South County candidate loses endorsements over party lines
Members of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party are being kicked out for endorsing candidates outside the party in the upcoming November election. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    The Santa Clara County Democratic Party is pulling support from longtime members for crossing the political divide.

    One Gilroy councilmember and decades-long Democrat lost his endorsement. A longtime party member was kicked out, and several other candidates have received threats of endorsements being rescinded. The rub: they endorsed Santa Clara County supervisor-hopeful Johnny Khamis, who’s running for the District 1 seat against San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas. A race considered nonpartisan.

    Fred Tovar, who has served on the Gilroy City Council since 2016, lost his Democratic Party endorsement this month. Tovar still has two years left in his term, but has thrown his support to Khamis and fellow Gilroy Councilmember Dion Bracco, a Republican running for reelection in November. Khamis is a no party preference candidate who left the Republican Party in 2018.

    “It’s been tough on me obviously, but I won’t let anybody bully me or push me to change my votes in any direction if it’s not the right vote,” Tovar told San José Spotlight. “Khamis met with me several times. The Democratic Party didn’t reach out to me, Arenas didn’t reach out to me… and they just expect me to fall in line.”

    Tovar wrote a letter to Bill James, chair of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party, asking to reconsider the endorsement because of his work with the party and 18 years of public service. He pointed to his work with small businesses and the committees he sits on for the unhoused population.

    James told San José Spotlight Tovar’s endorsement was revoked in part because of his endorsement of Khamis, particularly because there are other Democrats in the race. It’s also because Tovar’s values no longer aligned with the party’s mission, he said. James points to Tovar’s positions opposing transit-oriented development and voting against renter protections.

    The District 1 supervisor seat represents South County cities like Morgan Hill and Gilroy; and now includes the Evergreen area of San Jose instead of Almaden and Los Gatos because of last year’s redistricting. Supervisor Mike Wasserman is terming out in December.

    “We don’t want candidates who are endorsed by us to support positions and candidates that are not democratic, and to have voters confused and thinking that because the Democratic Party endorsed them, we’d be okay with these other positions or candidates,” James said.

    Democrats booted from party

    Swanee Edwards, a lifelong Democrat and party member with the South County chapter since 2006, said she was asked to leave after she endorsed Khamis. Edwards said she left before a resolution was drafted.

    “I feel betrayed, but not surprised,” Edwards told San José Spotlight. “I’ve seen over the years it turn into more of a good old boys club in that they focus on their friends. They have their favorites and if you don’t walk in lockstep with them, you’re a goner, no matter what you’ve done for the party.”

    Edwards said she has seen the party pull endorsements before, such as former Morgan Hill Mayor Steve Tate after he endorsed Wasserman, but the effort against Khamis is unprecedented.

    “It’s a nonpartisan race, and I feel that we should be able to choose the best candidate for the job regardless,” Edwards said. “Yet they’ve made endorsing Johnny worse than having a Halloween party and two people getting shot (at) a councilwoman’s (home). It just makes no sense. It’s hypocritical and offensive.”

    Edwards is referring to an incident last year where Gilroy Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz allegedly helped plan a drug-and-alcohol-fueled Halloween party at her home that resulted in a shooting that ultimately left two people dead.

    Khamis said he had some local Democrats rescind their endorsements after getting pressure from the party to “stay in line,” and other supporters of his are getting similar threats. He said he lost endorsements from Campbell Union High School District Trustee Stacey Brown and former state Assemblymember Manny Diaz.

    “Everybody’s kind of calling me and telling me how much they’re going through just because they endorsed me,” Khamis told San José Spotlight. “And the people who unendorsed me is not because they believe in something different, it’s because they were pressured by outside sources.”

    Two different candidates who wished to remain anonymous told San José Spotlight they received outright or veiled threats from Democratic Party leaders to pull their endorsements of Khamis, but want to hold firm.

    Terry Christensen, a longtime political observer, said it’s not clear if other candidates in the past have been targeted like Khamis, but it is not unexpected for an endorsing party to expect consistency from their members or endorsees.

    “I think the Democratic Party and other endorsing groups would probably do the same thing in other cases. I don’t think it is exclusively Khamis, although he’s in their sights right now,” Christensen told San José Spotlight. “He’s the example of people endorsed by the organization crossing lines to endorse him, but it could happen to other people.”

    James said they are not “unfairly going against Khamis”—they just do not support him.

    “To be clear, we don’t want Khamis to be elected. We have Sylvia Arenas, an endorsed Democrat who’s running in that race,” James said. “We don’t want Democrats trying to help a non-Democrat get elected instead of endorsed Democrats.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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