Alaska News

At tense Alaska Democratic convention, allegations of Clinton favoritism fly

In what many called an unusually large state convention, the Alaska Democratic Party this weekend chose its delegates for the national convention in July, amid a clash over concerns by some Bernie Sanders fans that the head of the Democratic National Committee has improperly taken steps to benefit Hillary Clinton.

The anger over Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was highlighted when more than 25 Sanders supporters walked out of her keynote speech Saturday night at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, though they left in a trickle while a huge crowd remained to hear the Florida congresswoman and DNC chair call for unity among Democrats to stop the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump.

She warned that the Republican Party has laid the groundwork for Trump's political rise with its divisive and hateful rhetoric. She warned that Trump, as president, would return America to the days of George W. Bush that in 2007 led to the nation's worst economic crash since the Great Depression.

"So Trump isn't something new -- he's just the old Republican brand, but with a little extra bronzer on -- and he's that much more dangerous," she said. "We have only ourselves to blame if we don't come together."

Her message didn't resonate with some Sanders supporters who say she improperly steered funds and other support toward the Clinton campaign.

Ian Smith from Kenai walked out of her speech.

"As long as she takes this money I can't trust her," he said. "It hurts me to say that."

After Wasserman Schultz spoke, Luis Miranda, DNC communications director, said she wasn't doing interviews and had to hurry to catch a plane leaving Alaska.

But when pressed, she denied taking steps to benefit Clinton.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," she said.

Miranda added: "If she was trying to stack the deck, she's doing a terrible job because it's been a competitive primary."

At the nearby Egan Center, Sanders supporters danced at an event organized to protest Wasserman Schultz's speech. The event, attended by more than 200 through the night, was organized in part by Ed Cullinane. A member of the state central committee from an Anchorage House district, Cullinane supported efforts at the state's three-day convention, but said he couldn't tolerate Wasserman Schultz's "unethical actions."

The event featured a prerecorded televised appearance by Sanders' wife, Jane Sanders, who shocked the crowd when she introduced her husband on screen.

In a short speech, Sanders thanked Alaska for its huge support, and said he wants to create "a government that works for all of us and not just the 1 percent."

When the appearance ended, one woman shouted, "This is awesome!" as the dancing resumed and the crowd chanted, "Bernie! Bernie!"

The events capped a day when the party delegates chose 16 delegates for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, with 13 to vote for Sanders and three for Clinton. Four superdelegates who can vote for either candidate are also headed to the national convention to help pick the presidential nominee.

The delegates will include Jill Yordy, the Alaska director for the Sanders campaign, who will cast her vote for Sanders.

Sanders has a shot at overtaking Clinton, she said. One thing Yordy wants to share with others in Philadelphia is the passion Alaskans have for Sanders, who earned more than 80 percent support in the Democratic caucus in March.

That passion was apparent at the state's convention, she said, with unusually large numbers of delegates traveling huge distances from across Alaska to show their support for him.

"He appeals to people who have felt disenfranchised by the party system," she said.

State Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, is also heading to Philadelphia. Calling a Trump presidency "a dangerous proposition," he said he will vote for Clinton.

He said he supports Sanders' idealism and said the candidate has shaped the discussion in a positive way, highlighting issues such as income disparity and the need for campaign finance reform.

"Nothing but good has come from his run," he said. "If he was selected as Hillary Clinton's running mate, that'd be terrific."