There were no fireworks at the seventh biennial San Diego County Democratic Convention on Saturday at Escondido’s California Center for the Arts. The old cliché of organizing Democrats being akin to herding cats did not apply to this particular gathering. Some people–gasp!–were even having fun.
The trauma of Trump has eased, and what I saw were a bunch of folks bound and determined to defend their turf in California and hoping for a major pushback in 2018. Factional divisions like those described at the State Party convention earlier this year were not in evidence. And that was by design–this gathering had nothing to do with internal governance and everything to do with strutting their stuff.
The agenda consisted of two general sessions, nine workshops, and a luncheon featuring speeches by Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and billionaire investor turned activist Tom Steyer. Various campaigns looking to increase awareness among Democratic activists set up tables in the hallways.
Candidates for statewide office and local elected officials mostly spoke in the morning, the afternoon featured those seeking legislative and county offices. The nine workshops covered organizing and issue-based challenges: Cannabis, Women on the Frontlines, Single Payer, Green Power, Young Voters, Grassroots Activism, Voter Turnout, Housing Crisis, and Online Organizing.
I attended the morning’s Single Payer workshop, where State Senator Toni Atkins and California Physicians Alliance President Dr. Steve Tarzynskispoke to the intricacies of turning Senate Bill 562 into actual policy. (It’s more complicated than I realized). The session was moderated by Dr. Eileen Natuzzi. Although she was listed as a panelist, Erin McLeod of National Nurses United did not appear. We were told her absence was due to a ‘conflict of interest.’ Thus, one of the more committed activists for single-payer didn’t get heard. I felt like I missed out on something.
My choice for an afternoon panel was entitled “Our Housing Crisis and Solutions.” The panel featured State Senator Toni Atkins, Assemblymember Todd Gloria, and Community HousingWork’s Anne Wilson. It was moderated by City Councilman Chris Ward. While there was an abundance of back-patting going on, I have to give the panel credit for delving into some wonky details that were new to me.
The main business of the day consisted of three dozen speeches or so during the general sessions. And, yes, I actually listened to most of them. Any political differences between candidates vying for the same office were mostly submerged. This forum was more about impressions (hey, I’m here!) than policy. The one exception with policy differences was gubernatorial candidate Delaine Eastin, who claimed the environmental high ground when it came to fracking.
Notable for their oratory acumen in the morning were Escondido Councilwoman Olga Diaz, State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, and State Treasurer John Chaing.
While Gavin Newsom’s luncheon speech was good, Tom Steyer’s was better. These judgments are, of course, just my opinion. That and $5 will get you a small cup of gourmet coffee these days.
High points of the afternoon included County candidates Dave Meyers (Sheriff) and Geneviéve Jones-Wright (District Attorney) –both got standing O’s,– while 50th District Congressional candidate Ammar Campa Najjar was the most dynamic of the legislative contenders.
The big news of the day politically speaking was Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher coming out in support of gubernatorial candidate (and State Treasurer) John Chiang.
Here’s Scott Lay, via the Nooner newsletter, explaining what was going on in Escondido and elsewhere::
The California Teachers Association endorsed Gavin Newsom, while influential Assembly Appropriations chair Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher came out in support of John Chiang.
The endorsement of Newsom comes as a blow to Antonio Villaraigosa. Villaraigosa is a former organizer for the influential United Teachers Los Angeles, which is affiliated with both CTA/NEA and AFT/AFL-CIO. CTA and UTLA were instrumental in getting him elected to the Assembly, and CTA provided the escalator to the Speakership for the kid from the City Terrace neighborhood of East LA.
Gonzalez Fletcher’s endorsement of Chiang also hurts Villaraigosa. Before joining the Assembly, Gonzalez Fletcher was the secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Her legislative agenda is very progressive, championing labor and women’s rights, and she became the chair of Approps after serving a little over one term. Chiang is undoubtedly a progressive, although he hasn’t been in a legislative position that directly tackles the issues for which Gonzalez Fletcher toils.
Villaraigosa, it seems, is just a little too close to the charter school lobby these days. The silver lining for him is that they’ve got deep pockets.
Democratic Party Chair Jessica Hayes, assisted by her mentor Francine Busby, along with assorted volunteers, did a good job of timekeeping throughout the day. Overall, I thought the convention was well-organized.
While lots of “transactional business” got done, the business of cleaning up the soul of the party was left undone. The mess left by UFCW President Mickey Kasparian’s split from the Labor Council and the women who accuse him of sexual harassment was not on the agenda.
(Click or swipe on the photos to advance; the arrow key is only occasionally functional.)
Some of the speakers in the afternoon: