Tag Archives: State Party Convention

Activists, Reformers Now Control State Party

Before the California Democratic Convention ended yesterday, delegates bucked the Party leadership on the May 19th ballot measures – by securing a “no endorsement” on Propositions 1A, 1D and 1E.  State legislators and Party operatives pushed “yes” on all six measures, but enough of the grassroots who stayed for the tail end of the session refused to go along.  I’ve been attending these Conventions for 12 years, and it’s clear now that activists and “reform” types run the Party – a stark contrast to how it once was.  That’s because Howard Dean and Barack Obama brought in a new wave of rank-and-file members, and now we see the impact.  College students have replaced the “professional” types that once dominated the Young Democrats caucus.  Reformer Hillary Crosby won the race for State Party Controller, and even John Burton’s election as Party Chair is a good thing for the activist wing.  Politicians must adapt to this change, and it’s clear some of them – like John Garamendi – still don’t get it.  In the race for Governor, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was not well received at the Convention by delegates from his hometown – as he painted a rosy picture of how things are in the City.  And while Chris Daly ran as a “reformer” in the race for Regional Director, other factors contributed his defeat.

Grassroots Buck Establishment on May Propositions

On Friday, the Resolutions Committee (all of whom are appointed by the Chair) approved a “yes” vote on all six Propositions for the May 19th special election – i.e., the budget package sponsored by Governor Schwarzenegger and Democrats in the state legislature.  Under the Party’s arcane rules, this would be the default position of California Democrats – unless delegates pulled each Proposition from the consent calendar for a floor vote on Sunday afternoon (when many rank-and-file delegates had left.)  If a Proposition was pulled, a 60% vote would be required to uphold the “yes” vote – or the Party would take a neutral position.

In past years, delegates would come to these Conventions to network and hear politicians give speeches.  But the new wave of Party activists are different, and they weren’t happy with rubber-stamping these Propositions.  On Sunday afternoon, delegates took all six measures to a floor vote.  Three of them (Propositions 1B, 1C and 1F) ended up passing the 60% threshold, so the Resolutions Committee was sustained — which means the Party has endorsed them.  But delegates blocked an endorsement of Propositions 1A (the budget spending cap), 1D (a raid on children’s health fund) and 1E (divert mental health money), forcing a neutral position.  As a delegate who gave a floor speech against Prop 1E, I’m proud it got the lowest level of support among the six measures.

My friend David Dayen at Calitics live-blogged the floor debate on all the Propositions.  For a play-by-play account, click here.

Young Democrats Bigger and Younger

“The Party better get us a bigger room next year for our caucus,” bellowed one candidate for President of the California Young Democrats – as hundreds of young people packed into a room at the Convention Center.  We all know Barack Obama inspired a whole new generation of young people into politics, but seeing the CYD caucus – and remembering what it was like ten years ago – was an emotional experience.  The age cut-off for CYD is 36, and when I was in college it was dominated by political operatives in their early thirties.  I used to call it “California Yuppie Democrats.”  Today, the vast majority of members are college students – and they have a healthy dose of high school chapters.

Burton and Crosby Elections a Win for Reformers

Two years ago, rank-and-file delegates wanted an audit of the State Party – so grassroots activists could know how the money was being spent.  They complained the Party didn’t put resources in red counties – building an infrastructure to be competitive everywhere.  The Chair shut them down, so they ran one of their own for Party Controller.  Hilary Crosby beat incumbent Eric Bradley by a 54-46 margin, after running a disciplined campaign that tapped into the energy of delegates who cut their teeth with the Howard Dean effort.  Crosby wants the Party to raise money from small grass-roots donors, so it will be less dependent on big checks from institutions.

While it’s tempting to view John Burton’s election as Party Chair as a return of the “old guard,” anyone who knows the former State Senator understands it’s a very good thing for progressives.  “There’s nothing old-fashioned about helping the poor,” said Burton in his victory speech, as he made it clear that the Party’s activist wing will have a powerful ally.  Burton’s nomination was moved by the President of California Young Democrats, and seconded by the head of Take Back Red California – two growing constituencies.  It was a signal Burton understands where the Party has to go.

Garamendi Puts Himself Ahead of the Party

Along with East Bay blogger Sean Mykael, I spent a good part of the Convention talking to delegates about how John Garamendi has picked the wrong district to run for Congress – a selfish move that is destructive to the Party.  The Lieutenant Governor has injected himself in the 10th District’s special election, when he should be challenging District 3 incumbent Dan Lungren in his native Calaveras County.  Bill Durston, who lost to Lungren in 2008 by five points, told me it would make “so much sense” – and others like Charlie Brown (who ran in the 4th District) agreed.

