Newsletter: California Democrats feel the love (for now)

Essential Politics

Maybe San Francisco wasn’t Camelot these past 72 hours, but it’s certainly where California Democrats had one brief shining moment to be wooed by almost every major candidate vying for their primary vote as president.

The California Democratic Party’s annual convention lived up to the hype as a raucous affair with 14 presidential hopefuls addressing delegates on Saturday and Sunday. But will they be back to actually campaign?

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It’s hardly surprising that few things unified Democrats at the state party convention more than their opposition to President Trump.

“Some say if we all just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told the delegates. “But our country is in a time of crisis.”

And yet, not all candidates embraced the same path forward. Few found the convention crowd more unwilling to embrace a more centrist political agenda than former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was booed when he expressed doubt about government-run healthcare.

But it was a moment for the most diehard members of the Golden State’s most dominant political party to soak it all in.

“The White House hopefuls speechified, shook hands, hugged, smiled for selfies and signaled to neglected California Democrats — simply by being here — that they and their home state matter very much,” write Mark Z. Barabak and Melanie Mason.

Set aside the analysis of whether the state will matter in the Democratic presidential sweepstakes and just consider, for now, the calendar.

The bulk of absentee ballots will be mailed out starting next Feb. 3 — the same day of the Iowa caucuses. The last day to register to vote in California will be Feb. 17, in between the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucuses (though voters will be allowed conditional registration up to, and including, election day). One hundred fifty-five delegates to the Democratic National Convention — probably less than one-tenth needed to become the nominee — will have been awarded by the time California’s primary arrives on Tuesday, March 3.


Getting on California’s presidential primary ballot may be different come next year, and chances are you had no idea just how unusual the process has been for the past 45 years.

Simply put: One statewide elected official decides who is and isn’t a viable candidate.

But it’s that mysterious and even subjective process for getting on the ballot that state lawmakers appear poised to change, imposing some rules for candidates to show they’re serious contenders. One skeptic, however, is former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. The would-be challenger to Trump sent an opposition letter to California Senate Bill 505.

“For the good not only of the Republican Party, but our democratic republic itself, I urge you to vote against this well-intended but flawed legislation,” Weld wrote.


The Democrats gathered in San Francisco had some business to attend to after hearing from the presidential contenders: select a new state party leader, the final chapter of an internal controversy that began with revelations about the behavior of the former party chairman, Eric Bauman.

On Saturday, delegates selected Rusty Hicks, the president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, as their next chairman. Hicks beat out Kimberly Ellis, who lost a bitter race to Bauman in 2017.

“Coming out of the labor movement, I believe in the collective. I don’t believe in the individual,” Hicks said to supporters on Saturday night. “In order to see a change in the White House, we’re going to have to have a real change in the California Democratic Party, and that starts with us standing together tonight.”


Lawmakers at the state Capitol return this week to zero in on a new budget, after taking action on hundreds of bills before a deadline for proposals to move out of their house of origin.

An effort to temporarily protect California tenants from steep rent hikes cleared a major hurdle in the Legislature, even as other measures meant to insulate renters from the state’s rising housing costs continue to fall short.

Few bills had drawn a more intense, personal reaction than legislation to impose new use-of-force standards in police shootings. Controversial compromises were unveiled on May 23 and the state Assembly gave final passage to the bill — which could give California one of the toughest standards in the nation — last week. But some of the bill’s earliest supporters in the African American community walked away, disappointed in the concessions as the bill now heads to the Senate.

Elsewhere, a closely watched and intensely debated effort to impose a two-year moratorium on new charter schools in California was scuttled, a defeat for powerful teachers unions.

Lawmakers embraced new privacy rules for consumers who purchase smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Home device, designed to ensure that the devices don’t record private conversations without permission

College athletes in California would be able to sign with agents and profit from endorsement deals under a bill that cleared the Senate, prompting a potential showdown with the National Collegiate Athletic Assn., which bars such compensation.

Assembly members approved a long-discussed plan that would allow San Francisco city officials to open facilities where people can inject drugs without legal consequences.

And the Assembly also voted to ban from hotels complimentary shampoo bottles and other personal care products that contribute to plastic pollution.


-- President Trump arrives in London on Monday for a state visit and the start of a five-day visit to the United Kingdom and France.

-- A top White House aide said Sunday that Trump is “absolutely, deadly serious” about imposing a 5% tariff on Mexican goods next week in a bid to stop migrants from reaching America’s southern border.

-- One day after a mass shooting that left 12 people dead in Virginia, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for nationwide background checks on ammo purchases.

-- Newsom also made news on Friday when, after several conservative-leaning states enacted tough new limits on abortions, he invited women to come to California to “fully exercise their reproductive rights.”

-- Two years after lawmakers boosted the gas tax to improve California streets, some cities have spent millions of the new dollars on “road diet” projects that reduce the number and size of lanes for motor vehicles.

-- Newsom and legislative leaders have declined, for now, to embrace any changes to California’s wildfire liability law.


Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.

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