Washoe Democrats more progressive than Clark counterparts

Democrats met all over the state yesterday to decide whether the Jan. 19 caucus results should stand. And while I wrote this before the Obama and Clinton campaigns scrapped for state delegates from the various county conventions, one outcome was preordained.

Clark County Democrats, for all their organizational gains this year, are still an organization struggling to shed their party’s most liberal tendencies.

Of course the “big tent” Democrats like to welcome all races, sexual orientations, religions, classes and so on. But the unified platform Democrats in each county approve speaks volumes about its core principles.

The Clark Democrats couldn’t even be confused with environmentalists (a core party constituency) prior to Saturday’s convention at Bally’s. One platform fight, according to committee co-chair Lynn Goya, was whether to oppose new coal energy plants.

“It’s fairly mixed between those for and against,” she said.

Mixed? The party of Harry Reid, in Las Vegas at least, is not marching lock-step with the senior senator in opposition to new coal-fired plants.

Up North, Washoe County Democratic Chairman Chris Wicker was helping oversee a platform that not only opposes the construction of all new coal plants, but “supports phasing out existing coal-fired power plants until the technology is developed to sequester the enormous amount of carbon dioxide emitted by these plants, since this is a principal cause of global warming.”

Washoe Dems also take into consideration the views of those Wicker described as a “vocal minority.”

So a fair cross-section of Washoe Dems were seeking a plank that called for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney’s been a major target of progressives all along, but even more so after the 9/11 commission report detailed Cheney’s use of authority on Sept. 11.

“I think they’re a minority,” Wicker added prior to the Washoe meeting in Reno. “They do comprise a fairly good cross-section of folks.”

Impeach Cheney planks also came out of precinct caucuses in Clark County, but the topic was a non-starter for Goya. “We didn’t have any,” she said at first.

When reminded that the impeachment plank did in fact come out of several precincts, she begrudgingly admitted there “were a few.”

For good measure, she also said one of the planks was opposed to “sacrificing virgins.”

Wicker didn’t want to enter the fray over which county’s party is more progressive. But the draft platforms go far enough toward answering that question.

Clark Democrats, although the majority party in Southern Nevada, are still terrified of the independents in the 3rd Congressional District.

How else can you classify a platform committee fight, at least prior to Saturday, over the county party’s immigration statement?

The fight was fairly split between those who want no amnesty and those who seek the national party/Bush agenda — a pathway to citizenship.

In fact, in their struggle to remain inoffensive — er, electable — Clark Democrats went with a one-page platform detailing statements of belief.

Civil rights and privacy issues are boiled down to this. “Everyone can determine the course of their lives and the size and structure of their family.”

There are also statements of belief about labor and universal health care, trade and the middle class.

Perhaps the party’s voice comes into clearer focus when you’re surrounded by Republicans. Take the Washoe platform.

Torture is wrong. The Patriot Act must be revised. Nevada schools should be funded at the national average. There’s even condemnation of electronic voting machines.

The Washoe Democrats’ call for civil rights specifically covers sexual orientation. And, its “rededication” to the Constitution somehow never names the Second Amendment.

These are real Democrats. And they aren’t shouting in the wilderness.

As of Thursday, 1,800 had paid to attend the county convention, forcing organizers to leave the Peppermill for the larger space at the Reno Events Center.

Part of the interest, of course, surrounds Barack Obama, who won Washoe.

Wicker, who is supporting Obama, predicted the biggest fight at his convention was going to be for the John Edwards delegates.

Edwards, you’ll recall, actually won a decent number of delegates in Washoe County.

Wicker was even worried, prior to the convention, that there wouldn’t be enough time to properly debate the platform.

“That used to be what we did all afternoon,” Wicker said.

In Clark County, the platform committee met several times prior to Saturday’s convention, and rules prevent amending the platform from the floor. A break-out room was dedicated so people could read what their party stands for.

Amazingly, it appears the Washoe strategy to lay it all out (delegates each get a copy of the four-page platform in their registration packets) doesn’t scare away independents and Republicans.

Wicker said he was stunned this year to learn a shareholder in his law firm, a man with whom he has aggressively argued politics, told him he re-registered as a Democrat to caucus for Obama.

Also last week, Jill Derby stepped down as Democratic Party chairwoman to run for Congress in a district where Democrats are still outnumbered by Republicans by more than 43,000 voters.

Despite similar numbers in 2006, Derby lost to Republican Dean Heller for the open seat by just 12,500 votes.

Maybe Clark Democrats will learn a few things from their brothers and sisters up North at the state convention in Reno.

The county platforms are going to have to come together, after all.

And judging from the draft platforms, that could be quite a fight.

Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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