The California Democratic Party faced a messaging crisis at its convention over the weekend in San Francisco.
Earlier this year, the city’s lawmakers proposed a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes, sending a message to Juul, currently the largest e-cigarette maker, that it’s not wanted in San Francisco.
But that didn’t stop Juul from heavily advertising its products at the convention. The company was one major sponsor of the event, causing disagreements between some party members.
Following speeches made by presidential hopefuls, Hene Kelly, the party director for California’s Region 6 approached the microphone, asking, “What committee should I go to to ask this party not to take any money from Juul, who preys on children?”
Acting party chair Alexandra Gallardo-Rooker responded that the party would need to raise several hundred thousands of dollars to replace Juul’s contributions, receiving boos from the crowd.
“Come on, it takes a lot of money to run this party and make sure we win,” Gallardo-Rooker said. But the party’s more progressive voters were not convinced.
Some of the convention’s other controversial corporate sponsors included the ride-hailing company Uber—which is anti-union and pays workers severely low wages—and Airbnb, the home-sharing company that has exacerbated urban inequality in cities globally.
To applause, Kelly asked, “What committee would take a resolution or a statement from this party that we will not take money from Uber which is non-union and treats its workers terribly?”
Fox Broadcasting Company, the parent company of President Donald Trump’s preferred news station, was also a sponsor of the event.
In some ways, the back and forth over the corporate sponsorships pointed to the party’s current ongoing struggle between centrists who think the party should remain more moderate, and progressives working to push the party further left.
This dynamic was on display as presidential hopefuls took the stage over the weekend.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who spoke Saturday and advocated “big, structural change,” received enthusiastic cheers from attendees. The senator has consistently put out progressive policy platforms, including a sweeping student loan debt cancellation plan, and a proposal to tackle the high rate of maternal mortality for black women.
Attendees were less excited by former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, also running for president, who shot down the pushes for single-payer health care in his remarks, arguing “socialism is not the answer.” Hickenlooper received boos. When Maryland Rep. John Delany dismissed Medicare-for-All in his Sunday speech as “not good policy,” he, too, was booed.
Despite the party’s continued struggles to unify its base, some Democrats are still taking a hardline position on who should be funding the party.
“We really want that kind of money out of the Democratic Party,” Kelly told KQED when asked about accepting money from Juul. “We really want everything we stand for to be ethical, to be for the people, not to hurt the people.”
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