Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Idaho

Nez Perce County Democrats are still fired up about Bernie Sanders

By William L. Spence Lewiston Tribune

The Democratic National Convention was a “tough indoctrination” for Bernie Sanders supporters, but two local Democrats hope it sparked an enduring commitment to citizen engagement and grass-roots politics.

Sanders, a slightly rumpled-but-charismatic senator from Vermont, turned what was supposed to be a long-awaited coronation for Hillary Clinton into a hotly contested race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

His fiery speeches and progressive policies attracted legions of die-hard supporters. More than 500 people participated in the Nez Perce County Democratic caucus in March; Sanders won 71 percent of the vote, and 78 percent statewide.

“Walking into the convention, I think every Bernie delegate felt he still had a shot at the nomination,” said Rick Tousley of Lewiston.

Tousley was one of 27 Idaho delegates to attend the convention and one of 20 who supported Sanders.

He and Pete Gertonson, another Sanders supporter who is also chairman of the Nez Perce County Democrats, plan to hold a WWBD (What Would Bernie Do?) meeting Wednesday in Lewiston to talk about the convention and what steps to take from here.

“The whole way back (from the convention) I’m thinking about how we get the people who showed up to the caucus to understand that there’s still work to do,” Gertonson said. “The game’s still going. It’s vital that the Sanders folks stay engaged. We still have the ability to change politics in this state.”

Gertonson, who also serves as the state party’s national committeeman, said he went to the Philadelphia convention knowing Clinton would clinch the nomination.

That was primarily because of her overwhelming support from superdelegates – the Democratic officials who, unlike pledged delegates, are free to support whichever candidate they choose.

The role of superdelegates in the nomination process is a sore point for Sanders supporters. Hundreds of them endorsed Clinton early in the process, putting their candidate at a disadvantage throughout the race.

“To me, it put a cloud over the whole nomination process,” Gertonson said. “I think superdelegates should have stayed out of it until the convention.”

As a national committeeman, Gertonson was one of about 700 superdelegates. He didn’t declare his support for Sanders until after the results of the Idaho caucuses were announced.

“I knew Hillary was going to get the nomination because the superdelegates weren’t moving (switching their votes),” he said. “I went to Philadelphia expecting her and Bernie to come together and unite the party.”

What happened instead was four days of tension, protests and temporary walkouts.

“On Sunday evening, before the convention started, there was a big welcoming party,” Tousley recalled. “At the end of it, the Bernie people started chanting, ‘Bernie, Bernie.’ We were letting everyone know we weren’t going to be silenced.”

The theme for Monday was supposed to be unity, but that was immediately undermined by the opening invocation, which mentioned “praying for unity and for our next president, Hillary Clinton.”

“People started booing,” Tousley said. “I’ve never heard anyone boo during an invocation. If they’d never mentioned her everything would have been fine, but they were slamming her down our throats. There was no unity.”

While the convention was “a tough indoctrination into what goes on” in presidential politics, Tousley said, he’s reconciled with the results and ready to move forward.

“I’m disappointed and mad, but I’m also energized,” he said. “I’m optimistic that change can happen in Idaho – but we have to get out the vote (and) work from the bottom up. Bernie says trickle-down economics don’t work; neither do trickle-down politics.”

In a nod to Sanders, Democrats during the convention approved the most progressive party platform in decades. Among other policies, it calls for raising the minimum wage and expanding access to health care and higher education.

“If you want those progressive ideas to go forward, the only logical approach is to elect Hillary Clinton,” Gertonson said. “If Donald Trump is elected, there won’t be any progressive platform.”

He’s encouraging Sanders supporters to focus on state legislative races as well, and not just vote for president and leave the remainder of the ballot blank.

“The job isn’t over just because you check the top box,” he said. “Bernie says the day after the election is as important and the day of the election. We may not win all the races, but if people stay engaged we can win some and change Idaho.”

Wednesday’s WWBD meeting takes place beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Sunset Park in Lewiston. Local Democratic legislative candidates have been invited to attend, so people have a chance to engage with them. Root beer floats will be provided.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.