CVIndependent

Thu09202018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

As California’s Democrats wrapped up their party’s annual convention Sunday, they left San Diego as they arrived: a party still fraying at the seams after the 2016 election, held together by one strong bond—a unifying dislike of President Donald Trump.

Split between their traditional moderate-to-liberal faction and lefter-leaning progressives, the delegates refused to endorse in key races and snubbed a few of their own incumbents, notably longtime U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Their emotional differences over hot issues such as single-payer health care and rent control were on display. Yet through it all, dissing Trump was a reliable applause line.

“Let us find what unites us at this convention,” said Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, who’s been discussed as a Democratic presidential prospect, on the opening evening. “Republicans and Internet trolls and Vladimir Putin (are) laughing every time we’re fighting with each other and not fighting against the Republicans.”

Billionaire progressive activist Tom Steyer used his keynote speech as an opportunity to reinforce his public campaign calling for impeachment. “Does anyone in this room believe that Donald Trump is fit to be president of the United States?” If anyone in the convention hall thought so, it was impossible to hear them over the jeering.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles got some of the biggest cheers of the weekend by building on that theme. Her speech questioned the president’s loyalty and mental health, finishing with a rousing chant of “Impeach 45!”

For a party still smarting from a vicious 2016 presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders—one that had escalated into a contentious party leadership battle last year—it’s nice to find something that everyone can agree on.

“Obviously we have a variety of different views. That’s what parties are about,” said state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento. “We have differences about how we look at things, but we’ve got to protect our country.”

Still, those differences could be important come June. In a number of toss-up congressional races, a surplus of left-of-center candidates threaten to split the primary vote, allowing two Republicans to progress to the November ballot. Shutting Democrats out of contention in those races could jeopardize party plans to re-take control of the U.S. House.

Though the party had hoped to winnow some of the field this weekend by making endorsements in some of those seats, in the races to replace Southern California GOP Reps. Steve Knight, Darrell Issa and Ed Royce, there was no such luck. Under party bylaws, the delegates were too divided to make an official choice.

Failing at those official channels, party Chair Eric Bauman resorted to old-fashioned guilt from the convention hall stage on Sunday in an attempt to thin the herd.

“We have an overpopulation problem,” he said. And then to some of those surplus candidates: “Isn’t there some other way to express your public service? … The voters in those districts want to elect a Democrat, (and) they’re tired of the right-wing hateful agenda of Donald Trump.”

Indeed, both party organizers and aspiring Democrats candidates aim to bring national news scandals to the local level.

“In 2016, Russians and Republicans were very good at sewing discord within our party, so I think we learned a lesson from that election,” said Andrew Janz, who is running to replace GOP Rep. Devin Nunes in his San Joaquin Valley district.

The lesson: Stick together, and focus on the common political enemy.

Outside the room where Janz’s endorsement by the party was to be voted on, one delegate, social activist Emily Cameron, complained about the candidate’s single-minded focus on his opponent. “If you look at his Twitter, it’s like every tweet is about Devin Nunes,” she said, arguing that the candidate should focus more on the economic interests of the Central Valley and less on the Russia investigation and the ties between Nunes and Trump. “It’s not what people care about!”

But evidently, enough delegates did: Janz won the endorsement.

In a state where only a quarter of adults approve of the president’s job performance, emphasizing Trump above all else isn’t a bad strategy. Katharine Marrs, the party’s state field director for 2018, said opposition to Trump has been a “gateway” cause for bringing political neophytes into the world of left-of-center party politics.

“Sometimes we ask people what their top issue is at the door, and instead of giving us healthcare or the economy, sometimes their top issue is Trump,” she said. But can party unity built around opposition to a single candidate last past a single election?

“What we’ve seen is that it’s sustainable for now,” said Marrs. Finding areas of common agreement is a “slower process.”

And for now, the party base appears to be tacking left.

When the nearly 3,000 delegates voted to endorse the statewide races, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom won the top vote share in the gubernatorial contest. Together with the former state superintendent of public instruction Delaine Eastin, both of whom support a state-funded single-payer health-insurance program, the progressive bloc captured 59 percent of the delegate vote.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is skeptical of the state’s ability to implement or fund a single-payer system, and who has taken positions opposed by many organized labor groups, came in at 9 percent. That followed a tough weekend for the former mayor of Los Angeles, who was repeatedly heckled by party activists.

In the U.S. Senate race, state Senate leader Kevin de León received a majority of delegate votes over Feinstein, whom many delegates considered too hawkish on foreign policy, and too dovish on President Trump.

The fact that de León didn’t clear the 60 percent threshold means that the party didn’t officially offer an endorsement—but the body as a whole clearly had a preference. Between de León and progressive dark-horse candidate Pat Harris, just more than 59 percent of the delegates cast their votes to the left.

“Resistance doesn’t just mean saying no. You have to move on a parallel track with a positive proactive agenda,” said de León, suggesting progressive policies like a higher minimum wage and stronger environmental protections were needed. But he also warned against trying to “cajole” or “negotiate” with President Trump, whom he compared to the scorpion in the fable of the scorpion and the frog—a malevolent force unable to control its own destructive impulses.

Rather than write him off, last year Feinstein expressed hope that Trump could learn to become “a good president,” to the chagrin of many on the California left. According to the website FiveThirtyEight, she has voted in line with the president’s preferred legislation 28 percent of the time, placing her roughly in the middle of all Democratic and independent senators. California’s junior senator, Kamala Harris, who also spoke at the convention and has been mentioned as a presidential contender, voted with the president just 15 percent of the time.

De León was careful to specify that he was not comparing his opponent in the Senate race to a frog. But he did say that his unrelenting opposition to the administration made for a meaningful difference between the two of them.

