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DNC Is Not All a Party for Local Delegates


After nearly half a century of attending Democratic conventions, you'd think Thousand Oaks resident Hank Lacayo would be tired by now of that political scene.

But walking onto the floor during opening day of the Democratic National Convention, the longtime labor activist and party leader said he was blown away by the patriotic, partisan spectacle at Staples Center.

"It really gets the juices flowing," said Lacayo, 69, who as chairman of the Ventura County Democratic Central Committee led local delegates Monday to the four-day event.

"It may be more symbolic than anything," he said, "but it gives the party a boost and gets everyone thinking about the work we need to do before November."

Under the glow of neon lights--beneath a sea of red, white and blue balloons waiting to be released upon the coronation of Vice President Al Gore as the Democratic presidential nominee--delegates from Ventura County joined thousands of the party faithful for the convention kickoff in Los Angeles.

As part of the powerful, home state delegation, the county's seven delegates and one alternate were given prime seats. They filled the rows directly in front of the speaker's podium, sandwiched between Missouri, Tennessee, Ohio and Illinois.

"We got the best seats in the house," said Lacayo, who once headed political and legislative activities for the United Auto Workers union and served as an advisor to and campaign worker for Democratic presidents from John Kennedy to Bill Clinton.

"Even as many times as I've been to these, I'd rather see them in person than on television," he said. "It's a personal thing to me."

Camarillo delegate Sharon Hillbrant feels the same way.


And she showed up for Day One of the convention wearing her convictions on her hat--a straw derby adorned with pro-Gore buttons and one featuring a cowboy boot and the slogan "Smush the Bush."

Hillbrant, 64, said she is primarily interested in women's issues throughout the state and the nation.

In fact, she spent a couple of hours before the convention at a political caucus at the downtown Marriott, where First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and other prominent Democrats warned that women could lose ground if Republicans take control of the White House.

"I think we would take several steps backward if that happened," said Hillbrant, who serves on the National Women's Political Caucus of Ventura County, the Ventura County Commission for Women and the Planned Parenthood Action Committee.

"I'm interested in other issues, but I feel this time women have the most to lose," she said. "Our mandate is to go forward from this convention and make the issues of this election clear to every woman."

Of course, not all convention business is so serious.

In the shadow of the Lakers' championship banners, a big-screen television broadcast the day's events. And once in a while, cameras swept across the convention crowd, stirring up frenzy among high-strung delegates wearing silly hats and funny T-shirts.

Oxnard resident Leo Valenzuela worked up a sweat trying to draw attention to his purple T-shirt and its slogan: "I'm union, I'm registered and I vote."

"And I mean it," said Valenzuela, business manager of the Laborers' International Union Local 585 in Oxnard. He and his wife, Marilyn, are among five Ventura County delegates who have heavy union ties, giving the local delegation a decidedly pro-labor slant.


Marilyn Valenzuela, executive secretary and treasurer of the Tri-Counties Central Labor Council, said her goal this convention is to see that labor's agenda is pushed to the forefront of party business.

Toward that end, she and her husband have been attending pre-convention caucuses to persuade elected officials that what's good for labor also is good for the country.

"I'm hoping labor is highlighted during this convention," Marilyn Valenzuela said. "Everything we fight for, better health care and higher wages, goes hand-in-hand with the party platform."

Oxnard firefighter Bill Gallaher plans to do some lobbying of his own.

The delegate spent the morning with a group of firefighters pressing for a bill that would allow firefighters to bargain collectively for contracts, a practice not allowed in many states.

He also wants to try to secure more federal funding to better prepare firefighters for disasters ranging from earthquakes to plane crashes.

"We have very serious issues to address," he said. "And we're going to take this opportunity to meet with our representatives and make sure they know how important the issues are throughout the United States."

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