Gavin Newsom left out as California Democrats pick convention delegation leaders


Source: San Francisco Chronicle

A pair of Bay Area representatives is in and Gov. Gavin Newsom is out as California Democrats chose the leaders of their delegation to the Democratic National Convention in August.

Rep. Ro Khanna of Fremont and Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland will join Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis as the co-chairs of the 495-member state delegation rather than Newsom, who as California’s highest-ranking Democrat would normally lead the state contingent.

Dubbing the proposed co-chairs “California’s unity team,” Rusty Hicks, chair of the California Democratic Party, told delegates on a Sunday morning dial-in meeting of the delegation that the three “will represent the great diversity of California.”

When the delegates voted 368-20 to accept the three, it ended a nasty spat between rival groups of Democrats that threatened to cast a shadow over the party’s effort to unite the progressive followers of Bernie Sanders behind the more moderate Joe Biden, who will be the Democratic nominee.

For the past two weeks, Sanders supporters have argued that his March 3 primary win in California meant a progressive like Khanna — an early endorser of the Vermont senator and a national co-chair of his presidential campaign — should be the face of the state’s delegation.

“We were eager to have Ro Khanna as chair because he reflects the Sanders campaign,” said Norman Solomon, an Inverness resident who is national director of RootsAction.org, a progressive group that supported the Vermont senator. Khanna “articulates those views so clearly, showing this is not a time for murkiness or hedging.”

Faced with the prospect of a noisy, very public dispute during the conference-call vote, Hicks worked out a compromise with the Biden and Sanders campaigns and tweeted the deal late Saturday night.

He pushed hard on that agreement Sunday, reminding the delegates that “both campaigns strongly urge a ‘yes’ vote on the proposed co-chairs.”

“I believe we’ll land in the right spirit to go into our convention united,” Hicks said in an interview Saturday.

The agreement is a definite win for California progressives, who got Khanna and Lee. While Lee backed California Sen. Kamala Harris in the primary, she’s an icon on the left for her history as an antiwar activist and her support for most of Sanders’ platform.

Solis, a former Southern California legislator and congresswoman who was labor secretary during former President Barack Obama’s first term, was reportedly the choice of the Biden campaign.

Progressives managed to block Newsom, who endorsed Biden in May, from a leading role. While Democratic governors typically lead their state’s delegation to their party’s convention, Newsom is persona non grata for California progressives. The California Nurses Association, one of Sanders’ earliest and strongest supporters, has been unhappy with the governor for not moving more quickly to put a single-payer health care system into effect in the state.

“Whatever his star power or undeniable virtues, the governor doesn’t embody the transformational politics and vision that Ro Khanna does,” Solomon said.

As governor, Newsom will be one of the state’s 80 superdelegates, party officials who include Democratic members of Congress and members of the Democratic National Committee.

In a message released minutes after Sunday’s vote, Newsom praised the decision.

“Never been a more urgent election — and CA Democrats have never been more energized, united and ready to elect our next President,” the governor tweeted. “At this moment in history, I’m proud that our Delegation will be chaired by those who reflect the diversity and dynamism of our great state.”

Groups backing Sanders said in a petition to the party that “as state delegation co-chair, Congressman Khanna would be well positioned to serve as a voice for authentic unity behind a ticket headed by Biden for the imperative of defeating (President) Trump.”

But in private conversations, their reasoning was more direct: Sanders won an easy victory in California, and his people should be rewarded with a leading role.

Having a Sanders supporter at the head of the delegation means a lot, Khanna said Saturday night.

“It should be clear that California delegates stand for Medicare for All, debt-free college, a $15-an-hour minimum wage … strategic cuts to the military budget” and other policies that Sanders has backed, Khanna said. “This is a clear statement of what the delegates stand for, and that’s important.”

The fact that Biden’s campaign was willing to acknowledge Sanders’ victory in California will help unify the delegates, Khanna added.

“I endorsed Biden and Barbara Lee endorsed Biden right after Bernie dropped out,” he said. “I will do everything I can to help Biden beat Donald Trump.”

But in a year when the ravages of the coronavirus are wreaking havoc with traditional politics, the new co-chairs may never meet the delegates they are supposed to lead. While the Aug. 17-20 Democratic National Convention will be be anchored in Milwaukee, the party is now billing it as a Convention Across America, with few delegates physically attending the event.

Biden is to give his acceptance speech in the convention hall, but “state delegations should not plan to travel to Milwaukee and should plan to conduct their official convention business remotely,” party officials announced last week.

John Wildermuth is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: jwildermuth@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jfwildermuth

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