At Raucous Party Convention, CA Dems Circle Up in Firing Squad

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee addresses the California Democratic Party convention, Saturday, May 20, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO (CN) – With demonstrators lining the stairways above the improvised stage at the California Democratic Party Convention, National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and party brass kicked off their annual bash with fiery speeches peppered with F-bombs and promises to fight the new administration at every turn.

“Donald Trump is the most dangerous president in American history,” shouted Perez, the first Latino to lead the Democratic Party. “Donald Trump has to go!”

Before Perez took the stage, boisterous protesters seeking a universal health care bill for Californians interrupted Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and state party chairman John Burton’s opening speeches.

The protesters — registered Democratic delegates, many of them Bernie Sanders supporters — caught the outgoing state chairman off guard.

“Hey, shut the fuck up or go outside already!” Burton said, interrupting Steinberg’s turn at the podium.

Perez, elected national chairman in February in a close call over the more progressive candidate, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, received the lion’s share of party members’ scorn on the opening night of the convention in downtown Sacramento.

A few blocks away from a state Capitol solidly controlled by Democrats, Perez promised the liberal crowd that the political winds are shifting, after the November elections gave Republicans control of most state legislatures, the White House and Congress.

“We can win the House of Representatives in 2018; we will win the Georgia race on June 20 and we will force an upset in Montana next Thursday,” Perez told the cheering crowd.

Thousands of Democrats from around the state have flocked to Sacramento, many for their first convention. They will elect a new state party chair and several other leaders this weekend.

Nick Nicita of Bakersfield said he was happy to be at his first convention to try to chip away at Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s stronghold in his Central Valley district.

“It’s time to turn the district blue,” said Nicita, a self-employed registered delegate. He hopes the convention will bolster his work to “spread the progressive message” in his district, one of the few Republican strongholds in California.

Other delegates said they hoped to steer the party in a new direction after its disastrous nationwide showing in November.

Universal health care, immigration and corporate campaign spending were hot topics.

“After the November election it became important to be active and engaged,” said first-time delegate Katherine Chu of Cerritos, a Los Angeles suburb.

Chu, a state employee, said Trump’s election spurred her to participate in town halls and become more civically engaged.

Sharing the convention with state Democratic heavyweights such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and donors like billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer were bitter Democrats and ex-Democrats who have left the party.

With an Assembly financial committee scheduled to vote on a universal health care bill on Monday, single-payer supporters, decked in red shirts and hoisting signs, packed the chairman’s welcome speech, which was open to the public.

“Health care is a human right,” demonstrators chanted as they perched above party leaders.

Burton, chairman of the state party since 2009, told the crowd their party has been fighting for universal health care since “before you guys were born.”

“That’s really very controversial,” Burton said, chastising the demonstrators.

“‘Let’s disrupt something for health care for all,’ like that’s really a good fucking way to get something done.”

But Burton told Courthouse News late Friday night that it was important to let the protesters “blow some steam off.”

Former Democrats who ditched the party after Hillary Clinton won the nomination over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said they still had to be persuaded.

Erik Rydberg, now a Green Party delegate, said his former party had to do an about-face to persuade young, more progressive members to rejoin the party.

“The Green Party stands for everything that Bernie’s platform stands for, but the Democrats remain heavily influenced by corporate money,” Rydberg said. He said he left the party after Cornel West endorsed Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein in July last year.

National Committee Chairman Perez juiced his speech with quips about President Trump’s “bromance” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and reiterated the party’s commitment to health care for all Americans.

“Trumpcare, Ryancare, I’ll tell you what it is: It’s ‘I Don’t Care,’ because they don’t give a shit,” Perez said. “We need you to take out the House Republicans.”

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