Democratic club hits philosophical divide

Local group
splits in two

ON THE AGENDA—A woman addresses the Democratic Club of the Conejo Valley at a meeting in 2013. Acornfile photo

ON THE AGENDA—A woman addresses the Democratic Club of the Conejo Valley at a meeting in 2013. Acornfile photo

One of the Conejo Valley’s longest-running Democratic clubs has split in two, a hint at a possible ideological divide between the party’s far left and moderate branches ahead of the 2018 midterms.

The recently minted United Democrats for Progress broke away from the Democratic Club of the Conejo Valley at the end of last year.

Sue Gunther, president of the new club, said the split was more about the best way to accomplish club goals rather than differing views on policy.

“We want to be more of a traditional club . . . and want to continue that legacy of educating our community about a lot of different issues, whereas (in the other club) there are a lot of people who are more activist and want to demonstrate here and there,” she said. “That is great, but I’m not an activist.”

Gunther said that having more clubs in the area will give people the opportunity to choose a group that is the best fit for them.

Cathy Willott, president of the Democratic Club of the Conejo Valley, described the split as amicable.

“The Democratic Party can be likened to a big tent with plenty of room for different ideas and processes,” she said. “I wish the new club well in their efforts to strengthen our party and look forward to working together with members of the new club.”

Additional clubs indicate the increasing number of Democrats becoming active in politics rather than a divided party, said John Griffin, chair of the Ventura County Democratic Party.

“I think it’s a clear reflection of the energy that’s been building here,” he said. “It’s not surprising given the activities of people in terms of our registering voters and the growing number of registered Democrats.”

Of the 430,423 registered voters in the county, 176,290 are Democrats, 133,967 are Republicans, 21,897 are members of other parties and 98,269 are nonpartisan, according to the clerk and recorder’s office.

Griffin said the various clubs might have their own pet issues but it isn’t a tea party versus Republican Party situation.

“We have differences of opinion, but we respect the opinions,” Griffin said. “We don’t go after each other in the sort of way we see (Republicans) target people in their own party.”

If the Democrats are feeling a split between the Bernie backers and Hillary loyalists, both clubs agree they’ve got at least one thing in common: their shared disdain of President Donald Trump.

Clubs splitting and going their separate ways is nothing new to Conejo Valley Republicans. The Republican Women Federated used to be a single club; today it is three.

Assembly member Jacqui Irwin (D-Camarillo) said she’s noticed divisions in her party along the lines Gunther addressed.

“I think we’ve certainly seen some splits on some issues,” Irwin said. “As a whole, I think the Democratic Party is moving to the left.”

The local legislator hasn’t always voted in lockstep with her more liberal colleagues. Irwin refused to support Senate Bill 54, the so-called sanctuary state law, until author Kevin de León reached a compromise with Gov. Jerry Brown to add more crimes to the list of those allowing immigration officials to be notified about the pending release of an inmate.

The assembly member also voted against a farm worker overtime bill, a bill prohibiting employers from asking applicants to disclose their criminal histories and a bill that limited the purchase of firearms; the latter was vetoed by the governor while the other two ultimately passed into law.

Having the choice of a variety of clubs with varying philosophies is good for a healthy democracy, she said.

“I think it’s good to have as many people involved as possible, and if other clubs meet their needs better it’s good they’re available,” Irwin said. “This goes for Republicans too; I think there’s exciting potential for people to become involved.”