I attended the California Democratic Party's 2007 convention in San Diego last weekend. The whole family went down there with me to make it a full-fledged vacation before and after the event. It was nice to see more than the inside of a convention center and hotel; there were trips to Balboa Park, La Jolla, and a stroll across the border into Tijuana to make the trip a well-deserved break.
Recently re-elected to represent the 16th Assembly District (Oakland/Piedmont/Alameda), this was my third convention of the type. The state convention is only slightly similar to the national conventions that people see on TV, which are really a big infomercial for the presidential candidate of choice. Here, ordinary citizens (well, politically engaged ones) get to converge to get inspired, get the word out about the causes they feel passionate about, schmooze, and learn.
My goals for this convention were two-fold. First off; I was there to help get some of the resolutions passed that the 16th AD Democrats
had submitted (including one to make global warming a priority) and that I had written myself and submitted (including one about transportation in California). Second, I was hoping to find a presidential candidate that I could support, not having had a preference yet.
I feel that I succeeded on both counts. Our Global Warming passed as a "priority" resolution (along with a number of other good resolutions including out-of-Iraq and investigation/impeachment) and my my transportation resolution passed. And I found a candidate to support. It was not the candidate that I was expecting to support, and if you had predicted that I would be creating a website for any
candidate only a few days later, I would have thought you crazy! Read on to find out what transpired.Friday
After getting registered, I looked through the goodie bag. One nice-looking item was a black baseball hat with a logo that didn't look familiar. It turns out that it was provided by the Indian Gaming lobby, trying to win support for their assembly bill. Quite an expensive bit of "swag" to give out to over 2000 delegates. Oh, they were sponsors of the luncheon and dinner as well. Are they trying to buy our support?
The interesting scandal that fellow delegate Jason G. and I discovered when we were looking for some kind of union "bug" on the hats was that the "made in ...." tags had actually been cut off of them! Organized labor has had a problem with tribal gaming; with this discovery, it became clear that the hats were made in a sweatshop somewhere in the world (unfortunately like most of the clothes you are probably wearing right now). I always look forward to getting nice union-made swag at political events! So I gave the hat back to one of their people; I'm certainly not going to wear a hat that a regressive "cause" such as tribal gaming.
The big events for Friday are the caucuses. Caucus meetings are great ways to get like-minded delegates (or delegates with similar backgrounds) together outside of the official convention agenda. This was the third year for the Progressive Caucus, which (as usual) overflowed the huge room it was given. There were a few speeches by politicians like Loni Hancock and Jerry McNerney, but what really brought the house down was a no-holds-barred, inspirational rant against the wishy-washy leadership of the California Democratic party by the chair of the caucus. I also attended the not-too-exciting computers and Internet caucus but declined to re-join, and the Environmental Caucus which was almost as rockin' as the Progressive caucus.
The resolutions committee met in a large room, not quite big enough for observers. I was pleased to see that many of the resolutions written by me and my fellow 16th AD delegates were passed. The task ahead was to choose the top ten that would be ratified at the convention; these tend to get a bit more press coverage then those passed later in the year at executive board meetings.
After eating not quite a full meal at the opening reception, a group of us headed over to a local pub for a fundraising "blograiser
" to benefit Jerry McNerney and Charlie Brown. The candidates were there as were their spouses; I chatted briefly with Jan Brown (whom I had just met earlier at the environmental caucus) and for quite a while with Mary McNerney (whom I've known now since early in the 2006 campaign or maybe even the 2004 one). A group of us also had a great chat with Assemblymember Mark Leno (now running for State Senate
). I told him about my resolution on transportation, which effectively supports his 'Complete Streets
' bill. He's a really funny guy, the kind of person you'd want to have a beer with. Oh, I guess we did!Saturday
The second day of the convention was, for me, Speech Day. And what a disappointment it was. Actually, it was great to hear Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi
. I sincerely hope he will run for governor in 2010 - he will get my support. (I remember when he mentioned Global Warming in a debate before the primary election last year and that was a notable thing. This year, global warming was on everybody's lips!) It was wonderful to see Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
But the Presidential candidates?
