The California Democrats State Convention is slated for the San Diego Convention Center this coming weekend (February 23-25), so it seems like a good time to explore what’s going on with the party these days.
I know in my heart of hearts the two-party system is not likely to change in my lifetime. I know I’m drawn to what the Democratic party says it represents. But I also know its history of backroom dealings and the often-outrageous actions of the county party. Both are all-too-often more bound to money than principles. And right now I feel the principles of democracy itself are under attack.
Over the next few days, I’ll be posting about the party and its moving parts. There are clubs, county committees, and the statewide organization, all of whom have some degree of autonomy. It’s a large, mostly volunteer organization, and as such is vulnerable to human foibles, massive egos, and unbridled ambition.
Writing about the Democratic party isn’t easy. Politics is an emotional subject for activists, and I have no intention of holding back. My hope, as always, is to be honest in my writing. Am I biased? You betcha.
Having said that, I’m going to miss stuff in this series. Feel free to educate me and our readers with your comments (or even submissions). Call me stupid for even trying and I’ll find a place in spam hell for your commentary.
The goal here is to provide a window into for what most people is much more a symbol than an actual working organization.
Democrats have the upper hand in all areas of state government, and California officials have been in the forefront of legal and political opposition to the policies of the Trump administration.
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that Democratic voter registrations had increased by three-quarters of a million over the past few years, as Republican sign-ups decreased by a quarter million. No party preference voters had the biggest increase — 1,036,187.
All is not milk and honey for California Democrats, however. According to a recent survey, only 72% of the state’s Democrats have a favorable view of their own party. And 59% say a third party is needed.
One battle to watch at this year’s convention will be over how far the party is willing to go in supporting a single-payer healthcare system in the state.
Via Derek Cressman at the Sacramento Bee:
The California Democratic Party says it supports single-payer health care, and all but four Democrats in the state Senate have backed it. The test now facing the party – which holds its convention next month in San Diego – is whether to endorse those dissenters, including Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, whom I am running against. Local party delegates are set to vote Saturday.
Democrats who believe that providing Medicare-style health insurance for everyone is unrealistic should explain how Canada can do it, but California cannot, especially with a larger economy than our northern neighbor. Skeptics who don’t want to end corporate profiteering in health care should try to change the party’s platform. But if these naysayers fail to convince fellow Democrats, they should not expect the endorsement of a party whose values they do not share.
Some voters will appreciate a candidate’s independence from their party, and moderates may still win election without party backing. That’s fine, but candidates seeking support for bucking their own party should not seek the endorsement of the party they spurn. If the Democratic Party wants to rebuild itself as a grass-roots organization based upon mission instead of money, it should stick to its values in making endorsement decisions.
Democrats in the California party are organized by assembly districts and governed by a central committee, which elects state officers. Members of the state delegation to the Democratic National Committee are elected by the executive board of the state central committee.
The 2018 Convention is being held in the shadow of 2017’s contentious battle for state party chair between Eric Bauman and Kimberly Ellis. In general terms, Bauman was supported by the party’s ‘establishment’ and Ellis was backed by party members who had supported Senator Bernie Saunders in the 2016 election.
Ellis challenged the results of the election, citing improper voting procedures, such as the casting of proxy votes without the required identification.
From the Los Angeles Times:
In July, the party’s compliance review commission held an all-day hearing in Sacramento to determine the fate of 355 convention ballots that were deemed questionable. In the end, 47 votes were invalidated — 25 for Bauman and 22 for Ellis. That action did not change the outcome of the election, which Bauman won by 1.9%
Ellis called that review an “inherently biased process,” alleging that the six-member commission included several Bauman supporters. The members were appointed by former chairman John Burton.
Earlier this month, Ellis called on the party to enter binding arbitration to end the dispute and avoid litigation.
Mike Roth, a state party spokesman, dismissed that suggestion as a “Hail Mary pass.”
Those attending this year’s event are the workerbees of the party who’ve coughed up either $150.85 (seniors/students) or $200.85, plus assorted caucus membership fees. Lots of folks got freebies by signing up as volunteers.
