Capitol Hill Caucus Day 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 6.58.24 AMWith reporting by Bryan Cohen, Josh Kelety, and Alex Garland
We’re out collecting sights and sounds from the day as Capitol Hill caucuses and Washington helps select a Democratic candidate for president. Let us know how it’s going and what you see. Happy democracy! You can view the latest totals at wa-democrats.org/caucus-results

UPDATE: The Sanders campaign pulled off a landslide victory across the state Saturday — and at caucus locations across much of the Hill — tallying 73% of votes and claiming 25 delegates in the state vs. Clinton’s 9. In King County, Sanders claimed 67% of votes.

Long, amazing lines have been the story of the day so far. At Century Ballroom, thousands arrived in a line that snaked through Pike/Pine and around the block — twice. More rooms were being opened up inside the Odd Fellows building and plans were being hatched to move some of the caucus activity to Cal Anderson Park. Other precincts were being moved to facilities at the nearby Central Lutheran Church.

Equally enthusiastic lines though not quite so long were reported at other caucus locations around the Hill including Lowell Elementary, Miller Community Center, and Town Hall on First Hill.

Sanders appeared to win most of 18 precincts that caucused in and around Century Ballroom.

Despite the somewhat chaotic process of relocating caucus goers from Century Ballroom, the crowds remained civil and focused on the task at hand. “It’s not so bad, we got to be in the park, meet our neighbors,” said Ryan O’Connor.

Many at the Capitol Hill caucus said they would unite behind whichever candidate received the nomination, fearing a Donald Trump presidency.

It was a festive atmosphere around Cal Anderson Park, as caucus goers basked in the sun with kids and dogs in tow. While the crowds were massive, turnout did vary by precinct. One precinct inside Century Ballroom had more than 100 caucus-goers while another in Cal Anderson park only had a couple dozen.

Clinton’s practicality versus Sanders’ idealism was the dominant theme as voters spoke to sway their undecided neighbors.

“I would love to vote for Bernie, but I find it completely impractical,” said Eric Johnson while speaking to his precinct on a Cal Anderson basketball court.

“(Sanders) supports the change we need to see in this country,” said Fawn Ellis, who caucused in Cal Anderson Park with her two-year-old. “A society where everybody contributes.”

“People said $15 minimum wage was impossible … We need to push for what we believe in,“ said Bernie supporter Jay Schreiber.

Cheers erupted throughout the afternoon in the park and inside Century Ballroom as undecided voters picked their sides. Frances Chu, who caucused for Clinton, said she knew Sanders would likely take Capitol Hill but that she still wanted to be a part of the process.

In response to a Clinton supporter who said Sanders was too generationally divisive, a Sanders supporter stepped forward while holding his infant child to say, “I’m 46, she’s 10 weeks. There’s no generational separation.”

Saturday was Nickie Bowen’s first-ever caucus after moving to Seattle from Georgia last year. “I really liked engaging with people. We got to listen to people’s views,” she said. “It didn’t get super heated. It was respectful.”

House caucus
For years, caucuses were held in private homes. Today Harriet Wasserman has the last remaining home caucus in the 43rd District. She has been holding the event in her livings room since 1968. “It’s really exciting. It’s a contribution,” she said.

While her living room was standing room only on Saturday, Wasserman said the 2008 caucus drew even larger crowds. She said the 1972 caucus was an especially exciting year, with big debates between supporters of George McGovern and Edmund Muskie.

Meanwhile, at Miller Community Center, the theme of big crowds was being felt. “We have twice as many people than expected,” 43rd District Rep. Brady Walkinshaw announced.

First Hill
At the Horizon House retirement community on First Hill, a small crowd of around 200 mostly seniors and a smattering of middle age and young people from two precincts gathered to caucus.

Things got going thirty minutes late with the caucus area organizer, Al, addressing the crowd at a little before 10:30 on how the caucus was going to work, and then giving people the opportunity to speak and attempt sway the handful of undecided voters to choose for their desired candidate. The caucus of primarily seniors often had to indignantly tell Al to speak up.

It seemed like a pro-Bernie crowd — though it was close. A few elderly attendees sported Bernie Sanders shirts and buttons, while a handful wore Clinton buttons. Sanders supporters spanned the usual generational divide between both candidates in this election cycle.

