SACRAMENTO — California’s Democrats turned back the Republican red wave that swept across the country last November, returning Barbara Boxer to the U.S. Senate, winning all of their Congressional and state Senate seats, picking up a spot in the Assembly and capturing all of the statewide constitutional offices, including bringing Jerry Brown back for a third term as governor.
And they’re pissed off.
They’re furious that labor unions are under attack from Madison to Costa Mesa. They’re angry that Republicans in Congress are threatening Medicare and a woman’s right to choose. They’re enraged about tax breaks for the wealthy, subsidies for oil companies, assaults on the environment, injustice for immigrants. And they’re especially irate that the minority party in Sacramento has forced their majority-party legislators to approve $12.5 billion in cuts with no concessions that would allow passage of a state budget.
Welcome to the California Democratic Party state convention, where the common world view holds that all men are good looking, all women are strong and all children are above average.
Despite the prospect that there would be absolutely no news produced last weekend, the Calbuzz Division of Truth, Justice and Self-Flagellation was dispatched to Sacramento to take the pulse of the Democrats. We can report: they are alive, seething and, although they didn’t get to hear from the governor they elected because he was recovering from an operation to remove a skin cancer, pretty darn pleased with themselves.
“I don’t know about you but I’m tired of playing defense,” said Attorney General Kamala Harris in the best speech we heard all weekend. “I say it’s time to play offense.”
What they plan to do about their ire is not altogether certain. One thing they won’t do, Assembly Speaker John Perez told the delegates: “We are not going to do their dirty work for them. We are not going to pass an all-cuts budget.”
Perez and many others throughout the Sacramento Convention Center pledged that they would be working in the open primary system to elect Democrats in what are now Republican legislative districts, seeking a two-thirds majority that would help what Perez called the GOP’s “proud march toward irrelevance.”
As Treasurer Bill Lockyer put it, ridiculing Republicans for refusing to lift a finger to help close state’s remaining $15.4 billion deficit: “It’s time you did your job and help the poorest in your own communities . . . If your district is 60 percent Latino and you represent white business elites and tea party activists, we’re coming after you!”
How to Handle the Budget? Everybody has a different theory about the budget impasse: one senior official believes a short-term deal with a spending cap and triggers in case further cuts are needed could do the trick. Eric Bauman, vice chairman of the party, thinks there are two votes in the Assembly at least for the right deal. State Board of Eek member Betty Yee (who’s planning to run for Controller in 2012) thinks Republicans are starting to crack.
Party Chairman John Burton, after suggesting (facetiously) in a pre-convention interview that maybe Jerry ought to shoot a Republican as a warning to others, wonders if maybe they could be motivated by targeting cuts for certain Republican districts.
Since Burton actually served and led in the Legislature, his view on the situation was worth probing, so Calbuzz asked him what he thinks of the Republicans’ behavior:
“I think it’s stupid. But if it works out in the end, people won’t remember it. If basically there has to be an all cuts budget when people realize what they’ve done, then it’s going to hurt them very much,” he said.
“I don’t know if there’s a way for Democrats to pass a budget zeroing out Modesto junior college for the Berryhill boys or something… I think the whole concept of their wanting to do something but not knowing how to do it just makes them look bad.”
The Republicans he dealt with “knew how to make a deal. We never had this much of a problem. But I think at that time with that membership they clearly would have voted to put something on the ballot. They might not have voted for the taxes, but they would have voted to put it on the ballot.”
Do you think the majority of Republican actually wants to govern? Calbuzz asked.
“It doesn’t seem like it. I don’t think they know how to govern. The problem is a lot of them have never been in city councils or supervisors. I have no idea what the hell it is, they’re all scared to death. You’d think the ghost of Tommy McClintock is there scaring them or something.”
“It’s kind of hardball but you’ve got to be creative because the state’s just going to hell. If they go to an all cuts budget it ain’t gonna be good for the state …(Dems) went more than half way and I think the problem is that you always assume good faith on the part of the Republicans and there is none there.”
Battle of the Would Be Governors: When the office of governor opens up (in 2014 or 2018) Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris are pretty much assured to be contenders. So it’s never too early to start taking note of how they handle themselves when they’re working the chairpeople, activists, committee members and volunteers who attend state party conventions.
Our take: Harris won the hall, with a Saturday morning red-meat speech but Newsom won the party players with well-organized, strategically planned events.
One caveat: Harris’s consultant, Brian Brokaw, threw cold water on the notion that there even was a contest. “I have to reject the premise of your comparison,” he told us. “What you saw at the convention were two very popular figures with very bright futures ahead of them on a thank-you tour with the folks who worked hard to elect them last year. And from our perspective it was mission accomplished.”
Well, maybe that was the AG’s only goal, but with consultant Jason Kinney working feverishly on his behalf, Newsom had some broader goals. On Thursday, when the county chairs were in town early, Newsom sponsored a dinner for them at the Capitol Garage. He and UFW icon Dolores Huerta were keynote speakers at the progressives’ “Take Back Red California” dinner on Friday, and Newsom sponsored a continental Labor Breakfast Saturday morning that drew about 150 labor leaders and delegates.
He also threw the best big-scale party, “Gavin and Gavin Unplugged” (featuring himself and rocker Gavin DeGraw), presented by the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers and the California Faculty Association. They even served up free “Double Gavins” for the hundreds who squeezed into the District 30 disco – a blue, sickly sweet mixture of vodka, Curaçao and Sprite.
