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SPECIAL CONVENTION COVERAGE -- EXCLUSIVE: The CDP Chairman Art Torres Pre-Convention Interview
Editor’s Note: Art Torres is currently serving his eleventh year as Chairman of the California Democratic Party. Prior to that, he served 20 years in the California State Legislature. This exclusive interview kicks off CMR’s wall-to-wall CDP 2007 Convention coverage, which begins tomorrow and continues through Sunday, from the convention floor in San Diego.
CMR: Longtime California Democrats are saying that this is most exciting and significant State Convention in a generation. What do you think?
Art Torres: I absolutely agree. Primarily because we were able to move the presidential primary up to February. We opened up that window for other states and now, all of a sudden, we have Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Florida – all following California’s lead. Together, we’re going to make sure that, probably by the middle of February, we’re going to have a nominee.
CMR: How important to this State and this Party was it for Senator Perata and Speaker Nunez to move up the Presidential Primary to 2/5?
AT: It’s extremely important. Because in 2004, $182 million was raised by Democratic candidates running for President. This was money raised in California with not a penny being spent in California. We were getting a little tired of all this money leaving the state and none of it coming back to help the economy in our state – and that’s one element. The second element is that, once we go to Denver in 2008, we are going to be the largest delegation in the nation. This means that we will have not only a primary that is earlier and having an impact but, now, we are not a winner-take-all state, which means that every candidate running for President is probably going to have at least one delegate. We’ll probably have the most diverse delegation in the history of the Nation.
CMR: And this is the first State Democratic Convention ever to be held in the City of San Diego.
CMR: How important is this to the people of San Diego?
AT: Very. They’ve been asking for this for years and, frankly, San Diego deserves it. But we cannot go to a city unless there are enough union hotels that we can utilize. Our party draws so much strength from the labor movement of California and that’s where I’m at. I started with the United Farm Workers back in the ‘70s working as an organizer. I’m not going to abandon my labor roots. But, here in San Diego, we finally have some union hotels and they are not close to the convention center but I think it’s important to go into what’s considered “red territory” and stake our claim and put our flag down.
CMR: With such a deep bench of candidates running for President, including many of your friends, is it difficult as Chair to remain impartial and objective? For example, I hear that you are personally introducing every candidate.
AT: Yes, I am. Our bylaws prohibit us from endorsing a candidate before the nominating convention, which is fine for me. Many of these people I’ve known for 20 or 30 years. Barack, I’ve probably known less, but I knew him when he was a state senator from Illinois and he impressed me even then. So, as we look across the board, it is important that we recognize that everybody has an equal opportunity to collect volunteers, to make their effort known, to make their message heard. That’s the nature of this convention, to connect with the grassroots and bring them on board. Because we know they are all going to go our after this convention and do fundraisers in California but this is their opportunity to connect with future volunteers and the grassroots.
CMR: What is the 58-County Strategy and how is it going to help us be successful in 2008?
AT: Howard Dean and I worked together on the 50-State Strategy when he was running for Chair of the Democratic National Committee. I was part of an effort to make sure he was elected chair because I felt he would be the most progressive and effective chair, which has proven to be right. It’s taken a little time for us here in California to establish a 58-County Strategy, which I announced in December of 2006, and we’re going to be more incremental given the resources that we have available. But the most important priority for me is a Jerry McNerny seat, the Charlie Brown seat – which will be his seat once he defeats Doolittle – and Gary Miller in Southern California. We’re going to reach out to those communities where we can coordinate with counties with the resources we have available for voter registration and finally to make a mark on those counties that were up to this point considered red, that are now purple or turning blue.
CMR: The Party appears to be strongly supporting Senator Perata’s "Vote Us Out of Iraq" ballot measure.
AT: Yes. So am I.
CMR: Do you think this measure will help energize Democrats and turn out more voters to our primary on 2/5?
AT: The only problem is whether Arnold will have the guts to sign it. Look how he weaseled on green issues when he didn’t allow the attorney from Ecuador to talk about Chevron’s presence and how it affected global warming. So we are probably going to see a consistent reticence from the Governor to implement with deeds as opposed to words. At this point, I don’t see it getting signed by the Governor but I do think it is important for us as Democrats to get it out there.
CMR: How do you think the emergence of the netroots and the blogger community as a powerful voice has been helpful to the Democratic Party?
AT: I think it’s the healthiest result we could have imagined. That’s why I will be there honoring the bloggers on Friday night in their support of Charlie Brown and Jerry McNerney’s campaigns (at the "Blue House at the Brew House" fundraiser Friday night in San Diego co-hosted by CMR, California Progress Report, Calitics and fellow California bloggers) because the bloggers are important to our effort to get people moving. The bottom line is: whatever positive efforts other groups out there can do independent from us, I applaud.
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