Capitol Alert

‘Let us vote,’ Democratic Party delegates say, challenging incumbents on party endorsement

Six incumbent California Democrats seeking re-election are facing challenges to getting the state Democratic Party endorsement, with a key delegate vote planned this Saturday in Sacramento.

A group of roughly two dozen California Democratic Party delegates gathered enough votes this year to block the party’s automatic endorsement for incumbents. They want the officeholders to explain to party delegates their reasoning on controversial votes or policy positions and to disclose any history of sexual misconduct or potential harassment allegations that could surface.

The Democrats being challenged are Assemblymen Jim Cooper of Elk Grove and Freddie Rodriguez of Pomona, state Sens. Tony Mendoza of Artesia, Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Hueso of San Diego, and Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove.

“We as delegates don’t feel like an automatic rubber stamp is democratic, and in the context of the Me Too movement, we have a duty to the voters who elected us to ensure that all the candidates are properly vetted – now more than ever,” said Robert Longer, a Sacramento delegate and one of the two dozen leading the endorsement challenges. “It wouldn’t be good for the Democratic Party to find out later on that we endorsed a candidate who is compromised.

“All we’re saying is let us vote,” Longer said. “This should be a democratic process.”

The activists failed in their attempt to block automatic endorsements for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Assemblyman Jim Wood of Healdsburg and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

Blocking the Democrats’ automatic endorsement sends it to a vote this weekend at the party’s pre-endorsement caucus conferences.

Longer said the campaign to block the automatic endorsements was fueled in part by sexual harassment allegations against some lawmakers, including Mendoza. But they are also being driven by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Rendon, for example, shelved a proposed single-payer health care bill last year, calling it “woefully inadequate.” Cooper in 2016 voted against a farmworker overtime bill (he is also the subject of questions surrounding a vulgar remark he made to a female co-worker more than a decade ago). And Wood was one of two lawmakers who killed a bill this year that sought to clear the way for cities to adopt strong rent control laws.

“We’re doing our due diligence to voters who elected us to ensure our party is vetting candidates properly,” Longer said. “We look at the votes that these legislators have taken and there are some things that concern us.”

Should incumbents not receive at least 70 percent of votes this Saturday, they will face a vote at the Democratic Party convention next month in San Diego, where they are likely to receive the party endorsement.

Bera faced an endorsement challenge in 2016, but later won the formal endorsement at the convention.

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WORTH REPEATING: “My hope is that what we do here is so powerful that no one has to do it again.” – Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, during the Legislature’s first two-house hearing on sexual harassment at the Capitol

STATE OF THE STATE: Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his final State of the State address at the Capitol today at 10 a.m. The Sacramento Bee’s Chris Cadelago has the rundown.

CALIFORNIA FORWARD: After Brown delivers his annual address, the state’s Democratic and Republican leadership will discuss their 2018 priorities at an event hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California. The discussion featuring state Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León, Rendon and Republican Senate Leader Patricia Bates, is from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento. It’s also available for viewing online.

OIL PROTEST: Protesters are expected to rally on the steps of the Capitol following Brown’s State of the State address, calling on him to become “a real environmental hero and stand up to Big Oil.” Advocates are planning to deliver 80,000 petitions to Brown calling for lawmakers, including the governor, to not accept campaign contributions from oil and gas companies or their representatives.

TAX OVERHAUL: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is expected to discuss the impact of President Donald Trump’s federal tax overhaul on California at an afternoon event hosted by the Center for American Progress. Also expected are the mayors of Austin, Texas, and Pittsburgh. Garcetti has voiced opposition to the federal tax bill and concerns about its impact on low- and middle-class Californians.

BLUE STATE BACKLASH: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, hosts an event in Pacifica this Saturday titled “A conversation about America: One year of Trump.” She is expected to discuss federal tax code changes, the recent government shutdown, investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and the #MeToo movement.

The event is 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the Ingrid B. Lacy Middle School in Pacifica. RSVP here.

AI: Experts with the University of Southern California will lead a discussion before the state’s Little Hoover Commission about concerns and benefits of artificial intelligence beginning at 9:30 a.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol.

The discussion, led by the co-directors of USC’s Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society, is the first hearing on artificial intelligence, according to the university. It will focus on the benefits of artificial intelligence in the fields of public health, public safety, wildlife conservation and more. It will also be streamed on CalChannel.

CELEBRATE: Happy birthday to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, D-Sacramento, who turns 60 on Friday. Happy birthday also to Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, D-Grand Terrace, who turns 62 on Saturday, and to Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Whittier, who turns 49 on Sunday.