14 Presidential Candidates and a State Party Chair Race at California Democrats Convention in San Francisco

By Hannah Brandt

The final presidential candidate, Julián Castro, speaks at the California Democrats State Convention (CADEM) in San Francisco on Sunday, June 2, 2019. Photo by Peter Maiden. Castro served as mayor of San Antonio, Tex. before he was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Obama. Castro spent much of his speech talking about immigrant rights and expanding Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to address poverty and increase housing. He spoke after his speech to the press and to members of the audience from the San Joaquin Valley.

To his left is California Democratic Party acting chair, Alexandra “Alex” Gallardo-Rooker. To his right is California Democratic Party (CDP) secretary Jenny Bach. Both women spoke at the end of the convention about the status of the California Democratic Party. Gallardo-Rooker drew ire from the audience when she chastised those who booed candidates and complained that there is “hate from within.” Bach talked passionately about how her experience as a child of refugees from the Vietnam War influenced her decision to enter politics. You can watch the full video of all the general session speeches on CADEM’s website here: https://www.cadem.org/news/press-releases/2019/video-of-general-session-speakers-from-california-democratic-party-2019-organizing-convention-now-availableThe convention was held at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. At three blocks and 87 acres, the sprawling three-building complex is the largest convention space in the city by the bay. It is a memorial to former San Francisco mayor George Moscone (D) who was assassinated in 1978 by a right-wing councilman upset by his civil rights policies.

Moscone originally opposed redevelopment of the neighborhood because he feared it would displace the mostly elderly and poor people of color who resided in what is known as SOMA (South of Market Avenue) or the Financial District. His fears were born out and it is now one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S. Photo by Hannah Brandt.

Advocates from Housing is a Human Right stand in the breezeway between Moscone South and Moscone North holding up signs to be seen by people below in cars and walking at street level. The convention utilized exhibit halls and conference rooms in both buildings. Photo by HousingisaHumanRight.org.Unprecedented real estate growth and soaring property values over the last ten years has made San Francisco ground zero for protests against its gentrification and massive levels of homelessness. Just around the corner from the glittering skyscrapers flanking the convention center are the makeshift tents of homeless encampments. This juxtaposition is a visual testament to California’s widening inequality in every part of the state.

Demonstrators from the Los Angeles-based group Housing is a Human Right marched through the convention holding signs and wearing shirts that said: “Gentrification Sucks” and the “Rent is Too Damn High” in an effort to get support for the Rental Affordability Act from delegates passing between caucus meetings, general assembly sessions, and meals. Photo by HousingisaHumanRight.org.Medicare for All and the California Democratic Party chair election were two big issues at the convention. Nearly all the presidential candidates voiced support for Medicare for All, with John Delaney, a former congressional representative from Maryland, being a notable exception. He was booed for a full minute for saying that Medicare for All is “not good policy or good politics.”

Both Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland and party chair candidate Kimberly Ellis cited Shirley Chisholm as an important influence. In 1969, Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to Congress and in 1972 she was the first black candidate for a major party nomination as well as the first black woman to run for president. She ran on the platform that she was “unbought and unbossed.” The Ellis campaign adopted her mantra, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Photo by Hannah Brandt.Shunning corporate money, fighting for a living and equal wage, and ending college debt were also emphasized by many of the presidential and party candidates. These were issues observers and delegates focused on, as well. In addition to cheering competitions, “sign battles” were common. 

Many people held posters, chanted slogans, and marched in groups for presidential and party candidates. Often they set up in the well-traversed area between the exhibit hall where the massive general sessions were held and the hall where dozens of organizations had booths. It was also where the escalators dropped off people coming down from the street level lobby. Photo by Hannah Brandt.Saturday, June 1, 2019, was the only full day of the convention. Eleven of the 14 presidential candidates spoke that day. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was the final speaker of the presidential candidates for the morning session. She received an enthusiastic response from the audience for her speech which was focused on ousting Donald Trump, taking on Wall Street, breaking up massive technology conglomerates, and creating a two-cent wealth tax on every dollar over $50 million. She says these policies would generate the revenue necessary to fund important social programs like free college and universal healthcare.

Senator Warren has gained fans due to her detailed policy plans and her personal messages to people who contact her. She has received criticism from those who object to the ways she has tried to claim Native American heritage and her support for some military actions. Photo by Peter Maiden.

Watch the video of Elizabeth Warren’s full speech above.

