Daraka Larimore-Hall, long head of Santa Barbara County’s Democratic Central Committee, emerged out of the nastiest, most bruising state Democratic Party convention in decades — held a week ago in Sacramento — winning election by overwhelming numbers to the number two spot in the party hierarchy as male vice chair of the California Democratic Party. If Larimore-Hall’s lopsided victory — he took 84 percent of the votes — was lost in the din, that’s because of the high-octane vitriol, rancor, and vituperation that boiled over between activists claiming allegiance to Bernie Sanders and the more mainstream activists in the battle to succeed John Burton as party chair. The outcome of that contest even now remains hotly disputed as candidate Kimberly Ellis — who appears to have lost by just 62 votes — filed an official challenge this Tuesday.
Ellis, an African-American from Richmond with the organization Emerge, ran against established party leader Eric Bauman, a gay-rights advocate from Los Angeles, by surfing a wave of activist insurrection against the status quo of moderate, mainstream party officials. They took to the streets, demanding, among other things, that the Democratic Party cease accepting donations from oil companies. They shouted down Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, whom they accused of cozying up to big corporations, prompting outgoing statewide party chair Burton, famous for his freewheeling use of F-bombs, to tell them to “shut the F up.” (Burton would also lead party leaders on stage in a collective middle-finger salute directed to President Donald Trump.)
“It was the most divisive I’ve ever seen,” said Larimore-Hall, known in Santa Barbara political circles for his fierce, take-no-prisoners brand of progressive politics. “We need to figure out how to come together as a party.” Larimore-Hall noted that both candidates supported Hillary Clinton for president, single-payer health insurance, and LGBT rights. “It’s not a difference on policy; it’s more a matter of style and personality.”
Larimore-Hall, a democratic socialist, supported Sanders, the only party official in the county to do so. But after the primary, he worked hard for Clinton and on occasion found himself at odds with Sanders supporters. “I was a Bernie Sanders – style Democrat before Bernie got into presidential politics. I get it. But we really need the new folks on board trying to get more Democrats elected and better Democrats. We can’t endlessly relitigate the primary battle between Bernie and Hillary.”
As for his new role, “We’re figuring that out as we speak,” he said. Vice chairs hadn’t had much of a role to play previously: “Burton was famous for not collaborating much,” Larimore-Hall said. “We’re already doing more under Eric, and it’s only been a week.” Larimore-Hall took pains, however, to praise Burton for strengthening party infrastructure and promoting an unapologetically progressive tilt to the party’s agenda.
Larimore-Hall was elected party secretary four years ago. He envisions his new role will focus on expanding the connection between the statewide party and local committees. “How is it that in San Diego County, we don’t have one Democrat elected to the county supervisors?” he asked. “We need to see more focus on building a local bench, not just so that we have candidates ready to run for higher office but because we need local representatives ready and able to fight what’s coming down from the Trump White House.”
Larimore-Hall has been synonymous with the Democratic Central Committee since he first ran in 2004 and narrowly lost. Since then, he’s worked tirelessly to build a party-based political machine, fielding candidates for city-council, school-board, and water-board races. Among Republicans and conservatives, Larimore-Hall is often derided as a lightning-rod firebrand and polemicist of political correctitude. “He’s so whacked, he’s perfect for the job,” said Andy Caldwell, conservative organizer and agitator for the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business. He’s also feuded famously with several Democrats, whom he’s openly chastised for not keeping the faith sufficiently with the party’s platform. “The list of people I’ve disagreed with is very long,” he said. “But the list of people with whom I have bad relations is very short.”