Politics & Government

Call for Democratic unity draws boos from Sanders supporters at state convention

Democrats file Saturday into the a room at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center for the main day of the state Democratic convention. About 1,400 delegates were scheduled to vote on changes to the state party’s platform and internal rules.
Democrats file Saturday into the a room at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center for the main day of the state Democratic convention. About 1,400 delegates were scheduled to vote on changes to the state party’s platform and internal rules. msantos@thenewstribune.com

The sole U.S. senator to endorse Bernie Sanders for president urged Democrats to unite behind Hillary Clinton at Washington’s Democratic convention Saturday, drawing boos from a crowd filled mainly with Sanders supporters.

A smaller number of Clinton supporters at the state convention cheered when U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, called Clinton the Democratic presidential nominee and urged Washington delegates to support her.

“We have to come together,” Merkley said while delivering the keynote address at the state convention on Saturday.

“To advance the goals that so resonated with Bernie Sanders’ campaign, we need Hillary Clinton to win this election.”

The crowd erupted at Merkley’s statement, with boos competing with cheers and applause.

Earlier in his half-hour speech, Merkley spoke to the crowd about the dangers of a potential Donald Trump presidency, calling the presumptive Republican nominee “a racist, misogynist, self-promoting financial predator” who can’t be allowed to sit in the Oval Office.

“It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Merkley said.

Some Sanders supporters said they were disappointed that Merkley was telling them to switch course and support Clinton.

“He sold out,” said Michelle McClure, 35, a Tacoma resident.

McClure said she can’t vote for Clinton, even if Sanders urges her to do so. She said she would have to do “a lot of soul searching” to decide whether to sit out the election or vote for a third-party candidate if Sanders isn’t on the ballot in November.

“Hillary Clinton cannot lead this movement,” McClure said, saying she disliked how Clinton shifted her views over time on gay marriage and the North American Free Trade Agreement, among other issues.

Clark Hansen, the chairman of the Chelan County Democrats and a Clinton supporter, said he hopes Sanders supporters will gravitate toward Clinton before November — if only to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.

“Hopefully they can embrace the positive aspects of her message, but if not, hopefully avoiding the negative would be enough to motivate them,” Hansen said.

At the state convention at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, Democratic delegates on Saturday approved a new party platform and considered amendments to the party’s charter.

One charter amendment that passed would make it easier for transgender individuals to serve in party leadership roles.

The delegation also passed a resolution endorsing Sanders for the presidency, causing the room to break into applause and shouts of, “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!”

Another proposed resolution to endorse both Clinton and Sanders failed.

On Sunday, the final day of the convention, the party is scheduled to select the final 34 delegates who will represent Washington at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Those delegates, like 67 others already chosen at earlier caucus meetings, will be bound to vote based on the state’s caucus results, which overwhelmingly favored Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont.

At the Democratic National Convention, 74 of Washington’s 101 pledged delegates will go to Sanders, compared to 27 for Clinton.

Democrats in the state may soon move away from the caucus system as a way of allocating delegates, however. Jaxon Ravens, the chairman of the Washington State Democrats, said Saturday he will convene a committee next year to help the party move to a different system of awarding delegates to presidential candidates — potentially, a primary election.

“I think it’s very clear that we’ve outgrown the precinct caucuses,” Ravens said Saturday morning, prompting cheers from some members of the audience.

“We’re going to come back to that. We’re going to get it straightened out in 2017.”

Ravens’ pledge came after Clinton won Washington’s symbolic May 24 primary election with 52 percent of the vote, despite losing the caucuses to Sanders two months earlier. Some Democrats had questioned whether the presidential primary was a better gauge of voter sentiment than the caucuses, in which fewer people participated.

Other party members had called for a primary to allocate the state’s delegates after participating in legislative district caucuses that lasted 12 hours in some locations.

Unlike Democrats, Republicans in Washington used the presidential primary to allocate all their delegates to presidential candidates this year.

Washington will send an additional 17 unpledged delegates to next month’s Democratic National Convention who can vote for any candidate, regardless of the state’s caucus results. A majority of those superdelegates, which include Gov. Jay Inslee and the state’s Democratic members of Congress, have said they’ll support Clinton.

At the state convention on Saturday, agenda items proposing to change the role of superdelegates in the Democratic nomination process didn’t garner much discussion. Two of those proposals — including one that originated in Pierce County — were withdrawn by the sponsors earlier in the day.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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