Friday, June 10, 2011

Queer Democrats Hear Report on State Democratic Convention

Passes Resolutions to Protect Public Workers’ Rights, State Social Programs


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO, left to right: Doug White, Meg Mandy, Matt Corrales

“During the next two years, the Republicans will be really vicious,” said San Diego Democratic Club program chair Carly Kirkwood at the start of a program on the recent California Democratic Party convention at the club’s May 26 meeting. After predicting that the attack on Medicare in Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which won the vote of virtually every Republican in both houses of Congress, “will be their downfall,” Kirkwood gave the club the good news about its influence in the local party. Its former president, Jess Durfee, “is going on an unprecedented fourth term” as San Diego County Democratic Party chair, and one out of every five convention delegates from San Diego was a club member.

Durfee spoke at the meeting, as did three young Democrats active in both the club and the local party: Doug White, Meg Mandy and Matt Corrales. Durfee said that, with “no party elections, no Presidential candidates and no endorsements,” the highlight of the convention was the keynote speech by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Ironically, Sanders isn’t a Democrat — he won both his Senate seat and earlier elections to the House of Representatives as an independent — though he’s caucused with the Democrats in both houses of Congress. Durfee thanked state party chair John Burton for landing Sanders as a speaker; he “literally got hold of Sanders’ travel schedule and sent messages for him for two months” until Sanders agreed to speak at the convention.

As a county party chair, Durfee said there were other reasons for him to be grateful to John Burton. “Before John Burton was state chair, the county chairs never talked to each other,” he said. “Now, the day before the convention, they bring together 45 of the county chairs for a full workshop, and we figured 40 percent of the presenters were from the LGBT community. They invited counties who felt they needed help to seek out a county to adopt them. We adopted Riverside, San Bernardino and Fresno, so our power base is expanding. Orange County wasn’t represented at the chairs’ meeting, so we’re going to have to reach out to them.”

Doug White, recently elected chair of the club’s youth caucus and also a fellow of the New Leaders’ Council, a nationwide program to train progressives in the nuts-and-bolts of political leadership, called the convention “a victory lap of sorts” for Democrats since in 2010, a year that favored Republicans nationwide, the Democrats not only held on to substantial majorities in both houses of the state legislature but won all seven statewide offices. “There was a lot of talk about the Red Tide that stopped at the Sierra Nevadas,” White said. White said he was excited not only personally — “it was my second convention, and my first as a delegate” — but also for the decision to hold next year’s convention in San Diego February 9-12, 2012.

Meg Mandy reflected on the differences between Democratic conventions in California and her native state, Nebraska, where she lived until she relocated here 15 months ago. “In Nebraska, Democratic conventions are held in a barn,” she said. She served as a proxy delegate and also took charge of staffing the club’s raffle booth. “I had an opportunity to work with our chairs for the future coordinated effort in San Diego,” she said. “We should be really proud of the work we’ve done in San Diego. They [delegates from the rest of the state] see us as really awesome, the cool kids.”

“It was quite interesting being a delegate in my own right, and not just a proxy or there on a staff pass,” said Corrales. He was particularly excited about meeting LGBT elected officials from elsewhere in California and attending the reception hosted by HonorPAC, a political action committee organized by LGBT Latinos. Like White, Corrales said he was “really excited” by the prospect of San Diego hosting the next state party convention.

Veteran club activist Cindy Green said that for her, one of the convention highlights was a presentation by the United Farm Workers right after they had finally signed a contract with Gallo after years of negotiations and struggle. “I can remember when good Democrats didn’t eat grapes for years,” Green recalled about the union’s boycott campaigns in the 1960’s and 1970’s. “The union leader didn’t speak much English, but he brought up 10 of his workers, and they were so proud that they now had a contract. They talked about a 16-year-old woman who died in the fields two years ago. Every time I eat a grape, or anything else the farmworkers pick, I think of them.”

Although the state convention delegates could boast of the California Democrats’ remarkable electoral triumph in an otherwise dark year for Democrats nationwide, there’s still one fly in the ointment: the state budget. Governor Jerry Brown and the Democrats in the state legislature are still waiting for the two Republican votes in each house needed to extend the income, sales and vehicle licensing fees passed on an emergency basis in 2009 to bring the current budget into balance. So far, the Republican delegations have formed a solid phalanx against these taxes and have demanded a so-called “all-cuts budget” which would virtually destroy California’s already decimated social safety net and likely mean further cuts to education as well.

What the state convention delegates got on the budget issue was a lot of feisty rhetoric but little indication that a political solution is imminent. With Governor Brown absent — he was undergoing treatment for a lesion on his nose — Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom spoke about the economy and the budget. So did Assembly Speaker John PĂ©rez, who, Durfee explained, told the delegates “they were very determined not to balance the budget on the backs of working people.”

Like Mandy, Durfee came from a much smaller state — Washington, where the state Democratic convention was 300 delegates rather than the 2,900 in California’s this year — and he said that because of the sheer size of California’s convention, “that’s not a place to have those discussions” about the state budget. “Those discussions took place in the resolutions and legislative committees, and San Diego is represented there.” Earlier in the meeting, the club members had passed resolutions endorsing Governor Brown’s budget proposal — which calls for a mixture of tax extension and spending cuts to balance the budget — and the rights of public employees to organize and bargain collectively.