Garamendi has stubbornly told everyone he won’t do it, and even told me there was nothing I could possibly say or do to change his mind.  But I sense some insecurity.  Rumors abounded Friday night that the “Draft Garamendi” flyers we were passing out was a plot by Mark DeSaulnier – one of the candidates in the 10th District who would benefit from that move.  I had to explain it was a just a couple of “angry bloggers” who don’t necessarily have a horse in the race.

Garamendi’s move is offensive because it (a) wastes an opportunity to grow the Party in a red district, and (b) kills the chances of candidates in the 10th District who are “rising stars,” but lack name-recognition.  I met one of these candidates this weekend – Anthony Woods, a 28-year-old gay African-American Iraq War veteran.  Woods was discharged from the military because of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and then got a degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  He has a compelling story, and deserves a fair shot in the special election.

If the Party was still made up of hacks subservient to a politician’s personal agenda, John Garamendi would get away with this.  But with an influx of reformers and activists who don’t take no for an answer, “stay the course” will give him headaches down the road.

Newsom Paints Rosy Picture of San Francisco

When I arrived Friday, Gavin Newsom’s campaign for Governor had an army of college- age kids holding signs at a street corner.  I asked if any of them were from San Francisco, and none of them were.  I suggested they might not feel that way if they lived there.

Applause in the San Francisco section was light when Newsom gave his Convention speech on Saturday.  That’s because you would have no idea just by reading it that the City has a $500 million deficit, the Mayor has offered no specific revenue solutions – and has been largely absent from the City while he’s campaigning.

Newsom presented San Francisco as a solution to the state’s health care woes – without giving credit to Tom Ammiano, and failed to mention the City’s Health Department is getting horrible budget cuts.  He also didn’t give Ammiano credit for the Rainy Day Fund that averted layoffs in the City’s public schools.  And he touted the City’s “green” record, while our bus system has been starved because it’s an ATM to solve the budgets of other City Departments – up to $80 million.

Why Did Daly Lose to Longo?

In the race for Region 4 Director, Chris Daly branded himself a “reformer” from the Party’s activist wing – but lost badly to incumbent August Longo.  Daly partisans argued afterwards that a lot of progressives stayed away – for fear of offending unions who campaigned heavily against him.  About 40 out of 140 eligible voters did not cast ballots, and I noticed a few faces who weren’t there.  But my guess is it was only a handful – not enough to explain the 77-28 margin.

It’s clear the union angle had a big impact.  I had breakfast with two San Francisco delegates yesterday morning, whose politics made me presume they were for Daly.  Both of them voted for Longo, and labor was what did it for them.  But another factor may have been State Senator Mark Leno.  Not only did Leno speak for Longo at the meeting, but he also allegedly made personal phone calls to delegates on his behalf.

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco’s Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.

Let’s Work Together for a Stronger CDP

As we get ready for the State Democratic Party Convention that starts this Friday, I am reminded of what Alan Cranston said over 50 years ago: The Democratic Party should be about electing Democrats, first and foremost.

Times have changed since the days of Alan Cranston, but our party’s priority must remain the same – electing Democrats.  

Unfortunately, June 2010’s Open Primary Initiative could bring back the 1950’s when open primaries allowed Republicans to dominate Democratic primaries and the California Democratic Party was ineffective and weak. We must begin this weekend to build an organization dedicated to defeating this ballot measure. If we fail, we could lose our hard-fought legislative majorities and allow the Republicans to decimate our gains in education, health care and public policy.

Our very existence as a political party is challenged. We must get ready soon if we are to be successful.

That’s why we must improve the things about our party that work, and fix those that don’t. One thing that clearly works is the phenomenal power of internet fundraising and developing more small to medium dollar contributions.  As Controller, I’ve been working to broaden our fundraising base in this way, and helped us raise more than $80 million over my term.  But we can still do better.

If every delegate turned to 10 of his or her friends and got each of them to donate $100 to our party, we would have nearly $3 million to devote to party building activities and have 30,000 additional donors to help us grow stronger.

Something we need to fix is how our money is used to support candidates. Along with the Chair of the Assembly Accountability Committee Hector De La Torre and CDP First Vice-Chair Alex Rooker, I’ve proposed reforms of CDP bylaws that will maximize our resources and guarantee that money raised for an election cycle is spent in that election cycle.

It’s called Common Sense CDP Finance Reform, and will make sure that our money is spent electing Democrats, not sitting in elected officials’ fundraising accounts. The bylaws change is being considered by the Rules Committee and the companion resolution is before the Resolutions Committee this Friday.

If elected, I plan to push for an open process that shows our donors how the party spends, and plans to spend, the money they contribute. I will do this by working with fellow Finance Committee members to produce a series of budget projections to anticipate three scenarios:  exceeding our fundraising goals, meeting our fundraising goals, and a bare-bones projection just in case the party falls short.

