At Democratic convention, protesters shout, leaders talk of embracing independents

Thousands of Democrats met in Los Angeles for the political party's annual convention.
Thousands of Democrats met in Los Angeles for the political party's annual convention.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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The California Democratic Party should combat an increase in independent voters by reaching out to those who don't affiliate with the party. That was the message one party leader gave on the second day of it annual convention in Los Angeles on Saturday.

“I think we need to learn to embrace others who may not have the same designation of a party member,” said California Democratic Party voter services committee member Susan Devine, who moderated a workshop called "voter trends."

In a year when California Democrats are worried about motivating their voters, Gov. Jerry Brown heard another unwelcome message Saturday: some environmentalists, a core Democratic constituency, are bristling over his administration's policies on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the Associated Press reports.

Appearing in his first major campaign speech since formally declaring his candidacy last month, Brown found himself forced to speak over a noisy group of sign-waving protesters who want him to ban fracking in the state.

"Just listen a moment," Brown said impatiently at one point, according to AP, as the protesters shouted "No fracking" and waved signs just steps from the podium that said "Another Democrat against fracking."

Most of the affair was calmer as Democrats tried to grapple with their path going forward. Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, Inc., said in 51 of California’s 58 counties, non-partisan registration surpassed registration with either the Democrat or Republican party since 2012.

“We’ve seen this year shift and that shift’s been driven by young people. Young people are coming out and becoming non partisans or affiliated with neither the Democrats or Republicans in rates that we’ve never seen before,” he said to an audience of about 50 people at the 8 a.m. panel discussion.

His data also shows voter participation among 18-year-olds that go to the ballot box drops after about two decades - but participation remains stronger for those who vote absentee or by mail.

“I think it’s hard for young people to be involved with politics, it’s just, like, a foreign thing to them,” said Laurel Druke of the Marin Young Democrats. Politics just isn’t very interesting for many people in their 20s, like her.

A big dilemma for the party is how to increase involvement by Latinos and those under 30.

Even voters with strong political views, panelists said — whether they lean toward the Republican or Democratic parties — are not as likely to register with the party that fits their values.

The audience, nearly all members of Democratic clubs throughout the state, broke out into groups to discuss their ideas on how to get more people involved in the Democratic Party. They jotted them down on butcher paper taped to a wall on a conference room at the Bonaventure Hotel, where some of the events are taking place.

“More Spanish-speaking volunteers,” was one suggestion.

“I think when a white middle-aged, well no longer middle-aged, woman goes door to door and has difficulty communicating, they’re not going to pay any attention,” said Orange County Democratic Party member Natalie Garth. “I don’t get their issues like someone in their neighborhood.”

Some participants talked about joining Latino activist groups and doing more than just showing up around election time.

“Being a Chicana, I think that conversation has to be critical,” Georgette Gomez said.

And as she looked around the room, she was disheartened.

“What I saw today in terms of the audience - not too diverse," she said. "But yet, we’re discussing outreaching to Latino communities. We should try to bring those people to the table.”

The event wraps up Sunday and speakers include Mayor Eric Garcetti.

This story has been updated.