California Democrats are experiencing a case of “be careful what you wish for.”
Young activists who backed Bernie Sanders for President are surging into the party's political process — and now, they're upending the usual order. Establishment Democrats worry it’s their Tea Party, while Republicans see new hope.
During the California Democratic Party convention last weekend, Sanders drew chants without actually being there.
Self-proclaimed “Berniecrats” have quickly become a new, rowdy left wing of the party. And their disruptive protests and recent gains in party elections have gotten the attention of Democratic leaders.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom openly courted them in his bid for governor.
"Let me just acknowledge, you guys have had a pretty damn good day," Newsom said.
Meanwhile, outgoing party chairman John Burton grew frustrated when their chants for single-payer health care drowned out speakers.
"Sit the [expletive] down, please," Burton said. "Pretty please with sugar on it. Thank you."
Democratic party leaders and long-time operatives worry that this influx of new activists doesn't recognize their progressive credentials, such as passing a $15 minimum wage, aggressive climate change mandates and tight gun laws, while winning every statewide office.
Burton, a famously liberal lawmaker himself, argues they lack perspective.
"The world started when they woke up in the morning," he said.
Senate leader Kevin de León praises their involvement, with a caution.
"Hearing different voices across the spectrum is a good thing," De Leon said. "We do also have to be also careful too that individuals don’t set a litmus test of who’s holier or purer than the other. That’s not who we are."
But many Berniecrats, such as newly-elected party delegate Patrick Weiss said a hard line is necessary.
"There’s no difference between a corporate Republican and a corporate Democrat, except on social issues," Weiss said.
And the movement is led by the hardline California Nurses Association.
"What kills me is that the California legislators actually think they’re progressive," said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the association.
She promised that the idea of "consensus for consensus' sake" is over.
"We’re going to win and move this movement, Berniecrats, nurses, and all of the progressive Democrats, we’re going to move this movement across the nation," DeMoro said.
Democratic political strategist and party consultant Steve Maviglio has some concerns about the new wing of the party.
"I’m trying to think of a very polite way to say this," Maviglio said. "The thing that concerns me is that when they don’t get their way, so to speak, they act like petulant children and walk out of the room or kick sand in the sandbox. I think that’s very dangerous for the party."
Maviglio and Republican strategist Mike Madrid both suggest a parallel to how the Tea Party has pushed the GOP to the right.
"It has been so consumed by its extremist elements it can no longer compete in the middle, and it left that for the Democrats," said Madrid.
He said California Republicans now could regain ground.
"It is no question an opportunity for the party out of power when the party in power starts to be consumed by its extreme wings, and make no mistake this is an extremist movement," said Madrid. "To suggest that somehow the California Legislature is moderate is almost a frightening notion."
Delegate Hawa Russell said her Berniecrats also see an opportunity, especially after their candidate for party chair lost only narrowly at the convention.
"We’ve had a huge voice up here, and such a close win like that actually pushes us to move forward," said Russell. "Because we know we do have a voice."
Berniecrats, establishment Democrats, and Republicans will be watching how far left that voice will shift the party.
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