California Seal with MarijuanaThis afternoon the California Democratic Party will vote on whether to endorse and actively support Prop 19, California’s marijuana legalization initiative. It’s going to be close either way; Prop 19 will need 60% of the party’s executive board to secure the endorsement, per CDP e-board member Robert Cruickshank.

UPDATE: California Dems voted against legalization. At 11:53 AM PDT, Cruickshank tweeted:

CDP endorsement of #Prop19 fails 85-101. Party will instead be neutral on#Prop19, but local county committees can decide for themselves

Now, back to the original post…

Cruickshank – the Public Policy Director of Courage Campaign and a blogger at Calitics – noted yesterday that the California Democratic Party’s Resolutions Committee voted against an endorsement of Prop 19, 8-12. The same committee then voted unanimously to recommend the Party remain neutral on the initiative.

The speakers in support of Prop 19 – [Assemblyman Tom] Ammiano and Alice Huffman of the California NAACP – made powerful arguments in support of the measure. Ammiano cited the more than 20,000 signatures we at the Courage Campaign (where I work as Public Policy Director) gathered in support of the initiative, the stack of which you can see at right, alongside the strong case for Prop 19 on the merits – to provide prison reform, help fix the budget, and to admit that our policy of prohibition has failed.

Huffman’s case was even more powerful. Rejecting claims that Democrats should be skittish of Prop 19 out of concern for their candidates on the November ballot, she called on delegates to “show courage” and endorse Prop 19 for the sake of ending the devastating war on drugs that has hit young African Americans and Latinos so hard, and seek a more sensible and rational regulatory policy of cannabis.

As expected, chickenshittery prevailed on the committee, as Democrats used to hiding in the mushy middle evoked the spectre of hurting Democratic candidates in more conservative districts who they think would be “hurt” if the CDP endorsed marijuana legalization:

However, the more skittish view prevailed on the committee. In spite of the evidence showing that California Democratic voters support Prop 19 and their own party chair’s view that Prop 19 will boost turnout for Democrats, these folks worried that Democrats running in purplish or red areas would be hurt if the party endorsed Prop 19, even though some candidates in those kinds of districts already have gone on record in support of Prop 19.

I’m sympathetic to that view, but I think it also misreads the 2010 election. This is a turnout election, not a persuasion election. Democrats win by driving our people to the polls, plain and simple. Prop 19 will bring Democratic-friendly voters to the polls. If the CDP were to be on record in support of Prop 19, those voters might also be willing to cast their vote for Democratic candidates. If the party is neutral, then that might not occur at the levels we’d like.

With “skittish” Democrats and the full force of proxies for CA-Gov candidate Jerry Brown and CA-Sen incumbent Barbara Boxer arguing against the party’s endorsement, my feeling is it’s not looking good, and will require a big shift for the party to endorse Prop 19.

Progressive California strategist and MyDD blogger Bob Brigham looks at what a vote against endorsement would mean for the CA Dems, concluding that the party missed its moment at its April convention when the rank-and-file of the party – which undoubtedly supports legalization – could have given Prop 19 the party’s support.

Brigham notes that by voting against endorsing Prop 19, California Dems are effectively voting to support Mexican drug cartels over Jerry Brown’s election.

The issue in question is California’s Proposition 19, to tax and regulate marijuana, which has become the latest test of whether the CDP wants to win elections. A vote today by the state party Resolutions Committee showed the fix to be in against incorporating all of the new energy around Prop 19 into Democrats’ GOTV program. When it came down to trying to win, or trying to be “very serious people” who are content to lose, they decided they value propping up Mexican drug cartels more than they value electing Jerry Brown. [...]

As the Proposition 19 had qualified for the ballot before the full CDP Convention, it should have been endorsed back then. Instead of having the new energy around Proposition 19 as part of the Democratic coalition for the last few months, Prop 19 leaders decided not to rock the vote and trust that the CDP Executive Board would vote in the best interests of Democrats.

In fact, as recently as Tuesday, Robert Cruickshank wrote, “I’m confident the CDP E-Board will make the right decision this weekend – especially if we can get a lot of signatures in support.” He excelled at getting signatures, 21,000 is a huge number even in California. But he made the mistake of assuming the California Democratic Party is a legitimate vehicle for electing Democrats.

Cruickshank notes we’ll know the CDP’s decision by 3pm EDT / 12pm PDT; again, endorsement requires 60% of the executive board’s support. Stay tuned, and follow these folks on Twitter for real time updates: @cruickshank, @bobbrigham, @couragecampaign.