Montana Democratic Convention, Bernie style

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It wouldn’t be politics if things didn’t sometimes get bizarre.

At the Bernie Sanders caucus, a rumor spread that he had actually won California in a recount. Cheers and shouts and much revelry ensued. Skeptics, like me, searched our iPhones for verification and, of course, found none. Breaking the fact that this was viral faux news met with much disappointment. But one optimistic delegate said of the outburst, it was “great practice for the national convention.”

You have to love that sort of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, disappointment is a big part of progressive politics; like the tears that welled up in one young volunteer’s eyes when she learned that she wasn’t selected as a delegate. She truly believed she could sway enough ‘superdelegates’ to get Sanders nominated and then elected President.

Some background: yesterday was the Montana Democratic Party’s convention to elect delegates to July’s national convention in Philadelphia. It was split into four camps – Sanders people from Eastern and Western Montana, and Clinton people from the same two regions.

The biggest contingent, or caucus, was the Western Montana Bernie supporters. Numbering around 100, it had close to 30 candidates for only four seats.

Next was the Eastern Montana Bernie caucus with 40 members and 15 candidates vying for four spots.

I can’t really give you the numbers for the Hillary caucuses because I’d committed to Bernie and the Clinton folks were in a different area at the convention. It wasn’t as big a crowd, though, and based on last Tuesday’s Montana primary election results, they received one less delegate than Sanders to send to national.

Here’s some stream of consciousness from the Western Montana Sanders caucus:

Missoula sent the most folks but there were representatives from Arlee and St. Ignatius, Butte, Dillon, the Flathead, the Bitterroot and even Sanders County … Decent diversity in the form of tribal members, disabled, LGBT and the working poor … A number of veterans and many youngsters (people under 30) in the crowd … Issues ranging from foreign policy, climate change and a living wage to campaign finance reform and voting rights …

And here are some quotes:

“We can get the superdelgates to reconsider.”

“Every Bernie platform issue is a plank in my life”

“This is the best I’ve felt about politics in a long time.”

“Let’s restore the Democratic Party.”

“This is a turning point in our lives.”

And one quote that came from John Driscoll, a former legislator, PSC commissioner and candidate for the U.S. House, “We need to show respect to the Hillary Clinton campaign.” I hope that resonated with the crowd.

I mentioned bizarre moments at the head of this piece. Here’s the other: after electing the regional delegates, there were three other seats to be selected: two at large and one PLEO (Party Leader and Elected Official). Our caucus nominated a list and then a call came from the national Bernie Sanders campaign. It edited the list down, which apparently it has the right to do, “to reward those most committed to the campaign and to ensure affirmative action.”

Which is exactly what we were planning to do but I guess national didn’t trust us. This is perhaps the most disturbing event I’ve encountered in the Sanders campaign.

There was also some quibbling over numbers: scratching our heads over formulae and the correct balance of women and men on a particular ballot, etc.

“We’re the party of the people, not the party of math,” quipped one delegate.

But we got it all sorted out with a minimum of stress. As former U.S. Senate candidate Amanda Curtis, who chaired the caucus said, “Bernie people are the best.”

I’m going to leave you with two important points.

One: the Democratic Party better do some serious outreach to the Bernie camp. Advancing much of Bernie’s platform would be a good start. If the Democratic Party doesn’t want to go the way of the Republican Party – insulated, splintered and ineffective — it should be kissing Sanders’ supporters collective derrieres. The best political writer on the scene today, in my opinion, Rolling Stone’s Matt Tiabbi, sums it up succinctly.

This was no ordinary primary race, not a contest between warring factions within the party establishment, á la Obama-Clinton in ’08 or even Gore-Bradley in ’00. This was a barely quelled revolt that ought to have sent shock waves up and down the party, especially since the Vote of No Confidence overwhelmingly came from the next generation of voters …

The maddening thing about the Democrats is that they refuse to see how easy they could have it. If the party threw its weight behind a truly populist platform, if it stood behind unions and prosecuted Wall Street criminals and stopped taking giant gobs of cash from every crooked transnational bank and job-exporting manufacturer in the world, they would win every election season in a landslide.

