Local delegates adjust to the unconventional conventions

It’s not the same, but Democrats and Republicans are participating with laptop computers and TVs.

EVERETT — This was not the political convention season anyone envisioned.

Thousands of Democratic Party delegates planned to spend last week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, cheering on their party’s leaders and presidential nominee, Joe Biden.

And this week, their Republican Party counterparts intended to gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a four-day fete, culminating with a speech from their torch-bearing incumbent, President Donald Trump.

Amid concerns of coronavirus infections, Democrats went virtual for four days. Republicans canceled everything for delegates. To hear speeches by First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence or the president, they’ll need to turn on their televisions.

“I am so disappointed we are not going to have it,” said Olga Farnam of Snohomish. “I won’t be doing anything except watching what’s on TV.”

Farnam attended the national GOP conventions in 2012 and 2016 as an alternate. This year, she’s a voting delegate and a member of the national platform committee.

She had a plane ticket and was working with fellow Republicans on what kind of swag each of the state’s delegates should receive. The pandemic worsened, and North Carolina’s Democratic governor made clear that restrictions on large gatherings would be enforced. Republican Party leaders shifted the venue to Jacksonville, Florida.

Then Trump canceled events in Florida. Party leaders are carrying out requisite convention duties in Charlotte, concluding Monday with the formal nomination of Trump.

Farnam got her airfare refunded, and no swag.

“The only memento I have is a canceled plane ticket,” she said.

Denice Thibautand her 18-year-old daughter, Paige, had their tickets, too. Paige Thibaut would have been one of the youngest delegates at the GOP convention.

“Disappointed? Yes,” said the mother. “But we have complete faith in our president and if he says it is unsafe and he doesn’t think we should do it then I’m not going to do it.”

Democrat Earl Gray of Lake Stevens was looking forward to his first national convention.

A Biden backer, he traveled to Iowa earlier this year to help corral caucus support for the former vice president. He booked a flight to the Midwest. Then it all changed.

“I really wanted to go to Milwaukee. The whole deal, the pageantry, is something I wanted to be a part of,” he said. “I had a feeling that this was going to go virtual with everything that was happening with the pandemic.”

Conventions are exhaustive and exhilarating. Each day is filled with a menagerie of events, from caucuses and meetings to forums and panels featuring politicians, celebrities and political intellectuals. And then everyone gathers each night for a parade of speakers.

“I was looking forward to the experience. Longtime delegates told me it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Larry Delaney of Arlington, a Biden delegate and president of the Washington Education Association.

Instead, he, Gray and the rest of the Democratic delegates spent hours in Zoom meetings and webinars. At night they flipped on the television to watch the big names deliver their speeches on bigger screens than their laptops.

“It is certainly not ideal but with what they’re packing into slots each night is much better than I expected,” Delaney said Thursday.

He and Gray applauded those who produced the artful packaging of videos, musical guests and live speeches to create an interesting and intimate experience for delegates, and the public.

And both praised the videotaped state-by-state roll call of delegate votes. It should be done again in future conventions.

Marko Liias, a Democratic state senator from Lynnwood, attended the 2012 convention. This was to be his second.

“Conventions are filled with constant activity. You are connecting with people from all over the country,” he said. “This year it is a much different experience. It is not as exciting. You get none of that in-person connectivity.”

He, too, lauded what convention organizers produced and said he hoped party leaders continue using the video roll-call format.

Democratic delegates didn’t lose out completely on swag, if they signed up for it.

The haul, which came by mail from the national party, included signs, buttons, scarves and other keepsakes, Liias said. Another batch may be coming from the state party.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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