In addition to the people demonstrating for local and national domestic issues, there were also folks speaking out about international issues and foreign policy. A small group set up on the sidewalk outside the convention to protest American imperialism and military intervention in other countries. The signs read: “U.S. Out of Everywhere,” “From Palestine to the Philippines, Stop the War Machine,” “Genocide in Yemen Paid for by the U.S.A.,” “U.S. Hands Off Venezuela!,” “Palestine Will Win!,” “U.S.A.: Killing Working People Since 1776,” and “Money for Jobs, Not Wars.” Photo by Hannah Brandt.
Born in Oakland and raised in Berkeley, Senator Kamala Harris is a well-known Bay Area native and was the first presidential candidate to speak at the convention. She served as Attorney General of San Francisco before becoming California Attorney General and then U.S. senator. After she was introduced by fellow Oakland resident, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Harris said: “It’s good to be home.” She had a large group of supporters in the crowd. In her speech, Harris spoke about her plans to defeat Donald Trump, achieve equal pay and full rights for women, and to liberate those impacted by anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ policies.

Although Senator Harris has many fans in the San Francisco Bay Area, some are concerned by her role as a prosecutor in terms of criminal justice, mass incarceration and actions she took like threatening to prosecute parents of children who were truant from school. Photo by Peter Maiden.

 Watch Senator Harris’ speech in the video above.1*Z_TbZaBKIhLwiseDz5GoBwPresidential candidate and former Congressman from El Paso, Tex. Beto O’Rourke (born Robert Francis O’Rourke) spoke at least a paragraph of his seven-minute speech in Spanish. He emphasized the importance of undoing injustices against immigrants and preserving other civil rights. Alongside fellow Texan Julián Castro, O’Rourke was popular with the Central Valley delegates.

While he has gained a following through quirky social media posts of him singing in a band and skateboarding, as reported in the Texas Tribune, some of his constituents in El Paso feel betrayed by what they say was his backing of redevelopment led by his multi-millionaire father-in-law that destroyed historic, poor Latinx neighborhoods to build a sports arena, large retail stores, and high-end housing. Photo by Peter Maiden.

 Watch Beto O-Rourke’s full speech above.

U.S. Senator from New York Kirsten Gillibrand talked a lot about women’s rights, especially health rights and specifically the right to an abortion. This was a very hot topic of conversation amongst the candidates and delegates because several states (Ohio, Utah, Mo., Ky., Ark., La., Miss., Ala., and Ga.) had recently announced total bans on abortions at the first heartbeat, which can be as early as 6 weeks into pregnancy. Many women do not even know they are pregnant at 6 weeks.

California was not one of the states, however, many women here are concerned about the development and some have gone as far as to announce they will set up underground networks to get women from these states into states without these restrictive bans. As of the convention, none of these bans had taken effect yet and were being litigated in the courts. Gilda Gonzalez, CEO of Planned Parenthood Northern California, also addressed the convention on Sunday about these concerns and other attacks on women’s health rights. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons. You can watch Gillibrand’s full speech here: https://www.facebook.com/cadems/videos/2411849535757689/

U.S. Congressman from California Eric Swalwell is a lesser-known candidate, even in his home state, including in the Bay Area where his district is located (Dublin). He and Kamala Harris are the state’s first elected Democrats to run for the White House in 25 years. Until he launched his campaign many Californians did not know his name. He has been running primarily on one issue, gun control. He spoke about his personal feelings of concern about mass shootings at schools as a father of young children. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons. You can watch his speech here: https://www.facebook.com/cadems/videos/2411849535757689/

Although the focus was on speeches by presidential candidates, there were other high profile speakers, including California Governor and former mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom, current San Francisco Mayor London Breed — who is the first African American woman to hold the position — and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi is the only woman to have held the position of speaker of the house and she is the highest-ranking elected woman in U.S. history.

Like Senator Harris, Speaker Pelosi has enjoyed popularity in the Bay Area for her trail-blazing and long record of service as well as her criticisms of President Trump but she has faced increasing pressure from the Left to take more progressive positions on issues like universal healthcare and free college education. Recently, she has endured criticism primarily from those who are impatient for impeachment proceedings to begin against President Trump. During her speech at the convention, a group in the audience shouted “impeachment” at Pelosi. Photo by Peter Maiden.

According to CDP, a total of 5000 attendees came to the convention. They were party delegates, staff, volunteers, observers, or media. The 3400 delegates were seated by region in the hall for the general sessions. The six counties of the Central Valley were seated in Region 8 and 9. California Democratic Party delegates can be average citizens from the community or local, state or federal officeholders.

One of the issues in the CDP party chair race is the way that delegates are chosen. While many are voted in through local elections of the citizenry of their districts, some delegates are elected by a small group of party leadership members. Many are calling for that to change. Some delegates reported being harassed or bullied leading up to and during the convention for expressing such criticisms. Photo by Hannah Brandt.

Watch 32-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind. and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg give his speech in the video above. Buttigieg has received a lot of attention in the media due to his young age, his military service, and the fact that he is very open about his marriage to a man. He is seen as a moderate in the presidential hopeful field.

