Cruickshank with fellow bloggers hard at work and enjoying the scene at the CDP convention while doing their craft
Former (and future?) governor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown was waxing nostalgic about his days in the governor’s mansion, driving the famous blue Plymouth (“it lasted 240,000 miles without an engine overhaul – now that was sustainability”), and suing Ronald Reagan over the governor’s mansion.
But the core of his speech dealt with our climate crisis. Brown emphasized his administration’s earlier efforts to encourage smart growth, urban density, walking, even trains. And he called for renewed action on this today. He conceptualized it as “elegant density” – get people out of their cars, build more walkable communities served by trains and other forms of mass transit, powered by solar energy, to not just deal with global warming, but to encourage a more sustainable California.
During the 1970s, Brown had tried to promote a similar agenda. He appointed a trains advocate as the head of Caltrans, promoted a solar energy program, and cut off funds for freeway construction projects, and establishing the Office of Planning and Research. He even promoted an ambitious Urban Strategy for California emphasizing density and limiting sprawl.
Prop 13’s passage ended much of this as state government was starved of funds. But Prop 13 was about more than low taxes. It was the reaction of the lovers of suburban sprawl, of the 1950s model of California, against Brown’s more forward-thinking model. As recently as 2001 arch-conservative Tom McClintock danced on the grave of Brown’s sustainability strategy calling it: “a radical and retrograde ideology into California public policy that quite abruptly and permanently changed the state.”
That radical ideology has been the central tenet of governance in California through four successive gubernatorial administrations, Democratic and Republican, to the present day. It was described by Jerry Brown as “the era of limits,” punctuated by such new-age nonsense as the mantra, “small is beautiful.” Suburban “sprawl” would be replaced with a new “urban strategy.”
Republicans continue to make these arguments. They are bent on preserving the failed 1950s model of urban life at all costs. By doing so they have become a party of aristocracy. “Elegant density” isn’t just an environmental and climate strategy – it’s also necessary for the survival of California’s working and middle classes in the 21st century. Republicans will fight against this, and so it is very good to hear Jerry Brown mounting a full-throated defense of sustainable living.
The rest of his speech is pure red meat – bashing the Bush Administration and its EPA (“those idiots”), denouncing them for the mortgage crisis, and calling for the repeal of NCLB. If he does have the governor’s office in mind in 2010, this kind of playing to the base would make him an even more formidable opponent in the Democratic primary.
Some reflections now that I’m back home on the shores of the Monterey Bay:
The Leno-Migden fight certainly reached a dramatic climax today, and the result was stunning. After the vote was finalized Eden James argued that it was a representation of the power of the grassroots within the party, and I think that analysis is absolutely right. Migden had pulled out all the stops and leaned on every party official she could find to get this endorsement, but the rank and file delegates overwhelmingly refused to go along. I wish I could have stuck around to interview some of these delegates and get a sense of why they voted as they did. If anyone did ask those questions, or if we have any delegates here who wish to discuss the vote, please weigh in with a comment.
Migden’s failed endorsement is also further evidence, along with the rescinded AD-40 endorsement and the split over Prop 93 earlier in the year, to a huge divide between the party grassroots and the Sacramento leadership in particular. Senate Democrats and their staffers had worked hard over the weekend to get a Migden endorsement and the delegates would not go along with it. To their credit, Speaker Nunez and his office have been reaching out more to the netroots, and a lot of the delegates are eagerly awaiting Karen Bass’ speakership, so this divide may not be difficult to bridge. The Senate seems to have more work to do on this, and Darrell Steinberg’s ascension to the leadership might well bring some welcome change.
Speaking of the new speaker, Karen Bass is a rising star within the party – and someone who already has a lot of support from the delegates. She got a rapturous welcome at the Progressive Caucus Friday night, and her name was on many lips all weekend long. Her endorsement of and speech for Mark Leno today right before the vote may well have played a decisive role in denying Migden the party endorsement, which would be an interesting sign of how much respect she is already being given by party members. It’s a shame that her term will be so short, but it may be a transformative two years.
I also sense growing disapproval of the party making an endorsement in contested primaries. Nobody I talked to could remember the last time even one endorsement was pulled from the consent calendar and overturned by delegates, not to mention two – and there were a few other instances where the district endorsement caucuses overturned the pre-endorsement vote (such as in AD-80). The Progressive Caucus was exploring a motion to reduce incumbents’ advantages in the voting process, and a lot of delegates I talked to felt that the party shouldn’t be endorsing at all. Look for this issue to take a higher profile in the coming months and years.
Overall I am left wondering whether the party convention is a good use of time and resources. Delegates seemed bored with most of the speeches and few paid attention to the party business. If endorsements were done away with, there wouldn’t have been much going on at all, aside from the caucus meetings, which were popular and well-attended. That suggests to me that the party should explore ways to use the convention to spur activism and training – to help catalyze political action.
On a personal level it was great to hang out with the California blogosphere, whether I’d met you before, hadn’t seen you in a few years (like Dante Atkins) or met you for the first time (like Lucas). I want to give a special shout-out to the unsung but important and valuable Caliticians, such as soyinkafan and Caligirl, who were very active and engaged at the convention and helped bring some of those stories to your attention here; and to friends of Calitics such as Frank Russo and Dave Johnson. Matt Lockshin, Penny Denenberg, and Crystal Strait were all excellent hosts who helped make this first-time attendee feel welcome and supported.
Robert Cruickshank is a historian, activist, and teacher living in Monterey. He is a contributing editor at Calitics.com and works for the Courage Campaign, in addition to teaching political science at Monterey Peninsula College. Currently he is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in US history, on progressive politics in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s. A native Californian, he was raised in Orange County and educated at UC Berkeley.
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