Press Quits as State Democrat Party Head


California Democratic Party Chairman Bill Press announced his resignation Thursday and immediately handed over the reins to veteran Los Angeles politician Art Torres.

Press, a longtime radio and television commentator in Los Angeles, is leaving with more than a year to go in his term to take over, starting Monday, as Washington-based co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire” debate program.

Torres, an assemblyman for eight years and a state senator for 12, takes over a party still broke from its costly 1994 trouncing at the hands of voters, but one with renewed hope of winning California for the Clinton-Gore team later this year.


At a Los Angeles news conference, an effusive Torres said he hoped to lead Democrats to a great victory in November.

“We here in California understand that there are three important issues for us--education, the economy and the environment,” he said. “This party is not going to take a back seat to those who wish to dismantle all of the infrastructures that we helped build to ensure children had a right to equal education, that people had a right to breathe clean air and drink potable water, that people had a right to ensure that they have a job to provide for their families and ensure a safer neighborhood.”

Technically, Torres will be acting party chairman until an executive board vote in April. But Thursday’s announcement was engineered to show broad party unity behind his candidacy.

Not only did Press endorse him, but so did the two leading Democratic state elected officials--Lt. Gov. Gray Davis and Controller Kathleen Connell. Arlene Holt, the first vice chairwoman of the party, announced her support too.

Press said other members of the state’s Democratic hierarchy, including U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, endorsed Torres as the new party head.

Unless a counter-campaign is launched, Torres will take over a party that retains its historic advantage in voter registration but has had difficulty translating that into consistent victories in high-level races.


Democrats have lost the last four races for governor, and until Clinton won the state in 1992, had regularly seen the presidential electoral votes go to Republicans. In the most recent elections in 1994, Democrats lost all but three of the top eight statewide positions.

Press said he was offered the job at “Crossfire”--whose more recent alumni include GOP presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan--on Tuesday night. After quickly accepting, he said, his first call was to Torres.

Both men took pains to suggest that the changeover will be seamless and not affect the party’s performance in the March 26 primary or the Nov. 5 general election.

“The campaign in California to reelect Bill Clinton and Al Gore does not miss a beat,” Press said.

Recently, Democrats in California have been jolted out of the doldrums that enveloped them after 1994 by several developments--among them the resurgence of Clinton, who leads every Republican candidate in hypothetical California election matchups, and the desire to recapture control of the state Assembly.