This transparency will not only allow members to see clearly how our party spends its money, it will allow us to better plan for and be prepared for whatever may happen in the upcoming elections.

The County Democratic Central Committee in Los Angeles has been using this approach for a number of years successfully, and I will work to implement this procedure in my second term.

Thank you, California Democrats for my four years as your State Party Controller. I am asking for your vote this weekend, and hope to serve you for another four years.

Chris Daly Runs for CDP Regional Director

From today’s Beyond Chron.

San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly has filed to run for Regional Director of the California Democratic Party – challenging long-time incumbent August Longo.  In an e-mail sent to State Party delegates (who will pick the Regional Director on April 25th at the annual Convention in Sacramento), Daly stressed his credentials as a “community organizer,” and the need to build on the grass-roots success of Barack Obama.  But Daly’s decision to run also comes after Longo cast the lone dissenting vote (albeit through a proxy) at a S.F. Democratic Central Committee meeting against an immigrant rights resolution.  Following that vote at the DCCC meeting, Daly objected to a motion endorsing Longo for re-election – but at the time, his colleagues overruled him 15-4.  Longo now claims he would have voted differently on the resolution if present, but Daly says he’s not running against Longo’s record.  The job of Regional Director, said Daly, can be transformed to engage the grassroots and push for progressive change within the Party.  Delegates from San Francisco and San Mateo Counties will get to vote at the Convention, and the outcome is very much in doubt.

What is a Regional Director?

The California Democratic Party has 21 Regional Directors – elected every two years by delegates from their respective regions.  According to the party by-laws, Regional Directors shall “assist the statewide officers [i.e., Party Chair, Vice-Chair, etc.] in the maintenance and development of the Party organization within their respective regions. They are responsible for developing, assisting, and coordinating the County Central Committees, Clubs & other Democratic organizations within their region.”  In practice, the Regional Director serves as a liaison between local Democrats and the State Party.

“I stand by my record,” said August Longo – who has served as Regional Director for San Francisco and San Mateo Counties for the past eight years.  “I work very closely with delegates, while Chris [Daly] hasn’t been a part of the State Party.  I welcome his participation, but I think I’ve done a really good job.”  A few veteran delegates are backing him up. “I support August Longo because he’s been very efficient about holding meetings,” said Jane Morrison.  “When I was Chair of the San Francisco DCCC,” added Scott Wiener, “there were a lot of ‘nuts and bolts’ issues with the State Party where August was very helpful.”

But Daly says a Regional Director could do a lot more.  “August is doing the minimum of what the job requires,” he said.  “I had a good conversation with John Burton [who is likely to become the next Chair] about what regional directors can do, and it’s really what you make of it. We have to figure out how to better engage the State Party.  Every Democrat is talking about change, but who in the State Party is engaging the netroots, who is engaging issue-based activists, service providers and folks organizing around liberation struggles to make the Democratic Party more relevant?  Regional Director is not a high profile position, but we can create models of organizing that work and replicate.”

It’s a message that resonates with progressive San Francisco delegates. “I support Chris Daly because he’s an organizer, and could really bring a whole new dimension to the job,” said Robert Haaland.  “It would make me more excited to be involved with the California Democratic Party.”  DCCC Chair Aaron Peskin added that in the aftermath of the Obama victory, and with a new generation of Democratic activists coming of age, “it’s time to change a lot of old blood in the State Party structure.  I’m with Chris Daly.”

But not every San Franciscan of Daly’s ideological bent is on board.  John Burton told me he respects Daly’s decision to run, but committed his support to Longo “a long time ago.”  When Burton was in the State Senate, August Longo was his proxy on the DCCC.  “I love Chris Daly,” said DCCC member Hene Kelly, “but I just don’t think this is a job he would want to do … if he understood what it is.  It’s a lot of organizing, it’s a lot of getting people to work together, and it’s a lot of getting information out to the region.  Regional Director is really a ‘nuts and bolts’ job, and that’s what August has done.  We need Chris in a different position to influence policy in the state Party.  I want Chris Daly on the Resolutions Committee.”

Concerns About Longo’s Voting Record

As Regional Director of the State Party, August Longo has a seat on the San Francisco DCCC.  This by-law change was added in July 2005 to allow him to serve on the DCCC, and some progressives have argued it was pushed by moderates to manipulate endorsement votes in local elections.  But the roll call vote proves it was a move supported by most DCCC members (including many progressives), and it is quite customary for most county Central Committees to give their state Regional Directors a seat.