According to IndyStar, “He has had a sometimes bumpy relationship with African Americans in South Bend, where he demoted the city’s first black police chief and demolished hundreds of dilapidated homes in predominantly minority neighborhoods. He’s also expressed regret for using the phrase “all lives matter” in a 2015 speech, explaining he didn’t realize it’s often used as a counter to “Black Lives Matter.”

New Jersey senator, former Newark mayor, and presidential candidate Cory Booker waits outside the exhibit hall to be interviewed by San Francisco KPIX-TV CBS Channel 5. Photo by Peter Maiden. Booker spoke last on Saturday afternoon, at the end of the main day of presidential candidate speeches. 

Immediately before his speech, acting party chair, Alexandra “Alex” Gallardo-Rooker, asked for a moment of silence to remember the 14 people who were killed in Virginia Beach, Va. on May 31, the first day of the convention, one of the many mass shootings of the year. Following that, Booker chose to speak less about his candidacy and more about the staggering number of lives lost every year, as well as the long-overdue place for gun control. He received an enthusiastic response from the delegates.

 Watch Cory Booker’s speech above

U.S. Senator from Minnesota and presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar is considered a moderate in the field and was a long way from home. She has billed herself as the voice of America’s Heartland and that does not always play well in California. This is even true in the Central Valley, California’s Heartland, because California is, of course, not included when discussing Midwestern values.

However, of the moderates or centrists, she was the most well-received. She played more to the crowd than John Hickenlooper or John Delaney who almost dared the delegates to react negatively to their stance against Medicare for All. Photo by Gage Skidmore. You can watch her full speech here: https://www.facebook.com/cadems/videos/2411849535757689/

Washington state governor and presidential candidate Jay Inslee is another single-issue driven candidate. He is running a campaign focused on addressing climate change. He said that he was shocked he was the only one who made what is now being called the climate crisis a central issue, especially because when polled Americans have started putting it at the top of their priorities.

According to climate activists, the Democratic party has been slow to adjust to this massive shift. Inslee has the most ambitious and detailed plans of all the candidates on this issue, including 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity; 100 percent zero-emissions in new light-and medium-duty vehicles and all buses; 100 percent zero-carbon pollution in all new commercial and residential buildings. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons. You can watch his full speech here: https://www.facebook.com/cadems/videos/2411849535757689/

By the afternoon on Sunday, the last day of the convention, many people had left. Some stayed though, particularly because Bernie Sanders spoke. There was still a relatively large group of supporters of CDP chair candidate, Kimberly Ellis, who spoke toward the end of the session. Photo by Hannah Brandt.
Although some attendees did not arrive until Saturday, caucus meetings began on Friday evening. This was due to the fact that the CDP chair race was on Saturday. The Progressive Caucus (pictured above) had a packed agenda that launched when its moderator addressed the crowd by saying “I see a lot of troublemakers out there.” That got a lot of applause. Advocates from Los Angeles taught the group a chant for single-payer healthcare that included claps and stomps to “We Will Rock You.” They planned to get a crowd to do it the next day when Governor Newsom spoke. 

Several of the party chair candidates spoke to the caucus, including the front runners Rusty Hicks, Daraka Larimore-Hall, and Kimberly Ellis. They were asked questions about their positions on issues like climate change, sexual harassment, single-payer healthcare, fracking, a moratorium on oil drilling, the shut down of Diablo Canyon nuclear station, the automatic endorsement of the party chair, abolition of super-delegates, diversifying party leadership, support for Palestine, and whether they would endorse a presidential candidate before the Democratic National Convention. Photo by Peter Maiden.

The Progressive Caucus also had internal elections for offices on Friday evening. Ricardo (“Rico”) Franco (D) was elected media and communications director for the caucus. He is a Central Valley delegate who ran against incumbent Devin Nunes (R) for Congressional District 22 in 2016. Franco is not running for Congressional District 22 in 2020 and expressed his support for fellow former candidate Bobby Bliatout (D) who is running against Nunes again. Bliatout was also at the convention. Nunes’ closest challenger in 2016 was prosecutor Andrew Janz (D). Janz is not running against Nunes in 2020 either because he is running for mayor of Fresno against Fresno Police Chief, Jerry Dyer.

Franco used some of his time speaking to the Progressive Caucus to express how much concern many Central Valley Democrats have about Dyer’s run for mayor. His record includes allegations of statutory rape in the 1980s when he was 26, sending racist texts (there is also a photo from the 1990s of him holding a noose), allowing the use of excessive force, surveilling and targetting activists, covering up the murder of a whistleblower police officer and involvement in a massive drug ring. Despite these allegations, Dyer retains popularity in some parts of Fresno. Photo of Rico Franco by Hannah Brandt.1*Qo3SZLnBK8OGexo6Iw9PGQ

In addition to caucuses, general sessions, and party elections, delegates also had the opportunity to attend luncheons and dinners. These were not necessarily free and in some cases were expensive. Those who could afford to partake in events like the Berniecrat Dinner at New Asia restaurant in Chinatown on Friday evening were able to hear other party influencers such as the wife of Bernie Sanders, Jane Sanders.

