The convention was supposed to be a snooze. Thanks to the presidential race, pot and protests, it will be anything but
With California’s June primary likely to play a decisive role in selecting the GOP presidential nominee, the state Republican Party’s expected yawner of a spring convention is now primed to be a hyper-caffeinated political blowout.
Presidential contenders Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich are all booked to speak to party loyalists at the three-day GOP confab in Burlingame, and they will be strategizing with their California leadership teams on how best to mine the state's mother lode of delegates.
And since Trump is wading into the liberal waters of the Bay Area to make an appearance at the convention, a diverse corps of political protesters is, naturally, coming to meet him.
The state party also will sort through a few less entertaining, but equally volatile issues. That includes whether the party should support some highly charged initiatives expected to be on the November ballot including legalizing marijuana, outlawing the death penalty and lifting a ban on plastic bags.
Here's a look at what's ahead for the weekend.
No goody bags of delegates handed out
Though Trump, Cruz and Kasich — and their surrogates — will be feverishly working the ballrooms and hallways to win over party members, this weekend's event plays no role in awarding presidential delegates to the Republican National Convention in July.
California will send the largest contingent of delegates — 172 — to the convention in Cleveland, and the rules about how they are chosen are well defined.
The June 7 primary is a winner-take-all contest, with three delegates up for grabs in each of California's 53 congressional districts. Another 13 delegates go to the statewide winner.
Each campaign is required to pre-select its own slate of delegates, and provide that list to the California secretary of State by May 9.
If you're a Republican running for president in California and you don't get protested, you're doing something wrong.
— Jim Brulte, chairman of the California Republican Party
Organizers are quietly preparing for demonstrators, especially on Friday when Trump arrives. One protest-oriented website earlier this month put out the call for demonstrations: "Grab your torches and pitchforks folks. Donald Trump is coming to the Bay Area this month."
State Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte declined to say what security plans were in place. But the party is well aware of some of the violent clashes that have erupted at Trump events across the country. Holding the convention in one of the most liberal regions of the state makes that even more likely.
Two Facebook events have been set up to organize protests Friday morning outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Burlingame, a town of 30,000 people about 16 miles south of downtown San Francisco.
The two Facebook pages pushing protests received 3,500 RSVPs, with thousands more expressing interest in attending. “Let's show him a real Bay Area welcome by peacefully protesting outside,” one page says.
“Building a mass action wall to keep him out! Donald CHUMP thinks he's going to give a speech in the bay,” reads one event page called “Turn Up on Trump.” “The republicans are meeting to build more facist [sic] power. The people will rise and shut it all down.”
That protest is being organized by a local direct action group called the BlackOut Collective along with the local Anti-Police Terrorism Project, Black Lives Matter Bay Area and Black Youth Project 100, according to the event’s Facebook page.
Who knows how many people will actually turn up, but the groups organizing the protest have a strong track record, shutting down the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in recent years.
It is unclear if Trump supporters will counter-demonstrate. Supporters and opponents of the Republican presidential candidate clashed outside Anaheim City Hall this week.
Burlingame police are monitoring the Facebook groups and have requested officers from other Bay Area cities to help handle the crowds, said Burlingame police spokesman Lt. Jay Kiely.
“We are a small agency of 37 officers," he said, adding that he does not have a final tally of officers who will be present Friday. “We will have a significant amount of officers around the perimeter, as well as officers inside the Hyatt.”
He said a few hundred protesters came to the hotel for a previous Republican convention when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin spoke a few years ago. The event was peaceful, he said.
“We are going to make sure people can exercise their 1st Amendment rights,” he said.
“The Trump campaign poses an imminent danger to the most oppressed and vulnerable sectors of society and all working people and must be protested and shut down anywhere that he is given a platform to speak,” the group wrote on its website.
Larger protests outside Trump's events have the potential to be particularly flammable. One in Chicago this year grew so unwieldy that his speech was canceled out of safety precautions. At a rally outside of Phoenix, protesters blocked the main road into one of his events, forcing some attendees to walk three miles to attend.
Trump is scheduled to hold a rally in Costa Mesa on Thursday night. The Democratic Party of Orange County and Orange County Young Democrats have announced that they plan to protest the event at the Orange County Fairgrounds.
Sold out event
Soon after word got out that the California Republican Party had won the trifecta by landing Trump, Cruz and Kasich to speak at the convention, tickets started going fast. The 600-seat ballroom at the Hyatt is booked solid for all three speeches.
The party received more than 400 credential requests from media outlets nothing like it has happened in recent history.
"The California primary is competitive. It may be determinate. And we have the three remaining presidential candidates," Brulte said. "We're very, very happy about that."
Trump will be the first to arrive and is scheduled to speak at the convention’s kickoff luncheon on Friday. That evening, Kasich will address the delegates during the official dinner banquet. And on Saturday, Cruz will appear before the delegation at noon.
And a vice presidential contender, too
Saturday night's long-planned keynote speaker will be former presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina, named on Wednesday as Cruz's running mate.
Brulte said the party invited Fiorina, and all the other GOP presidential candidates, way back in January, when the GOP presidential field was still overflowing.
Party to consider pot measure
Off the main stage of this weekend’s convention, state Republican leaders will wrestle over whether to support, oppose or remain neutral on a long list of statewide measures expected to be on the June or November ballots.
Many of them “might profoundly affect the future of California,” said Republican mega-donor Charles Munger Jr. of Palo Alto, who chairs the party’s initiatives committee. Republican voters across California look to the state party for guidance on the initiatives, he said.
Among the issues that may be considered this weekend:
Marijuana: The so-called Adult Use of Marijuana Act would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, allowing those 21 and older to possess and use up to an ounce. The measure would impose a 15% tax on retail sales of the drug and require the state to regulate the cultivation, distribution and sale of recreational marijuana.
Death penalty: There are dueling ballot measure proposals. One would expedite the appeals of death row inmates, aimed at speeding up executions in California. The second would eliminate death sentences in California and replace them with a sentence of life without parole.
Plastic bags: The measure would overturn a 2014 law that phases in a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.
Cigarette taxes: The proposal would hike cigarette taxes by $2 a pack to fund healthcare programs and tobacco-use prevention.
Gun rights: The so-called the Safety for All Act would require background checks for ammunition purchases and ban possession of large-capacity magazines.
Extending reign of GOP chairman
California Republican Party also will also make a major leadership decision — whether to extend the term limits for the state party chairman
If approved, Brulte would be eligible to serve at least another two-year term.
He is credited with helping turn around the party's finances and launching a rebuilding process to make the GOP politically relevant again in California.
"This would give him time to finish what he started," said Michael Osborn, chairman of the Ventura County Republican Party.
Seema Mehta contributed to this report.
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