Internal strife rocked the Alaska Democratic Party on Friday as it headed into its three-day state convention, with some members of the party that heavily favor Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton protesting the convention by planning an alternative event Saturday night.
"Alaska voters are an independent people and they don't want to be told what to do," said Ed Cullinane, a member of the state central committee from an Anchorage House district.
Cullinane helped organize the protest to the convention, where Democrats on Saturday will choose delegates to cast votes at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.
Though Clinton appears poised for victory in the hard-fought race, Sanders supporters say he can still claim a win though it would take a surge of delegates.
The anti-convention event at the Egan Civic and Convention Center comes because Florida congresswoman and Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz plans to give the keynote speech at the convention in Anchorage Saturday, Cullinane said.
Alaskan Democrats gave Sanders 81.6 percent of their support in the March caucus. Many believe Wasserman Schultz has limited debates and unfairly allocated resources to give Clinton a boost, he said.
"A lot of us feel that Debbie Wasserman Schultz has displayed very unethical behavior," he said.
At the state convention on Friday afternoon at the UAA Student Union, during an opening day filled with discussions on matters such as Medicaid expansion and climate change, supporters of both Sanders and Clinton said it was important for Alaska Democrats to unite as the national convention approaches.
"We all need to be respectful and find common ground," said Shauna Thornton, a state delegate and "Bernie fan" who hopes to be selected as a national delegate from Alaska on Saturday.
Thornton, who is running for a state House seat on the Kenai Peninsula, said she's not angry Wasserman Schultz is speaking.
"She was asked to come over a year ago, so what do you do? So I'll attend and ask questions about her positions," Thornton said.
Cullinane also launched a petition at MoveOn.org asking the Alaska party to "un-invite" Wasserman Schultz. It had 64 signatures Friday afternoon.
He said the anti-convention, which has no official name, will feature a teleconferenced appearance from Tim Canova, Schultz' Democratic primary opponent in Florida. Plans also include a prerecorded presentation by Jane Sanders' and a dunk tank with political activist Ray Metcalfe in the wet seat. The event will be held in Summit Hall at the Egan, starting at 6:30 p.m.
Wasserman's speech is planned for 8 p.m. Saturday at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center. She's also scheduled to attend a reception there at 6 p.m.
People need to put aside the "divisiveness" said Jennifer Smith, a state convention delegate from a Juneau district who supports Clinton because she's "cool under fire" and well-versed on critical national issues.
"If you want to have an alternative convention then fine, but if you really want to have change in the party structure you should directly address it to (Wasserman Schultz), and not do it through protests," she said.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing