At their weekend convention in Sacramento, California Democrats elected a new chairman, heard updates on the fight in Congress from the key player in the Trump/Russia investigation, and were encouraged to make universal health-care coverage happen in their state.
They still managed to leave the city in a brawl over the chairmanship and the national party’s refusal to run on single-payer health care.
The convention, which came after supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders won swaths of delegate slots across the state, demonstrated not just the divisions inside the party but how easily they can be exploited. In California, Democrats have pushed the Republican Party to near-irrelevancy, and pushed through a progressive agenda of social spending paid for by higher taxes.
But progressives showed up with a mission: electing Kimberly Ellis to chair the party after eight years of John Burton, a proudly foul-mouthed operative who had never concealed his distaste for the Sanders primary challenge. According to the Los Angeles Times, California Nurses Association/National Nurses United was the prime mover behind rallies and demonstrations demanding that the party back single payer, and heckling if Democrats were weak-kneed about it.
“They’re going to be telling you how bad Trump is and how we should all be okay with them because Trump’s so bad,” said NNU’s RoseAnn DeMoro, according to reporter Christine Mai-Duc. “You guys are going to want to boo. There’s a lot of good people to boo.”
Indeed, coverage of the convention — which determined control of the strongest Democratic Party in the country — focused acutely on the public shows of division. NNU, which specializes in protests and visibility, made sure that activists were in force demanding single payer; in the crowd, plenty booed “corporate Democrats.” Republicans had a field day with a clip, recorded by the Sacramento Bee, of Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez trying to give a speech at a reception and being shouted over by the activists.
“Hey, shut the f— up or go outside, all right?” Burton said.
Coverage of that moment, and of the convention’s main speeches, demonstrated how much of an appetite there is on the left for stories of Democrats being weak on policy — or sidelining policy to discuss the Russia story. A Saturday story in the New York Observer focused on the heckles of Perez and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s speech.
“Pelosi, who also doesn’t support single payer health care, focused her speech at the California Democratic Party Convention on Russia as well,” wrote reporter Michael Saitano. That version of the story rocketed around Twitter over the weekend.
In fact, Pelosi dealt with the Russia probe in around 90 seconds of her speech, saying that Democrats would “protect our democracy by demanding the truth about a Trump-Russia connection” and that “Trump and the Republicans in Congress must stop stonewalling our request for an independent investigation.” She spent more than twice as much time on the “life and death consequences” of defeating the “moral monstrosity of Trumpcare.”
“The Affordable Care Act enables every state to create a public option,” Pelosi said. “I believe that California must take the lead.”
That was less than activists wanted, and in video of the remarks, cries of “single payer” could be heard rumbling under Pelosi’s speech. Yet the larger division came with the chairman vote — which Ellis lost, and Los Angeles County Chair Eric Bauman won. Instead of leaving the weekend on a note of celebration, Democrats left in a tiff, with Ellis refusing to concede the close race before an audit of the vote was conducted.