium's John M. Olguin Auditorium typically hosts lectures on crustaceans or kelp, but on a recent Monday night the crowd gathered at the door had war and peace on their minds.
The event, sponsored by the San Pedro Democratic Club, featured a panel discussion with former U.N. weapons investigator Scott Ritter, civil liberties attorney Stephen Rohde, and Marcy Winograd, congressional candidate in the 36th District. While the discussion was focused on issues related to U.S. conflicts abroad, the real goal was to introduce Winograd, the grassroots challenger to six-term incumbent and sometime Bush Democrat, Jane Harman. Standing at the podium in a dark navy jacket with a rhinestone peace sign pinned to her lapel, Winograd, 52, leaned into the microphone and declared, "This is not David versus Goliath, this is Marcy versus Jane."
On March 14, standing on the front lawn of a Mar Vista residence, Winograd announced the start of her campaign to unseat Harman, instantaneously transforming her from teacher and activist to politician. "I am running as a patriot," she said to a gathering of supporters, "to rekindle the wonderful spirit that is America and to recapture the soul of the Democratic Party."
Just one month after deciding to run, Winograd had already earned a number of respectable endorsements, including former state senator and peace activist Tom Hayden; author and political commentator Gore Vidal; Mimi Kennedy, national chair, Progressive Democrats of America; and the darling of the antiwar activists, Cindy Sheehan.
When Winograd stepped up to the podium at the Cabrillo auditorium, her list of endorsements had multiplied tenfold and she was buzzing from the momentum gathering around her campaign. In a surprising upset, her supporters had successfully blocked an early endorsement of Harman by the California Democratic Party at a delegate's caucus meeting in early April. "We created a human chain of Winograd signs through the hall," she says. "They took it to a voice vote and one-third of the people stood with me."
Winning 35 percent of the delegate vote prevented Harman from picking up her home district endorsement prior to the Democratic Party Convention in Sacramento.
That's a slap in the face for a six-term incumbent, but if Harman felt the sting, her flinch was barely perceivable. From her congressional office in Washington, D.C., the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and member of the House Committee on Homeland Security was busy working on a bipartisan port security proposal that would dedicate federal anti-terrorist funding for Long Beach and L.A. ports. She also released several statements in April, one of which explained her reason for voting against a bill that authorizes appropriations for intelligence and intelligence-gathering activities in 2007.
"For the first time in my congressional career," states Harman, "I voted 'no' on an Intelligence Authorization bill to send the strong signal that I oppose the legal rationale offered by the Bush administration for the NSA domestic surveillance program."
Harman's "first time" confession says a lot about her record. She voted in favor of the USA Patriot Act three times, and supported the indefinite detention of prisoners at GuantÃƒÂ¡namo Bay. And like the majority of her peers, Harman was in favor of authorizing military force in Iraq and three years of "emergency" funding bills to pay for it. For progressive Democrats, these votes are grounds for removal.
"The Bush agenda brought on this war and Democrats acquiesced," says Winograd. "They betrayed their own party, country, and peace-loving nations. Who does Harman work for? What drives her to champion preemptive war?"
CityBeat made multiple requests for comment from Harman's office. Neither Harman nor her campaign consultant, Roy Behr, would respond.
Some complain that Harman has lost touch with her home district and is not interested in talking with grassroots organizations. But Winograd's antiwar message has appealed to a wide range of South Bay voters weary of seeing their representative touting the military-industrial complex on political talk shows.
Republican Paul Whitehead, Harman's opponent in 2004, recently announced his endorsement of Winograd after grappling with his own party issues. In a letter to the media, the South Bay teacher wrote, "This is a tremendous opportunity for 36th District voters to put Winograd's talents to work for us at an even more important level and I am confident of her ability to win over and unite disgruntled residents who are ready for a real change."
Whitehead admits he's even considering registering as a Democrat before the deadline of May 22, just so he can vote for Winograd. "Following her campaign has really got me excited," he says. "It's been the impetus for me to jump party lines."
Still, not everyone is anxious to see Harman go. In a recent vote at the Beach City Democratic Club, Harman won 46 to 7. The club's vice president, Ray Waters, says that people are talking about Winograd but will likely vote for Harman. "Marcy presents herself as the antiwar candidate and that's the only thing that I've heard her talk about," says Waters. "I don't know if running for Congress on the first try is what I want to see. I wouldn't want us [Democrats] to lose again in the House. Jane is very influential, she's a veteran."
Others are backing this logic. Barbara Lee, a progressive Democrat in the 9th Congressional District in Oakland, has opposed Harman on the war but supports her in the primaries. In an e-mail response, Lee wrote, "Jane Harman is supported by the California League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the National Organization for Women, the National Women's Political Caucus, and the California Labor Federation. I endorsed Jane Harman early because I believe that her re-nomination is critical to Democrats taking back the House and thereby reversing our nation's disastrous course. While Jane Harman and I sometimes have our differences, she has an excellent record on choice, human rights, health care, education, and the environment."
Winograd insists that the district is a "safe" Democratic seat, redistricted after 2000 to create a 70 percent Democratic voting population. "It's imperative that the grassroots seize hold of their leadership here," says Winograd.
On May 9, Winograd received the endorsement of the United Teachers Los Angeles labor union after they withdrew their support for Harman. The union, which represents 48,000 classroom teachers, has taken an antiwar stance. Last month, members attending the California Federation of Teachers convention rejected their own political action committee's recommendation to support Harman, Dianne Feinstein, Tom Lantos, and Adam Schiff, co-author of the Patriot Act. All four have supported the war.
Patrick McCauley is a teacher in San Pedro and the UTLA member who introduced the motion to rescind Harman's endorsement. "People are tired of the Democratic Party. This is a race where we can really make that statement," says McCauley. "Marcy is in the right place on issues related to education, the environment, and immigration. She represents the possibility for change to happen."
Perhaps feeling the pressure of Winograd's momentum, Harman has been backpedaling and is now claiming to be a leading critic of the occupation of Iraq and a protector of civil liberties. In a recently released television ad, Harman asserts her opposition to unwarranted wiretapping, the kind that she approved while sitting on the House Intelligence Committee. "It's against the law and it's wrong," she says squarely into the camera.
Winograd admits it's hard to "crash the party," but in the 36th District she just needs to garner approximately 20,000 votes to win the primary. Her supporters believe she can do it. "The door is certainly open for her to win," says McCauley. "It's time for the Democratic Party to move back to the left."