Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, June 25, 2010

LIVE from Vancouver: 2010 Democratic Convention kicks off with gala banquet

This weekend, Democrats from across the great State of Washington are meeting in America's Vancouver to organize and mobilize for the forthcoming midterm elections, which are now less than half a year away.

The convention officially began this morning with trainings and workshops for party activists, but the first "big room" event is happening now... the traditional gala banquet, which features Washington's senior elected Democrats and a special guest speaker. This year's banquet is at the Vancouver Hilton, the host hotel for the convention, and attendenace looks very strong, indicating we'll have a lively hall tomorrow when delegates officially meet to conduct business.

The three big speakers at tonight's banquet are Governor Chris Gregoire, Senator Patty Murray, and Senator Ron Wyden.

Gregoire spoke first, delivering a solid and energetic speech which was pretty cheery considering all of the challenges she's dealing with.

It had all the familiar elements of a Gregoire address: praise for President Barack Obama's leadership, accolades for Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell, a denunciation of her longtime foe Dino Rossi, and guarded hope for a turnaround in the state's financial fortunes, which rest on the strength of an economic recovery, due to our state's dependence on consumption taxes.

Gregoire has the remarkable ability to remain upbeat even while having to juggle unpleasant tasks, particularly trying to craft a state budget that reflects our finest traditional values. It showed in her speech.

Senator Patty Murray is speaking now.

She's sharpened her stump speech since the spring... perhaps because she now has an opponent who has friends with deep, deep pockets and the willingness to dump large sums of money into attack ads against her. Defending her ability to secure federal dollars for public services in Washington State, she explained that she had spent time earlier in the day at the Veterans Administration facilities at American Lake, which the Bush administration unsuccessfully tried to close.

Murray reminded the audience that she battled fiercely to prevent that facility — and the VA hospital in Walla Walla — from being closed. She was of course successful, but even though the VA agreed to modernize its American Lake campus, it didn't secure the funding needed from Congress to build it.

"So you know what I did? I went back and I got one of those earmarks," Murray said. "Thirty eight million dollars... And today, we cut that ribbon, and our men and women who have served us are going to have a beautiful long term facility — because I, as your senator, went back and fought hard for all of our veterans," she continued, to great applause and cheers of "Patty! Patty! Patty!"

"I go to work to fight for you, not for somebody in Washington, D.C.," Murray declared, emphasizing what has been the theme of all four of her senatorial campaigns to date. "I still wear my tennis shoes," she added with a smile.

UPDATE: Murray concluded her remarks by introducing Oregon's senior senator, Ron Wyden, the third and final headline speaker of the night. "We are so fortunate to have a partner across the [Columbia] River who gets what we get," she told the assembly, urging them to give Wyden a warm Washington welcome.

They did.

Wyden strode on stage, clasped hands with Senator Murray in the air, and stepped to the podium to a loud standing ovation.

He not only was quick to thank Senator Murray for being a great champion of working families, but he recognized Norm Dicks with a special shout-out. (Dicks is slated to become the next House Appropriations Chairman following the retirement of longtime Representative David Obey, if Democrats keep control of Congress this November).

"If you're thinking about Patty Murray, you have an All-Star in the United States Senate," Wyden said. "Send her back!"

"She was asked by the press the other day... she was asked, well, is she going to run on her clout, in her reelection campaign? And your senior senator said, No! I never want to run on my clout. What I'm running on is my connection to people. I'm running on my connection to the working families that are hurting, the veterans, the senior citizens that are walking on an economic tightrope... I'm running to fight for them," Wyden recounted, to roaring applause. "They don't have PACs, they don't have lobbies. But they have Senator Patty Murray!"

Wyden briefly touched on several policy directions that he works on in the Senate, including healthcare, fair trade, clean energy, and marriage equality.

He sharply denounced the idea that our common wealth exists simply to prop up big corporations when they run aground due to greed.

"If in any way, this economic notion of too big to fail ever comes up again, we as Democrats want to make sure that we have finally put the nail in that coffin. Because too big to fail essentially means if you're big and powerful, and you've got a lot of clout back east, you can take on too much risk, and you can take on too much debt, and all of you — [indicating the audience] — will pick up the bill," Wyden said.

"And what too big to fail means is that if you're Coos Bay, Oregon, or LaGrande, Oregon, or Aberdeen Washington, too big to fail means [you're] too small to succeed," Wyden declared, to applause and shouts of agreement.

Perhaps Wyden's best-received line, however, came when he recounted what he told a town hall in a conservative eastern Oregon town. "Wanna know what your senator thinks about gay marriage?" he said, repeating the question as he had phrased it. "Well, I say to you, if you don't like gay marriage, don't get one!"

The room instantly burst into thunderous applause and laughter.

Wyden closed by reminding the party faithful that Patty Murray wasn't born into a wealthy family, and has outspent and underestimated before, exhorting activists work hard and get out the vote in 2010.

"We have always, always had to work harder for this," Wyden said, reflecting that even the lousiest Republican candidates have long enjoyed a head start thanks to all the infrastructure the right wing has built over the last few years.

In other words: victory is possible, but we have to make it happen. That's something every progressive ought to keep in mind in the days and weeks ahead.

I'll be back tomorrow with live coverage from the convention floor. Goodnight!


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