Politics & Government

Gig Harbor attorney wants superdelegates to feel financial pain — if they’re supporting Clinton

VIDEO: Andrew Williams believes the superdelegate system is flawed

The Gig Harbor attorney, who is a Bernie Sanders supporter, says the lack of superdelegate support for Sanders, who won the state's caucus overwhelmingly, tramples the rights of voters.
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The Gig Harbor attorney, who is a Bernie Sanders supporter, says the lack of superdelegate support for Sanders, who won the state's caucus overwhelmingly, tramples the rights of voters.

Andrew Williams doesn’t think violent threats are the right way to persuade Washington’s Democratic superdelegates to back Bernie Sanders for president.

The Gig Harbor attorney wants to sway those high-ranking elected officials by threatening something else: Their re-election campaigns.

It’s the latest way Sanders’ supporters in Washington are looking to pressure the state’s superdelegates — who include Gov. Jay Inslee and the state’s congressional delegation — to support Sanders over Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

Williams’ idea, which won approval Sunday at the Pierce County Democratic Convention, would stop superdelegates from receiving money and other campaign support from the state Democratic Party if they don’t back Sanders.

The Vermont senator overwhelmingly won Washington’s Democratic precinct caucuses in March.

On Sunday, Sanders urged superdelegates in states such as Washington to reconsider their support of the former secretary of state, and “seriously reflect on whether they should cast their superdelegate vote in line with the wishes of the people in their states.”

In Maine, a proposal to eliminate superdelegates is being considered at the state Democratic convention this week.

Williams, 52, said his proposal aims to give Washington’s elected officials more incentive to side with voters.

“Most of us were not happy with the fact that Sen. Sanders won 72 percent of the vote in the delegate count in our state, but all of our elected officials are voting for Secretary Clinton,” Williams said.

“We’re kind of going, well, does our vote really matter?”

This movement is trying to wake them up to that they need to pay attention to the voters, instead of just the people funding their campaigns.

Andrew Williams, Gig Harbor attorney who wants Washington superdelegates to support Bernie Sanders, who won the state’s caucuses

Washington’s 101 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be distributed between Sanders and Clinton based on the results of the precinct caucuses.

The state’s 17 superdelegates are unpledged, meaning they can support whichever candidate they choose.

So far, 10 of Washington’s 17 superdelegates have said they plan to support Clinton, despite Sanders winning nearly 73 percent of precinct-level delegates.

The remaining superdelegates have yet to declare their support for either candidate.

That’s caused frustration to mount among Sanders supporters, who have urged Washington’s superdelegates to support their candidate via petitions, social media pleas and, in one case, violent threats.

Last month, a man allegedly threatened to cut out the tongue of U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott because he supported Clinton over Sanders, saying McDermott was silencing his voice as a voter.

The man was charged with telephone harassment and intimidating a public servant — but not before McDermott reported carrying a shovel to his Seattle office to protect himself.

In addition to McDermott, other Washington superdelegates who have said they support Clinton include Inslee, U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and the state’s other five Democratic members of Congress.

Williams’ plan to amend the charter of the state Democratic Party was delivered to the state party chairman this week, a prerequisite to it being considered and potentially adopted at the party’s state convention next month in Tacoma.

There is some disagreement within the party on how unpledged delegates should work in our delegate process, and that is to be expected.

Jaxon Ravens, chairman of Washington State Democrats

If the amendment is approved, any unpledged delegate who votes for a candidate who didn’t win the state’s caucuses “shall be denied financial or other support by the Washington State Democratic Party in his or her next election.”

“This movement is trying to wake them up to that they need to pay attention to the voters, instead of just the people funding their campaigns,” said Williams, who said he prefers Sanders to Clinton because he believes Sanders is “a little less beholden to the money people.”

“It’s to tell the establishment people — which are mostly Hillary people, really — hey, don’t mess with us regular people,” Williams said. “And if you do, we’ll change the charter to force you to comply.”

A spokesman for Sanders said the campaign wasn’t involved with the effort and isn’t pushing the idea. The Clinton campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In an email, state Democratic Party Chairman Jaxon Ravens avoided commenting directly on Williams’ proposal, but acknowledged the frustration of some Democratic voters about the role of superdelegates in the nomination process.

“There is some disagreement within the party on how unpledged delegates should work in our delegate process, and that is to be expected,” he wrote.

Sanders folks would have a reason to sort of be outraged if these superdelegates were going to overturn the will of the people, but I haven’t seen any evidence that is going to happen.

Michael Artime, political science lecturer at the University of Puget Sound and St. Martin’s University

Ravens — one of the state’s unpledged superdelegates — said he will remain undecided about which candidate to support until there is a presumptive nominee.

Another superdelegate, Ed Cote, said he would make his decision after mid-June, when remaining Democratic primaries and caucuses have concluded.

To clinch the nomination, a Democratic candidate needs to win 2,383 delegates. As of now, Clinton has 1,683 pledged delegates based on the results of caucuses and primaries, compared to 1,362 pledged delegates won by Sanders.

Factoring in superdelegates, Clinton leads Sanders by about 800 delegates, putting her 178 delegates shy of winning the nomination.

Still, experts said they don’t think superdelegates will decide this year’s nominee.

Michael Artime, a political science lecturer at the University of Puget Sound, said he thinks the superdelegate system is undemocratic and probably should be changed.

But, he said, people who believe Sanders is going to lose the nomination because of superdelegates are “ignoring the fact that Clinton is winning in pledged delegates, and is winning in the popular vote nationally as well.”

“Sanders folks would have a reason to sort of be outraged if these superdelegates were going to overturn the will of the people, but I haven’t seen any evidence that is going to happen,” said Artime, a delegate representing Sanders at next month’s Democratic state convention.

If there was somebody like Trump looking like they’re going to take over the party, it would be kind of a safety net.

Todd Donovan, professor of political science at Western Washington University, on the role of superdelegates

The superdelegate system was designed to give party leaders a louder voice in who becomes the nominee, and to help prevent general election losses, said Todd Donovan, a professor of political science at Western Washington University.

The Democratic Party introduced superdelegates in the early 1980s after Richard Nixon trounced George McGovern in the 1972 presidential race, and President Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid in 1980.

Republicans have nothing in their nomination process that is equivalent — though this year, they might be wishing they did, Donovan said.

Earlier this week, the outspoken businessman Donald Trump became the party’s presumptive nominee, after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out of the race.

To Republicans, a superdelegate system “might be looking pretty good right now,” Donovan said.

“If there was somebody like Trump looking like they’re going to take over the party, it would be kind of a safety net,” he said.

Williams said that even if his plan to punish superdelegates who ignore the state’s caucus results doesn’t advance, he thinks it will “turn up the heat” on the party establishment, and hopefully push the party to reconsider whether to allow unpledged delegates who aren’t accountable to voters.

“It sends a message that the people are upset,” he said. “And I think that’s a message that needs to be sent.”

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