This is especially the case now that the Republican Party has collapsed under the weight of its own nativist lunacy. It’s exactly the moment when the Democrats should feel free to become a real party of ordinary working people.

Two: It’s a damn shame you had to come to this site to read about the convention. I’m not a reporter, obviously. But you probably didn’t have a lot of choice. Besides one young TV reporter, struggling with her tripod, camera and microphone, there was no media presence. Politics may not garner the headlines of meth-fueled homicides or puppy-dog shows, but folks should know how the process works. Sometimes it’s important to see how the sausage is made.

UPDATE: I received a link to a Great Falls Tribune story on the convention. Here it is:

http://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/local/2016/06/11/democrats-pick-delegates-national-convention/85772498/

It’s a good piece, with more info on the Clinton caucus than I was able to relay. There’s also a list of all the delegates going to Philadelphia in July. Thank you reporter Phil Drake.

UPDATE #2: Here’s Montana Public Radio’s take on the convention:

http://mtpr.org/post/montana-democrats-work-unify-house-divided#stream/0

Thank you reporter Corin Cates-Carney.

 

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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

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Margot KidderTeresa JacobsJim OlsenDon PogrebaBill Strizich Recent comment authors
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James Conner
Guest

“Our caucus nominated a list and then a call came from the national Bernie Sanders campaign. It edited the list down, which apparently it has the right to do, ‘to reward those most committed to the campaign and to ensure affirmative action.'”

So much for grassroots democracy. If Bernie’s campaign can do this, does do this, and did do this, then to hell with him, too. I may end up voting for Hillary in sef-defense, but after 48 years of considering myself a Democrat, I no longer recognize my political party.

Turner
Guest
Turner

How does this little overstepping on the part of the campaign offend you so much that you’ll vote for the thoroughly corrupt Hillary Clinton?

James Conner
Guest

I’m not going to cast a vote that would help that sociopathic s.o.b. Donald Trump become president. Any progressive who does is a fool.

Arthur Fretheim
Guest
Arthur Fretheim

I was at the convention as a Bernie delegate from Flathead County. Obviously I agree this was strange and disturbing. I will try to lay down as exactly as I remember the events as they occurred. When we gathered for the election of the PLEOs (I was merely an observer because the PLEOs are co-opted by the already elected district delegates and delegates who are elected officials) our chair, Amanda, came forward and said their was an announcement we wouldn’t like. The national campaign, and she named two people in particular whose names I don’t remember, had decided to exercise… Read more »

James Conner
Guest

Did someone in Montana — perhaps a disgruntled would-be delegate — call Bernie’s national campaign and ask for an intervention? If not, then his campaign’s big brother operation was keeping chillingly close tabs on the convention and making sure that a pre-determined outcome occurred.

Bernie owns this. He may not have made the decisions himself. But it’s his campaign, and his people were doing what he hired them to do.

I find myself wondering whether this happened in other state conventions.

Bendarrow
Guest
Bendarrow

James, I feel like your frame on this is more conspiratorial than necessary. The campaign limited the choices (by using their right of review), but there were still choices, not a predetermined outcome. Yes, the campaign did monitor the convention — the rules actually require their participation at key points — but this is not Orwellian. No disgruntled delegates (to my knowledge) contacted the campaign about any of this, and their decisions were not based upon “chillingly close tabs” they were keeping. [As an aside, the Hillary campaign kept much closer tabs on their delegate selection process by virtue of… Read more »

James Conner
Guest

Ben, my experience with local and county campaigns goes back to 1968, and involves not just Montana. I’ve never heard of this kind of string pulling in the selection of delegates. Perhaps it was allowed by the rules, but that doesn’t make it right. These were supposed to be the delegates chosen by Montana’s Democrats. It was advertised as a grassroots affair, the obnoxious demographics obsessed affirmation notwithstanding. But the grassroots aspect of it was a sham. Why should a candidate’s national staff have a veto on the choices of the grassroots? To me, that’s a dangerously authoritarian arrangement. So… Read more »

Bendarrow
Guest
Bendarrow

Because you have never heard of delegates being limited by campaigns, my guess is you haven’t been embedded deeply enough. DFL conventions have that fight and credential battles all the time. This time in MT the Hillary campaign exercised this right as well.

