Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to the California Democrats' convention in L.A. on Saturday. (Scott Detrow/KQED)
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to the California Democrats’ convention in L.A. on Saturday. (Scott Detrow/KQED)

California’s Democrats gathered in Los Angeles this weekend to take care of three important tasks: endorse their candidates, rally their troops and hang out with hundreds of like-minded political junkies.

“This is almost like camp,” said first-time delegate William Yellen. “Where you go and you focus in on something away from your normal day-to-day life.”

There weren’t any s’mores or games of capture-the-flag at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Just a whole lot of politics. In an effort to gin up enthusiasm, speaker after speaker touted Democratic victories like last year’s state minimum-wage increase. They also spent a lot of time blasting Republicans.

Termed-out state Treasurer Bill Lockyer delivered a stand-up routine comparing various Republicans with fruits and vegetables. “Mitch McConnell would be a prune,” he said at one point. “Tough, wrinkled. No longer essential to the flow of business.”

Brown vs. the “Fracktivists”

Gov. Jerry Brown encountered some turbulence when he addressed the convention Saturday morning.

The governor began his speech with much more flourish than usual. Departing from his typical technocratic approach, Brown ticked off the Democratic victories of his first term, including expanded rights for undocumented immigrants and the minimum-wage increase. The delegates rose to their feet when Brown criticized federal standardized curriculum and student-testing requirements, saying. “The test of the genius of each child is not how they bubble in A, B, C or D. Education is not filling a pail. It’s lighting a fire in the soul and spirit of every child.”

But when Brown pivoted to water policy, the cheers turned to jeers. Brown has refused to go along with Democratic calls for a temporary halt on hydraulic fracturing, a petroleum exploration method that could power a new oil boom in California. He has called the potential riches in California’s Monterey Shale formation “a fabulous opportunity.” The heavily anti-fracking crowd in the convention hall let him know they feel quite differently.

“I got it,” Brown said after chants interrupted his speech. Brown has made fighting climate change a top priority, and he seemed puzzled, even frustrated, to be challenged on his environmental record.

Brown then pointed out California is the only state with a cap-and-trade system in place to reduce carbon emissions. “I challenge anybody to find any other state that is on that path, a serious path. Here’s what we have: We are a state that has a goal of 33.5 percent renewable energy.”

But the crowd kept pushing. Brown urged the protesters to “listen a moment” and proceeded to lecture them on spending too much time dwelling on the fracking issue.

“Would it be that if we only did one thing, it’d solve our climate change,” he said. “That is not the way it is. We need electric cars. We need new land use rules, so people can live closer to where they work. We need massive renewable energy.”

Brown ended his speech with this advice: “Keep protesting, but add a bunch more stuff.” But the environmentalists had the last word, as the party ended the weekend by adopting platform language calling for a fracking moratorium.

Don’t expect the environmentalists to leave Brown alone, but don’t expect them to abandon him either. RL Miller, who chairs the party’s environmental caucus, said, “He’s doing the right thing on the bullet train. He’s doing the right thing on renewable energy. He’s doing the right thing on cars. He’s doing a lot of right things. The only wrong thing he’s doing is fracking.”

‘If we all go to sleep, Jerry Brown will get re-elected’

Democrats at the convention clearly expect Brown to cruise to re-election. Party Chair John Burton warned against taking that complacency too far.

KQED Newsroom: Scott Detrow on the State Democratic Convention

“We cannot kind of stay at home and say no matter what happens, we’re all going to win,” he said. “Because probably if we all go to sleep, Jerry Brown will get re-elected. But that’s not enough.”

There’s no presidential election this year, and so far there doesn’t appear to be any high-profile proposition fight to energize voters. So, Democrats will need to work harder to turn out the voters they need to keep their supermajorities in the state Legislature. Speaker after speaker urged the crowd to stay active, raise money and work on voter registration efforts.

The convention endorsed Democrats for races up and down the ticket. The two major exceptions: the two statewide races with competitive primaries. Secretary of State candidate Alex Padilla and controller hopeful John Pérez both campaigned hard to win the party’s nod, but both came up short.

Padilla, a Los Angeles County state senator, finished just a point-and-a-half shy of the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement. His main opponent, Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, won just 11 percent after urging delegates to vote for “no endorsement.”

Pérez, the outgoing Assembly speaker, topped controller opponent Betty Yee by 3 points, but both earned less than 50 percent of the delegates’ votes.

In the closely watched race in Silicon Valley’s 17th Congressional District, the party endorsed incumbent Mike Honda over challenger Ro Khanna.

Brown Tussles With Fracking Foes at State Convention 10 March,2014Scott Detrow


Scott Detrow

Sacramento bureau chief Scott Detrow covers state government, politics and policy for KQED News and its statewide news program, The California Report.

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