I arrived at my Senatorial Convention at 7:45 am yesterday morning and we didn't adjourn until midnight. We're talking 16 hours of raw drama folks and there's no way I could recount it all here in one post. But I'll do my best. San Antonio held four different conventions, I attended the one for Senate District 19.
Our convention received some media coverage, which is about as good a place to start as any. Check out these video clips. This is linked directly to Democratic Meltdown in San Antonio. This link you'll have to scroll down and click on Democratic Caucus Causes Confusion, posted on 3-29-08, but it's worth watching if anything just to see the fire department denying delegates entry into the meeting!
Alright, now for the full chronological review. I got a phone call last week from an Obama campaign person telling me that the venue for our convention had changed. Originally it was set for the Lila Cockeral Theater, but because of other events taking place in the city, there turned out not to be enough parking available. So they changed the location to Martin Alvarez & Company-- a party supply store with a large warehouse. I arrived at 7:45 because I wanted to ensure I could find a place to park my F-350 (it's always a challenge taking that thing downtown.) I had no problem finding a spot.
There was already a substantial number of people there and the temporary chair ordered registration to go ahead and begin early, at 8:00 instead of 8:30. The line moved quickly and efficiently, until I got to be third in line. They stopped the line for about 10 minutes. Since I was up front, I could see what was happening. Registration started, but they didn't have the rolls of registered delegates to check against and weren't handing out credentials. So all those folks that signed in did so for nothing. They wanted to keep the line stopped until the badges and rolls arrived (which made absolute sense and was the proper thing to do) but the chair came out and insisted folks keep signing in. So they started the line back up and I signed in without receiving my credentials. I was told I could pick them up later.
I then ran over to where the Credentials Committee meeting was trying to get underway. But there were problems. A state advisory highly recommended that all committees be balanced equally between the Clinton and Obama camps. Of course, our District wanted nothing to do with that and proportioned committees according to some other measure, giving Clinton about a 2/3 majority on all the committees. Apparently there was some last minute power-broking going on in the days leading up to the convention where it was agreed that at the very least the Credentials Committee should be evenly balanced. The Obama people had a letter signed by the Temporary Chair and other officials stating that four specifically named people should be added to Credentials. The Clinton folks were having nothing of it and were throwing every possible technical reason to disregard the proposal. Eventually the Chair intervened (he's a Hillary guy by the way) and ordered the Obama folks to be added.
Now, one of the four people named was GG. GG was the Obama precinct captain at my precinct caucus. She's the one who called the attorney and handed me the phone when I was trying to stop the illegal early sign-in. She was a huge help in keeping our delegation informed about the County/Senatorial District Convention. Anyway, as soon as the Credentials Committee accepted the letter, one of the Obama people asked, "Where's GG?" I was just observing, but told them she was helping at the registration table. They told me to go get her. So I ran from the front of the building, down and around the warehouse to the loading dock. The registration tables sat along the dock as if on stage and the line serpentined at ground level. Registrants would go up a set of stairs on the right and leave on the left. To avoid the registration traffic I cut across a small path on the side directly onto the stage and told GG they needed her at Credentials. She said she was swamped and for me to take her place. So I ran back and reported that to Credentials. They said no can do, go get her. I ran back and told her they need her, she said to tell them she'd be there in three minutes. I started back, but now some guy was standing in the middle of my little short-cut path telling me I couldn't pass there and that I had to go around in the crowd. I told him I was doing urgent business for a committee. He held his arms out, saying "No, sir, go around, no sir." I figured that since nobody there other than the Chair and the Constable had greater authority than me, I had the right to pass, so I ducked under the guy's arm and kept moving. Behind I could here, "Officer! There goes another one! He pushed me! I want him off the property NOW!" I kept moving at a good clip, but was never told to stop by a cop and got to the Credentials meeting in time to make sure they didn't start before GG arrived.
About 15 minutes later, the Smith family approached me and asked me what that whole confrontation was about. The Smith's are members of my delegation, a father/mother/daughter each a delegate for Obama. They saw the fray from a distance. I told them what happened. Then Mr. Smith laughed and told me the rest of the story. Apparently the guy who tried to stop me was Martin Alvarez, the owner of the property. He had a cop and was trying to convince him to chase me down, when Mr. Smith intervened on my behalf. The cop told Mr. Alvarez to cool off. I wasn't the first guy he'd tried to throw out that day and the cops knew if they bounced everybody out that Alvarez wanted out there'd be a riot. So, thanks to Mr. Smith and professional law enforcement, I still have a clean criminal record!
At 10 o'clock I attended the Rules Committee meeting. I was actually on that committee and I can proudly say, we were probably the most civilized group at this thing. We adopted the Texas Democratic Party rules with the addition to ban noise-makers, like blow horns and whistles, and agreed to keep debate limited to 2 minutes per person, 3 people per side, and that's about it.
After my meeting I stood in a line for 2 hours to get my credentials! I struck up a conversation with a fellow UU so the time passed pleasantly enough. When we got to the front, my UU buddy's name was not on the list! She was told she'd have to go stand in the challenges line, which was just as long as the one we just went through. She was livid, but I promised I'd attend a church service sometime soon and see her again. I was next in line and they found my name, but I noticed that they had my presidential preference on the list as Clinton! As I was correcting that I realized that my entire delegation's preference had been flipped! Apparently after I turned in my paperwork to the County Party Office (which I did in person) whoever plugged my information into the system decided to have a little fun. Turned out that many precincts had been flipped.
