A soupcon of Santa Barbara insiders, pols and media hacks joined the largest collection of presidential contenders to date at the California Democratic Party's San Francisco convention.
Besides 14 presidential wannabes, the weekend event drew more than 5,000 officeholders, delegates, coat holders, political junkies, protesters and Beltway bloviators to the Moscone Convention Center and surrounding streets, in a dazzling display of democracy.
By the time the California Democrats left town on Sunday – after Elizabeth Warren stole thunder from Bernie Sanders; after delegates cheered Kamala Harris for demanding impeachment and heckled Nancy Pelosi for resisting it; after the Dominatrixes Against Don and the Bloodstained Men anti-circumcision protests had finished, the bottom line on the state party convention was clear:
For Democrats, the agonizing trauma that is Donald Trump — denounced at every turn as a racist, misogynist, homophobic bigot – is so overpowering that even at Ground Zero for the progressive movement, they opted for pragmatism over ideology.
From a reporter's notebook:
Monique stars – and stalls. The rising star status of Monique Limon, Santa Barbara's representative in the Assembly, was evident: The only rank-and-file lawmaker to win a coveted podium speaking slot, she addressed the convention about the growing clout of women in Sacramento, while crowds milled around a nearby exhibit booth promoting AB 539, her bill to regulate the predatory lending industry.
“As women leaders in California we are no longer playing by the rule book, we are writing the rule book,” she said in her speech. “In our reality, we are not here to try on glass slippers, we are here to shatter glass ceilings. “
In an interview, Limon prolonged her Hamlet act about 2020, and whether she will seek re-election or run for the state senate seat of termed-out Hannah Beth Jackson; because next year’s primary has been advanced to March – early voting starts in February - her decision is urgent and consequential for Santa Barbara’s political class.
Monique already blew by a public promise to disclose a decision several months ago; pressed by a reporter, she merely pointed to the legal schedule of candidate deadlines, which shows filing officially begins in September.
“I’m thoughtful about decisions,” she said, dismissing the suggestion that delay makes her seem dithering and indecisive. “Monique will announce when Monique is ready to.”
Jason is running for…something. A surprise face in the crowd: SB council member Jason Dominguez, who worked the halls searching for support for a 2020 legislative bid.
Now seeking re-election in District 1, Jason is openly maneuvering to run next year for whichever Sacramento seat Limon doesn’t; although he’s persona non grata with the local Democratic committee, he said he had encouraging conversations with labor types at the convention, presenting himself as a “progressive with an independent streak.”
Asked if the spectacle of running for re-election and the Legislature simultaneously might trouble District 1 voters, Jason answered, “Not at all – it’s not a substantive issue.”
Daraka crashes. By Friday afternoon, 24 hours before balloting for state party chair began, Daraka Larimore-Hall’s glum tone and body language spoke volumes about his chances:
“Everybody says I’m their second choice,” he said in the hallway outside a Progressive Caucus meeting.
Squeezed between the big-city candidacies of L.A. labor leader Rusty Hicks and Bay Area grassroots leader Kimberly Ellis, Daraka’s bid to advance from vice-chair further suffered when the sex harassment scandal that ousted the previous party chair splashed onto him – even though he was the guy who blew the whistle on the disgraceful mess.
In the end, Santa Barbara’s progressive favorite son finished third, behind the pragmatic Hicks (elected with 57 percent) and the leftist Ellis (36 per cent), backed by 6 percent of voting delegates.
Nuts-and-bolts prevail. On a broader level, the outcome of the campaign for chair represented a triumph of pragmatism over ideology.
Despite the left-liberal tilt of the party, California Democrats overwhelmingly elected as their new chairman a white male, nuts-and-bolts labor organizer from the Obama-Clinton-Biden wing of the party over Ellis, an African-American champion of the grassroots progressive faction running with the backing of Bernie Sanders fans, and over Larimore-Hall, who campaigned as a "pro-union/feminist/anti-racist/environmentalist/anti-war/pro-LGBTQ Democrat."
"It tells me they want to start organizing and leave the drama behind,” Rose Kapolcynzki, a veteran consultant and combatant in countless intraparty wars, said in an interview.
“At some point, people want stability,” agreed consultant Roger Salazar, who served as temporary spokesman for the party. “Even in a city like San Francisco, where there is so much aggressive diversity, having somebody like Rusty come in and say he’s fighting for our values but in a steady way – that appeals to people.”
Biden stayed away. Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner, skipped the event in favor of a big LGBTQ dinner in Ohio; as a political matter, it seemed a smart play, as the former Vice President avoided potentially embarrassing confrontations with progressives who dominate the state party and hate his moderate politics.
