January 29, 2005

Sacramento...

“Excuse me?”

“Mary Kay meeting’s to the right – Democrats to the left!” said the middle aged lady with ever so slightly spiked red hair and the barest hint of pink in her outfit. Both she and her co-saleswoman were smiling as she said it, all of us just outside the juncture of the lobby entry and the outdoor-access meeting rooms at the Sacramento Radisson, and she responded without much prompting, so we must have looked a bit lost.

We were, a little. I had flown in from Seattle on a 7 AM flight that Saturday to show my support for Howard Dean at the Western Regional Caucus in Sacramento. My friend and co-conspirator, Kris Godfrey, had driven up from Fresno, her new home after leaving Seattle a few months ago, had picked me up in the airport, and from there we had driven off to find the hotel. After a couple of false starts, we were soon in the parking lot of the large, pinkish-orange faux-adobe set of buildings, quickly realizing a ray of hope – a very full parking lot.

Off we went through the lobby, past the restaurant, and into the registration line. The path was littered with signs, tables, and promoters of various Chair and Vice-Chair candidates. In Simon Rosenberg’s case, there was even an ongoing, professionally produced video. There wasn’t a Dean table, but there were people wandering around, handing out new rectangular “Dean for DNC Chair” buttons.

It was a bit of an odd process – you had to be confirmed as registered in one line, then go to a second line to actually pay and go inside to the morning speeches and breakfast – but it moved relatively quickly once the folks doing the work got into the rhythm of it.

I spent the second phase of getting into the breakfast handing out some of my leftover Dean “church fans” from the Presidential campaign. (One friend of mine came up with the idea of calling them “Deansicles”.) I had received a pile of these near the end of the Washington state Democratic caucus, and still had more than a few left over. I’m always amazed that so few non-Southern people actually know what a church fan is, and some of the Californians I ran into didn’t know what to make of them, but one lady from Memphis took one look and burst out laughing with glee when I told her that I discounted nothing when it came to winning this race.

Kris, in the meantime, talked with fellow Deaniacs in line and prepared her giant six-megapixel digital camera - these are her images in the article.

Ignorant or not, anything with a Dean logo on it went quickly – I gave a new Dean button I received in trade for a Deansicle to one of the Sargeants at Arms because the new Dean buttons were all handed out – and giving away the Deansicles (and the conversations that got started) passed the time pleasantly.

Once inside the breakfast hall, we listened to a few speakers keeping the crowd entertained. Then Al Sharpton entered the hall. At first, a handful only did a quick double-take, but once was announced and at the podium, he brought the crowd to its feet with his usual heart-thumping oratory.

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Eventually, we came to the point in the gathering where people that requested a chance to speak to the DNC delegates were chosen at random and called up to say their piece. One thing about the breakfast was that, at this point, we weren’t supposed to cheer, if possible. Or boo as well. They handed each person a blue and a red card. If we wanted to cheer, up went the blue card. If we wanted to boo, the red card. (This turned out to be an excellent idea, because over 400, some say as many as 600, people showed up for the morning event, the vast majority Dean supporters.)

With few exceptions, the vast majority of the people selected talked about how their political lives had started or blossomed as a result of Howard Dean. (No other candidate for CND was even mentioned during this phase of the event.) And it was endearing to see a sea of blue cards time and again, peppered with Deansicles here and there, not to mention old and new Dean signs.

Some of the speakers gave very heartfelt stories, but the most notable comment was by Miles Kurland, a California Democracy for America representative - "Some of you in the DNC may see us as barbarians at the gate. Some of us see ourselves as the cavalry. The truth is, we are fresh horses."

Eventually, Art Torres, the Chair of the California Democratic Committee, told the crowd that we would be allowed to sit in on the caucus with the DNC electors. Some had heard beforehand that this might happen, but it had never been a certainty. It was taken very well by the crowd, and after some mild confusion, we were allowed into an adjacent hall that rapidly filled up with seats.

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In-between the end of the morning event and the start of the caucus, Howard Dean showed up in the breakfast hall and gave a short speech.

