Post-Convention Thoughts: The Sequel

This weekend was my second California Democratic Party convention and my first as an elected delegate. It was an enjoyable weekend, catching up with old friends and making new ones. I also had the opportunity to spend some time with some of our elected leaders, such as Barbara Boxer, Gavin Newsom, Jerry Brown, and John Garamendi.

As I look back on the weekend, I am reminded of what I wrote after last year’s convention, including some themes that were clearly in evidence this weekend. From last year:

The Leno-Migden fight certainly reached a dramatic climax today, and the result was stunning. After the vote was finalized Eden James argued that it was a representation of the power of the grassroots within the party, and I think that analysis is absolutely right….Migden’s failed endorsement is also further evidence, along with the rescinded AD-40 endorsement and the split over Prop 93 earlier in the year, to a huge divide between the party grassroots and the Sacramento leadership in particular. Senate Democrats and their staffers had worked hard over the weekend to get a Migden endorsement and the delegates would not go along with it.

Switch out “Leno-Migden” and “Prop 93” for “Proposition 1A” and you’d have essentially the same story from this weekend in Sacramento. Progressives flexed their muscle yet again at this convention, showing that they are the force to be reckoned with in the party – even if progressives did not always speak with a single voice. The refusal to endorse Propositions 1A, 1D and 1E was a sign that progressive delegates are not going to be dictated to by Democratic leaders, and that they feel empowered to say “No” when it is warranted. That’s a sign of a healthy and mature progressive movement. People power is here in the California Democratic Party – and although it has yet to find sustained expression, it’s only a  matter of time before that power revitalizes the party.

There’s a lot else to write about, but for now I’m just going to offer some impressions, written down on the train back from Sacramento (and a note to all Democrats running for a statewide office in 2010: the first one of you to come up with a credible plan to connect Monterey to San Jose via frequent passenger rail service and will swear on the ghost of the Del Monte Express to implement it will get my endorsement).

  • Progressive candidates did very well in the race for CDP officer positions, in particular Hillary Crosby, who will hopefully and finally bring some financial accountability to this party. John Burton is himself a staunch progressive, as his victory speech made clear (he denounced the war in Afghanistan, for example). He will be a powerful voice for social democratic politics as party chair, and it’s about time we had one.
  • Chris Finnie in particular deserves a shout-out. Even though many progressives, myself included, voted for John Burton, Finnie impressed a lot of delegates with her campaign and her speech. She showed she was running not for her own self-interests, but as the standard bearer for those who wanted true and long-overdue reform of the party. John Burton in turn showed he too saw the need for change by promising to adopt the 12 recommendations for reform that Chris advocated in her campaign. Her efforts showed the value of a contested race for chair, and by sticking with her campaign she showed more guts and probably will have had more of a lasting effect on the party than the other chair candidates who quit earlier on.
  • If the governor’s race settles into a two-person contest between Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown, Brown’s going to have to do more than wax nostalgic for the old days. His “recession reception” struck the wrong tone, as he became a kind of museum piece – the blue Plymouth in the drive (Update: According to Calbuzz Brown didn’t know that the Plymouth would be there), the old mansion, old songs. I don’t know if that’s what he was going for, but that’s how it came across. Even if Newsom’s “stroll down memory lane” line is unfair to what Brown has accomplished in the recent past and his capacity to provide some direction forward, Brown has got to start asserting some truly new ideas and a new vision for the next 30 years. We’ll have more on our sitdown with Newsom soon – lots to chew over there.
  • There was some early jockeying for position ahead of the 2010 primary, although hardly anyone was paying attention to the downticket races. There are no clear frontrunners or progressive champions in the Insurance Commissioner, Attorney General, or Lieutenant Governor races. But one thing is clear – Debra Bowen is beloved by this party and its base in particular. She’s been an excellent secretary of state, and she’ll have a wide and deep base of support should she decide to run for US Senate in 2012.
  • It may just have been me, but it seemed that there really was a new kind of energy among party delegates – a determination to build a party that’s able to produce progressive change. I don’t know how many of the delegates were new, products of the Obama movement, but where I sat (Region 9) a large number of the delegates were folks new to the convention who had been mobilized by the Obama campaign. They aren’t the kind of people to tolerate the usual insider games, and they are motivated by a sense that change isn’t just necessary, but possible. It’s very inspiring.
  • I feel I reached the limits of what Twitter can accomplish for political conversation this weekend. During Barbara Boxer’s press event I made some occasional tweets of her comments, but it just disappears into the ether, buried in folks’ feeds among links to some swine flu article or Susan Boyle’s latest hairstyle. Below you can see David Dayen’s excellent liveblog of the debate over the proposition endorsements, which would simply have been impossible given Twitter’s 140 character limit. And there is a robust conversation going on in the comments, much easier to follow and participate in than on Twitter. That’s not to say that Twitter doesn’t have its uses, but it would be a mistake to try and use it to do what we’ve done well at places like Calitics.

