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.


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