Now it was around noon. The warehouse was too small to hold alternates, so Obama and Clinton alternates in my precinct grabbed a table out front. I checked in with them and encouraged them to hang tough. Then I went in to see if all my delegates had shown up. 11/12 of our Obama people were there, but only 3/6 of our Clinton people were there. I went back out and said we'd need to bump one Obama person to delegate status and 3 Clinton people. To do that I had to go to the Credentials Committee. The four alternates followed me to the door of the business office. They'd only let me in since I was a committee member, the alternates waited outside. When I got down the hall I could hear shouting. I walked into the Credentials room and they sat sullenly around the table. Mr. Alvarez was screaming, saying he was shutting down the whole operation, saying that people outside were pushing and cussing at him and accused the leadership of "hiding" in the office while chaos reigned outside. "Call your attorneys, do whatever you have to do, but you have ONE HOUR TO CLEAR THE PREMISES!"
Needless to say, all committee work had come to a grinding halt. I left the room and rejoined my alternates outside. Just as I was about to speak, I heard, "SIR!, SIR!" I turned around and it was a grey-haired woman from the Credentials committee glaring at me sternly. As soon as I made eye contact with her she put her finger over her mouth telling me to hush. I lifted my index finger and gave her a nod of acknowledgment, then turned to my alternates. Of course the first words out of their mouths were, "What the hell?" The grey-haired lady came closer, within ear-shot, so I explained that Credentials was currently overwhelmed and that they'll handle matters like ours later. As soon as the lady left I told them that Alvarez was in there throwing a fit trying to kick us out. Again, grey-haired lady had no right to silence me. These committee meeting were supposed to be open to the public, but access was limited because of size and they had a cop posted at the door only letting in people who were either on a committee or "approved" by a credentials committee member. So the whole fit Alvarez threw should have been public knowledge anyway.
The alternates went back to their table to hang tight a little longer. I rejoined my delegation inside. The Chair started the meeting. First thing on the agenda, the Pledge of Allegiance. Problem was, there was no flag! The Chair went to the microphone and asked the assembly, "Does anyone have a flag?" There was some mumbling, then we heard cheers. "Yes? Come on up here." A young female Clinton supporter started strolling up the aisle waving one of these:
Actually, it was a cap, not a do-rag, but with this design. Once more people saw what she had, there were boos from the crowd. The Chair recognized that a cap would be unacceptable and asked again if there was a proper flag. The Pledge was eventually given to one of these:
This was a major embarrassment. I don't get bent out of shape over much, but if one thing was ever instilled in me growing up as an Army Brat it's that you respect that flag and what it stands for. And if you're going to have a Pledge on your agenda you should damn well be prepared.
Anyway, shortly after all this there was an announcement that cars parked at X location needed to be moved. I was parked at X location. So off I went to find a space for my F-350 in what was now a very congested area. Luckily I found a spot near Sam's Burger Joint. I learned earlier that day that part of the deal for getting the Warehouse was that Mr. Alvarez would have exclusive concessions, no food in or out, but you could buy a $5 burger on site. After the treatment I got from the jerk I decided to personally boycott his concessions. So I stopped into Sam's and had myself a beer. There I met a fellow named Fargo, also an Obama delegate out moving his car. We had a good talk then walked back to the warehouse. When we got there a firetruck was pulled up front with its lights on. When I tried to enter and rejoin my delegation I was denied entry by a fireman. The fire marshal said we were overcrowded and started moving people out. The Chair told people to go out and do their caucusing outside. Once the warehouse was cleared out I was able to go in and ask what to do about alternates. I was told to go ahead and use them and they'd verify it all later. Not only was that wrong, but we shouldn't have been caucusing yet anyway because the Credentials committee still hadn't worked through all the challenges. I learned later that Credentials essentially gave up, so people in line, like my UU buddy were just told to go ahead and participate. That is to say, people whose names didn't appear on the lists of registered delegates, whether properly or improperly, were told to go ahead and all given credentials. That means that any one of you reading this post could have simply sat outside in this line and received credentials.
We went ahead a caucused. Our precinct got to elect our own delegate. Folks were ready to throw their support behind me, but I withdrew consideration because of a scheduling conflict I have with the State Convention in June. I endorsed GG and she won. The rules state there's one vote and that the second place nominee becomes alternate, so one of the Clintonites got that. But later we learned that our Obama alternate that we bumped up to delegate status was selected as an At-Large delegate. So my precinct is sending two of its own off to State to vote for Obama. The convention as a whole went 2/1 for Hillary, but state-wide Obama's spanking Hillary 2/1. (San Antonio and south/southwest Texas is die-hard Clinton country.) Soon after the caucusing finished the crowd died down. Lots of folks went home. That meant we could all fit back into the warehouse.
The next several hours passed in a blur of motions, calls of order and false accusations. My two favorite false accusations were 1) The temporary chair declared before the assembly that the Republicans conspired with the Fire Department to shut our convention down and that we prevailed! and 2) A Clintonite accused the Obama committee that was selecting its At-Large delegates of "locking themselves in their room" and deliberately withholding their decision in order for Clinton people to tire and go home. This second claim was made by the same butt-nugget on the Credentials committee that tried to keep GG and the other three new Obama members off the committee. As soon as he made that statement, I ran in the back and told them. They were just making sure their delegates were apportioned according to the rules, taking into account age, gender race and sexual orientation (yes, there was a square in the sign-in sheet asking if you were straight, gay, lesbian, bi or transgender.)
I spent that latter part of the evening recording irregularities and contact information for people who had stories. We filed a minority report and passed on more than enough ammunition to the Obama campaign to file a challenge if they feel the need to do so. We figure Hilldog is going to challenge every caucus that didn't go her way, so I'm sure Obama would like to return the favor.
The meeting adjourned at midnight. I went back to Sam's Burger Joint with Fargo and a few other delegates to throw back some much needed beer. Finally got home at a quarter till 2.