Add your thoughts in the comments. Hope everyone had a great weekend. Now, time to catch up on sleep…

19 thoughts on “Post-Convention Thoughts: The Sequel”

  1. We were a happy crew this year, in sharp contrast to last.  No endorsement to vacate, no heated confrontations in the hallways.  The Riverside Co. Central Cmte is aggressively raising money, and we have a year-round voter registration effort.  

    Saturday night we had a unity dinner at the Spaghetti Factory.  I had the chance to get to know Carl Wood a bit better, he’ll be running again in the 65th against Paul Cook.   A good guy, and he’s looking for a netroots guru.

    This was my third convention, and I noticed a heightened energy, too.  I couldn’t even get into the Progressive Caucus, it was so jammed.  But that worked out, because the Latino Caucus was at the same time, and it was deeply gratifying to see Manuel Perez address that caucus as an up and coming Assemblyman.  He’s working on green collar jobs and air quality issues in Imperial County in addition to chairing the task force on maximizing California’s share of ARRA funds.

  2. She seemed to get the longest standing ovation not given to Howard Dean.  The delegates loved it when they played “Here Comes the Sun” when she walked in.  Bowen did a great job arguing for transparent, open-source voting. “‘Trust me’ is not a basis for democracy.”

    Both times I saw Brown speak (on the floor and at the CYD caucus meeting) I couldn’t help but think “the ’70s called, they want their Governor back.”  He seems to be trying to replicate the “what didn’t you like about the ’90s?” tactic of the Clinton campaign.  This may play well with old-school primary activists, but I see this turning off young Dems and newer activists (was the ’70s really such a great decade?).  I’m surprised Brown kept harping about how prison costs are hurting higher education this soon after he opposed Prop 5.

    And was it just me or did anybody else confuse Brown for Biden when he started speaking on the floor?

  3. I think that the decision that showed us the real Art Torres was when he put so much money into the Don Perata Defense fund.  Just take care of your friends and forget about the big picture.

    John Burton will be more of the same and Chris Finnie would have been a breath of fresh air, but without a proper systems of checks and balances on the Chair, might have turned out the same.

    The Democratic Party is so tied up with cronyisms and special interests I don’t have much hope for them.  The Republican Party is a freak show, but the Democrats refuse to really take them on.  How is it that we agreed to the gerrymander in 2000 that preserved so many Republican seats?  Will that happen again in 2010?

    I’m beginning to think that Gavin might not be infected with all of that–he seems outside of the Sacramento influenza–and he has shown the courage to take on an important civil rights issue even if it seems unpopular at the time.

  4. and felt a little less cynical about the process after yesterday. It was really exciting to see the debate about the props and resolutions. I think the whole lot of props is going to go down at the ballot box, regardless of our endorsement of three of them, too.

    I actually did vote for Chris Finnie. Burton’s speech gave me a little hope that maybe he’ll do us good, but only time will tell. As hard as I know Art Torres has worked for the party, it was sure nice to see him go. SHHHHHHHH!!!!

