CA Democratic Convention: Democrats divided on economic issues, trade pact

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 6.14.31 PMSen. Elizabeth Warren staked her claim as the progressive choice for president Saturday, with a rousing speech to delegates at the California Democratic Party’s state convention.

The first-term Democratic Senator from Massachusetts earned a rousing applause and standing ovation from convention delegates as she blamed the country’s income inequality and decline of the middle class on Ronald Reagan and three decades of Republican economic policies.

“The epicenter of the political earthquake that shook America’s middle class to its core started right here in California — right here with your former Governor Ronald Reagan,” Warren said as convention delegates cheered her on. “For more than 30 years, starting with Ronald Reagan, the Republican leadership latched onto an idea it called trickle-down economics, and then they got to work.”

She continued, “They attacked wages, they attacked pensions, they attacked health care, they attacked unions, they attacked education, they attacked science, they attacked financial regulation.”

Democrats divided on economic policies

Warren’s speech to convention delegates was only one example of the growing divide between moderate, business-friendly Democrats and those considered to be the true champions of progressive causes. At this weekend’s convention, progressive speakers offered subtle quips and direct jabs at party members who have strayed from what they see as party orthodoxy.

President Obama, who is currently pushing for congressional approval of a Pacific Rim trade agreement, wasn’t immune from the criticism.

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 7.15.27 PMCalifornia Democratic Party Chairman John Burton, a hero of the progressive wing, used his introductory remarks at Saturday’s floor session to criticize the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership as just “another way of saying ‘take jobs away from American workers and send them overseas.'”

Considered the most significant free-trade agreement since the North American Free Trade Agreement signed in 1994, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, known simply as TPP, would reduce tariffs and other trade barriers among the United States and a dozen Pacific Rim countries, including Japan, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia.

“In San Francisco, we used to have a fairly sized garment industry, that’s gone — shipped overseas,” the former state Senator reminded delegates. “We had manufacturing companies, those jobs are gone.”

Burton lamented that new trade deals “help big business, and American workers get screwed and the business guys gets rich.” He also assured delegates that Warren was on their side in the economic split, calling her “the f-ing champion of the American people.”

Rep. Ami Bera targeted by labor

Organized labor made clear that even Democratic elected officials that currently represent swing districts would not be excluded from criticism over the trade deal. Outside of the Anaheim Convention Center, protesting workers held signs singling out Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, for “railroading working families” with a free-trade agreement that they see as the “fast track to no work.”

“Ami Bera, you’re no good,” a lead protester chanted to the communal reply, “Treat the worker like you should.”

20150516_114416_resizedThe second-term Congressman narrowly defeated former Rep. Doug Ose last November by less than 1 percent of the vote. He is considered one of the top targets for Congressional Republicans in 2016.

Bera’s trouble at the convention is the second time this month that he’s been in hot water related to the controversial trade agreement. Earlier this month, Bera admitted to plagiarizing an op-ed piece featured in the Sacramento Bee. Republicans wasted no time in capitalizing on that misstep.

“With more evidence of Ami Bera’s cut-and-paste public policy coming to light, the hardworking people in his district have every right to question Bera’s honesty and leadership,” Zach Hunter, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement released earlier this month. “With his history of plagiarism, how can 7th District families trust Ami Bera to shoot straight with them on important issues?”

Tom Steyer dragged into rift

Influential Democratic donor Tom Steyer could soon be dragged into the party’s rift over economic issues.

On Friday, the billionaire climate change activist urged Democrats to support his plan for a statewide ballot measure to impose an oil extraction tax. By Saturday afternoon, Steyer’s critics attacked his silence on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and questioned his financial ties to the trade deal.

“Today CA Democratic Party Chair John Burton joined progressive leaders such as Senator Elizabeth Warren in opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Sabrina Lockhart, communications director for Californians for Energy Independence. “Tom Steyer, by far the party’s biggest donor, has not stated his position on the TPP, perhaps because he is still invested in Farallon, which stands to benefit from the TPP.”

She added, “This is odd given he is positioning himself as the party’s progressive, environmental leader, and criticisms from groups like the Sierra Club that the trade agreement is weak on the environment.”

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