Can't We Disagree Respectfully

My last state political meeting had been in 2011 when I was finishing a third term as chair of the Democratic Party. Although I attended caucus and the Weld County meeting in 2012, I had not gone to the State Democratic Convention. I was restricted in how much public political actions I could do because of the position I was holding at that time.

However, this year I am supporting Hillary Clinton because she is the most qualified person to be President. I became involved in the campaign here in Colorado. I was the site manager for seven precincts in the Erie area. I was a surrogate for Secretary Clinton at the Weld County Convention and the Congressional District 4 Convention several days ago. I was also a delegate to both.

The Colorado Democratic Party State Convention was held on Saturday, April 16 in Loveland amid a mix of snow and rain. Let me say from the start that I have friends who are supporting Senator Bernie Sanders. At the precinct caucus, county and Congressional District meetings, there was enthusiasm, respect and courtesy shown to everyone from each side. At the State Convention, the only trait that carried over was the enthusiasm.

Among Sanders supporters from Weld County, they acted just as civilly as they did at our county meetings. But to our left and down the side of the meeting hall, were some of the rudest, most disrespectful people you could have encountered. Many of those seats were held by Bernie Sanders delegates from other counties.

The catcalls, chanting, yelling during Senator Bennet's nomination speech were very upsetting. Here he stood on the stage with wife and children talking about all the hard work he has done on issues that everyone cares about, and the response was to shout and stomp feet. It was difficult for him to finish in a way that we could all hear. Disgraceful is the word for the behavior of the hecklers. This behavior was certainly not helpful to Senator Sanders but undoubtedly produced a backlash of emotions from other Democrats in the room.

Later when former Senator and former Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton, once again there were catcalls and shouting to block out his words. At one point he had the Clinton delegates chanting "Hillary" in order to block out the noise from the Sanders supporters. Secretary Salazar's final comments were difficult to hear.

Sanders delegates have been instructed to apply pressure on the automatic delegates. Some of them have chosen to send threatening letters and emails. The fact is that if we did not have automatic delegate status for some elected officials and party leaders, Hillary Clinton actually would be closer to the nomination. She would only need 654 more delegates to win the nomination.

Perhaps the Democratic National Committee should revisit the issue of automatic delegates. But at best, there should be some conversation. For now, we have this system, and I would say to both candidates, win enough delegates to reach your goal without the automatic delegates. In the meantime, can we have a little civil discourse, please?

The issue of automatic delegates was brought up to be added to the platform: in specific, a requirement that the automatic delegates should apportion their votes base on the outcome of the caucuses. In accordance with the rules, the proposal could have a one minute response from each side. An activist lawyer from Weld County went up to present the opposing side and was shouted down, not once but twice, by Sanders delegates. She finally left the stage. How is that democracy?

I talked several times with a friend who is a Sanders supporter. We respect each other. The lawyer from Weld County who was shouted off the stage is a friend of hers. I sincerely believe she was dismayed by the behavior.

What is going on? One friend says that these are "Occupy Wall Street" activists who were let down. Another said that the disrespectful way candidates talk to each other in debates has set a sad example for young people. She blames television. Still another blames the media. Reporters want to get "juicy" stories so they display the worst aspects of politics.

This past Saturday, the officers of the Colorado Democratic Party, along with volunteers, worked hard to make a difficult process work. I salute them because I know how hard it is to run a statewide meeting, especially with a contested Presidential race. I was in their place in 2008.

But in the end, there are a number of lessons that come out of this experience. First, we need a Presidential primary to pick our candidate choice. Experience in Colorado shows that the voters make a different decision than people who get through the caucus process.

Second, the DNC needs to take another look at the automatic delegates. If they choose to disband that practice, Colorado Democrats need to understand that we will have fewer delegates overall, and activists will have to compete with the Governor, Senator and U.S. House of Representatives, and the party officers for a place on the delegation.

Third, I was involved with Iliff School of Theology in a conversation on civil discourse a number of years ago. Former Governor Bill Ritter (D) and Former Senator Bill Armstrong (R) participated in a dialogue about how we can discuss differences without rancor, anger and disrespect. It should be noted that among the attendees were political consultants and party leaders. We need to ask ourselves how do we set the best examples of civility and promote an environment that allows us to disagree respectfully.