Despite calls to unify behind presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, many backers of Bernie Sanders at the Washington State Democratic Convention this weekend were not ready to suspend their political revolution.
TACOMA — Despite calls to unify behind presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, many backers of Bernie Sanders at the state Democratic convention this weekend were not ready to suspend their political revolution.
At the gathering inside Tacoma’s convention center, hundreds of delegates met to debate the party platform and rules and to finalize a slate of delegates to the Democratic National Convention next month.
Because of Sanders’ overwhelming win in the March 26 Democratic caucuses, his supporters dominated the convention crowd, and they were not all ready to accept Clinton’s victory in the Democratic primary race. The divisions in Tacoma in some ways mirrored a similar divide at the recent Republican state convention in Pasco, where many delegates were backers of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz instead of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.
Some in Tacoma booed Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley when he argued Democrats needed to put aside differences and focus on defeating Trump, whom he called “a racist, misogynist, self-promoting financial predator.”
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As the lone U.S. senator to have endorsed Sanders during the primary season, Merkley was a logical choice to deliver a plea for unity. He said while Clinton was not his first choice, she was now the party’s standard-bearer.
“We have to come together,” Merkley told the crowd during a keynote speech Saturday morning. “We need Hillary Clinton to win this election.”
Merkley said the political movement and agenda started by Sanders — on ending big money in politics and other issues — was bigger than one person and would be stymied without a Democrat in the White House.
Merkley’s plea drew a mix of cheers and boos. Some in the crowd chanted “Bernie! Bernie!” and gave thumbs-down signs while one woman yelled “Noooooooo!” Others loudly applauded the call for unity.
Daniel Brown, a Sanders delegate from Bellingham, turned his back on Merkley.
Brown said Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee until delegates formally vote for her at the national convention in Philadelphia. “Between now and then we don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s premature.”
He said he was tired of being told time and again he had to vote for “the lesser of two evils.”
Mario Brown, one of the organizers of Washington for Bernie, said he was not sure how he’d vote in November but said he couldn’t support Trump. As for Clinton, he said he was not looking forward to “four or eight years of mediocrity.”
On Saturday evening, after many hours of debate and objections over rules, delegates voted for a symbolic resolution endorsing Sanders and rejected an endorsement of Clinton.
Tempers flared during that debate, as one pro-Sanders speaker labeled Clinton a “war criminal.” That comment drew loud boos and shouts from many in the crowd.
The rhetoric drove Clinton supporter Niko Battle to tears. A high-school student and chair of a Mukilteo high-school Democrat organization, Battle said he’d hoped Sanders supporters would show respect for Clinton.
“I’m very upset because I came here with the intention of unifying with my fellow Democrats … we were met with hostility,” he said, calling the convention “an atrocity.”
One Sanders supporter said she was disappointed by the attitude of some of Sanders’ fans.
Jin-Ah Kim, a Seattle delegate, said she voted for the Sanders endorsement but was disgusted by some of the hostility she saw toward Clinton. “It’s extremely divisive,” she said.
Some Clinton supporters said they believe divisions in the party will heal as the November election approaches.
“I think if they (Sanders supporters) were conscientious and caring enough to support a candidate like Bernie Sanders, then they’re conscientious and caring enough to save our country from Donald Trump,” said Melody Curtiss-Cathey, a Clinton delegate from Bainbridge Island.
She said Clinton “is going to make her case for the American public, show her heart,” and overcome any skeptics.
But periodically throughout the day, die-hard Sanders backers tossed barbs at Clinton. Andrew Dial, who ran as a candidate to be a presidential elector — those people who actually cast Electoral College votes after the November election, sarcastically praised Clinton’s success in promoting “endless war” and fracking.
Dial declared he’d refuse to follow the usual practice of presidential electors following the vote of their state. “If elected … I will refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton,” he said, drawing a chorus of boos.
Diversity was a common theme Saturday as Democrats debated changes to party rules and heard from candidates for presidential elector, who touted their identities as members of transgender, gay, Native American and other historically underrepresented communities.
Delegates overwhelmingly passed a change to state party rules aimed at making it easier for transgender people to get elected to leadership positions.
State Democratic Party chair Jaxon Ravens also announced a major change in the way Democrats pick presidential favorites in the state, saying it’s clear the party has “outgrown” the caucus system.
Democrats in Washington have traditionally used caucuses to allocate delegates to presidential candidates. In March’s precinct caucuses, Sanders easily defeated Clinton, winning 73 percent of the delegates.
In the state’s presidential primary last month, Clinton won a majority of votes, but it didn’t give her any more delegates as the Democratic Party ignored the results. Some in the party have criticized sticking with the caucus system, which draws far less participation than a primary.
While stopping short of saying Democrats will embrace the presidential primary, Ravens said the party will explore other, more inclusive options before the next presidential election in 2020.
Ravens said he was not surprised at the passion of Sanders supporters at the convention but predicted the party will come together for the fall election.
“There is unity. It can happen and it will happen. Hillary Clinton is going to be our nominee,” he said. “We’re excited about working with her campaign and making sure she wins the White House in November.”
Washington Republicans this year opted for the first time to use the state’s presidential primary results to allocate 100 percent of their presidential delegates. Trump easily won the May 24 primary, taking 75 percent of the GOP vote, though his opponents had all dropped out of the race by then.