Nancy Fosmore, a 73-year-old Horizon House resident caucused for Sanders. “He has the best ideas on what should happen, but either one is fairly acceptable in the general election.” She added that her husband wasn’t there yet because he thought it was pointless to show up on time to caucuses that are “always late anyway.” And 29-year-old recent Seattle transplant from Pennsylvania Brad Docherti said, “Bernie has a better temperament than Clinton,” adding that when he took an online quiz on his policy positions he matched up with Sanders. “But I’ll vote Democrat either way.”

During the speechifying segment the crowd seemed equally split between Sanders and Clinton in their responses to speeches for a given candidate (Sanders speakers did get a slightly more enthusiastic response, however). One 72-year-old Clinton supporter took aim at Sanders’ electability in the general election, citing Democrat George McGovern’s loss to Republican Richard Nixon in 1972 (McGovern was an idealistic lefty Democratic nominee) and comparing it to a potential Sanders versus whatever Republican gets nominated match-up. “You don’t win in the general by going far left,” she said.

An elderly Sanders supporter referenced the moment Sanders’ recent Portland rally when a bird landed on his podium. “Did any of you see Bernie with the bird the other day? Think about how your candidate [Hilary?] would respond to a bird like that.” He then launched into a defense of Sanders’ “consistent progressive record.”

Caucus with the mayor
The Lowell Elementary school caucus was packed, chaotic, and passionate, but overall very polite and respectful, with most precincts wrapping up their business around 12:30 despite a late start. The caucus site spilled over, and several precincts were forced to meet in the hallways outside of the main room. There was a fair amount of Clinton support, but Sanders won out in the end, with the final delegate tally coming to 33 for Sanders and 23 for Clinton.

Emilio, a Sanders supporter, precinct committee officer, and caucus area organizer, said that this didn’t get going until 10:55 due to the large turnout. “The thing that has been really impressive is everyone’s ability to self organize,” he said.

Mayor Ed Murray made a brief appearance towards the beginning of the caucus, reportedly telling the crowd “It’s really crowded in here and that’s a good thing.” Murray endorsed Clinton on Tuesday.

There was some confusion among caucus goers as to the speechifying rules. Some precincts were giving any person who wanted to speak for either candidate three minutes each, while some were giving three minutes to one speaker for each candidate. Two

Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League, and candidate to represent the 43rd legislative district in the State Legislature, caucused for Sanders—citing his focus on economic inequality and issues fac millennials like student loan debt—at Lowell and is going on to be a delegate at the King County convention. She called the caucus process “a mess,” but that the turnout was “amazing.” “It was super polite,” she said of the caucus. “Passionate but super polite.”

66-year-old Pat Dawson caucused for Sanders because “Hillary is too status quo,” though she added that Bernie could use some “radicalization” on issues of LGBT rights, women’s rights, and race. Dawson said she’d vote for Hillary in the general election. “The worse thing would be to get a Republican candidate.”

As for the caucus process, she said it was “inspirational”, though she wished state democrats used a “nice primary.” “It’s democracy in action. No surprise that it’s messy,” she added.

In one precinct, a Sanders supporter slammed Clinton as being in the pockets of Wall Street and corporate America. “Her experience is so unappealing,” he said in response to an often cited reason to vote for Clinton by her supporters. In response, a Clinton supporter politely reminded Sanders supporters that the president can’t do everything. “If you support Bernie, god bless you. But you need to be there in midterm elections if you want to see any of his ideas happen.”

Dennis Torres, a 53 year old Clinton supporter, left the caucus somewhat exasperated. “It’s incredibly chaotic,” he said, referring to the process. “Have we always had a caucus system?” To defend his candidate preference he said “she’s incredibly qualified.” “I’d be happy with Bernie too,” he said. (His husband voted Bernie).

At Lowell, Mayor Ed Murray said the enthusiasm reminded him of another time a Clinton faced a battle with a liberal challenger. We all remember what happened to the Paul Tsongas campaign in 1992. Given the apparent strength of Bernie Sanders support around the Hill, it looks like the senator is likely to do very well here and across the state. Just like 1992.

The first counts of the morning seemed indicative of the trend. Most reports that came in through the day showed Sanders claiming the majority of precincts with only two on the Hill that we’re aware of claimed by Clinton — a northern Capitol Hill precinct that caucused at Lowell and the house caucus at the Wassermann residence.