The first of them to give a speech was Hillary Clinton. She had a big following (surprisingly big) though I couldn't understand why she had so much support when the overall mood of the convention was way more progressive than she is. (Somebody later pointed out how many people they saw carrying "Hillary" signs while wearing out-of-Iraq buttons without seeing the irony.) She and her speech really impressed me in some ways, but I felt that she spent most of her speech trying to connect with the audience by telling stories about her childhood, in an attempt to get us to see her as a real person and not as the elitist that she is painted as. That time was wasted when she could have been talking about something more substantial. Her political points were mostly platitudes; unfortunately, and when she started talking about "immigration reform" and somehow linking that to terrorism
, it seemed like she was trying to appeal to the right wing of the Democratic Party or perhaps those "swing" voters who might be watching her on YouTube later on. She certainly lost any hope of my support. It's too bad - she's a brilliant person, but I just don't see her ever overcoming the hurdle that she is public enemy #1 (or maybe #2 if Michael Moore is #1) of the right wing, plus getting support from the many Democrats who don't like her centrist approach.
Barack Obama arrived with welcome given to a "rock star." He has a huge following, which is great. I was prepared to be blown away by his speech, and wondering if he would impress me so much that I'd put a back seat to my doubts of his inexperience or his very questionable votes in the Senate regarding the war, torture, judge confirmations, and so forth. He was a good speaker, but when a comment from my seat-neighbor jarred me out of a daydreaming reflection I was having on the John Garamendi speech earlier that day, I realized that Obama wasn't really doing much for me. I see great potential for Obama, but I couldn't imagine getting involved in his campaign at this time.
Senator Chris Dodd was there and gave a very old-fashioned politician kind of speech. I don't think he got more than polite applause at the convention. I'm sure he'd be good at the job, but I can't imagine him getting very far in his campaign.
The last speech from a presidential candidate for the day was Dennis Kucinich. I've admired most of his positions and ideas; he's outspoken and is certainly pushing the conversation to the left. But his speech was one of the most painful things to watch and hear I have endured in a long time. It showed that he is completely unelectable. He would alternate between loud sections (with grandiose gesturing like a symphony conductor who can't get the symphony loud enough for his tastes, all the while with a smile plastered on his face so that he didn't appear angry) and quiet, high-voiced passages. When he quoted the entire passage from the Statue of Liberty ("Give me your tired, your poor..."), it reminded me of William Shatner "singing". And the speech was all about him
, not us
. Apparently some people liked that style, but personally I wished he would spend a bit more time in his capacity as the chair of the United States House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Domestic Policy and investigate the Bush administration's activities and less time on the campaign trail.
After the Kucinich speech, I was worried that I was going to have to advocate an imaginary "Frankenstein" candidate: the ideas of Kucinich, the Charisma of Obama, etc. I just hadn't found a candidate I could really get behind.
That evening, the Resolutions Committee posted the thirteen resolutions
had been approved for ratification at the convention. There are supposed to be ten, but there were two ties and one "special" (i.e. feel-good "cumbaya"-style) resolution that brought the total up to thirteen. Surprisingly, the Global Warming resolution we submitted barely made the cut. At least it made it!
Outside the convention hall were a large number of "protestors." There were a number of groups and causes represented: Impeachment, Out of Iraq, 9/11 Truth, Stop Blackwater, Code Pink, and so forth. The funny thing was that I think that the "protestors" were actually in agreement with most of the convention attendees; maybe "demonstrators" is a better term in this case! Walking down the sidewalk with the protestors behind the police barricades facing us, it was sort of like looking in a mirror. I chatted with a bunch of the folks, gave high fives, and so forth. It was invigorating to see them there.
I attended the banquet dinner honoring Nancy Pelosi, not quite sure what to expect (other than banquet-quality food). The speeches were actually entertaining, and when Nancy Pelosi came out, she didn't give a speech (as she had the evening before), but more of a conversation. Though I wish she would show more leadership in getting this administration stopped (by impeaching them) and getting us out of the occupation by cutting funding, it gave me a lot more understanding and respect for her than I had before.
The final events of the evening were the many hospitality suites. I avoided the expensive party funded by the Indian Gaming interests, instead hanging out at the PDA
party for a while, as well as a party put on by a couple of state officeholders, Jack O'Connel and Bill Lockyer. They had an interesting setup where people could take pictures with them; those pictures were transmitted to an array of Macs and imported into iPhoto, where you could email yourself the picture. It was a nice way to get attendees to see how cool Macs are. (Macs are ideally suited for Democrats; Windows machines were engineered to please Republicans.)Sunday
Sunday was a short day, and a lot of attendees were already gone. It was truly their loss. Maxine waters came out with a fiery speech calling for the immediate end to the occupation. Her words were memorable: "Not another nickel, not another dime, not this time - bring our soldiers home!" Had I found the candidate I wanted to support for President? Alas, she is not in the running!
