If you are like me and you live in California, you are already literally sick over the presidential contest. Less than a month into 2007 and we can already see the bizarre and disgusting dance of the donor class in full tilt. Barack Obama, the shimmering mirror of hope, has announced that his first appearance in the garden of giving will feature a $2,300 per person intimate gathering for 1,000 or so to be in his presence -- in Beverly Hills, of course. And if you want to have dinner with him, you can stick around, if you raise a mere $46,000.
Senator Clinton will shake the money trees with no less vigor or success, bringing to her already bulging coffers a few million for a few hours at some fancy house or hotel or both. And once again, the 17 million voters in California will get what we have gotten for the past fourteen or so years: nothing. With our primary set for June 2008, we'll have the chance to vote for anyone we choose, but no one, not even the candidates themselves, will care one whit. With Iowa and New Hampshire set to take place in early January, the nomination on both sides will be all sewn up by the first days of March, with June not so much as an afterthought.
But we here in this state have the opportunity to change the system if we only speak out. As the Chronicle's Carla Marinucci points out, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Governor Schwarzenegger have both proposed that the primary be moved to February 2008 within a few weeks of the early primaries and caucuses. If we push our legislators to let us have a say, California could very well decide who is nominated. There's a strong argument from those outside the state against giving California a voice. It goes something like this. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina (the early primary/caucus states) represent the types of demographics in which a nominee would have to compete successfully in order to win. By causing candidates to compete in California, we'd give the nod to the best funded establishment candidate, making the outcome of 2008 preordained. In plain English, the argument goes, an early primary in California hands the Democratic nomination to Senator Clinton.
Let's look at the facts. At this time in 2003, almost no one had heard of Howard Dean. The pundits all said that John Kerry had the lock, unless Dick Gephardt could derail him. By the end of 2003, every pundit in the nation, and I mean every one, had crowned Howard Dean nominee, but not a vote had been cast. Dean raised the most money of any candidate by far, yet he came in third in Iowa where he failed to convince the full 40,000 white people who "voted" for Kerry to vote for him. He managed to come in second in New Hampshire, but by then his super nova turned into a media black hole. He was finished.
But let's remember where Howard Dean got his start. It was right here in California. In early March 2003, the former Vermont governor blew the roof off the state Democratic convention with a speech that summoned the grassroots, largely created the net roots and brought a fight back to an otherwise dithering, milquetoast party. I've never tallied how much money Dean raised in California, but as Chair of his campaign out here I know that we had about 100,000 California email addresses at the end of the campaign, that we were the only campaign to have an organization in all 53 congressional districts and that a new energy was born that would put people on buses to neighboring states to work and raise tens of millions in small donations for John Kerry in the general election.
Now suppose that California's primary had been in February 2004 instead of March. Dean, with the most money and having been endorsed by SEIU and AFSCME (two of the largest unions in the country, but not heavily represented in Iowa), might have husbanded some of the resources for a state in which he outpolled all of the other candidates even on the eve of Iowa. Indeed, the Latino caucus of the legislature endorsed Dean the weekend before Iowa. SEIU alone has 650,000 members in California. The California Teachers Association, at 300,000 members nearly three times the number of those who turned out in Iowa, had endorsed Dean as well. Dean was just plain popular here, but we had to watch as 120,000 or so Iowans went through the bizarre ritual of caucusing rather than voting to decide whom they'd select. It's fine for a small state to do that, but last I checked there's no caucusing in the voting booth come November. Someone please explain why a state that is nearly all white, very rural and in no way representative of the whole of this nation gets to decide with a fraction of its eligible voters who shall be crowned nominee while California, with 37 million residents, an economy in Los Angeles alone that is cumulatively bigger than all of the early states, sits on the sidelines?
The Courage Campaign, an independent political committee that focuses solely on California progressive politics, launched a petition drive to push for the California primary to be moved up to February. If enough of us sign to push the politicians in Sacramento to lead, we may actually get a chance to have our potential nominees learn about issues that matter to us. They might have to address head-on issues such as immigration, agriculture, education, technology, climate change, defense, port and airport security, the cost of housing, crumbling infrastructure, access for all to healthcare, pension plan shortfalls, a majority minority population and the increasing wealth and poverty gap, with the middle class squeezed in between. In short, they'd have to address the issues of America, not just the issues that face a few small voting groups in a few small states.
P.S. For the record, I am no Hillary Clinton fan. In fact, I'm not much of a fan of any of the candidates so far. An early California primary could allow for a very well known insurgent candidate with proven credentials to enter the contest late and to clinch the nomination, even if he skipped the maze that is Iowa and New Hampshire. What a welcome change THAT would be!