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15 thoughts on “Capitol Hill Caucus Day 2016

  1. Trump’s tweets to #birdiesanders:

    Look, birds LOVE me. People always ask me what I think about birds. I have the best birds. We look at the polls and I’m winning all the birds. Okay? And that’s good, that’s to be expected. But listen I love birds. I’m a friend of the birds, we’ve always been friends.

    The beauty of me, and this is important. It’s great. I can talk like a bird. You know, I’m very good at squawking. I’m a great squawker. The best. And someone very smart, almost as smart as me, said it’s better to live one day as a hawk than 100 years as a pigeon.

    And you know what birds I hate? Chinese birds. And Muslim birds, they’re terrible. Terrible. And Mexican birds. The worst birds. We’re going to build a birdcage for all of those birds. It’s going to be a beautiful birdcage, I promise you. And I’m going to make the birds pay for it.

  2. Precinct 1843 ended up at Town Hall which seemed like a somewhat different scene. The various precinct groups were small enough that we all stayed inside (as far as I know) and it was a very raucous caucus with much cheering and chaos. And Bernie won by a landside – but that’s not unexpected, as we had difficulty finding someone on the Clinton side who was even willing to be a tallier, and our first spokesperson for the Clinton camp made an argument that was basically “Hey I like Bernie better too but we should support Clinton because she’s more likely to win the general election.”

    (In the second round, the Clinton supporter cited her foreign policy and the fact that she and Sanders could work together on things. I’m… still not seeing how that’s a specific endorsement of her.)

    • That’s unfortunate, because I spoke with a very articulate Hillary supporter in line and her argument was that as president, you don’t get to pick and choose which issues you address, and while Bernie has a strong record when it comes to sponsoring economic bills, all you need to do is search the Library of Congress website to pull both candidates’ records regarding the bills they’ve sponsored and co-sponsored to see that Clinton is much more adept at working on number of issues, which is what is required of a serious candidate seeking the presidency.

      Also, while Sanders is beloved by his supporters for being an outsider, that does you no good in politics when you are trying to get bills passed, as you can see based on the failure of Sanders to pass his healthcare bill eleven times. I know his supporters also harbor the pipe dream fantasy that this is the year we will finally have a democratic majority in Congress that will magically support Bernie’s socialist plans for free education and larger tax increases than exist in even Sweden, but I think they are delusional.

      Also, while Sanders is viewed as the progressive, Hillary is the only one actually introducing legislation that would save Planned Parenthood, prevent restrictions on birth control, close the gender pay gap, and improve sex education in schools. She is also tougher on gun control.

      And finally, if you truly care about women’s rights and the poor, why would you put them at risk by electing someone who will likely have his proposals blocked (as his record shows they have repeatedly been) over someone who might at least be able to make some improvements in the lives of those who truly have the most at stake?

    • “much more adept at working on number of issues”.

      If all Hillary and her supporters want is to get more bills passed, she can just take up the republican positions in everything. You keep making compromises and you will have something like Obamacare. Comparing that with what many developed countries have, it is a freaking joke.

      Change has to start from somewhere. You start with a Bernie today. You may have 10 down the road.

    • Yes, well, that’s where privilege comes in, and that’s a big problem for progressives. Bernie supporters may be able to wait ten years for change, but many people can’t and require more immediate policy revision just to survive. It’s why candidates like Bernie and Nader are mainly popular with middle class, educated whites. They do not have much to lose regardless of who is elected. Obamacare is not perfect, but it has helped a lot of poor people. Being progressive should involve taking into account the needs of the less privileged.

      Jesus, our progressive state supports the caucus system, and look at how that disenfranchises those who don’t have the luxury of standing in line for hours. I know this is Seattle, but even so, 99% of my line was white and appeared to be middle class. That is not the demographic of my neighborhood.

      What do you think Bernie would actually accomplish if he were elected? Even if we had a democratic majority, do you really think they will vote for his socialist policies? They are still establishment elected officials beholden to their own lobbyists.

      Look, I think he is a great orator who inspires people, and we need more people like him being MLK-like figures for regime change. But being a good speaker doesn’t make you a good leader. An important part of leadership is the ability to collaborate with others to reach your goal, and he doesn’t seem willing to do so.

