California Democratic Council
The California Democratic Council (CDC), an unofficial umbrella organization of volunteer Democratic Clubs, was founded at conferences at Asilomar and Fresno conferences in 1952-53 by future U.S. Senator Alan Cranston, State Senator George Miller, Jr. and other liberal Democratic Party activists, inspired by Adlai Stevenson's presidential candidacy; they intended to organize the existing "Stevenson Clubs" into a grassroots movement to win back control of California State Government from the Republicans, who then held the Governor's office and both US Senate seats.
According to the group's website, the organization, which coordinates the activities of Democratic clubs statewide, is the only one of its kind in the United States. After Cranston, its founding President, CDC has also been headed by Joseph Wyatt, Tom Carvey, Simon Casady, Gerald Hill, John L. Burton (former State Senate President Pro Tem and Congressman, and now Chair of the official California Democratic Party organization), Nathan Holden, Wallace Albertson, Lia Triff Belli (wife of legendary San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli before their acrimonious divorce), Robert W. Farran, African-American leader Quincy Beaver, State Party Secretary Jim Clarke, DNC member Chris Stampolis and Henry Vandermeir.
The late President John F. Kennedy has been quoted as saying, "I have always regarded the California Democratic Council as one of the United States’ most important centers of citizen participation in politics." (In reality, Kennedy and his brother Robert were closely allied in California to the Los Angeles political organization of Jesse Unruh, the powerful Speaker of the State Assembly, who was considered the bete noire of the liberal organization.)
The CDC "club movement" played an important role in the 1958 election of Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown and a slate of other State Democratic candidates (including Cranston as State Controller), the first Democratic administration in the State since the New Deal.
In 1964, CDC endorsed the US Senate candidacy of its founding father, Alan Cranston, but he lost the Democratic nomination to former Kennedy Press Secretary Pierre Salinger - who was later defeated by George Murphy, the Republican nominee, in the General election.
In 1966, the Council was bitterly split over the issue of American military entanglement in Vietnam. After a "horrendous struggle" in which Governor Brown and Cranston sided with a CDC faction that was more moderate in opposing the war policy of President Lyndon Johnson, both Brown and Cranston were booed and hissed at a CDC Convention. Cranston's sister later concluded that this rift with the Democratic leadership marked the beginning of CDC's decline.
Two years later, CDC endorsed the anti-war presidential candidacy of Senator Eugene McCarthy over that of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was supported by Unruh. Kennedy won the Democratic Primary, but was killed on the day of his victory.
Later that year, Cranston was at last elected US Senator, remaining in office for the next 24 years. Though he had somewhat distanced himself from the Council, his election symbolized the height of "citizen participation" in Party politics.
In 2006, the CDC adopted fresh vision and mission statements focused on local organizing:
VISION STATEMENT California Democratic Council (CDC) envisions that every registered Democrat is represented by leaders at all levels of government who advocate successfully for Democratic Party values and high quality of life for all Californians, and that these leaders are informed about the most important issues concerning members of the Democratic Clubs that make up their constituency.
MISSION STATEMENT California Democratic Council (CDC) ensures every California Democrat is served by a visible, organized, broadly-based geographic Democratic club that reaches out year-round to its community; recruits quality Democratic candidates for every appointed and elected position in its purview; and supports those officials in advocating for Democratic Party values both as candidates and in their sworn public roles. The CDC helps Democratic clubs to communicate their policy messages and positions on issues in a democratic manner and at the appropriate level to provide information and guidance to appointed and elected officials and candidates.
Francis Carney, "The Rise of the Democratic Clubs in California" (NY, 1960)
- The father of current Congressman George Miller III; sometimes confused with the late Congressman George P. Miller
- CDC official website
- Quoted without citation on the Democracy for America website
- Eleanor Fowle, "Cranston, The Senator from California" (San Rafael, California, 1980)