PORTLAND, Maine — A deep divide within the Democratic party showed itself Saturday at the Maine Democratic Party when surrogates for presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton took the stage.
The convention serves as the venue for the party to conduct the mostly mundane business of party platform adjustments and electing county committee members. Another function of the convention is choosing delegates — 17 for Sanders and eight for Clinton, which doesn’t include the superdelegates — to represent Maine at the National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in July.
Former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts endured heckling throughout his speech on behalf of Clinton, ranging from yells of “sellout” to “go back to Massachusetts.”
Frank responded in stride.
“What is it about the concept of allowing the speaker to speak that offends you?” asked Frank, drawing applause from most of the audience of some 3,000 or more.
Despite that chasm, Frank and others made it clear that whomever is the Democratic nominee will be a better choice for Democrats than presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“My point today is to make the case for people who have been supportive for Bernie Sanders to vote for Hillary Clinton if she is the nominee,” said Frank. “I don’t think Hillary Clinton is the perfect candidate. There is no one candidate for the people. That only happens in the absence of a democracy.”
Former state Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash, who has been the face of the Sanders campaign in Maine, electrified the Sanders-leaning gathering.
“He has done more to bring progressives into the fold than anyone I have ever met,” said Jackson. “What we need isn’t a presidential candidacy, but it’s a movement. … This is a political revolution and Bernie is ready to lead us.”
A major change
Earlier on Saturday, the convention approved what will be a major change to Maine’s process of allowing superdelegates to vote for whomever they want.
In Maine, where nearly 64 percent of Democrats supported Sanders in the March caucuses, three of the five superdelegates have indicated support for Hillary Clinton. One supports Bernie Sanders and the fifth has not indicated a preference.
The new rule requires that the delegation at the national convention in 2020 allocate Maine’s superdelegates in accordance with the state’s caucus or primary results.
The amendment, which was proposed by Portland Rep. Diane Russell, who is a Sanders supporter, also includes clauses to “strongly encourage” Maine’s five superdelegates to vote accordingly this year.
There were several attempts to make the rule take effect this year, but they were ruled out of order because the deadline for amendments to the party’s rules was two weeks ago, according to Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett.
“If we make an immediate change, we put our entire delegation [to the National Democratic Convention in July] at risk in Philadelphia,” said Bartlett. “We have a delegate selection plan that was approved by the Democratic National Committee that we have to follow to a T. If we don’t, we are out of compliance.”
Most of the arguments in favor of implementing the rules this year centered on the disenfranchisement of voters, particularly young ones.
“The people who are from the millennial generation are our future,” said a woman from Bangor. “We need to give them their voice and let them act or this world is going to go down the tubes.”
Others argued that the superdelegate process gives the party establishment more influence on who is nominated as president.
“What we’re facing with the Republican opponent [Donald Trump] is that he is getting the Republican nomination based on popularity,” said Ellen Farnsworth of Portland. “The superdelegates are chosen because of their elected positions and because of their experience.”
The convention, which started on Friday, concluded with speeches from 1st Congressional District Rep. Chellie Pingree and 2nd Congressional District candidate Emily Cain, who is challenging Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin.
Cain was brutal in her condemnation of Poliquin.
“Poliquin’s extreme ideology has left in its wake too few jobs, too much insecurity and too little opportunity here in Maine,” said Cain. “We will overcome a changing economy and a system that benefits the very rich at the expense of everyone else.”
Brent Littlefield, a political consultant for Poliquin, called Cain’s statements “completely false.”
“Ms. Cain lost a campaign in 2014 in which she and her allies outspent Congressman Poliquin by over half a million dollars, spending cash falsely attacking him,” said Littlefield in a written statement to reporters. “Now she is doubling down on failure.”
Cain said the political system is paralyzed.
“Our politics are too divisive. No one seems to listen any more,” she said. “I have spent my lifetime and 10 years in the Legislature breaking through those areas.”
The convention speeches concluded with Pingree, the state’s highest-ranking elected Democrat. She went through a list of her accomplishments before turning her ire at Republicans and their presumptive presidential nominee, Trump.
“Let’s be really clear,” she said. “Democratic control of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate will be absolutely critical to stopping his agenda. Taking back the 2nd Congressional District could be the seat that makes the majority for the Democrats. And keeping a Democrat in the 1st Congressional District is very important — not just a Democrat but it’s important to have a true progressive that will fight for the values we all care about.”