Other speakers that night included Reverand Norman Fong, the executive director of San Francisco Chinatown Community Development Center, Al Rojas (pictured speaking) an immigrant and farmworkers rights activist, Ro Khanna, a Congressman from Silicon Valley, Jane Kim, the former San Francisco supervisor, and David Campos, San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee chair. Rojas used his time to educate the crowd about the often appalling conditions for farmworkers. Photo by Hannah Brandt.Photo of a luncheon by Peter Maiden.

California Democratic Party (CDP) chair candidate Kimberly Ellis. Photo by Peter Maiden. Since the 2016 election, Ellis has been loudly calling out the CDP for not doing enough to improve or be relevant to ordinary people’s lives. She ran for state party chair in 2016, as well. Although she had enthusiastic supporters, she lost to Eric Bauman who resigned in 2018 over allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior toward party staff members and activists.

Ellis wants to shift the party away from entrenched sources of power who she says turned a blind eye to this kind of behavior and built mistrust within the party. Ellis had something of rock star status at the convention with an entourage and supporters running up to her to tell her how much they appreciated her efforts to diversify the party.1*oJ9dJ0Jc5SkZivFXMd1JBw

Supporters of California Democratic Party chair candidate Kimberly Ellis rallied outside the exhibit hall in the moments leading up to the vote. There was a lot of anticipation and high hopes for change within the state party leadership. Photo by Hannah Brandt.

 Kimberly Ellis spoke to the delegates on Sunday after the results had come through Saturday night that she had lost. Many were loudly upset by the results and what they saw as a return to the status quo. You can watch the video of her speech above.

Rusty Hicks was the winner of the party chair race. He was backed primarily by labor unions. He vowed to not allow bad behavior to continue within the party and to work with those who had supported his opponents. He also had enthusiastic supporters at the convention, including from the Central Valley, primarily those who are connected to labor unions. Although the Fresno County Latina Democrats endorsed Kimberly Ellis, high profile leaders like Dolores Huerta endorsed Rusty Hicks. Huerta and her family were at the convention. Photo by Peter Maiden.
The crowded hallway in front of the main exhibit halls. Photo by Hannah Brandt.
U.S. congresswoman from Hawaii and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is something of a wild card. When she was elected to the Hawaii House of Representatives at age 21, Gabbard was the youngest woman to be elected to a U.S. state legislature. She is now 38 and supported Bernie Sanders in 2016. After serving in these military conflicts, she has become a critic of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That has endeared her to some in the progressive wing of the party but she has angered many due to anti-LGBTQ comments she made a few years ago.

She has apologized and says that her conservative Hindu upbringing limited her views in the past. Gabbard has recently changed her stance on abortion and Medicare for All. She has also been accused of being a Hindu Nationalist due to her ties to Hindu nationalist organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, and the Hindu American Foundation. Gabbard disputes these accusations. You can watch her speech above.

At the very end of the convention, there was a public comment period where delegates could go up to the microphone and address the party leadership. A few people took the opportunity to do so. One was California Democratic Party Region 6 Director Hene Kelly who lambasted the decision to include the vaping company JUUL as a sponsor of the convention because it has marketed its tobacco products to minors. She also criticized the party for allowing sponsorships from the ride-sharing app Uber, which has refused to categorize its drivers as employees or allow them to unionize. She argued that these practices go against the core values of the Democratic Party.

In response to the criticism, acting chair Gallardo-Rooker shot back that it is expensive to put on a convention and challenged Kelly to try doing it. Kelly accepted the challenge and asked what committee she needed to join to do so. High profile Democrats also expressed concern over the JUUL sponsorship, including Senator Warren, state Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo, and state Sen. Steve Glazer of Contra Costa County. Shortly after the convention, the city of San Francisco was the first in the nation to ban vaping products. Photo by Steve Glazer.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders were excited to see him at the convention on Sunday. Photo by Peter Maiden.
U.S. senator from Vermont and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke second to last on Sunday to the general session. Photo by Peter Maiden. By Sunday many had already left the convention but a lot had stayed to hear Sanders speak. Many of them were angry that he was put at the end when so many people had had to leave the convention. His speech was well received and very consistent in his message. It was focused on wiping out student debt, Medicare for All, and a living wage for all.

Sanders continues to energize the progressive wing of the party. The question remains whether he can expand that to the rest of the party. The division within the Democratic Party at the national and state level shows that Americans are still wrestling with all these issues. That was on full display at the California Democratic Convention.

You can listen to Bernie Sanders’ full speech in the video above.

 

 

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