Local Democratic Delegates Address Unity, Platform Concerns As Party Convention Begins in Philadelphia

As the Republican party cedes the limelight to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week, the California delegation—the largest contingent in the country—has lots of local flavor, with a number of locally-elected officials and residents making the trek to Philadelphia to represent their districts.

Among the over 550 Democratic Party delegates in Philly for the DNC, those representing Long Beach include Mayor Robert Garcia, California State Senators Ricardo Lara and Isadore Hall III, newly-elected Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Vice President Megan Kerr, Long Beach City College (LBCC) Personnel Commissioner Uduak-Joe Ntuk and Isaac Romero, a former field manager for Garcia.

Two local members of Congress, Representatives Alan Lowenthal and Janice Hahn, who’s vying for an open Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors seat, are serving as super delegates at the convention.

First impressions from the opening day of the convention were mixed, with those delegates who’ve pledged their support to the presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton downplaying the effects of the Wikileaks revelation earlier this week that led to the the chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) stepping dow,n and Bernie Sanders supporters sticking to their position that the senator from Vermont was still in the race.

The release from the group showed that members of the DNC had exchanged emails that suggested they were trying to tilt the party’s primary in favor of Clinton, with several email exchanges showing blatant contempt for Sanders and his supporters. The Vermont senator ultimately endorsed Clinton earlier this month, but was booed today while reiterating the importance of voting for the former secretary of state this November.

Whether or not the Democratic party faces the same perceived cracks in its party’s unity and if it would effect the campaign for the White House going forward was the proverbial Donkey in the room as news of the DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz stepping down broke on the eve of the convention.

“Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton,” Hall said, trying to distinguish between the issues faced by each party at their respective conventions. “Ted Cruz did not endorse Donald Trump. When you look at the folks in our party that have actually come out to endorse Hillary it’s a complete difference from the Republicans that refuse to stand next to Donald Trump.”

Hall referenced the 19-minute speech given last week by Senator Ted Cruz, in which he did not mention Trump by name and urged republicans to "vote their conscience," a rallying cry for the “Never Trump” movement. Cruz was booed off the stage but the speech underscored the uphill battle that the GOP faces in getting its own base to rally around Trump and ultimately vote for him in November.

The California Bernie delegates resurrected a different element from last week’s Republican National Convention (RNC), breaking into their own chant of “Lock her up” earlier today, a chant that was prevalent at the RNC regarding Clinton’s email scandal and her role in attacks on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Romero, one of those Sanders delegates, said that the ultimate goal during this week's convention is to get Sanders the nomination, although he's been mathematically eliminated when accounting for super delegates. Romero didn’t state whether or not there was a plan to disrupt the convention in an attempt to accomplish that goal but added that Wasserman-Schultz stepping down was a step in the right direction in terms of repairing damage done to the party’s efforts to gain the support of Sanders’ supporters.

He said he'd like to see a platform that supports climate change initiatives, opposes the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership, drops the super delegate function from future elections and takes on the task of making college more accessible to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. 

“I do know that a lot of folks my age as well as a lot of the folks I’m rooming with are in college and are in an incredible amount of debt and the ones that aren’t in college are afraid to get an education because the consensus is that it might not even be worth it if you’re going to come out of it with an incredible amount of debt,” Romero said of his belief that the party needs to address making public college free.

While the two camps differ over who would best carry out the party’s platform, they mostly agreed on the issues that need to be included to better the nation and their districts back home. Climate change, raising wages and education were all mentioned by delegates in attendance.

Hall noted Clinton’s commitment to improving gun legislation, something he addressed in authoring Senate Bill 880, which prohibits the use of quick release “bullet buttons” earlier this year, but said that unity is more about the topics being addressed and less about the candidate preference.

“Unity is making sure that the folks who have often times been outsiders have a voice,” Hall said. “That women’s rights are the agenda, that LGBT issues are on the platform, that those individuals who for so long fought for justice in America is on the platform.”

Whether the party will be able to overcome perceived or real breaks in the ranks of supporters could be sorted out by Thursday night when Clinton is expected to formally accept the party’s nomination for the presidency. Democrats had hoped to avoid the awkwardness and tension that filled the RNC last week but appear headed for some tough questions from the press in the wake of the 20,000 emails released by WikiLeaks.

Despite that, many are hopeful that come Thursday the story will become less of a real obstacle that will keep some from voting for Clinton and that the focus of the convention will shift from the email scandal to the party’s markedly more optimistic platform and supporting Clinton.

Lara touched on this, agreeing that there is work for the party to do in order to engage the Bernie contingent in a more comprehensive way, but remained confident that when the convention clears out Friday morning the party will be one.

The self described “staunch supporter” of Clinton credited Sanders for pushing the party in a more progressive direction and said the dialogue between the two sides will make for an interesting week, one that should eventually prove to be more cohesive than last week’s RNC.

“I think people still have very strong opinions on both sides and I appreciate that. The difference in tone is that we know that the United States is an amazing country, we don’t have to make it great,” Lara said. “We have to continue to ensure that it continues to be great because it is a great country.”



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