Read highlights of all 14 presidential hopefuls seeking California’s 416 delegates—the nation’s biggest electoral prize in the 2020 election
Article and photos by Angela de Joseph
June 5, 2019 (San Francisco) – Fourteen of the 24 Democratic presidential candidates brought their “A” games and Olympic stamina to a three-day mini-marathon at the California Democratic Party (CDP) “Organizing” Convention, held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco May 31-June 2.
The Organizing Convention is the first of two State Conventions this year. The second will be the CDP Endorsing Convention in November in Long Beach. This year’s CDP Organizing Convention theme was “Blue Wave Rolling.” California Democrats managed to flip seven red districts to blue in November 2018, ushering in a Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and a record number of female first-time Congressional members.
There are 8.6 million registered Democrats in California and 416 delegates up for grabs in the presidential primary election—the most of any state. The CDP plans to flex California’s super-Democratic majority powers after securing the move of California’s presidential primary from one of the last primaries to March 3, 2020: “Super Tuesday,” near the beginning of primary season.
The presidential contenders presented speeches on the main stage in front of 3400 elected delegates, convention observers and party officials. They had shorter and more focused versions of their speeches for the smaller caucuses, mixed in with plenty of glad-handing in hallways and off-site supporter events. Each caucus required dialing in to the group’s mind-set. The “must drop-in” list of caucuses for presidential candidates included Environmental, Women’s, African American, Labor, Chicano Latino, LGBT, Asian Pacific Islander and Progressive.
Nearly all of the frontrunner candidates, according to recent polls, were present to woo delegates, with the conspicuous absence of former Vice President Joe Biden, who was headlining the Human Rights Campaign gala in Ohio.
Here are highlights from the candidates’ speeches. in the order of their appearances, beginning Saturday and ending on Sunday.
Senator Kamala Harris, the hometown favorite who grew up across the bridge in Oakland and served as district attorney of San Francisco and later California’s attorney general, came out to thunderous applause and her own cheering section. She was introduced by the Congresswoman from the Bay Area, Barbara Lee, who proudly shared her friend’s progressive resume and described Harris as a long-time fighter for the people. Harris smiled broadly and laughed easily, but she quickly grew serious when she addressed the severity of our times. “Democrats, we have a fight on our hands,” she said, “and it’s a fight for who we are as a people. It’s a fight for the highest ideals as a nation--and Democrats, with this President, it’s a fight for truth, itself.” Harris quoted the Washington Post: “They did the math for us. This President told 10,000 lies in his first 828 days in office.” She was firm as she looked out in the audience and said, “Now that is not leadership; it is a pathological failure of leadership.”
Her biggest applause came when she raised her voice and almost shouted, “We need to begin impeachment proceedings and we need a new commander-in-chief!” Harris made it clear, she is ready to take on that job and restore truth as a virtue of public service.
Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke began his speech in Spanish, reminding us that he is from El Paso, Texas, a border town, and is comfortable slipping between English and Spanish. He made a plea for criminal justice reform, first explaining the school house to jail house pipeline that starts in kindergarten, “where a 4 or 5-year-old child, if she is a child of color, is five times more likely to be disciplined or expelled than a white child.” He went on to emphasize the need to expunge the records of people with marijuana convictions since possession and sales are now legal. O’Rourke cranked it up a notch: “It is squarely confronting the consequences of slavery and segregation and suppression that is alive and well in this country. Unless we do that, we will never repair the damage done and we will never stop visiting these on every successive generation.”
