California Democratic leaders face heat from two directions

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In summary

California’s dominant Democratic Party is under pressure from progressives and more conservative unions.

A major factor in California’s surprising evolution from a state with two tied political parties to a state totally dominated by Democrats has been its overwhelming partnership with labor unions.

Democratic politicians have delivered on key union priorities, from pension benefits to legislation making it easier for public and private employees to join unions.

In return, unions have become the largest source of campaign funds and other resources that help California Democrats win gubernatorial positions to local city council members.

There are other factors in the state’s political transition over the past quarter century, including demographic trends and Republican self-destructive movements, but Democrats’ partnership with labor looms large.

That said, when a political party becomes dominant in a city, county, or state, it also tends to fragment into factions defined by ideology, ethnicity, personality, or even geography. In the absence of competition between the two parties, these intra-party factions compete for internal influence.

The Democrats’ infighting was on display at the recent state party convention, most evident in the discontent among left-wing activists over their inability to garner support for their highest priorities, such as health care in single payer and the closure of the state oil industry. .

“The party is using every advantage it has under the bylaws to make sure there’s no democracy in the Democratic Party,” Progressive Caucus Chairman Amar Shergill told CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff. .

The convention also exposed frictions between party leaders and unions that have for so long been central to the party’s political success.

Andrew Meredith, chairman of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, accused the party of forgetting its “blue-collar roots” by adopting environmental and regulatory policies that could hurt jobs.

“We must refrain from being the spokesperson for unrealistic political goals that harm the working class or the working poor,” Meredith said. Calls by progressives for an oil industry shutdown, which could eliminate thousands of union jobs, have been particularly infuriating for Meredith and other blue-collar labor leaders.

This is not a new conflict. Forty-five years ago, during the early years of Jerry Brown’s first governorship, the late Jack Henning, then head of the California Federation of Labor, publicly lambasted Brown’s center-left appointees after Dow Chemical abandoned plans for a $500 million petrochemical plant.

“He (Brown) didn’t pull the trigger,” Henning thundered, “but he bought the gun and the bullets. There are certain mad hatters in the Brown administration who, if they do it to their as they please, will drive any important industry out of California.

Meanwhile, two of the state’s top law enforcement labor organizations, the Peace Officers Research Association of California and the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, have dropped Rob Bonta, who is seeking a full term as attorney general. after being appointed by Governor Gavin. Newsom.

Both groups endorsed one of Bonta’s challengers, former Republican Anne Marie Schubert, Sacramento County District Attorney. Schubert accuses Bonta of going too far in supporting criminal penalty reductions, and the PORAC ​​and CAHP endorsements have followed a similar line.

With polls indicating that California voters are increasingly concerned about rising crime, Bonta can no longer assume that being an elected Democrat in a deep blue state means an automatic electoral victory.

As progressives chafe at their inability to advance priority issues despite overwhelming Democratic majorities in the legislature, Meredith’s criticism and police unions’ rejection of Bonta tell party leaders that going too far on the left also risks alienating a powerful constituency.

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