A Progressive Alamedan

Various writings from a resident of Alameda regarding the political scene. The local perspective of local, state and national politics and a few other odds and ends of local concern. May not be particularly interesting to people outside of the Alameda area.

Monday, March 31, 2008

My Report on the California Democratic Convention

I have just settled back home from a full weekend spent at the California Democratic Convention in San Jose. This is the state Democratic Party's annual gathering of delegates, candidates, office-holders, and interested observers.

If anybody saw mention of this on the news, they probably heard about the visit by former President Bill Clinton, as Hillary's Husband, there to try to convince California's Superdelegates to choose her as the Democratic nominee. More on that later. Really, though, the interesting things were at a more local level.

Loni Hancock's Huge Win

As I reported a couple of weeks ago, Loni Hancock got just over 70% of the endorsement vote, but one of those votes was challenged, meaning that there would be a new election at the convention to decide which candidate for state senate, if any, would get the official party endorsement.

At the convention, a non-incumbent candidate only needs to get 60% of the vote to get the party endorsement, so it's a smaller hurdle. Of course, the actual people voting is a slightly different mix (as I understand it, there are local Democratic Club representatives at the pre-convention endorsing caucus, but not at the convention); and opinions or loyalties may change, so you never know. I had heard that Wilma Chan's staff and supporters were confident that she had roughly half of the delegates' support.

Well, as it turned out, it would have been better for Wilma Chan not to bother challenging the 70% vote from before, because when all the votes were counted at the convention, Loni Hancock got just over 90 percent of the vote. It was a blowout, and frankly I felt a bit embarrassed for Wilma Chan's campaign, especially since I have a lot of respect for her and her supporters.

The party endorsement is a big deal; it means that Hancock's name will appear on all the publicity from the Democratic Party in the upcoming primary. In my opinion, what's worse is the clear advantage that Hancock has around the entire state senate district, which stretches from Richmond down to Alameda/Oakland and in a narrow band to the East through Dublin and Livermore. Yes, ultimately it's up to the voters to decide, but Hancock has the support of most of the active Democrats in these communities, and that is certain to have a lot of influence in the race.

So what's next for Wilma Chan? Perhaps it's enough of a serious blow to her campaign to consider dropping out — after all, she could be a real hero by donating her campaign war-chest to a nearby Democrat like Charlie Brown or Bill Durston, and find another avenue for public service for herself. I fear, however, that this will be a long, expensive battle, with each candidate spending perhaps a half a million dollars each for the June primary election. Of course, I will wholeheartedly support whomever emerges in June with the Democratic nomination, but I honestly feel that Wilma Chan doesn't stand much of a chance at this point, without the community backing that any candidate needs.

Humble Pie for Carole Migden

Meanwhile, at the convention, it was impossible to avoid being stopped by supporters/employees of the two candidates for State Senate in the 3rd district covering San Francisco, Marin, and parts of Sonoma county, where incumbent Carole Migden is challenged by assemblymember Mark Leno. I've been following this race peripherally; last September I blogged about how our current State Senator, Don Perata, has been abusing his power by holding up Mark Leno's legislation, as a way to help out the incumbent Migden. (This is the kind of behavior fitting to Karl Rove, not a Democrat, and certainly not a Democrat representing my town.) MIgden received a 55% endorsement vote at the convention; Leno supporters said that many of those votes came from incumbents and party "insiders" and not the grassroots. As an incumbent, she only needed a 50% majority, which is extremely unfair because it gives incumbents an advantage. (Don't they have enough advantages already?) The Leno supporters gathered up 600 signatures of delegates to bring the vote to the floor of the convention; the delegates voted to overturn the endorsement of Migden, leaving no party endorsement in the race between the incumbent and the challenger. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

Presidential Hopefuls

Naturally there were a lot of people sporting "Hillary" or "Obama" buttons and shirts and signs. I proudly wore my John Edwards sweatshirt, and I got a lot of compliments about it. Waking around, especially when the air was filled with "Mind-Less-Chant! Mind-Less-Chant! Mind-Less-Chant," I felt like one of the Blues Brothers ready to play a gig at the backwater saloon where they had "both" kinds of music — Country and Western. Though I will cast my ballot against McCain (or, as I like to call him, McBush) in November, I just can't get excited about the leftovers.

The Clinton Campaign brought quite a proxy to speak for their candidate. It was certainly interesting to see a former President give a speech, but I couldn't help noticing how many of the points he brought up actually came from the issues that John Edwards was talking about when no other candidate would. (And a few points I could even attribute to Howard Dean!) When Edwards left the race, he had convinced both Clinton and Obama to start treating poverty as an issue, and certainly the Clinton campaign has come through on that. Half a dozen times, I heard Bill Clinton bring up specific issues such as homeless veterans that only John Edwards was talking about two months ago. I'm glad that Edwards has left a legacy in this presidential campaign by making both remaining candidates stronger.

It's About the People

This was my fourth convention, and while some people have been doing this for decades, I am wondering if maybe this should be my last. Maybe it was just because I've done this before and there's nothing new, or maybe it's that I felt I was swimming upstream by being excited about neither Clinton nor Obama, but I felt a bit jaded, and I kept wishing I had brought along a book to read. The endorsement action was engaging, and some of the speeches were nice to see (such as Lt. Governor John Garamendi, whom I will be enthusiastically supporting when he runs for Governor ) and Secretary of State Debra Bowen. But really the most interesting part of the convention was the interaction with people — fellow activists from around the Bay Area and the state whom I've known for up to four years now, random interactions with other delegates, chance meetings in the hallway or at the lunch table with candidates for office or current officeholders, and so forth. While it may be discouraging that our leaders at the national level don't have the courage to take on big business, combat the climate crisis, end the occupations abroad, or remove the criminals now in power, I'm heartened by the leadership found at the state and grassroots level, and I get a twinkle of hope for our future.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Loni Hancock achieves -- or not -- Democratic Party Endorsement

At the local Democratic Party "Pre-endorsement" caucus on Saturday, Assembly member Loni Hancock either did, or didn't manage to achieve the required 70% threshold to claim the endorsement of the Democratic Party.

