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Established political parties have historically disrespected minority delegates

Posted Aug. 30, 2012, at 3:04 p.m.

The disrespect shown to Ron Paul delegates during the 2012 Republican National Convention is not the first time a minority delegation faced such treatment, and the Republican Party is not the only party where there are such happenings.

In 2004, Dennis Kucinich arrived at the Democratic National Convention in Boston with 65 national delegates from 10 states. One difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats have their rules fights before their convention begins, so the Kucinich campaign knew it would not make the 125-delegate threshold to see his name placed into nomination.

Yet Kucinich had vowed to stay in the race to the end to keep alive his signature issues of single-payer, universal health care and ending the war in Iraq.

In an effort to showcase only “party unity,” Kucinich was under intense pressure to step down. The bargaining centered on whether Kucinich would trade his delegates for a prime-time TV speech where he could promote his health care plan and speak out more forcefully than eventual nominee John Kerry would about getting out of Iraq.

The night before the convention, Kucinich gathered his delegation and outlined the situation. He asked the group to decide whether voting for Kerry was worth the TV appearance. Emotions and opinions were mixed, but it was settled when a young woman from Washington state stood up. Trembling, she said she had just turned 18. She had worked very long and hard to become a delegate and had traveled 3,000 miles across the country so that the first national vote she cast in her life would be for a gentle man of peace, love and justice.

Heartbroken to think she might not be able to do that, she broke down in tears and stood alone in the middle of the room until Kucinich hugged her and said he could never ask someone to cast a vote they didn’t want to cast.

“You are released from any obligation to vote for me,” he told the delegation. “You should vote your conscience. I will respect any vote you wish to cast and will cherish any vote you cast for me.”

Not only did that statement knock Kucinich off the prime-time speaking list, it also unleashed a torrent of lobbying against the entire Kucinich delegation. For the next three days Kucinich delegates were chased, lobbied, harassed and downright threatened to change their vote.

The Democrats are just like the Republicans in the matter of signs. Any sign you see during the convention coverage is printed and passed out by the party. You are told what sign you can wave and when you can wave it. As a move to get around the ban on “unauthorized” signs, the Kucinich campaign had passed out pink scarves that didn’t mention Kucinich at all but said “Give Bush a Pink Slip – Democratic National Convention 2004.” They were the perfect convention souvenir. Many Kerry and Howard Dean delegates asked for one, and the Kucinich folks passed them out by the hundreds.

When the Kerry people saw not only how popular the scarves had become but how well this hot-pink Kucinich “sign” showed up on TV (in a long TV shot it looked like there were hundreds of Kucinich people throughout the hall), they tried to have them banned as a fire hazard because they were made out of polyester.

In a heated back-room session, Kucinich convention manager Tim Carpenter noted that two Kerry operatives were wearing polyester pants. He said he’d take off his scarf if they’d take off their pants. The issue (but no pants) was dropped.

On the night of the vote, party officials handed out the official ballots to all the Maine delegates except the Kucinich six. Those ballots were withheld for several hours while the Kerry people made one last, aggressive attempt to get them to abandon Kucinich. The Kucinich delegates finally put their feet down and demanded their ballots. They got them at the last minute and were allowed to vote.

The Maine delegation cast all six votes for Kucinich. Then-Gov. John Baldacci brokered, then read, a respectful roll-call statement that reflected the differences of opinion in the Maine delegation.

In all, 43 of the original 65 Kucinich national delegates cast their votes for Kucinich. What the Kerry people never knew until much later was that when the Maine delegates arrived at the convention on voting night, their vote was 3-3. But those three who had finally decided to support the eventual nominee changed back to Kucinich after being treated so rudely by the Kerry people during the hours before they could vote.

In both the Kerry-Kucinich case in 2004 and this year’s Romney-Paul dust-up, there was never any doubt who the nominee would be. It’s hard to say whether the vile behind the treatment of the minority delegates came from the old-time party bosses — who don’t like their authority questioned and whose donors and districts profit from war — or from the two uber-rich guaranteed nominees who had “paid for this microphone,” weren’t used to their serf subjects having a say and wanted a picture-perfect coronation.

What neither the handlers nor their monied candidates seem to understand is that while they are trying to turn ever-shrinking free TV coverage of the conventions into an infomercial for the soon-to-be-anointed one, the public wants to see a reality show, where quirky but allegedly “ordinary” people do crazy things in hopes of winning the big prize.

If the handlers and candidates stopped micromanaging and just let things happen, political conventions might not be pretty, but they’d be a lot more entertaining. Average citizens might even watch.

David Bright of Dixmont was one of two Democratic National Convention floor leaders for Dennis Kucinich in 2004.

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