President Trump “holds the most powerful position in the world, and therefore, he’s in a position to go out of his way to hurt California,” he said. “So why not be proactive, be preemptive, and position yourself—as opposed to be reactive? Because the onslaught is going to happen.”

In the end, of course, delegates to the convention may or may not accurately represent all Democratic voters statewide—not to mention independents inclined to vote Democratic. Feinstein knows that well, having been booed at her own party’s convention for declaring her support of the death penalty when she was running for governor in 1990. All the while, her campaign was gleefully filming the moment—turning it into a campaign ad to underscore her independence.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

I got a text from my mom flipping out about The Memo—the document assembled by Fresno-area Congressman Devin Nunes and released, despite intelligence agency concerns, on Feb. 2.

She’s smart but not especially political, and her text made it clear that the #releasethememo movement that began as an alt-right rallying cry had now reached the mainstream. “As a teenager you ranted about the CIA (you were right),” she wrote. “Now the FBI. Can we trust any politician or any government office?”

It was a strange moment for me, because, at the same time every mainstream news network in the country was on “Memo Watch,” I was covering a woefully uncovered trial in Baltimore, where the FBI uncovered a vast police corruption conspiracy after they traced some opioids that killed a young woman back to a drug gang and, upon tapping phones, realized the gang was working with a Baltimore Police officer named Momodu Gondo. When FBI agents tapped his phone, they realized that he and other officers were regularly targeting citizens whom they thought had a lot of cash—to rob.

Over the last three weeks of a federal trial—six of the officers pleaded guilty, while two maintained innocence and stood trial—we have learned that, according to testimony, one officer executed a man point-blank in 2009 because he “didn’t feel like chasing him.” According to Gondo’s testimony, a deputy commissioner came out to the scene to coach everyone on what to say: The victim was about to run them over, and he had to shoot. The deputy commissioner announced his retirement immediately following the testimony.

We also learned that during the uprising following Freddie Gray’s death, Wayne Jenkins—the ringleader of the elite police task force who was also indicted—came to a bail bondsman with two big trash bags of pharmaceuticals stolen from pharmacies and told him to sell them.

The bail bondsman testified that Jenkins came to him with stolen drugs almost every night. Jenkins, who did not testify, has come across as something like a demon. Even Jemell Rayam, who shot the man to keep from chasing him, thought Jenkins’ actions were excessive. Most of the officers said they were scared of him. He is, in Trump’s language, “high-energy,” and is in many ways the perfect image of Trumpian law-enforcement: If people are poor, or black, or immigrants—unprotected—then they are inherently criminal, and nothing you can do to them is criminal.

Jenkins had been involved in this kind of activity since at least 2010, when he and Det. Sean Suiter—who was apparently murdered in November, the day before he was supposed to testify to the grand jury in the case—chased a “target,” causing a fatal car crash, and then planted drugs in the car. Jenkins, as many people testified, was protected by the local power structure.

But the plodding investigations by the FBI—and prosecutions of the U.S. attorneys—brought down Jenkins’ long reign of terror.

This is similar to the story told by David Grann in last year’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which is about how the newly formed FBI was able to break through the white-power structure of 1920s Oklahoma law enforcement and expose local authorities’ involvement in killing hundreds of Native Americans in order to steal their payments from oil on Osage-owned lands.

Yet the national media—which covered every second of the burning CVS during the riots following Freddie Gray’s death—was largely silent about the vast police misconduct revealed in the trial, even though they dovetailed in some uncomfortable ways with the Memo Watch hysteria.

The Memo’s author, Devin Nunes, worked on Trump’s transition team and had a weird midnight Uber ride and secret White House lawn meeting a few months back. He ultimately alleged that the Steele dossier—source of the “pee tape” rumors—was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and used to get a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant on former Trump advisor Carter Page.

The Trump team has long alleged that Page, who has done some bragging about his Russian connections, was nothing more than a “coffee boy”—and that this was an attempt by the FBI to take Trump down.

Ultimately, The Memo was a dud, but it does highlight the weird moment where the right is attacking law enforcement agencies, and the left is valorizing them. It’s not hard to find countless examples of FBI malfeasance—the agency’s COINTELPRO is one of the worst incidents of law enforcement over-stepping in American history, as J. Edgar Hoover and his team plotted illegal, Jenkins-esque ways to destroy the black-militant movement.

The rather young and dashing dynamic duo of federal prosecutors in Baltimore—Leo Wise and Derek Hines—come across as champions of Baltimore’s most vulnerable citizens. But as they pulled out a big bag of black masks and clothes that Jenkins used for burglaries, I couldn’t help but think of their colleague Jennifer Kerkhoff, who, an hour down the road in Washington D.C., is still trying to prosecute 59 people for wearing black clothes during Trump’s inauguration, following a protest where a few windows were broken.

Regardless, the Trumpist attempt to undermine the FBI can be seen as an attempt to protect people like Wayne Jenkins—remember that Trump pardoned the super-racist former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio—in the name of “local control” or “states’ rights.” It is part of what Steve Bannon called the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” an attempt to have lawmen—lawmen in whom the president sees himself—seen as above the law.

Just as testimony in the Baltimore trial wrapped up, it came out that the Trump team was trying to plan a big military parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Surely, that will elicit massive protests—and may be a great gift to the lagging and fractured protest movement—but I couldn’t help but imagine Wayne Jenkins, with his grappling hooks and stolen drugs, riding with Arpaio at the front of the whole thing as a perfect picture of Trumpian law enforcement.

But Jenkins better not wear his black burglary clothes—D.C. prosecutors might mistake him for an anarchist and charge him with another conspiracy.

Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a project of alternative newspapers across the country. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International