Capitol Alert

California Democrats play rhetorical tug-of-war on economy

Video: Democrats lament uneven economic recovery

Possible candidates for governor in 2018 preview likely theme of campaign.
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Possible candidates for governor in 2018 preview likely theme of campaign.

The chorus at the California Democratic Party’s annual convention on Saturday served to highlight an intraparty tug-of-war over the state of the economy, while previewing the state’s still-distant race for governor.

Four rising politicians who are potential candidates for governor in 2018 in some form addressed the unevenness of California’s economic recovery.

Despite reducing unemployment and increasing spending on clean energy and schools, said Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist, “the Golden State is far from golden for everyone.”

“The tragic reality is that in California, our race, our gender, our ZIP code and our income too often determine our destiny,” he said.

The tragic reality is that in California, our race, our gender, our ZIP code and our income too often determine our destiny.

Tom Steyer, billionaire environmentalist

State Treasurer John Chiang and Secretary of State Alex Padilla offered similar, if more measured, assessments, while Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called for more to be done to house and find jobs for homeless veterans.

Yet if these politicians said anything to differentiate themselves, it was less with one another than a more established vein of Democrats who, after seven years under President Barack Obama, emphasize brighter elements of the country’s economic record.

Vice President Joe Biden, addressing delegates Saturday, recounted how far the economy had sunk in the depths of the recession. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi cited growing employment, job creation and a rising stock market.

“The American auto industry was dying,” Pelosi said, “and now it is thriving.”

In Sacramento, Gov. Jerry Brown has faced persistent criticism about the state’s high poverty rate – highest in the nation when adjusted for the cost of living.

In his State of the State address last month, Brown touted the programs he has enacted to help poor Californians, but he depicted income inequality as the result of globalization and other forces outside of the state’s control.

Brown did not address the general session Saturday.

Also missing, due to the birth of his child Friday – but appearing in a recorded video message – was Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. He has been raising money since last year for the wide-open race to succeed Brown. Chiang, former state Controller Steve Westly and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are widely expected to run.

Likely close to announcing his candidacy is Chiang, who sought to bridge praise for past economic policies – including his own as a statewide officeholder – with concern for Californians who have yet to feel its effects. He praised “one of the most remarkable recoveries on earth” but said, “I haven’t forgotten those that are struggling.”

“There are still too many Californians who are under great stress,” Chiang said. “They live in fear, they live in scarcity, they live in hunger.”

For his part, Padilla linked higher levels of poverty to lower voting rates, saying “the very people who are silent are the ones we need to hear louder.”

Steyer declined to say if he will run for governor. But in his demurral, he said, “I will say this: Inequality in California is shocking.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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