The California Democratic Party held its convention last weekend in San Jose. During the course of the convention, local party organizations held endorsement meetings for candidates for partisan office, including the State Senate and State Assembly, ahead of June’s primaries.
While the influence of the party has waned in recent years, given California’s blanket primary process where the top-two vote getters in the primary win regardless of party affiliation, the process has some meaning.
Locally there are two contested races for Assembly and Senate. In the State Assembly, which was vacated by Bill Dodd to run for Senate, Dan Wolk was able to overwhelm both Don Saylor and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry to easily win the party endorsement.
However, that distinction has not turned out to be very meaningful for the actual election. In 2008, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon was able to win the party endorsement over Mariko Yamada, who turned around and beat him in the primary. Two years ago, Dan Wolk easily bested Bill Dodd and Joe Krovoza, only to finish third to Bill Dodd and the Republican Charlie Schaupp, and be eliminated before the final election.
However, there was more drama in the State Senate endorsement process. Bill Dodd, now an incumbent Assemblymember, is running to replace Lois Wolk in the State Senate. A former Republican until 2013, he has the support of much of the party machinery, including the Wolk family.
However, Mariko Yamada and a small core of activists was able to utilize the party endorsement procedures to block the endorsement.
According to a press release, dozens of supporters of Mariko Yamada worked the convention late Saturday night to collect signatures after Mr. Dodd had reached the endorsement threshold by just a few votes.
Yamada’s campaign gathered nearly 500 signatures in only hours, well above the 300 needed, to take the endorsement vote to the full convention floor during Sunday’s general session.
California State Controller Betty Yee, CDP Secretary Daraka Larimore-Hall and CDP Chicano Latino Caucus Chairman Carlos Alcala spoke on Yamada’s behalf on the convention floor Sunday – to an attendance of over 2,000 party delegates. Yamada’s campaign earned the majority of votes needed by delegates statewide to block the endorsement.
“This race is incredibly close, and I just wanted to be sure that this vote would be decided by the people,” said Mariko Yamada in a statement on Monday morning.
She added, “The results of yesterday’s vote is emblematic of my support within the Democratic Party and our grassroots strength on the ground. My campaign is people powered – and not controlled by special interests. We’ll win this race by activating and mobilizing our strong grassroots support.
“As State Senator for the Third District, I will take the tough challenges head on. I’ll fight hard to support working families, protect our environment, food and water supply, increase access to affordable health and mental health care, and serve as an advocate for the most vulnerable communities, including seniors, veterans, students and people with disabilities.”
The victory by Ms. Yamada is a reminder not to count the three-time Assemblymember out of this race, despite the huge monetary advantage that Bill Dodd currently owns.
Back in 2008, Mariko Yamada was a huge underdog against West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, but was able to mobilize a cadre of grassroots volunteers along with a wave of union support to upset the favored Mr. Cabaldon.
In her press release, Ms. Yamada’s campaign notes that she has the endorsement of a number of powerful statewide organizations, including SEIU California, AFSCME Council 57, California Nurses Association, California League of Conservation Voters, California Federation of Teachers, California Women’s List, local Democratic clubs including the Northern Solano Democratic Club, United Democrats of Southern Solano County and Stonewall Democratic Club of Solano County – and distinguished Democratic leaders including Controller Betty Yee, Treasurer John Chiang, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, Congressman John Garamendi and former Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.
—David M. Greenwald reporting