And with Hicks winning the campaign for chair, it appeared the absent Biden's simple, singular and pragmatic message – that Trump is an aberration whose ouster will return the nation to normalcy – at least for one weekend absorbed and assimilated much of the ideological wrangling.
Warren won the weekend. The crucial question in the Democratic race: who will emerge as Biden’s chief progressive foil? If the convention is a measure, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is trending up.
She drew a crowd of 6,500 to an outdoor rally on a chilly Friday night in Oakland, where she called for a “wealth tax” and the breakup of “Big Tech,” then raised the roof in her Saturday speech, winning huge cheers for a clear shot at Biden’s bipartisan vision:
“Some say that if we just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses. But our country is in a crisis. The time for small ideas is over.”
Warren, along with California Senator Harris and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, is aiming at the political base of Bernie Sanders, who in 2016 consolidated left-wing Democrats against Hillary Clinton.
Both Kamala and Pete got enthusiastic receptions Saturday, but by the time Bernie spoke on Sunday morning, the hall was barely half-full. In a weekend packed with high-decibel Trump-bashing, however, his comments still stood out:
"The worst president in the history of this country, a president who is a racist, a sexist, a homophobe and a religious bigot…a president who has the most corrupt administration in history and a president who knows nothing about real American values."
Not to put too fine a point on it.
Mayor Pete speaks.The communications staff of the millennial gay military veteran Midwestern mayor, the breakout star of the campaign, has a Santa Barbara flavor: ex-Indy reporter Chris Meagher is national press secretary while Tess Whittlesey, who just jumped from Rep. Salud Carbajal’s staff, is the deputy.
Mayor Pete got on the line for a few minutes early Saturday to answer, for the first time, Santa Barbara-centric questions about the Administration’s efforts to expand offshore oil drilling and fracking in Los Padres National Forest.
“He’s moving in exactly the wrong direction,” Buttigieg said, adding that as president he would restore a drilling moratorium on the California coast.
“We need to be moving away from fossil fuels,” he said, calling climate change “a national security threat” and endorsing the “concept of the Green New Deal.”
Whither impeachment? Speaker Nancy Pelosi got rock star treatment at her hometown convention – except when shouts and jeers demanding Trump’s impeachment interrupted her otherwise anodyne Saturday speech.
Pelosi’s go-slow approach to impeachment rankles left wingers, including some of her own House members, but to her credit their views were given a full airing.
Silicon Valley zillionaire Tom Steyer, who’s spent $80 million on a national campaign to build support for impeachment, got a high-profile speaking slot and strongly made his case. Surely, it was accidental that the last line of his address – which, according to the text, called out Pelosi by name – could not be heard when soundboard techies blasted his walk off music just a tad early.
Winning by losing. As Calbuzz forecast, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper had a breakthrough moment – getting himself plugged into the news cycle by getting booed by the Bernie faction when he proclaimed that “socialism is not the answer” to achieving progressive policy goals.
Maryland Rep. John Delaney, the last candidate to speak on Sunday morning, got similar treatment when he mildly argued that Medicare for All is “not good policy” and drew a long and loud chorus of booing from Berniecrats, about the only people left in the hall by that point.
Whether or not it benefits the two long shots, it’s a bad look for the Dems – makes them look as intolerant as the Legions of Trump.
Spotted: Outside the press room, Goleta school board member Luz Reyes-Martin, attending her first state convention, knocked down rumors that she might run for Assembly; On the hotel shuttle, Goleta council member James Kyriaco said he has attended every state convention since 1993, after being inspired by 1992’s “Year of the Woman” election, when California first sent two women to the U.S. Senate.
On the convention floor: SB Dem chair Gail-Teton Landis, in between political duties on Daraka’s behalf, listened closely to presidential speeches; officially neutral, she had high praise for Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Sex and circumcision. No San Francisco convention is complete without street theatre. Two groups outside Moscone Center provided, um, memorable images:
“Bloodstained Men” protested the practice of newborn circumcision, as members sported white pants with red paint splotched on the crotch.
Nearby, a dozen sex workers, several sporting thigh high boots, garter belts and thongs, held aloft signs that read “Dominatrixes Against Don” and called for the de-criminalization of “erotic labor.”
(Editor's note: Versions of this story are cross-posted on Calbuzz.com and appear in this week's edition of the Santa Barbara Independent).
Images: A video screen shows Monique Limon speaking to the convention; Limon at the podium (Courtesy photos); Jason Dominguez working the halls; Video image of Daraka addressing the convention; Rusty Hicks (KTLA); Joe Biden; Elizabeth Warren (ABCNews); Pete Buttigieg (YouTube); A popular button at the convention; John Hickenlooper; Gail Teton-Landis standing at the press pen; Sex workers demonstrate for decriminalization; Anti-circumcision protester.