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Ex-Clark County Democratic board members deny ideological split

Three former members of the Clark County Democratic Party’s executive board say personal reasons, not an ideological struggle with the group’s progressive majority, drove their decisions to resign in recent weeks.

Former Chair Donna West, former 3rd Vice Chair Matt Kimball and former Treasurer Kara Freeman said in interviews Tuesday that they disagreed with the picture painted by several remaining board members, new Chair Gabrielle d’Ayr and 2nd Vice Chair Judith Whitmer, in a recent Review-Journal report.

West said she left to fully immerse herself in campaign field work — not just for Nevada Democrats and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, but also U.S. Senate campaigns across the country.

“I realized that I could spend the next 125 days working on the administrative work of running the party, or I could go back to the field where I’m most effective,” said West, a longtime campaign operative.

West noted that turning out or registering new voters and other field work is particularly difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. She feels her time is better spent in that area ahead of a crucial election, rather than organizing meetings as chair of the county party.

Platform changes

She also pushed back on d’Ayr and Whitmer’s version of what happened during a contentious adoption of the county’s official platform.

D’Ayr and Whitmer have said publicly for months that West, without consulting rank-and-file county party members or the executive board, removed several pro-Palestine planks from the platform due to pressures from “an elected official.”

This official may have been former Rep. Shelley Berkley, who told the Review-Journal Tuesday she called West and told her she was “disheartened” to see Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement language in the first version of the party platform.

“Setting aside the fact that I’m proudly Jewish, proudly pro-Israel — it didn’t make sense politically,” Berkley said. “The position of the national party and its presumptive nominee has been support for Israel and a two-state solution negotiated by the parties. I don’t think it’s a good idea for a county party to oppose our nominee’s position.”

She continued: “All of our Congressional members are also in favor of the national position. Why would you put our elected officials, some of whom are up for re-election, in a position of opposing their local party?”

West said Tuesday she did not personally remove the planks, nor did she or the board as a whole have any authority to do so.

While she did receive a number of calls protesting the BDS planks, she forwarded them along to Steven Horner, chair of the party’s platform committee. This committee, West said, had autonomy from party leadership, and it voted 6-0 with one absence to make the change.

“The executive board knows what happened,” West said. “I’ve told them. Steven Horner told them. They’re choosing to look at it in this way and now tying it to the fact that I’ve stepped aside.”

No ideological grudge

West said she held no ideological grudge against the self-identified progressives on the board, adding that she fights for many of the same things d’Ayr, Whitmer and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., does. She said the board remains in good, experienced hands with d’Ayr and Whitmer in charge, and she wished them well going forward.

Freeman, the group’s former treasurer, said a health scare in the spring caused her to have to look at reducing her stress levels. She identified leaving the executive board as a way to do that.

She agreed with West, saying d’Ayr and Whitmer have mischaracterized the platform fallout. However, she claims the rift during this time did play a role in the three resignations.

“The issues causing the resignations were not progressives vs. establishment, as portrayed by Ms. d’Ayr,” Freeman said in an email. “Rather, it was how the group and their attitude, led by Ms. d’Ayr, handled the situation.”

Freeman said the four progressives on the executive board called a meeting to discuss the platform when West was not available and would not be flexible. D’Ayr has said the group asked West to call a meeting, then met as a majority without West when she would not do so.

Freeman differed slightly from West on how the platform was changed, saying that an incorrect version was posted in error and later fixed. She said her and her fellow executive board members were made aware of this several times.

Kimball said his resignation was for personal reasons and not related to any friction with the progressives on the executive board.

Contact Rory Appleton at rappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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