‘We will rise to the occasion because there is no one else’: California Democrats gather to strategize in wake of Trump win

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn)
Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is campaigning to be the next Democratic National Committee chair, tells California party leaders in San Diego on Saturday that Donald Trump was elected president because of poor Democratic turnout.
(Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)

With a gloom hanging over them after the election of Donald Trump, leaders of the California Democratic Party this weekend began plotting how to combat the policies of the incoming Republican president, discussing how to reach out to the millions of disaffected voters who supported the president-elect.

The two-day strategy session, held by the party’s executive committee near Mission Bay, was part therapy session and part pep rally. Democrats commiserated about the implications of the GOP controlling the White House and Congress, but also celebrated an election that handed the Democrats a near iron grip on California.

Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is campaigning to become the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told a packed hotel ballroom of hundreds of party loyalists that the grassroots activism that turned California solidly blue needs to be replicated in every county across the nation.

“We lost this election for three reasons: turnout, turnout and turnout,” Ellison said. “We’re not seeing some sort of electrification of the conservative voter. We are not getting our people out to vote.”


Some of the state’s most influential Democrats criticized the party for failing to recognize the economic despair felt by Trump supporters across the U.S., including in pockets of inland California. Others insisted the party strayed too far from its liberal base, losing young voters and other progressives who put President Obama into the White House.

Environmental activist Tom Steyer, a San Francisco hedge fund billionaire who had been thinking about a 2018 run for governor, said he may now forgo that opportunity because of the threats posed by the Trump administration against efforts to combat climate change, protect immigrants and other Democratic policies that reflect “California values.”  

Instead, he said, he may plow his efforts into protecting California laws to reduce carbon emissions and working to expand the state’s progressive policies across the nation.  


“Donald Trump’s election was a shocking mistake of historical proportions. His dangerous ideas and policies threaten the freedom, the safety and the prosperity of every American,” Steyer said. “This is our moment. We will rise to the occasion because there is no one else.”

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who announced a bid for governor just after the Nov. 8 election, said many voters in the Rust Belt and America’s heartland — as well as in California’s Central Valley and northern areas — flocked to Trump because they felt bypassed by the new economy and overlooked by leaders in Washington and Sacramento.

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“Yes, we’re the sixth-largest economy in the world, and yes, we’re growing jobs, but we’re not growing them everywhere. And a lot of people feel left out,” he said. “There are 3 million people [in California] who voted for Trump. We’ve got to ask them why.”

State Controller Betty T. Yee also warned fellow Democrats that, despite the state party’s successes on election day, they should not dismiss the swell of support for Trump and other Republicans throughout the country, in large part because many Americans are struggling financially.

“One of the immediate things we have to do is to be sure that the red wave does not hit California. And it has the very potential to do that,” Yee said. “There are pockets of this state that have not been touched by government, by anyone who wants to bring services to them.”

Donald Trump’s election was the main topic at a meeting of the California Democratic Party executive committee on Saturday in San Diego.
Donald Trump’s election was the main topic at a meeting of the California Democratic Party executive committee on Saturday in San Diego.
(Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times )

Throughout most of the day, party leaders tried their best to highlight the significant gains made by Democrats in California in the election. Democrats secured a supermajority in the Assembly and are on the verge of doing the same in the state Senate, which would give them the political power to raise taxes and send proposals to the ballot without Republican support.


Dana Dean, president of the Solano County Board of Education, said Democrats made history this election. Not only did the Democrats select the first woman ever to be the presidential nominee of a major political party, but Hillary Clinton also won the popular vote, she said. .

“It’s OK to take a moment and say, ‘Whoa, that hurt,’” Dean said. “But we also have to realize all that we accomplished.”

Among the California Democratic Party leadership, there were strident calls for action to block or undercut Trump’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, deport millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally and set aside environmental protections. 

Eric Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, called on Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Legislature to “scrub” the state Constitution, laws and statutes to find any legal means available to “to protect every Californian” against new conservative policies of the Trump administration. 

Bauman, who is running to be the next state party chairman, said that California Democrats must do everything they can to protect abortion rights, same-sex marriage and “healthcare for every child, documented or not.”

Kimberly Ellis of San Francisco, who also is in the running to be the next party chair, dismissed the concerns that the party did not do enough nationally to appeal to voters won over by Trump, saying “that’s not the solution to our long-term problem.” 

Ellis, executive director of Emerge California, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of Democratic women in elected office, said that instead the party should focus on addressing  groups she said are threatened the most by a Trump administration: women, people of color, Muslims, the LGBT community and young voters.

“The Democratic Party, here in California and across the nation, has a lot of work to do,” Ellis said.


Follow @philwillon on Twitter


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