Democratic delegates rally in the downstairs lobby at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco where California Democrats held their convention this weekend. Photo by Ben Christopher for CALmatters
Democratic delegates rally in the downstairs lobby at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco where California Democrats held their convention this weekend. Photo by Ben Christopher for CALmatters

For the second time in a row, the California Democratic Party favored a labor-backed candidate from Los Angeles to be its chairman—although tonight’s (not-yet-certified) win for Rusty Hicks was by a stronger margin than many expected.

The preliminary totals showed labor leader Hicks garnering 57% of the vote, and he claimed victory, telling supporters: “I’m Rusty Hicks and I’m reporting for duty.” (Ironically that line was made famous in 2004 by a fellow veteran, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry—before he went on to sound defeat.)

Victory for Hicks places him in charge of a state party apparatus that has been reeling from charges of sexual harassment and assault. The scandal led to the resignation of the chairman narrowly elected in 2017, Eric Bauman.

That close fight left lingering bitterness: Richmond progressive activist Kimberly Ellis and her supporters accused the party of picking a winner—a repeat of the divisive national Democratic convention in miniature.

Ellis ran for chair again this year, vowing to shake up the party’s standard operating procedure, “rooting out” what she called “a culture of abuse and harassment and retaliation,” but also placing more of a focus on progressive policy pushing rather than the traditional nuts-and-bolts of fundraising and operations. Preliminary totals showed her in second place with 36 percent of the vote.

Rusty Hicks
Rusty Hicks

Hicks has also promised to clean house, but in his approach to the job and in his own biography, he represents more of a continuation for the state’s largest political party. He’s president of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves  and an alum of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He had the backing of much of the party establishment—including Attorney General Xavier Becerra and over 30 state legislators and members of Congress.

Asked after his victory about the deep divisions that animated the race for chair, he said: “We should embrace the passion that comes into the party and also remember what our party is singularly focused on and that’s seeing a change in the White House in 2020.”

We’ve also provided a crib sheet as to what the 14 presidential candidates had to say this weekend to appeal to California Democrats.

Gov injects fresh controversy into vaccine debate:

Speaking to reporters after his convention speech, Gov. Gavin Newsom waded into one of the most contentious issues in state politics: vaccination exemptions. A bill advancing in the Legislature would require that state public health officials decide whether the underlying condition cited to exempt a child from state vaccination requirements meets guidelines set by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Under current law, a doctor’s say-so alone can suffice. Critics complain that some doctors have made a cottage industry of doling out unwarranted waivers, putting public health at greater risk for outbreaks of measles and other diseases.

“I like doctor-patient relationships,” Newsom told reporters. “As a father of four that goes through this on a consistent basis, that’s just something we need to pause and think about.”

An early warning fails:

Kicking off the convention yesterday, interim party chair, Alex Gallardo-Rooker issued a warning: absolutely no booing or disruption inside the convention hall would be tolerated. The policy was inspired by the raucous and contentious party convention two years ago. “I don’t want a 2017 here again…not under my watch.”

Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. Read on….

Hickenlooper feels a chill:

John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, had a bit of strategic advice for the assembled Democrats: “If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big, progressive goals, Socialism is not the answer.”

The assembled Democrats were not receptive to that message. The booing lasted for about half a minute. It picked back up again when Hickenlooper argued that a national universal health insurance policy shouldn’t abolish private health insurance.

Kamala Harris upstages Klobuchar…

At a Saturday morning gathering of the California Democratic Party’s women’s caucus, the love for U.S House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco was thick in the air. But Pelosi wasn’t the only one with hardcore fans. As Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar was working to woo the packed room, she was interrupted by the entrance of California Sen. Kamala Harris. The crowd’s uproar was so disruptive, Klobuchar ended her pitch with a nod to Harris.

“And I always like to joke, as my friend Kamala comes in, may the best woman win,” she said.

And then gets upstaged herself:

At a “Big Ideas” forum held near the convention by the group, Harris lost the spotlight briefly  herself when an animal rights protester rushed the stage as she spoke about how she plans to tackle gender pay inequities and grabbed her microphone. The protester was identified as Aidan Cook of Direct Action Everywhere. He was ultimately escorted offstage, and Harris recovered and responded with “It’s all good,” and the event continued. Not as far as BitchMedia cofounder Andi Zeisle was concerned: On Twitter, she described the the protester as a “walking kombucha burp.”

As some delegates clamor for the “I word,” Pelosi stops short:

Nancy Pelosi had much to say about President Trump on Saturday morning. She vowed to continue to “legislate,” but also “investigate and litigate” (a rejoinder to Trump who said during his most recent State of the Union address that “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation”). She said he was “undermining America.” She asked what he was “covering up.” But she did not use the “I” word.

But plenty of delegates in the audience were happy to play Mad Libs, shouting “Impeach.”

Pelosi didn’t seem flustered. “I told you this is like coming home to me,” she said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom later said that he had “absolute confidence” in Pelosi’s approach to hold off for now.

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Elizabeth is a general assignment reporter for CalMatters. She graduated from Chico State with a bachelor's degree in journalism. While in college at Chico, Elizabeth did internships with the local NPR...

Ben covers housing policy and previously covered California politics and elections. Prior to these roles at CalMatters, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and...