California Progressives step back slightly in ADEM elections

Earlier this month, the California Democratic Party completed its 2021 election of district-level delegates to the state party central committee. Progressive slates outperformed other parts of the Democratic Party, though they won 6% fewer seats than the record high they set in 2019.

Delegates elected at the district level are called “ADEMs,” short for Assembly District Elections Meeting. Each of the state’s 80 state Assembly districts can elect 14 ADEMs each, for 1,120 total statewide. This comprises one-third of all delegates to the state party. The others are appointed by state and elected officials and by central committees in each county.


In the recently completed ADEM elections, candidates on a variety of progressive slates won about 700 of the 1,120 “ADEM” seats, or 62.5%. This fell short of the two-thirds won in 2019. However, Progressives this cycle will be more represented on the party’s executive board having won two-thirds of the 80 elected “E-Board” seats. This is up from 52% in 2019.


Due to Covid, ADEM elections went to an all mail-in ballot process this year. Some problems occurred involving prompt delivery by U.S. mail, but about 61,000 of ballots were returned on time, which was about 20,000 more ballots than in 2019. By role as chair of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, Tracie Stafford is neutral on intra-party jockeying, but she was most thrilled by this high level of participation.


“After we elected Biden-Harris, my biggest concern was Democrats might start to relax. We were hyper-focused on beating Trump, but with little attention on local issues and races,” Stafford said. “But I am pleasantly surprised by the energy and people who have become engaged in our party, not just for the fight but for the future.”


Progressives won more than 50% in every region of the state, tallying its highest numbers in the Greater Sacramento Region.


Greater Sacramento 94%

Northern California 79%

Bay Area 78%

San Joaquin Valley 60%

Central Coast 67%

Sierras 57%

Greater Los Angeles 56%

San Diego-Inland Empire 51%


The Greater Sacramento area figure is especially surprising given Progressives otherwise have not won many elected seats locally. In fact, the Sacramento metro area is the state’s largest Democratic bastion not represented by at least one U.S. House member also in the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


Over the last two weeks, Sacto Politico reached out numerous times to Sacramento-area leaders in the state progressive caucus and with the Progressive Delegate Network, but none would respond to questions prior to deadline.


This leaves much for speculation, but it seems clear these leaders are more focused on – perhaps successful at – an insider game within the state party structure than recruiting and backing Progressives for elected office. This can also be seen in how unconnected the area’s biggest Progressive donors are to local Progressive groups and leaders, as covered in this piece last month.


In the neighboring county, Yolo County Democratic Executive Director Dave Griffin said his group’s progressive slate won 13 of 14 ADEM seats in the 4th Assembly District, which includes most of Yolo. However, he likes keeping ADEMs in perspective.


“You have to keep in mind that ADEMs are a minority of all party delegates. If you are an elected official, you get to name extra delegates. This means, ADEMs almost always are going to be in a minority in the room. So, it doesn’t matter how right you are, how great your progressive ideas are, you just aren’t going to win the room as the minority,” he said.


For this reason, he’s trying to apply a longer term strategy for how to utilize ADEMs. First, he wished to make sure his group’s AD4 slate included representatives from other counties that AD4 slices across like Lake and Napa counties.


Next, he wants his area’s ADEMs to serve as more than just representatives to the state party to vote for the state party chair, state party platform and endorsements. They ideally should serve as local ambassadors in order to build up bench strength.


“If you have 14 people spread around a large district, we would like to see them become more of a force within the community. They can then build up their community networking skills, become involved at the central committee level, build trust and allies within the party, and then can have more sway and soft power with our elected officials at all levels local, state, and national,” Griffin said.


“I want to see how they respond in these environments. Is this someone we want to develop as a candidate or as a behind-the-scenes committee member? Find the best spot for an ADEM class, and then next cycle, we hope to bring in a new batch of ADEMs and continue adding more progressive voices,” he said.