March 9, 2014 / 2:04 PM / 5 years ago

California Democrats, eye on election, adopt activist agenda

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California Democrats adopted a platform on Sunday calling for an inflation-adjusted minimum wage and an end to solitary confinement in prisons as part of a strongly progressive agenda in a state where the party has gained dominance by moving to the political center.

California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom casts a shadow on a banner as he speaks at the 2014 California Democrats State Convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center March 8, 2014. REUTERS/David McNew

The platform also called for free preschool for all 4-year-olds and legalization of medical marijuana, measures that have drawn skepticism from Governor Jerry Brown, who remains widely popular as he prepares to run for an unprecedented fourth term after yanking his party toward the middle.

Brown’s governing style, which has placed an emphasis on budget austerity while repairing California’s chronic fiscal woes and reviving the state’s sagging economy, has at times put him at odds with the liberal wing of his party.

“I’m going to say something, and it’s probably going to get me in trouble, but there are some people who are just too rich,” said party secretary Daraka Larimore Hall in a last effort to rally the rank and file before delegates dispersed Sunday afternoon. “If we don’t solve the problem of income inequality we will lose our souls and we will lose our republic.”

Confident going into the 2014 election season with wide majorities in both houses of the state legislature and control of all statewide elected offices, Democratic leaders at the California party’s annual convention hope to see their success pushed eastward in a bid to retake a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Some 3,000 delegates and guests thronging the Westin Bonaventure hotel in downtown Los Angeles heard from rising national Democratic stars such as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, as well as Brown and other top California officials during the weekend event.

The convention, a little bit Hollywood and a little bit classic party politics, also showcased a speech by U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whom party leaders hope to return to her previous post as speaker of the House of Representatives.

The platform adopted by the delegates sounded a number of key Democratic themes, including support for anti-poverty programs and increased funding for education.

In a direct challenge to Brown, the party also called for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial process of injecting water, chemicals and sand into underground shale formations to extract oil and gas.

Brown has supported fracking as a way of easing dependence on foreign oil while creating jobs. Environmentalists see it as a threat to the state’s precious aquifers and human health, as well as encouraging the nation’s addiction to fossil fuels that have been blamed for climate change.

The delegates also called for ending prolonged solitary confinement in the state’s troubled prison system, where inmates identified as having ties to prison gangs have been held in near-isolation for years.

Some measures embraced by the convention were highly specific. For example, the platform called for new laws on healthcare coverage for treatment of head injuries, and tighter oversight for home health aides.

In a theme that party leaders hope to export nationwide as a swipe against partisan gridlock in Congress, California’s Democrats cited action state lawmakers have taken on such issues as healthcare, transportation and immigration.

In a speech on Saturday, Brown said California had been largely written off by some as a state mired in hopeless fiscal and financial morass but is now recovering faster than the rest of the nation.

“California is back,” he said. “We got a million more jobs and California is still a beacon for the whole world.”

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh

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