Nevertheless, it’s also true that Longo’s voting record on the DCCC has been very moderate – which will give some progressives ample reasons to support Daly.  In February 2007, Longo was the only member (along with the proxies for Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi) not to support a Resolution asking Congress to de-fund the Iraq War.  In the very high-stakes July 2008 race for Chair, Longo voted for Scott Wiener over Aaron Peskin – and there were allegations of Mayor Gavin Newsom influencing his vote. On the endorsement votes for candidates and propositions, Longo did not side with progressives.

At the March 25th DCCC meeting, Longo was in the hospital – but had instructed his proxy to vote “no” on a Resolution demanding that Mayor Gavin Newsom “redirect law enforcement efforts away from criminalizing the immigrant community.”  Public comment on the issue was very emotional, and Longo ended up being the only “no” vote.  This prompted Chris Daly to oppose a motion later on in the meeting that the DCCC endorse Longo for re-election as Regional Director.  Some members felt it unfair to presume Longo would still have voted that way if present, but four colleagues voted to publicly oppose the motion endorsing Longo – and another four members abstained.  Daly has since filed to run against Longo.

“I had to make a decision about the Immigration Resolution before the meeting,” said Longo, “and it’s hard to send your vote in.  I am the son of immigrants, and I understand immigration issues.  For Chris to attack me on this is unfair.”  When asked if he would have voted differently on the Resolution if he had been there to hear the public testimony, Longo said “yes.”

Some DCCC members, however, expressed concern that it took so long – almost three weeks – for Longo to repudiate his proxy vote.  They compare it with what happened at the DCCC’s February meeting, when Scott Wiener was out of town – and his proxy cast what turned out to be a controversial vote.  Within less than 24 hours, Wiener sent out an e-mail apologizing for the mistake – and said it did not reflect his personal position.

Playing Well With Others

Despite concerns that progressives may have with Longo’s voting record on endorsements, his supporters argue that he takes his job as Regional Director seriously – and follows the Party line once a decision has been made.  “August is a Party worker,” said Hene Kelly.  “After we endorse progressive candidates or ballot measures, he has worked to help us win.”

This may end up presenting quite a contrast with Chris Daly – who in June 2008 printed a highly deceptive campaign door-hanger that suggested a Bay Guardian endorsement of Carole Migden (whille the paper had endorsed Mark Leno.)  The Guardian editors were unhappy, and felt that their good name was being used.  Will delegates be willing to elect a Regional Director with such a track record, given that a big part of the job involves disseminating the State Party’s position at the local level?

Hogging the Spotlight?

Another criticism of Daly running for Regional Director is a familiar one we’ve heard before: he’s already on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the Democratic County Central Committee, and was an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention.  “I don’t understand why he would want to do this,” said Scott Wiener.  “Why does he need to have yet another elected position?  I read his e-mail about wanting to do more grassroots organizing in the State Party, and he can already do that work with his position on the DCCC.”

Daly doesn’t buy that critique.  “I’ll be termed out of the Board of Supervisors next year,” he said, “and I’m interested in building progressive politics for the long term.”  He ran for Obama delegate, because at the time there was legitimate concern that there would be a floor fight in Denver.  He ran for the DCCC, because “we had a job we had to do” to get progressives elected locally – which was very successful.  “I’m using my political capital to build progressive politics in the Democratic Party,” said Daly.  “If the main criticism is that I’m hogging seats, I must be doing a good job.”

If Daly gets elected Regional Director, he has promised to resign from the DCCC.  Under that scenario, DCCC Chair Aaron Peskin would appoint a replacement –  which would hopefully be a young activist who is trying to get more involved.

Who Gets to Vote for Regional Director?

If just the San Francisco DCCC got to pick the Regional Director, Daly would probably win – based on the political bent of that body.  But other people who will have a vote in this election include (a) the 36 State Party delegates from the 12th, 13th and 19th Assembly Districts who were elected in January at caucus meetings, (b) other delegates from those districts appointed by various officeholders, (c) state and federal elected officials who represent the Region, and (d) members of the San Mateo DCCC who live in the 19th Assembly District.

Longo says his “proudest accomplishment” as Regional Director over the past eight years was helping the San Mateo County Committee become financially self-sufficient – which implies that he has strong ties there.  Daly admitted that he only just started reaching out to the San Mateo delegates, with not much time before the Convention. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano wasn’t even aware that Daly had filed to run when I called him, and proxies for State Senators Leland Yee and Mark Leno voted to endorse Longo when the issue came up at the San Francisco DCCC.  At this point, it appears to be an uphill fight for Daly – although it’s certainly winnable.

The state Democratic Convention will be in Sacramento April 24-26.  According to the agenda, Regional Directors will be chosen on Saturday afternoon.  It’s safe to say that the Region 4 meeting will be by far the most interesting.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul Hogarth was appointed by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano to be a State Party delegate for the 13th A.D., which means he will have a vote in this race.