State Democrats in a good mood for convention

OLYMPIA — Democrats pouring into Spokane for today’s start of the state party convention are energized and confident this election season will be one of their most successful in years.

For them, this weekend is about steeling their resolve to return a Democrat to the White House, keep one in the governor’s mansion and increase their numbers in the Legislature.

“I’m going there to celebrate the victories we are looking forward to this fall,” said state Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo. “It’s a time to party with the party and talk about what we need to do to stay on track heading to November.”

They’ll hear from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Gov. Chris Gregoire and Kansas Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, who headline a gala banquet tonight.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the party’s 2004 presidential nominee, will address an anticipated crowd of 4,000 delegates Saturday morning. Following him will be a stream of Democratic office-holders and candidates speaking to the masses.

Once the speeches end, work will begin on adopting the party platform and choosing a final batch of presidential delegates for the national convention. There’s also some big changes sought in the way the party operates.

Conflict may surface on a Marysville Democrat’s proposal to allocate presidential delegates based on vote results from both the caucuses and the statewide primary.

Currently, only caucuses determine the distribution.

“Our goal is to use the presidential preference primary in 2012 to apportion our delegates instead of our arcane and somewhat undemocratic caucus process,” said Kelly Wright, author of the amendment to the party’s charter.

More and more states rely on a primary vote rather than caucuses, he said. One state, Texas, relies on a blend of both.

Wright said this issue’s been debated in Washington since 1952 with the conversation gaining steam since a 1988 initiative pushed the Legislature to begin conducting statewide primaries.

“The time is now to institute this long overdue reform,” he said.

Party chairman Dwight Pelz is not taking a position on this proposal, said spokesman Kelly Steele.

“It’s coming to the floor and the delegates are the perfect people to debate this as they are the ones who went through the process,” he said.

Caucuses draw the party’s most active members but attract far fewer participants than primaries. In Washington, nearly 700,000 people voted in the primary, more than three times the number who attended caucuses.

This year’s historic presidential primary campaign showcased the value of caucuses in determining the party’s nominee.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., focused on winning states with caucuses and it paid big dividends as he racked up piles of delegates. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., captured victories in several states with primaries, including California and New York, and received more total votes but earned fewer delegates.

In Washington, Obama would have received a few less delegates had the change been in effect this year.

He dominated the Feb. 9 caucuses by a 2-to-1 margin. He narrowly defeated Clinton in the Feb. 19 primary.

Also up for debate this weekend is a proposal from Laura Lewis of Stanwood to end the practice of anointing Democrats as the party’s official nominee in partisan races.

Use of these nominating conventions caused a stir in some parts of the state this year, including the 10th Legislative District where Lewis lives.

There, Democrats Patricia Terry and Ann McDonald are vying to unseat Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor.

A handful of elected and appointed precinct committee officers voted to nominate Terry. The decision did not push McDonald to get out of the race. Similarly, Democrats continue to run for offices in other parts of state without party sanction via a nominating convention.

“What we want to happen is candidates file and voters determine in the primary which of them advances,” she said.

She called the party approach “ineffective” because people who were not nominated by the party went ahead and filed to run anyway.

Pelz is not taking sides on that measure either, Steele said.

While these two issues may ignite some sparks, it won’t dampen Democrats’ enthusiasm for the upcoming elections, said Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds, who is in Spokane for the convention and meetings of the Federation of Democratic Women.

“This event is a celebration of democracy,” she said.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or

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