Yesterday, delegates from across Washington state met (virtually) for the 2020 Washington State Democratic Convention. The delegates were primarily meeting to decide on the party’s platform going into November’s general election.
After greetings from party officials and tribal leaders, acknowledgements of the victims of police violence, and praise for the emergency workers responding to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, the convention got down to business.
Conducting a Zoom meeting with almost 2,000 participants is a herculean task, and that is perhaps why no one sought to take on the unenviable role of Permanent Chair of the convention before the deadline.
The lack of interest guaranteed that Chair Tina Podlodowski would get the job, which she carried out with impressive courtesy, grace, and professionalism.
After Podlodowski had gaveled in the meeting (or rather, thudded her coffee cup down in lieu of a gavel), the delegates began considering several amendments to the party’s governing documents, which consist of a charter and bylaws.
These proposals, a package of housekeeping measures to ensure the party could continue to operate during times of emergency or make do without precinct caucuses (which have traditionally been held in past presidential cycles), were devoid of controversy. After approving all but one of them, the delegates turned to the main matter of the meeting: amendments to the party’s platform.
Nine proposed amendments to add planks to the party platform were considered by the assembly. For each amendment, delegates presented five-minute arguments both for and against adopting the planks.
The nine amendments heard were all backed by a minority of members of the Platform Committee and presented as minority reports (whereas the unmodified platform as a whole was presented as the majority report).
The first minority report called for language to be added that would call for independent investigations of police killings – the idea being that outside investigators are more objective than the local prosecutors who have to rely on the police they are investigating in other aspects of their work.
The second minority report called for the party to support the elimination of the “personal belief” exemption for vaccinations. The exemption was already eliminated for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine by the 2019 Legislature, but the exemption remains in place for other vaccinations.
The third minority report called for Democrats to get serious about the issue of student loans: it called for language supporting the cancellation of student debt and putting caps on the interest rates of student loans.
This amendment was brilliantly presented by Jessica Ines, who effortlessly dismantled the tired argument that student debt forgiveness is “welfare for the rich,” and called on delegates to imagine the massive economic stimulus that would result from millions of Americans being liberated from their debt burden.
Four minority reports focused on the environmental plank of the platform, and all dealt with nuclear power. In order, these amendments:
- Called for a cost-benefit analysis of nuclear power against increased investment in renewable energy
- Called for the federal government to fully fund cleanup of the Hanford nuclear site (a nuclear weapons facility that dates back to the Manhattan Project). The Trump Administration has tried to de-fund cleanup efforts, despite the significant radioactive waste that plagues the area.
- Called for a moratorium on new nuclear plants
- Called for an end to government subsidies for the nuclear industry.
These amendments to the platform were studiously opposed by Steve Verhey, who utilized videos, graphs and even memes to illustrate his points.
Another minority report proposed adding language to the Labor and Economic Justice plank of the platform, advocating for a thirty-two-hour working week.
Both speakers made compelling arguments for the economic consequences of the policy – oddly, both used France (which has a thirty-five-hour working week) as an example to highlight their side of the argument.
The final minority report was intended to tackle environmental racism. The amendment would add language to the platform opposing the restriction of low-income housing to areas that suffer from pollution (such as areas nearby highways or industrial areas). The arguments on both sides were nuanced, and the issue is one that Democrats should continue to examine thoroughly.
All nine amendments to the platform were approved by the delegates, who then went on to overwhelmingly approve the platform with its amendments.
While delegates voted on each amendment (the voting usually took between twenty and thirty minutes), the convention heard from Democratic candidates and officeholders. Former Vice President Joe Biden promised the convention that he would restore “real leadership” to the White House, but reminded Washington Democrats of the necessity of holding onto the House and winning the Senate.
Many of the speakers remarked extensively on the twin crises currently facing America: the anti-racist protests in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told listeners that “civil rights is indeed the unfinished business of America,” and commented on how badly the Trump Administration is dealing with the pandemic: “Donald Trump and Herbert Hoover are in a pitched battle to see who can have the worst jobs record!”
Many state level officeholders addressed the convention, including Governor Jay Inslee, every Democratic member of the state’s congressional delegation except for Denny Heck (who is a candidate for Lieutenant Governor), both of Washington’s U.S. senators, and NPI’s own Gael Tarleton, who is running to replace Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
Tarleton promised to “defend every vote and every voter,” reminding delegates of the violence the Trump Administration has meted out to peaceful protesters.
After the platform was voted on, Chair Podlodowski gaveled/coffee-cupped out the convention general session, bringing the state party’s 2020 caucus and convention cycle to an end. (There didn’t end up being any caucuses due to the pandemic; delegate selection was conducted using an online voting system… the results of which can be audited because the ballots cast were not secret.)
Washington Democrats are now free to focus on the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which will take place in about two months, as well as the monumentally important general election in November.