    • You are blaming a compassionate guy for being unable to convert a roomful of psychopaths to be decent human beings. Let’s adjust the bar and set it lower so it can kind of meet the racist, homophobic war-mongers in the middle.

    • Well, we obviously have strong differences of opinion about her that aren’t going to change, so we’ll have to agree to disagree. I’m not blaming him for anything, just stating the fact that being able to effect change is key to the position.

      One thing I’ll say about Bernie’s plan for federally regulated healthcare, though, is that it sucks for people who need any kind of emergency surgery. Since all of this stuff gets budgeted out, it can take over a year to get scheduled. I have a friend in Canada who wouldn’t have been able to have knee replacement surgery for over a year so he wound up coming to the US and paying for it out of pocket. While he could afford to do so, a lot of poor people are going to be negatively impacted. Obamacare has helped tons of poor people. My sister is a low income small business owner and she loves it.

  3. Very few progressives are willing to talk about how voting for candidates like Sanders and Nader before him who are pure idealists is a privilege that those who actually have a lot at stake can not afford to take. It’s no surprise that candidates like Bernie resonate most with young voters and middle class whites.

    • I get that about Sanders (it took me til about age 50 to REALLY get it, but I do). Still, Sanders has done us all an amazing service by the changes he’s forced in both HRC’s public positions and the general approach of her campaign. If it weren’t for him, is there any doubt that with the Rs so firmly camped on the crazy side of the hard right, she’d feel free to indulge her worst instincts and run a straight-up, pro-corporate, pro-military, anti-drug and pro-death penalty triangulating operation straight out of 1992 that would have open disdain for grassroots movements of all kinds, especially boundary-pushing ones like BLM. But thanks to Bernie that isn’t happening! As a result of this giant shove I expect she’ll win massively in November against either Trump or Cruz, as long as she chooses a genuinely progressive running mate (and give him or her lots of autonomy, even when it makes her uncomfortable). Surely she knows she has to do this. My choice would be Elizabeth Warren, thought doubtless there are other good ones. She has a lot of Obama’s early-career energy (he would have been an amazing VP) with way better ideological focus..

      I know that barring an Easter-size miracle, Sanders won’t be the nominee. Too many cards are stacked against him (the delegate count is just for starters). Regardless, this year he has definitely earned my — and everyone’s — vote in the primaries. Call it a protest vote if you like, but for me it’s a nod of respect and gratitude for a campaign, and career, that has been (whatever its faults) consistently scrupulous, substantive, focused and fearless, to a degree that is seldom seen in high-level politics these days. Feel the Bern!

    • I understand what you’re saying and agree that in some areas he has pushed her (though she was already more progressive than he if you look at some of the bills she’s sponsored regarding women and her position on gun control).

      However, neither candidate has a great record when it comes to race, and important speakers such as Ta Nehisi Coates have written about that. He refuses to endorse either. Bernie voted for the crime bill that Bill Clinton (NOT Hillary) sponsored, and he stated he would not consider reparations for slavery. He has also spoken offensively on the topic of race by stating white people do not know what it is like to be poor and live in the ghetto (comments that make no sense, as poverty is not strictly a black problem and making it so treats them as “the other in this regard).” Hillary made a comment in the 90’s about “super predators” that is still being used against her today. Bernie’s comments were all but forgotten a week later. He benefits from a huge double standard.

      Also, while BLM is a hugely important movement, so are women’s rights, which are rapidly being stripped away, and Hillary seems to get little credit for all of the work she has done over the course of her career for women (not to mention children and people with disabilities). She is the only candidate sponsoring bills to protect women’s access to contraception, reproductive healthcare, Planned Parenthood, equal pay for equal work, etc..If you look at the bills that Bernie has sponsored, he has pushed for none of this.

      And while his supporters talk about the work he has done, less than 1% of the bills he has sponsored have been passed into law in the 25 years he’s been a legislator, making him a completely ineffective member. I don’t know why anyone would expect him to have more luck as president.

  4. Thank you for your response. Although we disagree on the extent and sincerity of HRC’s progressivism in the economic sphere, at the very least she is a pro-choice, pro-LGBT feminist and her judicial appointments, unlike those of any R candidate, can reliably be expected to reflect this. That all by itself is reason enough to vote for her in November. I know I will.

    • This is true. And it’s always so nice to be able to have civil discussions about these things with people on the Internet, so thanks!