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has mastered the art of delivering her message with the perfect balance of homespun Oklahoma folksy warmth and righteous anger at Washington corruption as well as the rich and powerful who take advantage of the “little guy.” She glided onstage to her theme music, Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and was greeted by loud screams of enthusiasm, like a rock star. She did not disappoint. Every word, gesture and policy was a three-pointer in the basket. She started, gloves off: “In 2020 we have a job to do, beat Donald Trump.” Warren laid out her rich get richer, poor get poorer arguments then made it plain. “Our country is in a crisis. The time for small ideas is over.” And, yes, she has a plan for that. “We will pass the biggest anti-corruption plan since Watergate, end lobbying as we know it and we will make everyone who runs for federal office post their tax returns online.” Warren rattled off her presidential “to do” list; universal pre-kindergarten, universal child care, free public college, $50 million for Black Colleges, and cancel student loan debt for 95% of people. “I’m here to fight!” Warren added, as she implored everyone to “Dream big” then concluded, “Let’s win” before giving out her text number with an invitation to join her.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York called Donald Trump a coward and talked about real bravery. giving examples from firefighters to the Dreamers. She then went into her own record of winning in a red, red district and voting against the Wall Street bail out. “I stood up to Donald Trump more than anyone in the US Senate,” dhr dysyrf. Everything Gillibrand said, from getting money out of politics, passing Medicare for All and getting a Green New Deal, were wins with the audience but she did not have the fire power of Elizabeth Warren or the stage presence of Kamala Harris, not fair but a hindrance to her making the connection she should have with the audience.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii walked on stage to, “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough” and greeted the crowd with, “Aloha.” Her voice was strong and confident as she made her positions clear on how she would change the government. “As president, I will crack down on Big Pharma and insurance companies, I will work to pass Medicare for All, reinstate Glass-Steagall act and break up the big banks on Wall Street,” she promised. She went on to cover how she would makeover the criminal justice system by prohibiting private prisons, eliminating federal marijuana laws, ending the cash bail system and enacting true sentencing reform. Gabbard said, “The most important job a president has is to serve as commander in chief. I have been a soldier for over 16 years and was deployed twice to the Middle East.” She has served on the foreign affairs and armed services committee in Congress for 6 years. “I know the cost of war first hand,” she stated. She referred to “war mongers” from both political parties and warned that their continued policies of dragging us from one regime change war to the next is heading us to a “nuclear disaster.” She was the only candidate that talked about U.S. foreign policy and she was loudly ringing a warning bell.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana brought his charisma and star power as he greeted the enthusiastic crowd, saying he felt at home in California because “The spirit of this state is so much like my campaign, new thinking, bold action and a focus on the future “ Buttigieg’s youthful looks can be disarming until he uses his baritone voice to craft sentences that pack a punch. “There is no such thing as honest politics that revolve around the world, again.” He went on to say, “In these times, Democrats can no more promise to take us back to the 2000s or 1990s than conservatives can take us back to the 1950s. Trump wins if we look too much like Washington. He wins if we look like more of the same," he said to thunderous applause.
Congressman Eric Swalwell had home court advantage as a California representative with high TV visibility as an outspoken critic of the current president. Perhaps following Buttigieg was challenging and the reason Swalwell began his speech by yelling. He praised California for flipping the house and “Cutting our time in hell in half.” Swalwell also said there are people who like to smack talk California including this President. “Being California means making big ideas real, ideas that others later adopt. We change, we evolve, we adapt.” His best line was, “We created reality TV, and we will remove a reality TV star from office.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota walked to the mic and with her strong and well-moderated alto voice said, “Hello, California Democrats! It is so good to be in a state that led the way on paid family leave, $15 minimum wage, worker protections and reproductive rights.” She commended California for “Giving us not one but two great women senators.” Klobuchar smiled broadly as she said, “When people ask me if a woman can take on Donald Trump, I tell them one already has--and her name is Nancy Pelosi.” She addressed climate change, immigration, and women’s rights and touted her knack of winning every election. Klobuchar won the day with her reveal that she holds the record for raising the most money from ex-boyfriends, stating with glee, “$17,000!”
Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Former Congressman. John Delaney of Maryland will have to split the prize for the loudest and longest booing from the audience. Hickenlooper chose to begin his speech with “Socialism is not the answer” and that did not sit well with the hundreds of Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio Cortez fans in the hall. Once he launched into his record as governor, which was very progressive, he was on solid ground.
Delaney bravely swam against the tide with his statement, “Medicare for all may sound good, but it's actually not good policy nor is it good politics." Although, they were both booed, it was by no means the sentiment of the majority. California has a reputation as a left-leaning state, but it is very diverse and although majority Democratic, elected Senator Dianne Feinstein a centrist over Kevin de Leon, a younger progressive, so put those boos in perspective.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee was the candidate who most successfully raised his name recognition and made the best case for his “cause” candidacy at the CDP convention. He was introduced by Jay Hansen, President/CEO of the CA Foundation on Environment & the Economy. Governor Inslee has made climate change and the environment the centerpiece of his platform for president. He opened with, “I’m the governor who doesn’t think we should be ashamed of our progressive values. I am the governor who represents the clean air, clean water, clean energy wing of the Democratic Party.”
Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey was the clear MVP of the three-day scrimmage between 14 presidential candidates. He walked out to Bill Withers’ song “Lovely Day” and shook hands with each person on stage before taking the mic. Picking up on the moment of silence we had just observed for victims of gun violence in Virginia the day before, Booker decided to scuttle his prepared remarks. Instead he used his powerful rhythmic voice to speak from his heart. Booker began by talking about the time in our country when we passed laws and enacted legislation after a crisis. “There was a time in our country when people died and it rose the national conscious of our country to do things about the horror. When four children died in a bombing in Birmingham, all Americans from different backgrounds changed civil rights legislation,” he said. “But here just yesterday we had another mass shooting in this country and 12 Americans died. And we are seeing the normalization of mass murders in this country. In Las Vegas people were slaughtered after a concert and we do nothing. In Pittsburg people were shot at a synagogue, Orlando people killed in a nightclub and we do nothing.”
Booker continued, his voice full of emotion, “It is time we come together, stand together and take a fight to the NRA and the corporate gun lobby like we have never seen before.” His speech was passionate, authentic and resonated deeply, winning over detractors and moving Booker up or on the list for the first time.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders entered the stage to a movement anthem reminiscent of the 70s, “Power to the People.” He was the oldest presidential candidate (77) in attendance but in many ways the youngest in attitude from his youthful swagger to his shear passion and optimism. Sanders has without question the most engaged supporters. The “Berniecrats” were out in force in front of the convention center, in the halls, at the top and base of every escalator and pushed their way to the front of the room when it was his turn to address the crowd on the final day. After chants of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!” Sanders began graciously, “Let me thank the California Democratic Party for making this state one of the great progressive forces in America and let me thank all of you who supported my 2016 campaign for president.” Sanders went on to list the accomplishments of his movement, “Together we began a political revolution whose ideas and energy have not only transformed the Democratic Party but has transformed politics in America.”
The Honorable Julian Castro, former HUD Secretary under President Barack Obama, and former mayor of San Antonio was one of the final candidates to address the convention. He was introduced by his twin brother Congressman Joaquin Castro. Seeing the two brothers on stage was a powerful visual and perfect lead into Castro’s family story. His grandmother came to the United States from Mexico as an orphan and raised his mother as a single parent. “In just two generations after my grandmother came to this country with nothing, one of her grandsons is a Congressman representing the city she came to and the other is a candidate for the presidency of the United States.”
Castro’s voice was strong and confident. “I’m running for president because I believe that we need new leadership, with a new vision for all Americans as one nation, one destiny—that destiny is to be the smartest, fairest, healthiest and most prosperous nation on earth.” He went on to list his priorities; universal preschool, tuition free community and state college or job training, Medicare available to all. Castro then pivoted to talk about the criminal justice system and the part that racism plays in deadly force by police. He named names. Castro used the example of Dylan Roof, a white male, who shot and killed 9 African Americans as they worshipped at the Emmanuel Church in South Carolina and was apprehended by police without harming him. He then contrasted that with Black and Brown men who were killed by police. “What about Eric Gardner?” (accused of selling single cigarettes), “What about Tamir Rice?” (12-year-old playing with toy gun) he asked. He ended by naming Stefon Clark, the Sacramento father suspected of breaking into cars who was killed by police in his grandmother’s backyard. Castro then made his point, “They deserve justice, too!” He touched on his comprehensive immigration plan, affordable housing, and raising the minimum wage. Castro said his first day in office he would re-sign the Paris climate change accord. But, his best line came after he described his dream of escorting former president Trump off the grounds of the White House to a waiting helicopter to take him away; Castro would say, “Adios.” His speech was powerful and riveting, closing out the 14-presidential candidate marathon with the visual of 2020 ushering in a new Democratic president.