BUZZ2: Into Internal ‘Demnation’

By on April 13, 2016

National concerns unite Dems in Teton County but not without some contention.

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – It might be time to redefine the Democratic Party…at least in Teton County. The Republicans seem fine. The elephant—a large, slow-moving behemoth that lives to be wrinkly aged—accurately portrays the party that put the “old” in GOP. Many Dems would also suggest their official color be green, for money, instead of red.

At last weekend’s caucus, hundreds of liberal backers brought youth and invigoration into the Senior Center. The turnout at the Republican Party caucus last month could have fit comfortably in one short START Bus. “Party line” took on new meaning at the Dems’ rally where nearly 600 queued to vote, some well out into the street at 10:30 a.m.

They wore the customary uniform of the Jackson liberal: flip-flops and Vans—the girls in their snapbacks and tees, the boys with knit caps and scruffy winter beards. It was a far cry from the Teton County GOP standard issue suit, tie and cowboy boots.

In many ways this WAS your grandfather’s Democratic Party: Pissed off and marching on something. Vietnam, corporate greed—it’s all the same. According to most liberals, the system is broken or gamed and it will take someone thinking outside of the Beltway box to fix it.

Lisa Ridgeway, 73, has been there for every significant leftwing event of the generation. She protested against the Vietnam and Iraq wars. She marched with Martin Luther King in Alabama. And she took her place in line to vote at Dems Day of Domination in east Jackson, 4-9-16. “I think the young people are voting for Bernie and the older folks are for Hillary,” she said.

That about sums it up. And that’s the way it went at the caucus where 589 backed Sanders, 364 threw in for Clinton. It left Sanders taking nine of the 15 delegate votes from Teton County. Clinton scored the remaining six. Sanders technically won Wyoming but he split the state’s 14 delegates with Clinton, 7-7.

Feeding off federal frenzy

Teton County has always been considered a ‘blue’ county within a ‘red’ state. Traditional Western values mixed with wealthy retirees ensures registered Republicans still outnumber Democrats in the county, but the gap is much smaller than in ‘real’ Wyoming. And getting smaller. A record number of residents registered Democrat just to participate in last Saturday’s caucus. Almost a thousand in total cast their ballot for either Sanders or Clinton.

County party chair Luther Probst thought a majority of interest has been generated at the national level where Democrat supporters see a chance to hold on to the White House and seize victory from a dysfunctional and divided Republican Party.

“It’s a critical year for this country and for the Democratic Party,” Probst said. “It’s disturbing to watch the wheels fall off of the Republican Party. There needs to be a responsible adult over there, and that’s not Cruz or Trump.”

Matters important to Americans in the upcoming presidential election also ring true for locals. On both fronts the Republican Party appears in disarray. Trump’s grandstanding has all but drowned out GOP messages from other candidates. At the local level, Republicans have imploded. Their county caucus was poorly attended and fallout from a divisive nomination process caused the resignation of party chair JuliAnne Forrest.

Democrats are split between one candidate who struggles to extricate herself from the Bengasi affair and must prove to voters she is more than just an extension of her husband’s two-term presidency. Sanders, meanwhile, faces challenges from pragmatists that he is as idealist with little chance of winning the White House. Then there’s the whole Socialist thing.

National race trickle down to Teton County voters includes common miseries shared by a majority of citizens: A disappearance of the working middleclass, women’s rights and equality, and the availability of affordable housing and healthcare are huge issues for Jacksonites and Americans in general.

“Housing has been an especially local Democratic issue,” Pete Muldoon said. He has been actively supporting Sanders in Jackson. “Republicans are the party of big business. They are a party of the rich. The people who need housing are not necessarily Republican. The Democratic Party is the party of the working class, and they are feeling the crunch the hardest. If you are a Republican you are probably feeling just fine.”

Aaron Wallis, who was selected as a delegate who will back Sanders at the state convention next month, said healthcare is his hot button. “I was in Occupy Oakland. I breathed the tear gas; I had rubber bullets fired at me,” he said. “I spent 23 hours on the phone trying to sort out my health plan. Every other country has universal healthcare. The Democratic Party is the only one that cares if people get sick.”

Red with rage and shaking the blues

The Republicans are the elephant in the room. They are too big, too powerful, and beholden to corporate campaign contributions, say local Dem backers.

“We have a three-and-a-half page platform. The Republicans have a 50-page platform,” former county commissioner and Democratic Party leader Hank Phibbs said. “Our fundamental values haven’t changed. We work together as a community.”

Sanders volunteer Aaron Wallis  chats up Bernie at the caucus. (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

Sanders volunteer Aaron Wallis chats up Bernie at the caucus. (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

Wallis took the opportunity to rail on corporate America during his nomination speech at the caucus.

