April 16, 2012 at 7:49 AM
Light turnout at Seattle-area Democratic caucuses may signal apathy, overconfidence, or a sunny day
With reporting by Alicia Halberg and Stephanie Kim
Democrats held their legislative caucuses on Sunday to help decide the party’s platform and select the presidential nominee. With Obama guaranteed the nomination, many simply didn’t see any point in attending.
Only 24 people showed up for the meeting of Washington’s 36th legislative district caucuses at Whittier Elementary in Ballard, where 15 precincts met to caucus.
Alice Woldt, former chairwoman of the King County Democratic Party and former chair of the 36th district Democrats, convened the caucuses at Whittier. She said the district had tried to reach out to potential caucus-goers using local media, calling those who came out in 2008, robocalls in the area, and having caucus officers talk to their neighbors.
“With all of the media attention on the other party, we need to build up energy and enthusiasm, otherwise people won’t think that we’ve got anything going on,” Woldt said.
Noel Frame, one of the six candidates vying to be one of the next representatives for the 36th district, was at this caucus as a Precinct Caucus Officer (PCO).
“Today is about President Obama and working to get Democrats elected everywhere,” Frame said.
After the caucus began at 1 p.m., attendees began discussing issues in an effort to define their party’s platform. At Whittier, this included strong language against rampant campaign spending resulting from the Citizens United decision, as well as support for a single-payer national healthcare system.
Jack Whisner, of the 36th Democrats, said that in 2008 hundreds of people attended at the same location, forcing officials to ask the school’s janitorial staff to unlock the gymnasium so the group could have more room.
This year the largest caucus at this site had seven attendees, but most had only one or two. The precinct had a hard time selecting delegates to the 36th district convention because few wanted to take on the extra responsibility and time commitment. In contrast, in 2008 many people competed for then-coveted delegate positions.
Andrew Lewis, lobbyist for the Associated Students of the University of Washington, became one of only two delegates from his precinct just by showing up. He said he’d love to go all the way to Charlotte, North Carolina for the national Democratic convention, but expects more competition in future meetings.
—by Alicia Halberg
Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill
It felt more like a reunion of old friends at the Miller Community Center on Capitol Hill than it did a contentious caucus process. When 43rd District Democrats last gathered to caucus in 2008, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were battling for the party’s nomination. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) had endorsed Clinton while Governor Christine Gregoire endorsed Obama. The turnout was enormous.
This year, things are different. Organizers were hoping for 100 to show up. By the time the caucus was called to order at 1:20 p.m., there were only about 75 in the room.
Most sat around the brightly lit meeting room chatting amicably and sharing stories of past caucuses. Resolutions were briefly debated and delegates were chosen to go on to the Legislative District Caucuses and the County Convention later this month.
In attendance were Dana Twight and her daughter Andrea Carey. Twight and Carey were caucusing together for the second time and remembered 2008 –– Carey’s first –– as a “madhouse.” “This is so much calmer,” Twight said with a relaxed smile. The mood at the community center was mellow, even a little sleepy. Several tables were empty and some of the precincts only had one delegate.
As the only person caucusing in his precinct, State Representative Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle) had plenty of time to catch up with other constituents at the site. He stopped by several tables, shook hands and chatted with caucus goers.
At the 37th District Caucus at Beacon Hill International School the arrival of the sun just before the start of the caucus seemed to lend a mood of impatience to the event. When I arrived close to 2 p.m., some caucus goers were already leaving and the ones that remained were talking quietly among themselves.
At one table, 37th District Platforms and Resolution Committee Chair Louis Watanabe was reviewing a resolution by Glenn Phillips stating that the United States should not go to war with Iran.
Watanabe, who will be representing the 37th District in the next level of caucuses at the end of the month, said this election is just as important as the 2008 election. He spoke eloquently about the importance of the caucus system as a distinguishing feature of Washington State politics.
Like their peers in the 43rd, this caucus was filled with long-term party activists and organizers. One of those volunteers, Susan Sherbina, seemed to be in constant motion around the caucus room smiling and chatting with voters and other volunteers.
Despite her upbeat demeanor, Sherbina was worried about the low turnout.
“With Obama in the White House, most people think that they didn’t need to come today,” Sherbina said with a slightly worried smile. “I hope they turn out for the election.”
—by Dan Thornton
Democrats in solidly liberal areas like Ballard and Central Seattle weren’t the only ones out caucusing in Washington today – more conservative Democrats were out in Seattle’s eastern suburbs like Bellevue and Redmond.
Democrats from the 48th Legislative District, which includes parts of Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond and all of Medina, gathered to caucus at Chinook Middle School.
They discussed issues ranging from the economy to job creation to immigration to education to women’s rights.
And of course they spent a lot of time comparing President Obama to his likely rival Mitt Romney.
“Romney has no concept of what people in the middle class and working class are concerned about,” said Grosvenor Anschell, a life-long Democrat.
Tammy Woodmansee of Bellevue agreed.
“I believe Barack Obama is for the people of the United States,” said Woodmansee, a former Republican. “He truly understands what it’s like to be a normal U.S. citizen. Romney is for the 1 percent. He is a 1 percenter.”
State Sen. Rodney Tom also praised President Obama’s efforts in Washington, D.C.
“When we look at the great things President Obama’s done in a very difficult time, he’s done a great job,” Tom said. “Not enough is spoken of the great things he’s done in education.”
The Senator also took a moment to justify his decision to join state Senate Republicans in passing a budget in Olympia. He, along with state Sens. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, made it possible for the GOP to pull a coup to pass their own budget last month. Tom defended his vote, pointing out that no cuts were made in K-12, higher education and family planning.
Suzan Delbene, one of several Democrats running for the 1st Congressional District seat vacated by Jay Inslee, also addressed the crowd.
“We need to fight for the equal rights of citizens,” Delbene said. “As a woman standing up here, we have to fight for the rights of women.”
by Stephanie Kim