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Progressives Take Over Clark County Democratic Party



The battle between traditional and progressive Democrats played out nationally when Joe Biden beat Bernie Sanders for the party's presidential nomination.

Now, it's playing out in Clark County. Several members of the Democratic Party have resigned to make way for more progressive party members. 

The Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote about these key changes earlier this week.

Gabrielle d’Ayr, who was the party’s 1 st vice-chair, will take the place of Chairwoman Donna West, who resigned.

Additionally, legal counsel Elizabeth Brickfield resigned and will be replaced by Robert Kern.

According to the Review-Journal, there was no reason given for the resignations, but politics and government editor for the newspaper, Steve Sebelius, said the leadership change is connected to the infighting between the moderate and progressive wings of the party.

That infighting really came to light during the 2016 presidential election when the party split between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Sebelius noted the acrimonious party convention that year when Chairwoman Roberta Lange had to be escorted out of the building by security after the convention and later received death threats.

When their candidate lost the convention in a way that some people thought was rigged, Sebelius said the progressive wing of the party decided to better organize and win the state for progressive candidates.

In 2020, that effort paid off with Sanders winning the state’s caucus. Despite that win, Biden eventually secured the nomination. Sebelius said there is still distrust between the two factions.

“Supposedly everybody is on the same page, working to elect Joe Biden as president, but that’s not necessarily the case,” he said, “I think there is still a lot of suspicion on the behalf of progressives against the moderates and that is what you are seeing the results of here in this story”

He said the newspaper’s reporting showed that moderates and progressives are finding it increasingly difficult to work together. What the change in leadership could mean going forward is a larger emphasis on progressive issues like universal health care and canceling student debt, Sebelius said.

“What it means… is certainly the party’s official platform is going to look a lot more progressive. You’re going to have a lot more progressive ideas… represented in those platform planks,” he said.

But Sebelius noted that party platforms are more statements of principles than marching orders.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a candidate – in either major party – who lines up 100 percent with the party’s platform. I don’t think I’ve ever known a candidate who has actually read the party platform on either side of the aisle,” he said.

What the changes really signals is the evolution of the party, Sebelius said, from the party headed by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a moderate Democrat, to a younger generation.

“You’re seeing the Reids and the [Shelley] Berkleys get out of the way and this new generation of progressives take over,” he said, “They bring new energy to the party, but they also bring ideas that may not have had a lot of currency with moderates in the past that now are starting to gain favor.”

Even though the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has taken over the leadership, Sebelius does believe the whole party will be on the same page in November.

“I don’t think that that has always been the progressive approach because there were progressives in 2016 who voted either for Donald Trump or stayed home and didn’t vote at all, thinking to themselves, ‘Well, the consequences of Donald Trump being elected is worse than us abandoning our principles.’ I think that may not be the case this time around,” he said.

Sebelius believes a lot of progressives will look at another Trump term and believe that it is worse. He said they’re likely to go with the horse they have even if it’s not the horse they wanted.

Steve Sebelius, politics and government editor, Las Vegas Review-Journal

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.