“I grew up in Virginia. My dad worked for Pat Roberston. In my family being a Democrat was pretty close to being a Satanist. Not that there is anything wrong with being a Satanist; we are a freedom of religion country, right?” Wallis said. “I felt it was important to stand up to the banks. Our democracy has been bought by corporations. Bernie’s biggest criticism is he is an idealist. That what he wants to get done can’t be done. Well, Bernie is the only one willing to stand up to them. By a show of hands, who gave Bernie money? [You] are the people who Bernie will be accountable to, not Goldman Sachs.”

Various voters at the caucus found solace with Sanders or Clinton for myriad reasons, much of it born of discontentment with status quo—a vein Democrats have historically mined with proven success.

“Bernie is the only politician I trust. He has the politics that point true north,” said 36-year-old Jackson nurse Mary Anne Coddaire.

Former county Dem chair Chuck Hurst counted the energized leftwing in Teton as a reflection of the downtrodden finally having enough. “People working jobs that are making 30- or 40-thousand [a year] don’t realize they’re being sucker-punched by the Republicans in this state,” he said.

Barbara Hurst said she is voting for Clinton. “She is by far the most qualified. She has done things for working poor. She knows what it takes to make progress in a 60-vote senate,” she said. “I like Bernie. What’s not to like? But I don’t think what he is proposing [raising minimum wage, for instance] can be done.”

Smokey Rhea spent a career serving the community in the social services field before being elected to the board of county commissioners in 2014. She said the Democratic Party has always been concerned for the welfare of citizens. “This momentum has been building since the first year of Obama. Young people’s voices are beginning to be heard, and there is starting to be more attention given to helping the less fortunate. We certainly could use that here,” she said.

Dem versus us

While the Democratic caucus came off fairly orderly given the massive turnout, it was not without a few glitches. Voting was chaotic and, in the aftermath, allegations of voter fraud have tainted the outcome as party leaders scramble to make sense of a convoluted and antiquated system that serves as Wyoming’s primary.

Sanders caucus leader Jessica Chambers confessed the caucus was a bit of a “junk show” and there was some concern over absentee ballots (known as surrogate votes) that may have been counted for Clinton even though they were allegedly received after the April 1 deadline.

At issue is a large envelope stuffed with Clinton votes that remained unopened until the last minute. Chambers said she was approached by Clinton caucus leader Mike Gierau, who admitted there might be a problem. Chambers has reached out to state party director Aimee Van Cleave and state party chair Ana Cuprill, who have both been unable or unwilling to help. Sanders field reps have also been reluctant to get involved, even though a recount in Teton County could swing another delegate Bernie’s way and potentially break the 7-7 deadlock at the state level.

“For a lot of these issues the Sanders campaign is trying to take the high road and not crying foul every chance they get like you see some candidates doing,” Chambers said. “We’ve been speaking to various counties across Wyoming where similar issues have occurred. I mean, Hillary won 80 to 90 percent of the surrogate vote statewide? That just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t matter what the Sanders campaign is willing to do here; this is our state, our turf, and it matters to us to have some transparency.”

Wallis added, “We lost Fremont by 10 votes. I’m suspicious if there was surrogate caucus monkey business there, too.” He said a petition is circulating the Internet for a closer look at surrogate voting that has gone heavily Clinton’s way in Wyoming. The Clinton campaign has also been called into question over voter fraud in Iowa, Arizona, and Massachusetts.

The divide between Sanders and Clinton has remained fairly cordial at the national level. Local Dems are mostly united in the cause with some exceptions. Clinton backer Story Clark was roundly booed when she stated in her stump for Hillary, “We must elect a candidate who can get elected. It’s too dangerous a time to elect an idealist; someone who is merely a protest vote.”

Vote rounding and super delegates are also a big issue for many Bernie backers who are desperately trying to crawl back into a race Clinton dominated early.

Bella Wood, an 18-year-old recent Jackson Hole High School grad who excelled at Speech & Debate, said the caucus procedure is partly to blame. “The system is maybe what’s up for debate. That’s what we are seeing is places like Trump in Colorado when candidates don’t win. It’s not quite right. It’s not truly ‘for the people, by the people.’ It’s for the party,” Wood said. “But at the end of the day, we will back each other. I’ve had many conversations with Clinton supporters who say they would be behind Bernie if they didn’t win. The Democrats will pull together and vote their side but it is divisive right now.”

Gierau also assured Dems in Teton County that no matter who is put up for presidential election, they will be 100 percent supported. “We stand together,” he said. “And if so, we will not lose.” PJH

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