Highs and Lows from the California Democratic State Convention

by on June 4, 2019 · 0 comments

in California

By Doug Porter / Words&Deeds / June 3, 2019

Getting Democrats organized is like herding cats –attributed to Bill Clinton.

The really big fight at last weekend’s gathering of Democrats in San Francisco the establishment pundit class wanted you to buy popcorn for was a dud. Nonetheless, I’m sure there is and will be a major effort to sell the narrative of “Dems Divided” after each of these gatherings.

The reality is more like a group of like minded people got together to (sometimes) passionately debate ideas for moving a country they love forward. I heard there were also cocktail parties.

Los Angeles labor leader Rusty Hicks won handily on the first ballot in a three way contest for Chair of the California Democratic Party. He succeeds former party Chairman Eric Bauman, who stepped down following multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

Bay Area activist Kimberly Ellis came in second with 36% of the vote, followed by Daraka Larimore-Hall, the party’s vice chairman, with 6%.

Hicks won thanks to strong backing within the labor movement and a concerted effort to whittle away votes from party activists of the more progressive persuasion. It didn’t hurt his cause that this wing of the party was no longer solidly unified behind the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders.

The headline for today’s Union-Tribune/ Los Angeles Times coverage was “State Dems elect centrist leader.” Maybe it should have read “State Dems follow the money:”

  • “There’s a deep breath of relief from Democrats who are happy that the party is going to be in good hands and have a strong chair that can help fulfill the party duties,” said Doug Herman, a Democratic consultant who was supporting Hicks. “It’s a direct reflection of the fact that Rusty represented stability and the course that the party delegates were looking for and that the party needs.”
  • Hicks’ election is considered a victory for many in the party establishment, particularly elected officials who had expressed reservations about Ellis’ platform. Her support of publicly financed elections raised concerns among leaders that she would further limit corporate donors or ban them altogether, a move that could handicap the party financially.

The good news in all this is that what the UT and others consider “centrist” is actually more progressive than they realize. Earlier predictions of a bloodbath following the vote didn’t happen.

It ain’t over ‘till it’s over, as some baseball guy once said. It’s fair to say the contradictions between the official party’s inclinations and its relationships with corporate cash will continue to be an issue. One needed to look no further than the visuals at the gathering sponsored by Juul, the vaping company whose claim to fame is based on a formula delivering 10 times as much nicotine as other e-cigarettes, to see why this might be an issue.

It’s also fair to say the California Democratic Party simply put off the inevitable end of the reign of white males. This isn’t to say Hicks will be a bad leader, but the ascendancy of people of color and women in politics is a factor that can not and should not be ignored.

The appearances of candidates for the Democratic party’s nominee for president dominated news coverage and comments social media. Sadly, many outlets skipped over speeches by the less popular candidates.

The Bay Area’s KQED did the best job overall that I saw, so many quotes here can be attributed to them.  I’ve done my best to include something from all the candidates:

Following are some of the highlights that caught my attention.

Senator Kamala Harris came out of the gate at the start of what some called “presidential speed dating” taking swings at the policies of the current administration.

  • Harris slammed Trump for his trade war: “He said he would bring back jobs, and what did he do? He turned around and started a trade war. Let’s all call it what it is: it’s a trade tax. I like to call it the Trump trade tax,” she said, “and his trade tax is taking $1.4 billion out of working family’s pockets every single month.”
  • But it was her closing line that really fired up the room.
  • “We need to begin impeachment proceedings and we need a new commander-in-chief,” Harris said to raucous cheers.

The California Senator’s opening call for impeachment was upstaged in terms of media coverage by an animal rights activist who jumped on stage at a MoveOn forum.

While I get the larger point being made by this ‘dude,’ namely that the Democratic party needs to move away from corporate America (Big Ag in this case), I can’t get past the mansplaining, white privilege toting manner on display, not to mention the brief moment of despair everybody had to be wondering if this was an assassination attempt.

Senator Elizabeth Warren managed to excite crowds in and out of the convention. A Friday night rally in Oakland lasted until the wee hours of the morning as she stayed to answer questions. Her convention speech on Saturday drew a enthusiastic response.

Via Rewire News:

  • In her speech, Warren also unapologetically called out Democratic leadership for this timidity. “Some Democrats in Washington believe the only changes we can get are tweaks and nudges. If they dream at all, they dream small. Some say if we all just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses.”
  • “But our country is in a time of crisis,” Warren said. “The time for small ideas is over.”
  • “Here’s the thing,” Warren continued, “when a candidate tells you about all the things that aren’t possible, about how political calculations come first, about how you should settle for little bits and pieces instead of real change, they’re telling you something very important: They are telling you that they will not fight for you.”
  • “Not me. I’m here to fight.”

Sen. Cory Booker had what some observers called a breakout moment at the convention on Saturday, focusing on the  the mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

From NBC News:

  • “We are seeing the normalization of mass murder in our country,” Booker said, his voice rising to a near shout. “It is time for us as a nation not to normalize the violence and the culture of gun violence.
  • “It is time that we come together and stand together and take the fight to the NRA and the corporate gun lobby like we have never seen before. We can lead that fight and we can win.”
  • With his passionate speech, Booker managed to capture the attention of a crowd that had often been restless and noisy during other candidates’ turn at the podium. When he concluded, invoking the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. as “a challenge to our generation,” people in the audience jumped to their feet in a standing ovation — the first true breakout moment of the day.

Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg pitched the crowd on running a campaign for something different, namely a “ middle-class, Millennial mayor with a track record from the industrial Midwest:”

  • My hometown —an industrial city that has found a new path to a better future—stands as living proof that there’s no such thing as an honest politics that revolves around the word “again.”
  • It’s true for our country, and it’s true for our party. In these times, Democrats can no more promise to take us back to the 2000s or 1990s than conservatives can take us back to the 1950s.
  • If we want to defeat this president and lead the country in a new direction, we must be ready to transform our economy and our democracy into something different, something better.

Former House Member Beto O’Rourke spoke passionately about immigration, via Vox:

  • Beto O’Rourke also carefully proposed that Democrats share a vision of the future beyond a rejection of Trump. The former Texas Congressman switched between Spanish and Englishas he spent time speaking about the changes he would make to current immigration policy — he recently unveiled a plan to use executive power to reshape how the US handles immigration, particularly at the US-Mexico border.
  • “Never again will we put another child in another cage,” he said. “Nor will we deport another mother to a country she fled from in the first place.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand started her speech  by labeling President Trump as  a “coward.”

  • Gillibrand called herself “the leading presidential candidate on women’s rights,” weeks after declaring she will only appoint judges who support the Roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion rights.
  • But Gillibrand saved her remarks on abortion rights for the end of her speech, framing it within her pledge to reform the nation’s campaign finance laws.
  • “When you get money out of politics, more women and minorities will have a seat at the table,” Gillibrand said. “I can tell you that this war on women would end overnight if we got money out of politics.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee highlighted his fight to raise the minimum wage and enact aggressive policies to fight climate change.

  • “I am a governor who doesn’t think we should be ashamed of our progressive values,” Inslee said to applause; his speech on embracing progressive ideas, particularly with respect to his signature issue of climate change, reportedly received a standing ovation.

Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard sought to differentiate herself from the pack, focusing primarily on foreign policy:

  • “For far too long warmongers from both parties have been dragging us from one regime change to the next,” Gabbard told delegates, promising “a foreign policy based not on conflict but on cooperation. As commander in chief I’ll have the courage to meet with both adversaries and friends.”

Representative.Eric Swalwell used his seven minutes before the crowd to highlight his California roots.

  • And Swalwell’s list of problems facing the nation had a decidedly Bay Area lens: the first issue he mentioned was “our housing crisis.”
  • Swalwell then turned to gun violence, the top issue of his campaign. He has proposed banning and buying back every assault weapon in the country.
  • “Let’s take the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous people,” he said. “Those weapons belong on battlefields, not in churches, not in our schools.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar also had kind words for California, noting “Golden State Democrats… …have shown us what Democracy looks like:”

  • After a campaign rollout that painted her as anything but “Minnesota nice,” Klobuchar seems committed to laying on the folksiness and convincing delegates that she is uniquely suited to defeat Donald Trump.
  • “We need to win in California and the Midwest, and California Democrats, I know how to win in the Midwest,” Klobuchar said. “I have won every single red congressional district [in Minnesota] three times, including Michele Bachmann’s.”
  • Klobuchar promised action on immigration, voting reforms and health care, but opted not to voice her past critiques on major tech companies.

Senator Bernie Sanders was warmly greeted by the enthusiastic delegates on Sunday, using his speech to address the elephant not in the room, namely front runner and former Vice President Joe Biden:

From the Sacramento Bee:

  • “When it comes to health care, there is no middle ground,” Sanders said, “When it comes to abortion, there is no middle ground. When it comes to mass shootings and the fact that 40,000 people were killed last year with guns, no middle ground.”
  • Sanders also promised to make large corporations like Amazon pay “their fair share of taxes” and to “take on the fossil fuel industry and transform our energy system.”
  • That message earned roaring applause and a standing ovation from Democrats who gathered in San Francisco for the state party’s three-day convention.

Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro had the unenviable job of following Sanders, promising that his first move after ushering Trump out of the White House would be signing an executive order recommitting the United States to the Paris Climate Accord.

  • At the convention, he closed his address with a vision of himself moving into the White House. Castro said he saw himself “on the White House lawn, getting ready to say goodbye to Donald Trump and Melania Trump … And right before he leaves, right before he walks away, I’m going to tell him, ‘Adios!’”  

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney closed out the speaking time for presidential contenders, getting booed by the crowd:

  • “Medicare for All may sound good, but it’s actually not good policy, nor is it good politics,” Delaney said, inspiring a wave of boos.
  • As the booing continued, Delaney said, “We should have universal health care” several times before completing the thought and continuing to criticize the health care policy championed by a range of 2020 candidates, notably including Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who made Medicare for All a centerpiece of his previous presidential run.

On Saturday, Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper also opted for a contrarian approach, poo-pooing progressive visions for health care and taking on climate change.

Writer Paul Blest says the two candidates may have been hoping for boos from the audience, noting Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s 1990 commercial featuring an audience turning thumbs down on her death penalty stance.

  • The other possibility is that Delaney and Hickenlooper actually expected to get cheers at this convention for bashing single-payer healthcare and socialism. This might sound ridiculous, considering after all that the people spending their weekend at a state Democratic Party convention are its most diehard activists (not to mention the CDP’s particular reputation). But some of these people, such as Hickenlooper, Delaney, Amy Klobuchar, and others, actually seem to believe that telling “hard truths” is something that voters respect and like in candidates. That’s never really been the case; even Bill Clinton dressed up his Reaganism-lite as a bold new idea.
  • It’s difficult to tell which scenario is more pathetic. Either way, though, these guys are going to drop out and endorse Joe Biden sooner or later, so you’re forgiven for not paying any attention now.

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