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S.B. Pols Shine and Stumble at Democratic Disneyland

The Cattle Call of Presidential Wannabes Attracted 14 Contenders

Daraka Larimore-Hall speaks at the California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco | Credit: Jerry Roberts

The largest assemblage of presidential contenders to date — 14, count ’em, 14 — flocked to the California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco over the weekend, joined by a soupçon of prominent Santa Barbara pols.

The event drew more than 5,000 officeholders, delegates, political junkies, protesters, and media hacks to the Moscone Convention Center for a dazzling display of democracy.

Excerpts from a reporter’s notebook:  

MONIQUE STARS — AND STALLS:  Assemblymember Monique Limón’s rising-star status was evident: The only rank-and-file lawmaker to win a coveted podium speaking slot, she addressed the convention about the growing clout of women in Sacramento; meanwhile, crowds milled around an exhibit booth promoting AB 539, her landmark bill to clamp restrictions on the predatory lending industry.

Photo: Jerry RobertsAssemblymember Monique Limón at the California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco

“As women leaders in California, we are no longer playing by the rule book; we are writing the rule book,” she said in her speech. “In our reality, we are not here to try on glass slippers; we are here to shatter glass ceilings. “

In an interview, Limón prolonged her Hamlet act about 2020, and about whether she will seek reelection or run for the state Senate seat of termed-out Hannah-Beth Jackson. Because next year’s primary has been advanced to March — early voting starts in February — her decision is urgent and consequential for Santa Barbara’s political class.

Monique already blew by a public promise to disclose a decision several months ago; pressed by a reporter, she merely pointed to the legal schedule of candidate deadlines, which shows filing officially begins in September.

“I’m thoughtful about decisions,” she said, dismissing the suggestion that delay makes her seem dithering and indecisive. “Monique will announce when Monique is ready to.”

JASON IS RUNNING FOR … SOMETHING:  A surprise face in the crowd: S.B. Councilmember Jason Dominguez, who worked the halls searching for support for a 2020 legislative bid.

Photo: Jerry RobertsJason Dominguez

Now seeking reelection in District 1, Dominguez is openly maneuvering to run next year for whichever Sacramento seat Limón doesn’t; although he’s persona non grata with the local Democratic committee, he said he had encouraging conversations with labor types at the convention, presenting himself as a “progressive with an independent streak.”

Asked if the spectacle of running for reelection and the Legislature simultaneously might trouble District 1 voters, Dominguez answered, “Not at all — it’s not a substantive issue.”

DARAKA CRASHES:  By Friday afternoon, 24 hours before balloting for state party chair began, Daraka Larimore-Hall’s glum tone and body language spoke volumes about his chances: “Everybody says I’m their second choice,” he said in the hallway outside a Progressive Caucus meeting.

Squeezed between the big-city candidacies of L.A. labor leader Rusty Hicks and Bay Area grassroots leader Kimberly Ellis, Daraka’s bid to advance from vice-chair further suffered when the sexual-harassment scandal that ousted the previous party chair splashed onto him — even though he was the guy who blew the whistle on the disgraceful mess (Independent 12/6/18 & 4/3/19).

In the end, Santa Barbara’s progressive favorite son finished third, behind the pragmatic Hicks (elected with 57 percent) and the leftist Ellis (36 percent), backed by 6 percent of voting delegates. 

Ouch.

BIDEN STAYED AWAY:  Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner, skipped the event in favor of a big LGBTQ dinner in Ohio; as a political matter, it seemed a smart play, as the former vice president avoided potentially embarrassing confrontations with progressives who dominate the state party and hate his moderate politics.

WARREN WON THE WEEKEND:  The crucial question in the Democratic race: Who will emerge as Biden’s chief progressive foil? If the convention is a measure, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is trending up.

She drew a crowd of 6,500 to an outdoor rally on a chilly Friday night in Oakland, where she called for a “wealth tax” and the breakup of “Big Tech,” then raised the roof in her Saturday speech, winning huge cheers for a clear shot at Biden’s bipartisan vision: “Some say that if we just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses. But our country is in a crisis. The time for small ideas is over.”

Warren, along with California Senator Kamala Harris and South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, is aiming at the political base of Bernie Sanders, who in 2016 consolidated left-wing Democrats against Hillary Clinton.

Both Kamala and Pete got enthusiastic receptions Saturday, but by the time Bernie spoke on Sunday morning, the hall was barely half-full. In a weekend packed with high-decibel Trump-bashing, however, his comments still stood out:

“The worst president in the history of this country, a president who is a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, and a religious bigot … a president who has the most corrupt administration in history and a president who knows nothing about real American values.”

Not to put too fine a point on it.

MAYOR PETE SPEAKS:  The communications staff of the millennial gay military-veteran Midwestern mayor, the breakout star of the campaign, has a Santa Barbara flavor: ex-Indy reporter Chris Meagher is national press secretary while Tess Whittlesey, who just jumped from Rep. Salud Carbajal’s staff, is the deputy.

Mayor Pete got on the line for a few minutes early Saturday to answer, for the first time, Santa Barbara–centric questions about the administration’s efforts to expand offshore oil drilling and fracking in Los Padres National Forest.

“He’s moving in exactly the wrong direction,” Buttigieg said, adding that as president, he would restore a drilling moratorium on the California coast. 

“We need to be moving away from fossil fuels,” he said, calling climate change “a national security threat” and endorsing the “concept of the Green New Deal.”

WHITHER IMPEACHMENT?  Speaker Nancy Pelosi got rock-star treatment at her hometown convention — except when shouts and jeers demanding Trump’s impeachment interrupted her otherwise anodyne Saturday speech.

Pelosi’s go-slow approach to impeachment rankles left wingers, including some of her own House members, but, to her credit, their views were given a full airing.

Silicon Valley zillionaire Tom Steyer, who’s spent $80 million on a national campaign to build support for impeachment, got a high-profile speaking slot and strongly made his case. Surely it was accidental that the last line of his address — which, according to the text, called out Pelosi by name — could not be heard when soundboard techies blasted his walk-off music just a tad early.

SPOTTED:  Outside the press room, Goleta school boardmember Luz Reyes-Martin, attending her first state convention, knocked down rumors that she might run for Assembly. On the hotel shuttle, Goleta Councilmember James Kyriaco said he has attended every state convention since 1993, after being inspired by 1992’s “Year of the Woman” election, when California first sent two women to the U.S. Senate.

On the convention floor: S.B. Dem chair Gail Teton-Landis, in between political duties on Daraka’s behalf, listened closely to presidential speeches; officially neutral, she had high praise for Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

SEX AND CIRCUMCISION:  No San Francisco convention is complete without street theater, and two groups outside Moscone Center provided, um, memorable images.

“Bloodstained Men” protested the practice of newborn circumcision, as members sported white pants with red paint splotched on the crotch; nearby, a dozen sex workers, several sporting thigh-high boots, garter belts, and thongs, held aloft signs that read “Dominatrixes Against Don” and called for the decriminalization of “erotic labor.”

There were no injuries. 

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