Democrats in the hunt for California governor work the party faithful at state party convention

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, takes a selfie with fellow California gubernatorial candidates Delaine Eastin and Treasurer John Chiang following their speeches to the Chicano Latino Caucus at the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

State Democratic leaders got their first long look at their party’s field of 2018 gubernatorial candidates at the California Democratic Party’s convention in Sacramento this weekend, with all calling on California to lead the resistance against Republican President Donald Trump.

The raucous event was disrupted by protests and rallies, and led by a party chairman, John Burton, who didn’t hesitate to hurl F-bombs toward the rabble rousers. The loudest protests came from Democrats aligned with Bernie Sanders, who demanded party support for a single-payer health care program and that the party stop accepting corporate donations.

The four top Democratic candidates in the running for governor tried their best to tap into that uprising while also cozying up to the party faithful.


Lt. Gov. Gavin Newson vowed not to accept campaign donations from oil companies on Friday and dished out ice cream to delegates on Saturday. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for early-childhood education in a speech to Latino delegates, and later snapped selfies with his rival gubernatorial candidates and others in the hall.

“We are all Californians. Wear it with pride. This is our moment,” Newsom told the Democratic Party delegates gathered at the Sacramento Convention Center. “California Democrats: Let’s show the world that Donald Trump is the last vestige of a darker, obsolete past and offer a bold, new vision for a progressive and prosperous future.”

Newsom, Villaraigosa and rivals state Treasurer John Chiang and former state Supt. of Instruction Delaine Eastin took plenty of shots at Trump, and all laid out political agendas that aligned on issues such as improving public schools and access to college, healthcare for all and protecting immigrant rights.

Each also telegraphed campaign strategies that California voters are likely to see over the next year as the campaign creeps toward the June 2018 primary election.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks with reporters at the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento on Friday.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Chiang emphasized his record of protecting California’s fiscal integrity during the Great Recession while he served as state controller, saying the state needs a keen financial mind in charge to find more money for schools, healthcare and other priorities.

Eastin is using her campaign to focus attention on California’s public schools, which she says are woefully underfunded.

Villaraigosa spoke of the need to create good jobs and higher-quality education to help Californians bypassed by the economic recovery.

“This party has to look inside its soul and look in the rearview mirror, and understand that we’ve got to grow our economy again,” Villaraigosa said during an appearance before the party’s Chicano Latino Caucus. “We’ve got to address the fact that the economy is rigged. It’s not working for enough people.”

Chiang spoke of the need for the Democratic Party to be more inclusive. He shunned rhetoric by some Democratic activists who insisted the party should only support candidates who back all the tenets of the party platform, which would alienate some moderate members of Congress and the Legislature.

“I’d rather have a Democrat that’s with us 95% of the time than someone who against us 95% of the time,” Chiang said. “There’s going to be Central Valley Democrats back in Washington, D.C., who are representative of the agricultural industry. We want them on healthcare. We might not fully agree with them on other issues.”

Villaraigosa and Eastin both received unfavorable speaking slots during the convention, with each taking the stage after voting opened to elect a new state party chairperson. Hundreds of delegates were heading for the exits or already outside the hall when the two delivered their speeches.

The convention also lured a few big-name Democrats who have not filed to run for governor, but around whom there has been speculation about potential bids. . The group included billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Léon.

Steyer, whose organization NextGen Climate handed out breakfast burritos to delegates Saturday morning, remained coy about his plans, saying only, “We are considering our options.”

Garcetti made a brief appearance at the convention, speaking at a luncheon hosted by Service Employees International Union delegates and addressing party delegates gathered Saturday afternoon. Garcetti deflected questions about his political future when asked earlier this week, saying he’s happy to serve a second term as mayor.

De Léon also didn’t tip his hand during his Saturday afternoon convention address. Still, a slick campaign-style video preceding his speech and “Run Kevin Run” signs floating around the convention hall indicated that he may have an eye on higher office in 2018.

Hector Huezo, a delegate from Boyle Heights, said that although he could back Newsom or Chiang for governor, he would rather see Steyer jump into the race.

“He’s a progressive environmentalist and he ran his own business,” said Huezo, 34, an organizer for a local transit policy organization. “And he’s good at agitating Trump.”

Jim Mastin, co-chairman of the party’s Mendocino County central committee, said he remains undecided, which was one of the reasons he was listening intently all weekend.

“I want to know more about what they’re going to do for California,” said Mastin, a retired supervisor at Mendocino College. “I want them to go beyond Trump bashing.”

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