Democrats fight over meaning of endorsement in state Assembly race

Brian Johnson

Raphye Alexius/Johnson campaign

Democrats for Education Reform endorsed candidate Brian Johnson for state Assembly. That sparked outrage from the Los Angles County Democratic Party, which said the group's name implies the party endorsed Johnson.

A national political action committee focused on education was sent a cease and desist letter this week by the chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party after the group made an endorsement in a state Assembly race in the San Fernando Valley.

The letter from Eric Bauman to Democrats for Education Reform directs the group to remove all references to the Democratic Party and the words “Democratic” and “Democrat” from its name or face action from the California Secretary of State.

Democrats for Education Reform, which has chapters in 11 states, endorsed Brian Johnson in the race for the state Assembly’s 46th District. Johnson is the executive director of the Larchmont Schools and a former director of Teach for America's Los Angeles office.

"It's clear that the so-called 'Democrats for Education Reform' are an astro-turf group trying to trick voters into thinking they are, or speak for, the Democratic Party,” Bauman said in a statement.

The use of the word “democrats” violates section 20201 of the California Code, which prohibits organizations from using party names to solicit funds, according to Bauman. The Democratic Party has not made an endorsement in the race, which includes Andrew Lachman, Adrin Nazarian, Laurette Healey and Adriano Lecaros.

Democrats for Education Reform is a national organization dedicated to reforming the American school system. Its board of advisers includes the founder of Green Dot Public Schools, Steve Barr, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

In response to the cease and desist letter, the California director of Democrats for Education Reform, former state Sen. Gloria Romero, released a statement that said, “This dubious request has no merit whatsoever and is clearly an attempt to obscure the fact that Democrats who are passionate about public education - both in Los Angeles and around the nation - are stepping up to support Brian Johnson in his race to win the 46th Assembly district seat.”

A consultant for the Johnson campaign, Harvey Englander, called the letter “absolutely ridiculous.”

“Are we really to believe that national Democrats, such as Newark Mayor and DFER Board of Advisory board member Cory Booker and former California Senate Democratic Majority Leader Gloria Romero, are ‘fake’ democrats and must answer to Los Angeles County central committee?” Englander said. “If they had done their research, they’d clearly see that many prominent Democrats nationwide are affiliated with this organization, whose endorsement we are proud of.”

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