Newsom’s speech to the delegation on Saturday was no barn burner. It was a workmanlike discussion of the need for California to develop a plan for jobs and economic growth – tasks he has taken on as Brown’s Lite Gov.
Using statistics from the Earth Policy Institute, Newsom detailed how many jobs could be created by $1 billion investment in various alternative sources: coal (868); nuclear (1,016); solar thermal (2,274); wind: (3,347); retrofitting buildings (6,750).
“The Democratic Party cannot cede jobs to the Republican. We will not do that. They’ve got an agenda but they don’t have a plan,” Newsom said. He said he’s working with the Brown administration to develop a plan in the next 100 days for jobs in biotech, nanotech, life science, technology and manufacturing, along with an export strategy, trade strategy, and ideas for partnerships with China, India and Brazil. “Folks hired us to do a job, not just to be in power,” he said.
He did not shake the hall. But Harris did.
Besides visiting caucuses, as all the constitutionals did, Harris’s one serious party foray was to the elegant, invitation only affair (best small party) put on by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and organized by CCPOA senior advisor Michael Flores.
They loved the AG, gushed over her, all but threw rose petals at her feet, perhaps to see if they could get in her good graces after endorsing her opponent, LA District Attorney Steve Cooley, whom she beat by about six votes on the strength of Jerry Brown’s top-of-the-ticket wake. Harris, said CCPOA president Mike Jimenez is “a friend to the poor, underprivileged, law enforcement, the environment and the enemy of injustice.” Her short speech to them was an air kiss: many words signifying little.
But the next day, when she took the podium in the convention hall, she rocked.
“Together we showed that you don’t have to run from your convictions to run for elected office.” (She forgot to mention that it helps if the candidate for governor is pulling big numbers over his Republican opponent, but we quibble.) “Together we challenged those old false choices: that false choice that you’re either soft on crime or tough on crime. Instead we said and we challenged that it was time to be smart on crime…”
After having obliquely insulted Brown when she first took office by suggesting that she was going to make things right in the AG’s office (just as Brown was on his way out the door toward the governor’s office), Harris lavished praise on Brown before the delegates.
“I see Jerry Brown spending hour upon hour in painstaking pursuit of a reasonable budget compromise,” she said. “Jerry Brown is trying to save our schools, protect public safety and put our state on a sustainable fiscal path. California Democrats – there is nothing more important than helping Jerry Brown stop an extreme minority from preventing progress in our Golden State.”
Her best stuff was her passionate reference to just about every Democratic Party hot button issue – global warming, marriage equality, immigration, defense of the middle class and especially labor rights.
“It is time to recognize that from Madison to Sacramento to Washington, D.C., and back, we are having a debate in this country that is frankly outrageous,” she said. “We are having a debate about first principles. Can we seriously be debating a question as fundamental as a right to organize and bargain collectively?”
It’s outrageous to try to make teachers the enemy, threaten to take away a woman’s right to choose, she said. The GOP has unleashed “an assault on the middle class and hardworking people in this country… I don’t know about you but I’m tired of playing defense. I say it’s time to play offense.”
Lady Difi talks tough: Normally not one to take shots across the aisle, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s words, if not her delivery, were some of the sharpest language we’ve heard from her in a long while – at least since she made it clear to the people of San Francisco that she didn’t care who they were sleeping with as long as they were in bed by 10 p.m.
“What I see in Washington now is really the most difficult environment I’ve ever seen in American politics,” she said. “It’s made harder still because the far right wing and the Tea Party have entered into the political arena with a singular mission to cut government so it cannot serve our people. This is the fundamental challenge we face today.
“In the five months since Republicans have taken control of the House they’ve tried to systematically disassemble the American dream,” she said, pointing to the environment, investments in education and infrastructure, health care reform and Medicare.
“The majority party in today’s House of Representatives is more radical, more hostile to working people, more determined to undermine the Democratic president than the Gingrich Congress in 1995,” Feinstein said.
“The Tea Party has no plans for job creation and economic recovery what they have is a radical, ideological agenda to dismantle the social and economic safety net of our country. Their solution to our fiscal challenges is to shift the burden of debt reduction onto seniors, students, middle and low-income families. And we have to stop them.”
Facing re-election in 2012, Feinstein was clearly laying down suppressing fire as a warning to challengers that even at 77, she is capable of lighting up the opposition on popular issues. When she wants to.
Costco Carla gets props: The SF Chron reporter who once scooped up Meg Whitman’s book from a big box store before it was supposed to be available wound up in a huge shit storm with the White House, which didn’t like her posting a Shaky Hands video of a mild protest at an Obama dinner in which she was in the press pool. Someone at the White House threatened to kick the Chronicle out of future press pools (although she broke no rule) and then denied that’s what they’d done. Which got the Chron’s ed board fired up to accuse the WH of lying which landed the whole story on the front page of the Drudge Report which caused Chairman Burton to visit Marinucci in the Chronicle/Calbuzz skybox at the convention seeking an autograph. Not to mention all the other attagirls she got from reporters and delegates and consultants who had heard about the dust-up.
Burton’s finest moment: Even before the story had made Drudge, Burton ridiculed whoever it was at the WH who got all upset and defensive because someone who’d paid $78,000 (it was actually $76,000, but who’s counting?) to get into a fundraiser had shouted at the president. If someone would pay that kind of money to get into one of his fundraisers, he said, “They can come in and insult me, just not my mother or my wife or my daughter or any of her kids. They can take a dump in my salad.”