On Saturday, I attended the Democratic Convention for the 3rd Congressional District of Oregon. This is the convention that elects the delegates that will represent my congressional district at the national convention in Denver this August. I had never before been involved in the process, and it was interesting to see how it works.
I was invited into the process by my neighbor, Mac Prichard, who was running to be one of the delegates. To participate in the convention, one need only be a registered Democrat with a residence that falls within the congressional district. One registers for the convention online (specifying which of the presidential candidates one is supporting) then merely shows up at the appointed time and place. This year, the convention was held in the lunch room of a middle school. There were several hundred attendees, which, I learned, was a huge turnout. Among the attendees were some "big name" Democrats, including former Governor Barbara Roberts, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, and candidate for US Senate Jeff Merkley.
Prior to the event, after I had registered (as an Obama supporter), I was inundated with emails, snail mail, and phone calls by the various candidates, each making his or her case. I really didn't pay much attention. I'm still not clear on how much difference any one delegate makes: they are elected to vote for the presidential candidate to whom they have pledged their support, so what difference does it make as to who actually casts the vote?
Be that as it may, I went into the event with an open mind. Mac was the only candidate to whom I was committed when I arrived, but I was soon mobbed by any number of hopefuls. The schmoozing was relentless and, truth be told, made me a little squeamish.
Eventually, the convention was called to order and the rules were explained. Since delegates are awarded proportionally in the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton supporters were there to elect their delegates, too. But, since Obama won the primary, his delegates were more numerous.
The Clinton supporters adjourned to another room, while Obama supporters were informed that we were to elect seven delegates, four males and three females. Priority was to be given to candidates that represented racial minorities and members of the GLBT community.
The candidates were called up on stage and introduced, then voting commenced. Mac and another candidate, Jefferson Smith, attained a majority of votes on the first ballot and were therefore awarded seats at the convention.
In order to fill out the remaining seats, another ballot was required, but the field was winnowed down to the top vote-getters from the first ballot. This time, each of the candidates was given a minute to speak. There were some very eloquent speeches. In particular, Carla "KC" Hanson, representing the GLBT community, gave an excellent speech, invoking the memory of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and calling out the need for all Americans to come together. And John Bradach spoke movingly about the loss of a loved one in the Iraq war, and about how he was determined to hold the Bush administration accountable. Alas, neither of these two excellent candidates made it into the final delegation.
I also got a chance to speak with Jeff Merkley. I asked him if he felt it was important to investigate possible misdeeds of the Bush administration, and if he would pursue such investigations were he to be elected to the Senate. His response [paraphrasing]: "Absolutely. If we don't it gives the green light to any future administrations to disregard the law." I was quite satisfied with this answer.
All in all, the experience was fun, believe it or not. It was good to see all these different people rallying at this important time. Most of the participants were first-timers like me, which points up how much people are paying attention. And that's bad news for Republicans.