One might think a political party wielding virtually total control of the nation’s most populous state – i.e. Democrats in California – would be satisfied.
One would be wrong. The political axiom – that eliminating competition breeds internal conflict – is true and on display Saturday at a state Democratic convention in Sacramento. The party’s very liberal professional leadership was buffeted by insurgents with even more leftish agendas, such as universal health insurance, free college educations, a ban on fracking, and more aggressive action on climate change.
Energized by their dislike – no, hatred – of President Donald Trump, the insurgents appeared to outnumber party regulars among the 2,400-plus delegates. Their true strength would be revealed in the outcome of a sharp-elbows battle to replace the longtime state Democratic chairman, John Burton, pitting veteran party functionary Eric Bauman against insurgent Kimberly Ellis. It is, in part, a continuation of last year’s nomination battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
The California Nurses Association, which backed Sanders and is the chief proponent of universal health coverage, fueled the insurgency.
RoseAnn DeMoro, the nurses’ union’s top official, warned in a convention speech – to loud applause: “If you dismiss progressive values and reinforce the status quo, don’t assume activists … are going to stay with the Democratic Party.”
Tellingly, when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon was speaking, the leftist contingent drowned him out with their chants until Burton, with his usual profanity, calmed them. Rendon has refused to endorse the pending single-payer medical care bill until a financing plan is unveiled.
The state’s two top Democrats, Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, didn’t attend – with good reason. The party’s left-wing has been sharply critical of both for being too centrist.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the leading Democratic candidate for governor next year, saw the tide turning and swam with it. He made a late endorsement of Ellis after initially backing Bauman, and during his convention speech, endorsed every goal of the leftist faction – and then some – potentially adding hundreds of billions of dollars in state spending.
“It’s time to … take real chances,” Newsom said.
Though virtually every convention speaker uttered the pro-forma denunciations of Trump, Newsom’s chief rivals, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang, were less expansive than Newsom about their plans. Instead, they stressed their personal stories and experience.
Villaraigosa did get off one zinger at Newsom, without naming him, referring to “Davos Democrats” who haven’t experienced or even seen what poor Californians must endure.
If California’s dominant party is drifting further leftward, legislative leaders will be under even more pressure to deliver – while also dealing with a bloc of moderate Democratic legislators who often thwart the most liberal proposals.
It also poses a dilemma. As those seeking statewide offices battle in the June primary, they must avoid alienating the broader, more centrist electorate, including Republicans and independents, who will make the ultimate decision.