Here's how this works and what happened.

Shortly before the state convention, people running for office as Democrats can submit their name for consideration for endorsement by the state party. Endorsement by the party means that their names are on official party mailings and publicity, so it's quite a boost for their campaign if they can garner this endorsement.

Members of the California Democratic Party State Central Committee (including delegates like myself, county committee members elected by the general public, Democratic club representatives, and elected officials) can vote for these candidates (or vote "no endorsement") in person at the caucus meeting or by mailing in their vote in advance.

Congressman Stark received a 100% vote; Assembly member Swanson received not quite 100% (A couple of delegates voted 'no endorsement'). All of the races with only one member having filed for endorsement went something like that. In the contentious 14th assembly District (Berkeley and part of Oakland), there were four candidates vying to replace termed-out Loni Hancock, and no one candidate was able to achieve even a majority off the delegates. (Nancy Skinner and Tony Thurmond led the count.)

In the State Senate endorsement race, it was Loni Hancock vs. Wilma Chan. According to the vote count, Hancock achieved just over 70% of the vote, which would put her over the top and immediately achieve the party backing. However, there was a challenge issued about the validity of one of the votes (a question of whether one of the delegates voting was actually registered as a member of the Democratic Party). The votes were calculated to see if this would affect the result — and it did. This one less vote would bring Hancock to just under the 70% threshold for immediate endorsement. (The way this works is that if any candidate reaches a 50% majority but not 70%, a new vote will be held at the convention. This is what happened two years ago with Jerry McNerney, who did get the party endorsement in the new vote.)

So the result is up in the air — I don't know for how long, though. If the challenge succeeds, then there will be a new vote at the convention (where there will probably be a higher attendance, and much pre-vote schmoozing).

One factor that I found interesting, but not surprising, as the votes were read out loud — this is a public endorsement vote, after all. It seemed that most of the names of Alameda residents that I recognized were supporting Wilma Chan, and most people outside Alameda voted for Hancock. I suppose this could be "spun" either of two ways: that Alamedans know Wilma Chan well, and support her; or that Chan is only able to get significant support in her home town.

In any case, this is just an endorsement race, and not the general election. Who knows how things will turn out between now and June? As I"ve mentioned before, I'm personally supporting Loni Hancock — but I completely respect the choice of my fellow Alamedans who would prefer Wilma Chan, who is a strong candidate as well.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why I'm Supporting Loni Hancock for State Senate

This Saturday, I will be meeting with a number of fellow delegates to the California Democratic Party (not to be confused with presidential delegates who are going to the national convention in Denver later this year), to consider endorsements for the upcoming primary election.

Where we live, there is only one race up for grabs: State Senator, to replace the outgoing Don Perata.

I have decided to endorse Loni Hancock, over Wilma Chan, for this race.

I want to emphasize that I have absolutely nothing negative to say about Wilma Chan. I have met both candidates more than once, and I really like both of them. They are both personable, both extremely passionate and dedicated to public service, and I admire both of them greatly.

It would actually be very difficult to make a choice, much less make an endorsement, except for the undeniable fact, that Loni Hancock stands out, head and shoulders, as a progressive — not just a liberal. She has shown this in her positions and her leadership. The issues that she has taken on are the BIG PICTURE issues.

The biggest issue for me is "clean money" for campaigns. She is the author of AB 583, the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act, which is still a movement in progress (see caclean.org). Getting corporate money out of politics has had a HUGE impact on the game in those states where it has passed, and many of of the battles in the senate and assembly would diminish greatly if the politicians weren't bought and paid for largely by big business — e.g. the oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, financial companies, etc. I want a senator who has fought for, and will continue to fight for, clean money in politics.

Hancock has been a leader on the front of fighting the Climate Crisis, having co-authored AB 32, the big greenhouse gas emission bill, and she's been leading on many other "green" issues. Since we are not likely to have a President elected who is particularly strong when it comes to fighting global warming, we need to take advantage of the leadership that California can accomplish. We're talking about the survival of our species here, and I would rather have a senator who is truly dedicated to this issue.

On the other hand, Wilma Chan, while certainly having a good set of accomplishments, notably in the Health, Education, and child safety areas, has not really led on the major issues like these that we MUST address if we are going to get anywhere.

(My only downside of Hancock is that apparently she, like many politicians, has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President. Then again, If she had endorsed Obama I'd be almost equally disappointed.)

My endorsement of Hancock will probably disappoint many people from Alameda; it appears that Chan has the endorsement of almost every elected official in the island city. (Mayor Johnson has endorsed both--?) Though it would be gosh-nifty-keen to continue to have an Alameda native son/daughter representing us in the State Senate, I think that we have to look at the big picture and see how our area and our state can be best served.

I am not making this plea for endorsement lightly. I think that in order to get an endorsement, a candidate has to strongly match with what you support. Loni Hancock fits the bill for this. Wilma Chan would make a good State Senator for us, but Loni Hancock would make a superb one. We need to send a true progressive to Sacramento because not many other areas in the state are likely to do so.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Some of my favorite people are on this video!

This video, Democratic Activists: Run for County Central Committee! features some of my favorite people from the East Bay, including Alameda.

(I'm not running, myself, but I will be helping behind the scenes to get these people elected. Stay tuned for more details.)