Politics & Government

Democratic state convention to debate role of superdelegates

The Washington State Democratic Convention begins Friday at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center.
The Washington State Democratic Convention begins Friday at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center. phaley@thenewstribune.com

Starting Friday, hundreds of Democrats will convene in Tacoma to debate what their party should stand for — including whether it’s time to change how they choose a presidential nominee.

The Washington State Democratic Convention will consist of three days of meetings at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, with most of the action happening Saturday.

That day, about 1,400 delegates will meet to approve a party platform, as well as debate resolutions and amendments to the party charter.

Several of the proposals up for a vote deal with unpledged delegates, the Democratic party leaders and elected officials who can vote for any candidate at the Democratic National Convention regardless of their state’s primary or caucus results.

Supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have been frustrated that a majority of Washington’s unpledged delegates, commonly known as superdelegates, have indicated they will support Hillary Clinton, despite Sanders winning the state’s precinct caucuses in March.

In all, four measures looking to reform the role of superdelegates in the Democratic nomination process will be considered at the convention this weekend.

The proposed changes to the superdelegate system are one way Sanders supporters are looking to influence the future of the party locally and nationwide, even after Hillary Clinton emerged last week as the party’s presumptive nominee.

Sanders, a longtime independent who has railed against the influence of money in politics and what he calls a “rigged economy,” has criticized the role of superdelegates in the Democratic nominating process.

“The superdelegate system has some serious and glaring problems,” said Anita Latch, the secretary of the Pierce County Democrats who will be a delegate for Sanders at this weekend’s convention.

“It’s natural that their affection for the status quo is not looked on with favor by those who want a revolution.”

More than 70 percent of the delegates at the state convention will be Sanders supporters, following his landslide win in the March caucuses.

In all, four measures dealing with superdelegates will be considered at the convention, which begins with committee meetings on Friday.

The superdelegate system has some serious and glaring problems.

Anita Latch, secretary of Pierce County Democrats who will be a delegate for Bernie Sanders at the state convention

One proposed amendment to the party charter would require all 17 of the state’s superdelegates to support the winner of the state’s caucuses or lose financial support of the state party.

Another charter amendment would require the votes of Washington’s superdelegates to be proportionally divided between candidates, based on a vote at the state convention — a vote in which Sanders would almost certainly prevail. That proposal would withhold campaign support, financial and otherwise, from all the state’s superdelegates if one of them doesn’t vote in line with the proportional formula.

On top of that, two nonbinding resolutions would ask the Democratic National Committee to do away with superdelegates on the national level, as well as request that Washington’s superdelegates refrain from choosing a preferred candidate in future years until after the state’s voters have had a chance to weigh in through a caucus or primary.

Many of Washington’s superdelegates — including Gov. Jay Inslee and the state’s Democratic members of congress — told The Associated Press they planned to support Clinton months before the state’s precinct caucuses.

State Rep. Noel Frame, a Seattle Democrat who is expected to be voted in Saturday as chairwoman of the state convention, said she wouldn’t be surprised if at least one measure dealing with superdelegates passes.

In an email last week, the Sanders campaign urged his delegates attending the convention to “continue the political revolution.”

Many Democrats — not just those who support Sanders — are frustrated with what they perceive as unfairness in the Democratic nomination process, she said.

She said one reason she wants to chair the convention is to help alleviate any perception that party leaders — often Clinton supporters — are manipulating the process, which has been a concern raised in other states such as Nevada.

In an email last week, the Sanders campaign urged supporters to back Frame’s bid to become chairwoman.

“I do not think there has been a large sense of unfairness in Washington … but we are smart and recognize what has happened in other places,” Frame said.

“Me stepping up to run for convention chair is a proactive step so we are as inclusive and transparent as possible.”

Last week, the Sanders campaign also urged Sanders delegates attending the convention to “continue the political revolution” by voting for platform planks that “best support Bernie’s vision.” Frame said that may involve adopting a more progressive party platform that is further to the left.

I think people are very aggressive on social media, but then you get in a room with them face to face, and most people can have spirited conversations without being jerks.

Linda Isenson, chairwoman of the Pierce County Democrats, predicting there won’t be fireworks this weekend

The convention will conclude Sunday when members of the party’s State Central Committee meet to choose the final 34 delegates who will attend next month’s Democratic National Convention. Unlike superdelegates, those 34 delegates will be bound to cast their votes based on the state caucus results.

Linda Isenson, the chairwoman of the Pierce County Democrats, said she doesn’t expect dissatisfaction with superdelegates and other aspects of the party’s nomination process to result in fireworks at the convention this weekend.

“I think people are very aggressive on social media, but then you get in a room with them face to face, and most people can have spirited conversations without being jerks,” Isenson said.

In other words, she said, don’t expect a repeat of what happened in Nevada last month, when Sanders supporters accused party leaders of rigging the rules in favor of Clinton and at one point stormed the stage in protest.

“This is Washington,” Isenson said. “We’re a little more passive than that.”

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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