By Hillel Aron
It is truly a curiosity of the June 5 primary that an obscure California state Assembly race in the San Fernando Valley has become a proxy war over which wing of the Democratic Party controls school reform in America.
“This is a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party,” says Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution and a former aide to President Bill Clinton, “defining what it means to be progressive when it comes to education.”
Brian Johnson, 34, a former Teach for America educator, now executive director of Larchmont Charter Schools, is running in state Assembly District 46 in the Valley. He’s been endorsed by several education-reform advocacy groups, including Ed Voice in Sacramento and Democrats for School Reform, a national group made up of numerous heavy-hitter Democrats.
The latter, which goes by DFER, incurred the wrath of Eric Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and vice chair of the California Democratic Party, for using “Democrats” in its name. Bauman mailed the Democrats for Education Reform a curt cease-and-desist letter demanding that it stop using “Democrat.”
“Use of the name of the Democratic Party, and any variations thereof, such as ‘Democratic’ or ‘Democrat,’ is in derogation of the Democratic Party’s common-law trademark in its name,” Bauman’s letter states.
It goes on, “The Democrats for Education Reform’s use of this trademarked name without the authorization and consent of the LACDP or any other chartering entity is legally sanctionable.”
Gloria Romero is tough — she was the first woman Senate majority leader in the California Legislature, a post she held for eight years. She’s also California state director of DFER and considers herself a friend of Bauman’s. They’ve supported each other in elections. She’s been to Bauman’s home.
When Romero read Bauman’s threatening letter, she was flabbergasted.
Why hadn’t he simply called her? And since when did Bauman own the copyright to the word Democrat? “That would be like if Catholics for Choice had to get permission from the pope,” Romero says.
They don’t, Romero says, and besides, “Eric’s not the Pope.”
Romero’s Sacramento lawyer, Mark Leonard, has told her there is no legal basis for Bauman’s claim. She wants a retraction.