  5. Also my first convention as a delegate.  I was so happy to hear Chris Finnie and voted for her too, knowing full well that the months of emails and endless endorsements meant Burton was going to win.  Also voted for Hillary Crosby, she ran a great campaign.  The powers that be were not pleased.  

    I’ve heard that Burton plans to retire at the end of his term — that he was brought on primarily to fund raise for Boxer and whoever the Governor candidate is and then he’ll be done.  I hope so, I shudder at the thought of his curmudgeonly persona on national TV representing us.  But I love that he won’t dress up for the job!

    Very telling that DiFi wouldn’t show her face to the General Assembly. The boos would have at least equaled the cheers.

    Joined the Computer and Internet Caucus – duh!

  6. Nice assessment of the convention, though I am a bit puzzled that you believe “progressives” are a separate chunk from the rest of the convention. I see Democrats more united than I have in years.

    And with all due respect, there are very solid “progressives” in support of the Props (Bass, Steinberg, grassroots progressive educators) as well as opposed to them.

    The Leno/Migden fight was nothing like the Props fight. That one was personal and bitter. I don’t think that’s the case with the Props at all. I have good friends on both sides and we all still had a beer afterward. Unlike the near complete reversal of the Caucus result in Leno/Migden,  ther Prop 1A endorsement fell just two percent short of endorsement and got a strong 58% percent support. (Note: Mark Leno supports the initiatives too!).

    I don’t think we should be defining “progressive” as someone who’s not an incumbent or has been around for awhile. Or to say the “grassroots” got 24% for state chair. All Democrats were winners from this convention.

  7. Hi Robert,

    In your reports you should mention that progressive activists were busy talking to delegates about why the Spending Cap (along with 1D and 1E) was the wrong way to go.  There were many delegates who were undecided, and there were a group of us engaging those folks in conversation.  When Prop 1A went down, it wasn’t only because of those delegates who arrived at the convention convinced of their position.  The victory also depended on  progressives talking to undecided Democrats.   We found there were many who hadn’t made up their mind, and were glad to have those conversations. And, we found delegates who were willing to change their position.

    Some of these busy activists were from progressive Dem clubs, others from retiree groups and many from the unions who oppose Prop 1A.  I’m not mentioning this for self (or club) aggrandizement, but because readers need to know that one-on-one organizing is always crucial.

    Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club member

  8. My girlfriend overheard a 60+ year old woman state: “i hate those f’in Obama people” during the debate on the ballot measures. I agree with one of the comments above… We delegates were able to change minds also. I felt the most power from the grass roots activists during the vote at the end for the props….It was exhilarating…I noticed that the committee on stage during the debate obviously were angry at their loss of control over the Democratic Party and they had a difficult time being civil to us. I am sure that much of the media will highlight our differences of opinion, but by the next convention, we will have influenced even more of the old guard or convinced them to drop out. I am looking forward to the race for California governor, but have a feeling that it will get dirty….It was great seeing David and Robert at their computers during the convention… I look forward to the 2010 elections and plan to be as active as I was during the Presidential race.  

  9. I don’t think Jerry’s going for nostalgia so much as a “see I was right” kind of thing. And I have to say I’m getting sick of the “old” bullshit – what “old people” don’t have anything to say or do? Their accomplishments are bullshit compared to some young good looking boy or girl who comes along and says all the right things?

    Whatever. I have a video from a Brown for President event I worked on at UCSC in 1992, and I recently watched it again and it is a bit unnerving to see Brown in 1992 accurately predicting what would happen under a Clinton adminsitration, with fake “Free Trade” agreements, and so on. He was 100% on the money and as always, the hipsters blew him off as “old.”

    Whatever. People who run on “new” best be careful to ensure their record bears that out. Otherwise as we inspect it closely it might appear the rhetoric doesn’t match the record.

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