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As you would expect, the reaction, as it often has been, was electric. In essence, Howard stated four things. He thanked us for being there. He emphasized his points regarding what he would do as DNC Chair and what the Democratic Party needed to do to become more effective (which can boil down to campaigning twelve months a year, in every available race; making sure more money gets to the state parties; improving our message; working more effectively with unions; and getting us more directly involved as individuals, either through pushing more effort to the grassroots or by directly running for election ourselves.). He also asked us to “turn it down a notch” when at the caucus, in order not to intimidate the DNC electors and, as a result, turn them against Dean.

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One funny moment was when he started listing the red states that the Democratic Party would make a greater effort in (after bringing up the need to do more in the “red areas of California”). He increasing became more strident in tone, and when he said “…and South Carolina,” the tone reminded everybody of his Iowa primary speech, and the crowd erupted with ”Dean screams.” (Dean responded, when the crowd calmed down, with a quiet “Yaa-hoo...” and a slight smile, which resulted in laughter and yet another round of applause.)

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The candidates present at the caucus were Howard Dean, Donny Fowler, Martin Frost, David Leland, Tom Roemer and Wellington Webb. Taking the candidates as presented, here are the impressions I and others around me tended to have.

Donny Fowler emphasized his past effort in working the ground game, his technology experience, and not forgetting the folks in the field if elected. I felt he had a chance to hold our attention with his comments on how many of the DNC’s perceived choices were false. Had he worked harder to better explain our “true” choices to make and how to resolve them, he would have been more effective.

Martin Frost raised a few eyebrows when he presented himself as a populist Democrat, especially when he talked about how he had even helped in organizing unions and providing union support. Given that Texas is a hardcore “right to work” state, and that Martin wasn’t from Houston, where I could see the oil and gas workers as being (or needing to be) organized, but lived instead in the greater Dallas area, about as corporate-friendly as it gets in Texas, that sounded very disingenuous to me, and lessened my ability to believe later comments, even if true.

David Leland blew me away when he continuously pointed to his chairmanship of the Ohio Democratic Party for seven years as an advantage. True, most or all of the major city mayors in Ohio are now Democrats, but for the most part Ohio is still dominated beyond question by the Republicans. Others picked up on that point too, and made sure I knew about it, after they asked why I was taking notes.

Tim Roemer irritated me with his poor introductory imitation of John F. Kennedy’s speaking style (which I had suffered once before when a resident of his home state of Indiana). It cooled as he progressed in the caucus, but his reputation as an opponent of choice was already known by the crowd, and he was the only candidate to my knowledge that received a smattering of red cards through portions of his commentary

Wellington Webb was charming and got his points across well. He won a chunk of the audience when he discussed how people “on the outside in America” needed to be more of the political process, and how he showed that through himself, a man who twelve years ago, proved that “a man with a moustache” could be elected mayor of Denver. The crowd laughed at the joke, since he’s an African-American, and warmed to his presence after that.

Simon Rosenberg must be an incredible organizer, because he made me cringe when I heard him speak. His voice seemed drained of any life, of any real emotion behind the words that he spoke. He threw points out, but it was hard to listen to them, even when they were about such things as his helping to bring the College Democrats back into the fold in 1992, far too long a time after they had been expelled for declaring themselves against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. Another interesting point was his near lack of discussion of his efforts this most recent election cycle, through the New Democratic Network, of appealing to larger number of Latino voters.

Most of the points each candidate made were similar. More money for state Democratic parties. More outreach to and resources to ethnic groups. More backbone a necessity. Better use of resources in general. Greater decentralization of our efforts to make better use of a growing grassroots effort. But the real issue was finally raised when the summaries were almost finished, and Simon Rosenberg declared that he was thankful that he would be speaking before Howard Dean, which resulted in his warmest audience response of the caucus.

But don’t take my word for it – check the debate yourself at http://cadem.org and determine your own opinions.

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Posted by palamedes at January 29, 2005 04:35 PM | Event Coverage | Technorati links |
Comments

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Posted by: John D at January 31, 2005 01:07 AM

Thanks for taking the time to put up this summary. I watched some of the earlier meetings on C-span, but not this one.

Posted by: CoolAqua at January 31, 2005 03:04 PM

CoolAqua (and everybody else)...

Do check out the video of the debate over at http://cadem.org. This tells you a lot more about the candidates than anything I could say.

Posted by: palamedes at January 31, 2005 03:35 PM