This year’s Democratic state convention in San Francisco offered a select group of party regulars a sneak preview of Democratic campaign themes.
Included among the 3,400 delegates at the May 31-June 2 convention were local elected officials and party workers, from Zoe Lofgren, Congress member for the 19th district, to Robert Rivas, State Assembly member for District 30.
Rivas called the meeting, “a convention with a lot of optimism, a lot of energy.” In interviews with this newspaper, he and Lofgren said they saw the weekend as an opportunity for Democrats to build strength coming off the successful 2018 midterm elections. Lofgren said brief speeches from 14 presidential candidates helped introduce some lesser-known Democrats. “For people that are not known in California, it was a helpful thing,” said Lofgren.
Old and new wounds still emerged at times, with the old guard and the new guard staking out competing claims for the party’s future, even in a state where Democrats hold an overwhelming dominance.
California in 2020 will be an early voting state, meaning primary balloting begins in February 2020, ahead of the Iowa Caucus. This new position enhances California’s role in the presidential election, making it more pivotal for candidates looking to pick up delegates.
That fact attracted 14 of the 23 Democratic hopefuls—including all of the frontrunners except former Vice President Joe Biden—to the convention in San Francisco. The Times attended the second day of the event on June 1.
The timing of ballots in the state isn’t the only thing that has changed for the Democratic party in California. Sexual assault allegations against Eric Bauman, former chair of the state Democratic party, forced him to resign last November, and the convention tapped Los Angeles labor leader Rusty Hicks as the new chair with a solid majority.
Rivas was at the convention and supported Hicks in the chair election. The Hollister Democrat said he was looking for a party chair who would pay attention to the wings of the Democratic party in all parts of the state.
Rivas said he was looking forward to “really working with [Hicks] that the California Democratic party extends beyond San Francisco and Los Angeles.”
“I’ve had multiple conversations with Rusty about where I come from,” said Rivas. “He was very receptive.”
Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine was chosen by Lofgren to be a delegate and also voted for Hicks.
Among South County Democratic leaders at the convention, the consensus was that the convention represented a cathartic healing point heading into what is sure to be a tough fight in 2020. Despite some new veiled potshots at Biden—without naming him—by Warren and Pete Buttigieg, a majority of the speakers focused on President Donald Trump. Big issues like immigration and Medicare for All got mostly passing references, and the May 31 shooting deaths in Virginia Beach were only mentioned by a single candidate, Sen. Cory Booker.
Lofgren, who represents California’s 19th district Congressional District, is head of California’s congressional delegation. She spoke at the convention on June 1, with a speech that focused on organizing Democrats going into the down-ballot races in 2020.
“I think [the convention] went remarkably well,” Lofgren told this paper. “I think the various presidential candidates had their fans and supporters, but I think it was generally collegial.”
Rivas and Lofgren both said that California’s new position as an early voting state made presidential candidates focus more intently on the issues that California is facing. Lofgren said that problems like housing shortages are rarely talked about by presidential candidates or made a part of presidential platforms, but she believes the new voting schedule is prompting candidates to speak about issues like housing.
Constantine said many national issues directly affect Morgan Hill—“Everything from income inequality to a woman’s reproductive rights to immigration reform,” he said. “All of those affect Morgan Hill. We’re just a microcosm of really just the country as a whole.”
Constantine, the first-term mayor of Morgan Hill, said he was looking for a candidate who could help heal the country’s ideological divides. Constantine said that even when campaigning for mayor, he had constituents who would not listen to his ideas because they found out he was a Democrat.
“That’s one thing I didn’t really hear from the candidates is how we’re going to bridge that gap,” said Constantine. He said he liked South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s speech at the convention and said it reminded him of President Barack Obama’s speech as a young senator at the 2004 convention.
Rivas didn’t endorse a candidate, but said he was impressed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren over the weekend. He said he was looking for a candidate who was going to take the time to address some of California’s problems and work to mend the relationship between California and the federal government that has been fractured during the Trump administration.
Rivas said,“As the most populous state in the country, our state deserves attention.”