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A supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) holds a "Nevada For Bernie" sign on the final day of early voting for the Nevada Democratic presidential caucus on February 18, 2020 in Las Vegas. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Progressive Takeover of Nevada Democratic Party Sparks 'Mass Exodus' of Staff, Consultants

"What they just didn't expect is that we got better and better at organizing and out-organizing them at every turn," said Judith Whitmer, newly elected chair of the Nevada Democratic Party.

Jake Johnson

Shortly after a slate of insurgent progressives endorsed by the Las Vegas Democratic Socialists of America pulled off a clean sweep in Nevada State Democratic Party elections over the weekend, the party's executive director notified newly elected chair Judith Whitmer that the entire staff, as well as every consultant, was quitting.

The "mass exodus" of party staffers following the progressive takeover of the Nevada Democratic Party leadership, as well as the establishment's funneling of hundreds of thousands of dollars out of party coffers in anticipation of the results, is detailed in new reporting by The Intercept, which described the election outcome as the culmination of a years-long "battle between the insurgent progressive wing of the party and what's known in Nevada as the Reid machine—a tightly run operation still guided by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid."

"If we build a political movement that speaks to working people, we will continue to build on our political success in Nevada."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

That fight, The Intercept's Akela Lacy and Ryan Grim explain, "began five years ago, when Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders organized support for his 2016 presidential primary run, while Reid was working behind the scenes to help his opponent, Hillary Clinton."

"Over the next four years, outside organizations like DSA exploded in size and strength," Lacy and Grim write. "The Sanders campaign focused on organizing tens of thousands of young Latino voters in the state, with the goal of activating people whom the party hadn't bothered with before. And it worked: In the 2020 cycle, after investing heavily in Nevada, Sanders won a commanding victory in the Nevada caucuses. When the Sanders campaign ended, the organizers behind it were ready to take their project to the next level."

The years of tireless grassroots organizing has paid off, as evidenced by former Sanders delegate Judith Whitmer's win in the Nevada Democratic Party's leadership elections on Saturday. Also emerging victorious were Jacob Allen for first vice chair, Dr. Zaffar Iqbal for second vice chair, Ahmad Adé for party secretary, and Howard Beckerman for treasurer, spurring what one local newspaper described as "a dramatic shakeup of the state party's power structure."

In a statement on Saturday, Sanders applauded Whitmer's election at the hands of the state party's governing members, saying the new party chair "knows that we must invest in year-round grassroots organizing focused on the principles of economic, social, racial, and environmental justice."

"If we build a political movement that speaks to working people," the Vermont senator added, "we will continue to build on our political success in Nevada."

As the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted, "Whitmer has spent years organizing and encouraging young progressives to serve on the very state central committee that elected her. She was endorsed by the state party's Left Caucus, which she founded, and the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America."

"The central committee, and the party itself, has grown younger and more progressive in the years since Sen. Bernie Sanders' close 2016 defeat and clear 2020 victory in the state's First in the West presidential caucuses," the Review-Journal added. "Whitmer and others worked to organize those Sanders' volunteers and delegates into central committee members."

The Intercept reported Monday that the Nevada Democratic Party establishment "had prepared for the loss, having recently moved $450,000 out of the party's coffers and into the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's account."

"The DSCC will put the money toward the 2022 reelection bid of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a vulnerable first-term Democrat," according to the outlet. At one point during the race, Cortez Masto had asked Whitmer to drop out.

After the election results came in, Alana Mounce, executive director of the Nevada Democratic Party, informed Whitmer via email that, as The Intercept reported, "everyone on the small staff had resigned, including the party operations director, communications director, research director, and finance director." Mounce also announced her resignation.

Whitmer told The Intercept that while she wasn't stunned by the sudden staff exit in the wake of her victory, "what hit us by surprise and was sort of shocking is that for a slate that claimed that they were all about unity, and kept this false narrative of division going on throughout the entire campaign—in fact they kept intensifying that—that's what was surprising about it, was the willingness to just walk away, instead of working with us."

"I've been putting in the work," Whitmer said. "What they just didn't expect is that we got better and better at organizing and out-organizing them at every turn."


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