The well-attended Clark County Democrats’ 2016 convention and legislative-district caucuses began with a burst of enthusiasm Sunday, but that excitement turned to crankiness for many participants as the daylong event dragged into the evening.
The purpose of the event — which was scheduled to end by 5 p.m. but ran past 9 p.m. — was to approve a party platform, provide a stage for local Democratic candidates and decide which delegates from the precinct-level caucuses would advance to the congressional-district and state conventions. From the state convention, some will have the chance to go on to the National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, July 25 to 28, and throw support behind their favorite presidential hopeful — Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
During precinct caucuses on March 26, Sanders handily won the vast majority of delegates in Clark County and across Washington state.
The convention on Sunday in Skyview High School’s gym drew between 1,500 and 2,000 delegates and alternates. They listened in the afternoon as local candidates and other party members pushed for party unity.
The Clark County Democratic Party will decide at an upcoming meeting whether to approve a number of proposed resolutions covering a wide range of political topics. Here are some of the highlights:
• Reject the proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver and other fossil fuel projects in the state.
• Direct the state Democratic Party to use a presidential primary to award delegates rather than caucuses.
• Establish a statewide, tiered minimum wage that eventually would reach $15 an hour.
• Address climate change as an emergency, taking immediate action to mitigate its effects.
• Support the ability for families and law enforcement to suspend a person’s access to firearms if that person is threatening to harm people or has a high risk of violent behavior.
• Advocate for a universal health care system, essentially eliminating the private health insurance industry.
• Support and fund Planned Parenthood.
• Amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which loosened campaign finance rules.
• Abolish the death penalty throughout the United States.
• Oppose nuclear energy and urge leaders to clean up the nation’s nuclear waste and store it in the safest possible way.
For more information, go to http://clarkcountydems.com/conventiondocs
— Stevie Mathieu
“How many people are in support of Bernie Sanders for President?” Clark County Democratic Party Chairman Rich Rogers asked. The crowd went wild with whooping, hand-waving and feet stomping.
How many support Clinton? An enthusiastic yet smaller group gave a raucous cheer.
What about Republicans Donald Trump or Ted Cruz? The audience booed.
The point, Rogers said, is that “no matter who, we Democrats must make sure that we keep the White House blue.”
A long process
Doors opened at 11:30 a.m., and speeches started at 1 p.m. By about 3:15 p.m., when local candidates had finished stumping, event organizers were not ready, as they had hoped, to seat delegates for voting. In all, 199 Clinton delegates picked during the March 26 caucuses had shown up, 674 Sanders delegates were in attendance, and 439 delegates for either Sanders or Clinton were no-shows.
That left the task of assigning alternates for each of those 439 delegates based on whom they supported at the precinct caucuses, and that task took hours.
“We’re losing delegates because they can’t stick it out so long,” said Sanders supporter Dorothy Gasque, 35, of Vancouver. “I think it’s really disorganized.”
Some delegates complained that people had places to be Sunday night, that they had to juggle childcare arrangements, and that sitting for so long was not friendly to some people with disabilities.
Battle Ground City Councilor Mike Dalesandro, who served as chair of the convention, said he understood the frustrations, but added that organizers did the best they could given the circumstances and the party guidelines. They weren’t expecting so many delegates to be absent, and there’s a somewhat complicated process for choosing each alternate. Luckily, he said, there was a large turnout among alternates.
He said the process was not unorganized, but it did take longer than expected.
“We were waiting for the process to take place,” Dalesandro said. “You just don’t know how long it is going to take. It’s about being fair and impartial.”
When the delegates were assigned, at about 7 p.m., around 960 Sanders delegates and about 260 Clinton delegates got down to picking delegates for the upcoming conventions and approved a party platform. The group decided to table some resolutions until this month’s meeting of the Clark County Democrats, Dalesandro said.
Attending the convention were many newcomers to the Democratic Party’s nominating process.
It was the first time 64-year-old Vancouver resident Fern Tresvan served as a delegate.
“I think it’s a critical election,” the Clinton supporter said Sunday afternoon. “I’m loving it. I’ve spent the whole day here. … This, what I’m seeing now, is what we’re about as a nation.”
Tresvan said she believes that Sanders and Clinton have more in common than not, but “I just feel that the Sanders (campaign) has promised too much.”
She said she would love for all of Sanders’ promises to be fulfilled, but with the political realities, especially a Republican-controlled Congress, “I’m distrustful of big promises.”
It was the first time Sanders supporters Adrian Hayes, 45, and Gary Nasca, 28, of Vancouver got involved in the nomination process. Both said they don’t plan to vote for frontrunner Clinton if Sanders loses to her.
“Bernie Sanders is sort of like that Beatles moment for me,” Hayes said. He added that as a Native American, it was moving for him to see Sanders make a campaign stop at an American Indian reservation — the only presidential candidate to do so, he said. “There’s such a pull in the campaign of excitement. … It’s a message that we don’t hear from other campaigns.”
Hayes said that if Sanders isn’t the nominee, he might write Sanders’ name in or vote for the Green Party candidate.
Nasca said he would write in Sanders’ name because he just can’t stomach voting for Clinton, even if it means he could help Trump win. He didn’t see Clinton as the lesser of two evils, he said, but just as evil as Trump.
Rogers, the Democrats’ county chairman, said he hopes Sanders supporters will still vote Democrat, assuming that Clinton secures the nomination, and that their enthusiasm will trickle down the ballot, giving a boost to local Democrats running for office.
He acknowledged, though, that Clinton won’t be able to harness all of the enthusiasm of Sanders supporters.
“Some of it will go. That’s politics,” Rogers said.
Republicans held their Clark County convention in March.