We’ve never before gone to a political caucus or convention beyond the precinct level (Feb. 9 caucuses this year, WSB coverage here). There’s a first time for everything, and so we are back from a long day at the 34th Legislative District Democratic Caucus at West Seattle High School. If you thought the February caucuses were lively, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve packed into a high-school gym with more than 1,000 people — and “packing in” was a challenge long before everyone entered the WSHS doors:
Thanks to Luckie for that photo of West Seattle’s King County Councilmember Dow Constantine (added Sunday night to replace the fuzzy WSB photo in here before). He presided over about half the day as “permanent caucus chair.” Discussing the merits of the Elliott Bay Water Taxi and the other routes the King County Ferry District will handle, he said, “We need to find ways for people NOT to have to haul thousands of pounds of metal and plastic with them everywhere.” Nowhere was that more evident than in the long lines of cars circling for parking around 9:55 am, five minutes till proceedings were scheduled to start, after an hour of sign-in. Caucus attendees were seen leaving cars up to half a mile away, as the WSHS lot filled up fast.
The official number of attendees at the start of the session after sign-in was complete (photo above, and subsequent photos in this story, courtesy Tim Eannarino; thanks!): 1,288 delegates and alternates signed in; of that number, 887 were delegates chosen at the Feb. 9 caucuses, and 122 alternates were to be seated in place of no-shows.
From that number, by day’s end, 51 delegates would be chosen to move on to the next level, but there was a ton of procedure, time-filling, and speech-giving to wade through before that voting finally occurred six hours into the proceedings. Those who were interested in making that cut were supposed to campaign throughout the day, and some came prepared, with signs and other campaign collateral:
The professional politicians campaigned a bit too. For one, there was West Seattle’s Most Famous Politician, Mayor Greg Nickels (up for re-election next year), making an appearance at noon, noting he already had visited the caucuses in the 36th, 46th, and 11th districts, with more to go.
(To the left of the mayor, in the big hat and aloha shirt, that’s 34th District Democrats chair Ivan Weiss of Vashon, who ran the first half of the event.) Nickels got in a plug for his Climate Action Now campaign, saying, “When the Bush Administration refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, I said ‘We will reduce OUR emissions,’ and now 825 cities have joined us – it is not a symbolic act; we the cities are leading the country in climate protection.”
The mayor got a reasonably enthusiastic reception, but nothing like the raucous ovation half an hour later for 7th District Congressman Jim McDermott.
McDermott challenged the contention that it’s bad for the Democratic Party to have a nomination race still going at this point. “You’re here BECAUSE you know it isn’t over!” he boomed. “I was afraid the whole thing would be over on February 5th,” and that, he said, would have killed the buzz about the election and led to general ho-hum inattention across the country. (Earlier, West Seattle State Rep. Eileen Cody said something similar, surveying the crowd in the gym at the start of the event and saying, “My gosh, there’s a lot of Democrats here. Maybe it’s a good thing not to have a guaranteed candidate by now.”)
As the afternoon rolled on, so did the laborious business of caucusing, with dozens of 34th District Democrats volunteers making lists, checking names, ensuing alternates were officially put in place to replace missing delegates. Between the official updates, Councilmember Constantine filled time with dry humor and notable info, pitching an upcoming West Seattle High School fundraising dinner (May 8, dinner and play, benefiting arts electives) by reminding the crowd he’s a graduate, plugging the upcoming Town Hall in Burien about the future of King County Animal Services (April 14, read more here), and inviting audience members up to announce community events.
Other speakers ate up some of the time too, including state treasurer candidate Jim McIntire (“4 years ago, 300,000 of the people who voted for president didn’t vote for state treasurer at all,” he said. “Those votes would have made the difference”) and West Seattle State Senator Joe McDermott. He, incidentally, helped subsidize lunch for the crowd, working with Husky Deli – where he’d worked as a teen – to bring in sandwiches and sell them “at cost” ($4 whole, $2 half).
The standing- and floor-sitting-room-only crowd continued on with the full-group meeting until 2:15, when, after the final official list of delegates had been completed and presented, participants split into 4 rooms — Obama delegates from the 7th Congressional District (most of the 34th Legislative District) in one, Obama delegates from the 9th (southern edge of the district) in another, and repeat for the Clinton delegates. (The huge Obama/7th group stayed in the gym.) Once in their breakout areas, the objective was for delegates who wanted to advance to campaign to get votes from everyone else — each attendee had been given ten slips of paper to distribute to delegate “candidates” any way they wanted.
There wasn’t time for speeches from the “candidates” before the papers were to be handed out, but they did get some time after the number was winnowed down, by which time it was 4 o’clock, and many people fled after filling out a final ballot with their choices for which of those “candidates” should move on.
In the back row of one “subcaucus” room, grumbling attendees complained about the process; during an open-mike period, one of them got up and said she had asked what could be done about it, and was told to “get active” with the 34th District Democrats. She would do exactly that, she vowed.
By day’s end, if nothing else, it was easy to leave with a newfound appreciation for what people have to go through to get to the political conventions; if you watch coverage on TV this summer, keep in mind that every face panned by the camera, every person who stands up and says, “The great state of whatever casts its x number of votes for …” had to jump through a lot of hoops, and collect a lot of slips of paper, to get there. (And their expenses aren’t paid by the party; they pay their own way to get to the convention.)
Next events for the Democrats include the King County Convention, also at West Seattle High School, a week from tomorrow; the 7th Congressional District caucus, May 15 at North Seattle Community College, and the state convention, June 14 in Spokane. All are listed on this page of the 34th District Democrats’ site, where we expect you’ll find more coverage soon of today’s event. 9:56 PM UPDATE: And indeed, the 34th DDs have posted the final list of those elected today to go on to the next level; thanks to webmaster Bill Schrier for the alert – find that list here.