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Check it out: The state Democratic convention

A view of the main floor at the state Democratic Party convention in San Jose. (Photo: Alvin Chen/Capitol Weekly)

First, take 3,000 political junkies, mix in a few dozen ambitious politicians and stir thoroughly.  Let simmer for three days and — Whee! — you have the California Democratic Party convention.

It was an earnest carnival in San Jose reflecting what makes California politics so much fun.

A commercial printing firm that does work for political candidates and causes set up life-sized cardboard cutouts of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden.  The cordial proprietors estimated that as of 10:20 Saturday morning, 1,000 conventioneers had posed for photographs with one or another of the cutouts.  Bernie had seized an early lead, then Hillary had caught up, and now it was back and forth, neck-and-neck.

At one point, the line at the security entrance stretched the length of two football fields.  “Maybe a little longer than that,” one guard estimated.

Despite the tight cutout sweepstakes, Hillary supporters making themselves visible along the second-floor concourse seemed to be as scarce as, well, Donald Trump baseball caps.  Bernie was all over the place, with a triple-size booth and hordes of supporters who were either very young or very old; there were relatively few middle-agers.

A campaign worker with cutouts of Biden and Clinton. Sanders is out of view on the left.

A Democratic volunteer with cutouts of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. Sanders is out of view on the left. 

It was impossible to walk more than 10 feet without encountering a young person, or sometimes an elderly one, wielding a clipboard and intent on getting you to sign an initiative to legalize marijuana use, make government more transparent, or whack cigarette smokers with an additional $2 per pack tax.

Private security personnel in ill-fitting black suits were everywhere, receiving messages through gadgets wired into their ears.  Because Vice President Joe Biden was due to deliver the keynote speech, the Secret Service sent in a contingent of agents, augmented by Transportation Safety Administration people who ran airport-style security gates.  At one point, the line stretched the length of two football fields.  “Maybe a little longer than that,” one guard estimated.

Anyone interested in political swag could score ballpoint pens, candy, badges, red rubber bracelets, plastic cups and more ballpoint pens.  Whole Canadian forests had been leveled to provide signs that supporters waved in the air during the general session.

U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein wasn’t there, and Gov. Jerry Brown showed up later in the evening. One prevalent theory was that they wanted to avoid diverting the spotlight from retiring Senator Barbara Boxer, who was there.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom wasn’t on hand either, but he had a good excuse — the birth of his fourth child, a boy, on the eve of the convention.

Former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was there, standing alone in front of the Sierra Club booth, handing out material.

Conventioneers were treated — if that’s the word — to a succession of auditions from politicians hoping to move up another rung on the political ladder.  They included State Treasurer  John Chiang, who is thinking about running for governor in 2018; Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, who is too; Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who wants to become attorney general.  Newsom sent a video of himself and his wife sitting together on a couch and talking about their expected fourth child and the issues Newsom expected to address if he were to become governor in January of 2019.

Biden showed up an hour late.  Party Chairman John Burton finally announced that Biden was in the building, but during the 15 minutes or so before Biden was to begin his speech, there would be a video

There were at least three booths advocating the legalization of marijuana; the California Medical Association was there, pushing an increase in the tobacco tax to Save Lives; Planned Parenthood’s booth was awash in pink; another booth thanked Americans for relief efforts to help Armenians during the First World War-era killings.  The Armenians describe it as genocide; the Turks deny that.

Orange County Representative Loretta Sanchez, clinging to a faint hope that the convention would endorse her rather than rival Kamala Harris, delivered a 35-minute, high-pitched resume in a voice that occasionally seemed to quaver.  Harris, who came on immediately afterward, was smooth, polished, and talked about what Democrats needed to do.  She drew a standing ovation.  Harris needed approval from 60 percent of the delegates to win the endorsement; she got 78 percent.

Party Chairman John Burton

Party Chairman John Burton

Biden showed up an hour late.  Party Chairman John Burton finally announced that Biden was in the building, but during the 15 minutes or so before Biden was to begin his speech, there would be a video.  Men decided that would be a good opportunity to visit the lone men’s room.  The line was long.  Women could not resist coming by and saying “Ha!  Now you guys know what it’s like!”

The vice president delivered a 55-minute, classic Biden stemwinder, deploring Republican vulgarity and lack of interest in helping the Middle Class.  He attacked those who said the nation could not afford government programs aimed at helping the poor and Middle Class.  He was a hit.  One heckler, yelling about a plot, was ejected.

The late Democratic strategist Frank Mankiewicz, looking around at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, famously observed: “Every little meaning has a movement all its own.”

Frank would have felt right at home.
Ed’s Note: Corrects 9th graf to show that Gov. Brown attended later in the evening, deletes pull quote.


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