There were no bosses putting their finger in the scales.

James Conner
Guest

Ben, I suspect that more than a few readers could react to your comments by concluding that you may have a talent for shady politics embedded in your soul. They could well be right.

Bendarrow
Guest

C’mon James, you know I have no soul. ? Seriously, as you know there were multiple Bernie activists on the ground doing work and there was tension between these groups. At the convention the positive groups who were doing actual Bernie work came together. This froze out the folks who thought they were going to run the show like Marshall et al. The National campaign pared the list of self-nominated candidates down to people they knew and trusted. That was the process. And the result is a great and diverse Bernie delegation.

Diane Smith
Guest
Diane Smith

Hi, everyone. I was just made aware of this discussion. I think it’s a good one to be having. I left the convention in Helena after the PLEO election because I was upset that not one Montana delegate voted for either of the Native American women. NOT ONE VOTE. What were they thinking? It turns out it had been decided in advance that the delegation would support Steve Wells and, I was told, not to worry — they would “take care of one of the Native American women later.” As far as I can tell, this was not a decision… Read more »

Margot Kidder
Guest
Margot Kidder

I concur with everything Diane said, but would like to add the the weighting of the scales happened first thing, with the vote for Eastern Pledged delegates. Andy Boyd had made a deal with some Bozeman and Billings supporters that they would vote for him and his new girlfriend, Jennifer Mereki, if he could get enough people in the Billings and Bozeman groups to vote for them. He wanted me to be party to this little scheme of his but I refused, knowing that it effectively eliminated any participation from anyone from rural Eastern Montana or from the reservations. As… Read more »

Margot Kidder
Guest
Margot Kidder

This is Ben Darrow’s letter to Diane Smith after we raised our concerns about what happened. It is not truthful, in that the two native american women most certainly did not “agree with tremendous support” Diane, Thank you for this great summary and for your work at the convention. I can honestly say that Bernie won the convention and the delegation is awesome. As to address your one major complaint, I can understand your perspective, but it comes from an angle not privy to all the machinations. I would take full responsibility for the horse-trading that resulted in that vote.… Read more »

Margot Kidder
Guest
Margot Kidder

I do not believe much of what Ben Darrow says I am afraid. He has quite an imagination and both he and Andy Boyd have boasted about what they did, repeatedly, in emails and messages to myself and Diane and Marshall Mayer, as all of us were sickened by what we saw happen. Rae Peppers, one of the Native American woman and an elected offical if I am not mistaken, was seriously distressed and is still distressed.
What a sordid way to end a year of working on a gloriously slime free campaign.

Tootie Welker
Guest
Tootie Welker

I’m very concerned that somehow Ben Darrow got to decide “who the best choices” were to go to Philly. Steve Wells is definitely NOT a good choice to represent Montana. My experience of him is he is incapable of not interrupting, talking over and using his large size and voice to effectively gag anyone with a different opinion. And in particular women. This is a travesty. And before I get labeled “sour grapes” as others have that spoke up, I did not go to the convention or try for a spot even though I’ve been actively involved in the campaign… Read more »

Bendarrow
Guest

Apparently the Bernie campaign disagreed with your assessment of Steve as he was on the short list they provided. That your coalition was shut out is evidence that weirdos with ulterior motives were not good delegates. I will say it was great fun to finally attend a statewide Bernie meeting and lookout Philly, here we come!

Don Pogreba
Admin

I’ve stayed out of this thread as I wasn’t there, but as someone who has supported and believed in Senator Sanders since he was first elected to the House, the sentiment here is one of the best embodiments of the destructive Bernie Bros. who damaged his reputation.

Care to elaborate on what makes a person a “weirdo with ulterior motives”?

Jared Sylvia
Guest
Jared Sylvia

We all know the system is rigged, and the game has to be played in order to change it – bickering and name calling simply shows the party is just as immature as it has been made out to be. I hope you all can come to peace with yourselves and unify in support of necessary change soon, as the progressive movement will continue to need your support regardless of personal differences or feelings of being ignored. You should be rejoicing that the selections made in Helena do not risk being coerced to HRC. Please consider the maturity you represent… Read more »

Bill Strizich
Guest
Bill Strizich

Well, this was not my first rodeo and hopefully not my last. I attended this convention, a bit naive to the divisiveness afoot. Greatly disappointed that the democratic process was manipulated as it was. I personally felt like a big fool for having believeing it would go openly without the interference from outside the caucus. Wasted a lot of time and energy, which hurts also. Those responsible for the smudge on the process really need to examine their own ethics, honesty and openness to a democratic process before continuing down the same road Bernie repudiates about politics. I’ve been to… Read more »

Margot Kidder
Guest
Margot Kidder

I am with you Bill. A deep deep dissappointment and sense of dissillusionment. A year of hard work and almost ten grand worth of my own money down the tubes for nothing.

Jim Olsen
Guest

I missed the PLEO vote even though I was a Bernie delegate from Ravalli County. I had already been through the platform convention which itself had some of the same machine politics – more on that later. But, I will take note of the Democrat Party being a “grassroots” party. That is not how it looks from Ravalli County. From my campaign website: During the platform discussions it was clear that the Democrats there wanted it to be a platform “for the people.” But, the cost of attendance, travel, and hotel eliminated several people from Ravalli County from being able… Read more »

Teresa Jacobs
Guest
Teresa Jacobs

Dear Bernie Supporters, My name is Teresa Jacobs. I am reading the account here for the first time. And it all saddens me. I was chosen as a district delegate (from Missoula) in the first round. I am devoted to Bernie’s election, and my work is focused on the reasons why Bernie is the best candidate (and why Hillary is not), and to understand the role and responsibliity of superdelegates who will most likely be deciding this election. This is how I presented myself, and I was simply open to serving if I was asked. I was surprised that I… Read more »

Teresa Jacobs
Guest
Teresa Jacobs

Oops. just re-read my post. Typo – 3 not 4 PLEO candidates. And to be clear, I’m disturbed that somebody had the nerve to tell the two candidates opposing Steve that they were not to be elected in this round, etc…. That strikes me as incredibly inappropriate – disrespectful and patriarchial – and humiliating to be told you are a pawn in somebody else’s chess game. If this happened, it’s totally not OK with me for any reason. This is the biggest problem for me so far in what I’m understanding may have happened. Just like myself, another first round… Read more »

Margot Kidder
Guest
Margot Kidder

Well spoken. My heart is so heavy with this, on some level I just want it all to go away so that I can go back to my gardening and my dogs and my reading. I don’t want to know this happened, but I do know, and I don’t know what one does with that reality.

Diane Smith
Guest
Diane Smith

Thanks, Teresa. I want to point out to you and the others here that I was told by Ben Darrow that the decision to elect one PLEO delegate at the expense of the two others was done with the consent of “the entire delegation,” as seen in the email above. As it turns out, that is not 100% accurate. Two of the MIssoula delegates, including Teresa, have denied knowing anything about this arrangement, and I believe them. I also want to point out, as I did in my original email to Ben and a handful of others asking about the… Read more »

Jim Olsen
Guest

I can testify that Teresa’s speech was short, to the point, and eloquent.

Jim Olsen
Guest

Dear Democrats: Lets hop on the SPEEDING TRAIN TO THE PLATFORM CONVENTION. Here were the instructions and rules going into the Platform Convention. BORING RULES STUFF – Please submit you comments to the Draft Platform in advance. Although motions can be made during the platform convention from the floor. – The comments will be assigned to a committee. – The committee with consider and report to the general platform assembly. – Motions for additional changes may be made from the floor. The Agenda stated that the platform convention would convene and adopt a “new format.” Of course, I assumed it… Read more »

Jim Olsen
Guest

MORE FROM THE PLATFORM CONVENTION Three recommendations our campaign submitted to the Democratic Platform DID NOT make it into the platform:        10. Courts for the people not the lawyers that eliminate discovery abuses, claims that include false factual statements early in the process, and reduce the average cost of civil litigation to 25% of its current level.         12a.  The right of victim of a violent crime to be informed in the progress of a case, to influence plea deals, and have a method to force prosecution when it is justified.         12b.… Read more »

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