Saturday, April 5, I attended the 43rd Legislative District caucus in Seattle. More than 1,300 delegates who were chosen at their precinct caucuses in February met to pick a new slate of delegates to send to the congressional district caucuses on May 17 and the state Democratic convention in Spokane June 13-14. It's all part of a seemingly endless winnowing process that eventually results in a few citizen salmon making it to Denver as delegates to the national convention in August.
The 43rd met at the old Lincoln High School in the Wallingford neighborhood, which is, for the time being, Garfield High. The 43rd is the most delegate-rich Democratic district in the state, and it was an unprecedented turnout, which, as the precinct caucuses indicated, was dominated by Barack Obama. Seattle Democratic bigwigs who spoke included state Sen. Ed Murray, homeboy state House Speaker Frank Chopp, and U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott. Murray spoke on behalf of Obama, Chopp read a letter from Gov. Chris Gregoire and proclaimed the Washington Legislature the most progressive in the country, and McDermott seemed charged-up to be in a room of folks who love him no matter what.
Despite being outnumbered, Hillary Clinton supporters had a surprise guest: Actor Sean Astin flew in from Hollywood as Hillary's official surrogate. Astin is best known for his role as the loyal Hobbit Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and that seemed appropriate, because the Clintons do seem like a couple that is very reluctant to give up the Ring of Power. Astin quickly figured out he was deep in the heart of Obama country and made it known that he'd be an enthusiastic supporter of the Illinois senator if he got the nomination, but he then did his duty and extolled the virtues of Hillary's experience as a great first lady in the mold of Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt.
After the speeches, delegates met in Obama and Clinton sub-caucuses to pick slates of delegates (14 for Hillary, 53 for Obama). Hundreds of folks vied for the 67 positions (plus alternates), and the results are not yet known. (Winners will be called.) Each candidate for a delegate position had the chance to make a 30-second pitch for themselves, and it took hours to get through all the hopefuls, which seemed a bit like tryouts for American Idol as people took their best shot – using jokes, sincerity, personal stories, song, dance, and even a cheerleader's cheer – to try and win the hearts of their fellow Democrats and a chance for a ticket to Denver. I made my pitch, but by the time I said my name and spelled it so people could find it on their ballots, my time was about up. Anyone trying to get past the 30-second mark had their microphone cut off mid-sentence, and somewhere the longwinded Democratic thunderer William Jennings Bryan rolled over in his grave. The rest of us were relieved.
The energy crackled like it did at the precinct caucuses. The only down note was the long hours of tedious sitting through votes, speeches, tallies, and details. There's more of that to come. But large numbers of people were willing to give up a spring Saturday to roll the ball of democracy forward a few inches. The 43rd District Democrats seemed pleased that their grassroots are growing, and attendees seemed to feel they were playing a small if sometimes dull part in making history.
One final note: Did anyone else think it was weird to end the caucus with Lynyrd Skynyrd's southern anthem "Sweet Home, Alabama" blaring through the loudspeakers – a song often interpreted as a defense of segregation and dismissive of the Watergate scandal? Maybe Seattle Dems aren't as overly P.C. as they're reputed to be, or maybe it's a tribute to the power of Obama to heal racial divides so that a rock song can just rock.