Dem LaLaPalooza: Wall Street, Debates, & More

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LOS ANGELES -- The old joke attributed to Will Rogers about Democrats may have finally come to an end, at least in California for 2010, as everyone at this confab seems to be unified against a location 3,000 miles away.

That would be Wall Street.

"I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat," the legendary humorist is credited with saying. And the adage has stuck around all these years because there's some truth to it. Golden State Dems throw a convention every year that feels like barely controlled chaos, with general sessions full of long, rambling speeches and subgroups of party members (caucuses) in cramped hotel conference rooms debating issues that matter to them.

But nothing focuses the mind like a good target, and Dems think they have one when it comes to the center of the global economic meltdown.

That focus on Wall Street and, to an extent, corporate America is probably the larger story out of this convention. But let's divert our attention for a moment to the more timely demands of the news cycle on this main day of the gathering.

John Myers

Photo: John Myers

And make no mistake, Jerry Brown won the news cycle today... and maybe even the news cycle in the governor's race for the next few days... by catching the Republican gubernatorial front-runner flat footed in his unusual call for a pre-primary, cross-party, three person debate.

Jerry versus Meg versus Steve. And in making his big proposal, Brown argued that it was the only truly democratic -- little "d" -- way to run a race.

"Campaigning and democracy is not about buying hundreds of millions of dollars of 30-second TV ads," Brown said in his Saturday morning speech to the convention delegates. "We're not consumers of advertising, we're agents of democratic choice."

And if that last quip wasn't quintessential Brown enough for you, he followed it up by saying this: "We're actors in a historical drama."

Brown's challenge to debate both Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman in three hourlong events apparently made Poizner giddy and Whitman fidgety. The latter issued a statement through her spokesperson at one point saying that the former eBay CEO was "open" to the idea, then only about 90 minutes later rejected the proposal until Brown debated his own primary opponent.

Or is that opponents? There are, in fact, seven Dems on the June 8 primary ballot. And for that matter, there are eight GOP gubernatorial candidates on that ballot. And the jab didn't seem to land on Brown, who issued a follow-up offer that said Californians need a leader "willing to face the voters."

The debate challenge allowed Brown to avoid most of what the press was poised to otherwise ask him about -- specific positions and proposals in the race for governor. The aspiring and former guv took a bit of heat about the need for details earlier in the week, and he dismissed such criticisms in his Q&A with reporters this morning. "We will have plenty of information," he said, "I promise you."

Now, back to the convention.

Boo, Wall Street & Big Biz: You would think that every single speaker and event had been handed talking points today about the evils of Wall Street and/or corporate America. (Yes, some probably were given talking points, but it was even random delegates being interviewed about the things that matter in this election season.) Those delegates usually framed the fight in terms of unemployment, but the talk seemed to always come back to the economic meltdown and who was to blame. "We need to exercise our votes as citizens and not have it be bought by corporate greed," said Carol Keavney, a proxy delegate from Ventura County.

And this jab about Wall Street from the national president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka: "They destroyed those jobs, they ought to pay to replace those jobs."

John Myers

Photo: John Myers

Maybe this guy (photo) could help? The delegates certainly think so. But I digress... all for a photo. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Kissing The Ring: It certainly doesn't shock anyone to say that organized labor is the single most important interest group in Democratic party politics, be it nationally or here in California. As such, this afternoon's long meeting of the party's Labor Caucus was a required stop on almost every candidate's schedule. So many, in fact, that a long line snaked through the crowded room of politicians who were asked to simply give their name the office they were running for. Oh, and any labor affiliation they had. Not surprisingly, even newbie politicians can't hold themselves to so few words. And many, in their attempts to insert a few campaign promises into their few moments at the mic, also felt compelled to address the crowd as "my labor brothers and sisters."

Oh No He Didn't: Hands down, the winner for the best succinct and imaginative GOP diss of Saturday from the convention podium goes to Bill Lockyer, the veteran pol who now serves as state treasurer. "We are the true patriots," he said, "who are going to start putting what the people of California need ahead of selfish, scare-mongering, silly, and stupid right-wing ideology." The crowd loved it. Lockyer made the quip in support of a ballot initiative to allow the state budget to be approved by a simple majority vote in the Legislature.

Best Intro Song: You have to know a little about the state Board of Equalization to appreciate the song that welcomed BOE chair Betty Yee onto the convention stage -- Donna Summer's "She Works Hard For The Money." Of course, that's not exactly what Donna was inferring, but hey, I get it.

6:08 p.m.: That's how long into the evening news on LA's KNBC it took to get to the convention. That was after a white supremacist clash and a check on the sunny weather.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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