The largest annual gathering of Democratic activists from around the state means party leaders and elected officials are accessible to delegates. It’s mostly about networking, networking, and more networking.
This year’s gathering is expected to be a bit more sedate than those in the past.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Alcohol-fueled parties are a mainstay of party conventions, but things have changed this year. Newsom — known for throwing the biggest convention parties that have closed off streets and featured celebrities such as rapper Common — will instead greet delegates on Saturday afternoon and pop into parties Friday hosted by the California Teachers Assn. and the California Faculty Assn.
Chiang and Feinstein are hosting breakfasts.
This may be a reflection of the convention taking place against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement. In Democratic Party circles, questions have been raised about the freewheeling — and at times risky — behavior at state party conventions. The party’s convention planners responded by organizing a 24-hour hotline to report assault or threatening behavior. They also are increasing the presence of security.
The end products of the convention will be revisions to the party platform and endorsements. Along the way, there are caucuses, workshops, hospitality suites, and an assortment of big-name speakers. For a complete agenda and other information on the convention go here.
The list of VIPs for 2018 includes Congresswomen Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters, Senators Kamala Harris and Jeff Merkley, NextGen America Founder Tom Steyer, Former Dallas County Sheriff and candidate for Texas Governor Lupe Valdez, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Merkley and Garcetti are exploring running for president in 2020; Steyer is funding a lot of on-the-ground organizing, and Valdez is a rising star in the party.
On Thursday night, prior to the opening of the convention, the San Diego Democratic Party and Rancho Santa Fe Democratic Club are hosting a [sold out] debate featuring Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, and State Treasurer John Chiang.
I was hoping to be able to report on this debate for SDFP, but, alas, my application for credentials seems to have been misplaced. As you’ll see in subsequent parts of this story, this not really surprising, given the local leadership’s reluctance to engage with its critics.
Like all mass organizations, California Democrats are a coalition of interest groups who seek larger support for their agendas. At the convention, these groups’ existence and importance are acknowledged through the 19 caucuses spread out over Friday and Saturday.
The Democratic Party platform is revised and updated every two years. In the months preceding the convention, there are hearings in three locations in the state. The final draft document (this year’s platform draft is 46 pages long) is considered at a hearing during the first day of the convention and voted on during day two.
While the actual content of the document is aspirational and couched in generalizations, the process of getting to an agreement gives the various viewpoints and interests within the organization the opportunity to share their ideas and visions.
Endorsements and the credibility they bring will be the big news coming out of the convention. Democratic Party-endorsed candidates in the primary are voted through to the general election nearly 100% of the time, and a big part of the party winning every statewide elected office in 2010 and 2014.
Pre-endorsement caucuses have already been held around the state. Incumbent Representatives, State Senators, or State Assembly Members are automatically on the endorsement consent calendar of the CDP State Convention for consideration unless 20% of the delegates in a given district file an objection 10 days prior to the CDP Pre-Endorsing Conference. ” Other candidates are recommended for placement on the consent calendar with a vote of 70% of the valid votes cast in that specific race at the pre-endorsing conference.
Once candidates have passed both the Pre-Endorsing Conferences and Endorsing Caucuses, they are placed on the consent calendar, which is then ratified by floor vote on the Sunday of State Convention. For more info on the endorsement process go here.
Not under consideration for endorsement is recently announced gubernatorial candidate Amanda Renteria, a former top Hillary Clinton campaign aide, whose only foray into electoral politics was 15 point loss in a House of Representatives race in 2014. More than one pundit has said she’s a stalking horse for Gavin Newsom, aiming to draw Latino voters away from Villaraigosa’s candidacy.
“I know nothing,” said Eric Bauman, chairman of the California Democratic Party. “Amanda certainly has my phone number, and she didn’t call me and didn’t tell me.”
Renteria’s candidacy comes too late for her to compete for the state party’s endorsement, and she will not be offered a speaking spot at the party’s upcoming convention in San Diego, Bauman said.
“The program is done, and there’s not a free minute in it,” he said.
Next up: The San Diego County Democratic Party
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