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California election season starts with Democrats convention

Members of the Democratic Environmental Caucus and other environmental organizations demonstrate against hydraulic fracturing oil extraction
Members of the Democratic Environmental Caucus and other environmental organizations demonstrate against hydraulic fracturing oil extraction

By Sharon Bernstein

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California Democrats on Saturday vowed to restore their two-thirds majority in the legislature and push their statewide success eastward in an effort to retake a majority in Congress.

The pledge at the state's annual Democratic convention came a week after Democrats effectively lost their prized two-thirds majority in the legislature as two state senators were forced to go on leave under criminal indictments or convictions.

The convention, which effectively kicks off election season, showcased Democratic stars such as California Governor Jerry Brown and the state's Attorney General Kamala Harris as well as featured former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom party leaders are hoping may be able to return to her old job.

Brown, who is running for an unprecedented fourth term in November, said California had been written off for dead and called a failed state, but now it is recovering faster than the rest of the nation.

"California is back," Brown said. "We got a million more jobs and California is still a beacon for the whole world."

Democrats in the most populous U.S. state hold comfortable majorities in both houses of the legislature, the governorship, and all other major statewide offices. In a theme that party leaders hope to export nationwide as a swipe against the deadlocked Congress, which is controlled by Republicans, Democrats hammered on a theme that in California, where they are in charge, action has been taken on key issues including health care, transportation and immigration.

"Democrats get things done," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said repeatedly in his opening remarks, a line that continually drew applause.

Pelosi, taking the podium after party chairman John Burton, blamed Republicans for Congress' failure to act on comprehensive immigration reform and other issues, saying progress would have been made had Democrats been in charge. The needy, Pelosi said, are "invisible" to Republican leaders in the House.

But the success of California Democrats has come in part from a forceful push by Brown to move his party to the political center, efforts that have rankled many in the party's progressive wing.

Brown's position in favor of fracking - the practice of injecting water and chemicals deep into underground rock to release oil - has upset the party's environmental caucus.

During his address on Saturday, the 75-year-old governor, who served two terms from 1975 to 1983, was interrupted repeatedly by about 100 protesters as he began to talk about environmental issues and climate change.

"No fracking!" they shouted, creating a rumble throughout the massive convention hall.

"Now listen, all of you shouting people, Californians are all driving millions of miles a year and using fossil fuels," Brown said. "Would it be ... that we could do one thing to solve our climate problems. We can't limit it just to one thing."

As the shouting continued, Brown powered on through the speech with his characteristic forcefulness and the demonstrators fell silent.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)

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