So when John Edwards came into the room for his speech, I was surprised that he got a "rock star" reception as well. I hadn't given Edwards much consideration, though fellow 16th AD delegate Jason G. was supporting him. After only a few minutes in his speech, I could see why. Here was a candidate whom I actually wanted to see in the Oval Office! He really imppressed me how he told it like it is. He had specifics, not platitudes. He admitted his mistake about his previous vote on the war, and convinced me that he wants us to get out immediately, not someday. He had words about solving global warming that showed me he has the understanding, the will, and the leadership to actually solve the crisis. Only Al Gore had seemed fit for the job of leading us out of that crisis, but he's not running for President (and I doubt he will no matter what).
Before Edwards had finished, I had reached into my bag and fished out the Edwards sticker I had been given earlier - and put it on. By the end of the speech, I had firmly decided I had found a candidate whom I approved of at both the intellectual and emotional levels. The level of cheers and applause in the hall made me think that he had won a lot of people over with that speech, the way Dean did four years ago. I found it strange to be there - I certainly didn't get a lot out of Edwards in the last election cycle, but it's clear he has matured since then. I see a bit of Howard Dean, a bit of John Kennedy, a bit of Al Gore, and a bit of Jimmy Carter in him. He has a few issues that need to be dealt with between now and Election Day, but I think he's the candidate that most deserves our support.
After the speech, I decided to go grab some Edwards swag from the campaign's booth, but the booths had been mostly closed up by that point. I heard there was a room where Edwards supporters were going, so I figured I'd dive in and see what was happening. The room was way too small for the number of people who crowded in. Was this bad planning, or a surge in supporters? I found a partial answer when I looked around the room and saw a lot of faces of people I know, people I trust, Dean people. And other than Jason, none had been Edwards supporters before (to my knowledge). I wasn't the only one who had found a candidate to support at the convention. An article on Calitics
Lastly, we heard from Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico, and I liked him a lot. He didn't capture anybody the way Edwards did, and I don't know if his bid is really full-power. But he's very qualified, certainly, and of all the presidential candidates, probably the one whom I'd most like to have a beer with. (Mark Leno could join us.) He or Obama would actually be a good balance on a ticket with Edwards, if you want my opinion.Aftermath
So I left the convention with a good feeling about the resolutions, and glad to have a candidate that I can support. (I really don't want to hold my nose and vote!) Reading some of the blogs later on, notably Calitics
and California Progress Report
, I did find a few things with the state party that I think need to be improved in the future.
One is that obvious conflict of interest in the California Democratic Party with its sponsors. There was some debate
about the fate of the Network Neutrality resolution that had been submitted and essentially banished to Siberia, considering that AT&T is a major sponsor to the California Democratic Party. I was also concerned that the Indian Gaming sponsorship is going to prevent the party from speaking out against this industry. Fortunately there are some delegates that are working on pushing the party toward financial audit-ability.
Another concern that I read about, which I agree with tremendously, is that we need to encourage more diversity in the progressive caucus. The meeting of that caucus was scheduled opposite all of the ethnic/cultural caucuses, meaning that it was difficult or unlikely for a person of color to attend both, even if they wanted to. I don't know what the solution given the scheduling constraints, but it is important to encourage diversity in the progressive community as much as possible.
Besides Network Neutrality and Tribal Gaming, there are other issues that need to be talked about, that haven't quite reached the mainstream discourse. Issues like stopping the Halliburton private army, Blackwater
; investigating the discrepancies in the 9/11 commission's report; and putting an end to the IMF and world bank and so-called "free trade". Two years ago, impeachment and global warming and getting out of Iraq were not mainstream concepts at the democratic convention; in 2007 they are. Who knows what will be mainsteam next year?
After talking with a couple of other activists, I decided to throw together a website Deaniacs for Edwards
to help focus Edwards as a candidate that former Dean people like myself can get behind. It's online now, and I'd love to get some short submissions from fellow Deaniacs who have decided to support Edwards.
For local people, I should mention that the Alameda Democratic Club
will be meeting next week with representatives from the various campaigns. Or advocates, at least; it looks like the aforementioned Jason G. will be there to talk up John Edwards. The meeting will be Wednesday, May 9, 7 PM, at the Alameda Hospital. It should be a lively talk.