The road to Philadelphia

Caucuses to elect local delegates to the Democratic National Convention set for this weekend

Nurses Patrick and Pamela Stowe became fans of Bernie Sanders after seeing him speak about health care issues.

Nurses Patrick and Pamela Stowe became fans of Bernie Sanders after seeing him speak about health care issues.

Photo by Ken Smith

Cast your vote:
Caucuses for Clinton delegates will be held at Arc Pavilion (2030 Park Ave.) and Sanders delegates at the Chico Grange Hall (2775 Nord Ave.) on Sunday (May 1) at 2 p.m.

Until late last year, Patrick and Pamela Stowe didn’t consider themselves political people. Both voted regularly, but they never felt compelled to campaign for a politician until they found themselves in the same room with Bernie Sanders.

The Stowes are both nurses at Enloe Medical Center and members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United. During a recent visit to their Chico home, they explained that the union went through an extensive process before endorsing Sanders, questioning the entire field of candidates on issues important to health care workers and asking members to vote for their preference. Sanders himself spoke at a union event in Oakland last August to accept the endorsement, and the Stowes were in the audience.

“I have never met or heard anyone who is more genuine in what they say,” Pamela said. She cited Sanders’ stance on equal health care for all as a big attraction. “Every other politician I’ve ever heard is more interested in pushing their own agenda rather than doing what’s best for the people, but not Bernie. He cares for the country the way a parent cares for their child.”

The Stowes immediately began campaigning for Sanders in earnest; they’ve attended rallies throughout the state, and Patrick went door-to-door in Las Vegas earlier this month canvassing for the Nevada primary. Locally, the couple have been manning a booth at the Thursday Night Market and urging anyone who’ll listen to consider their candidate. They’ve also become candidates themselves, in hopes of representing Sanders this July as local delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

There are several subtypes among the 548 delegates California will send to the convention, including those elected at the congressional district level (like the Stowes hope to be) and superdelegates. Each of the state’s 53 congressional districts elects between five and nine of a total of 317 district-level delegates, who will be chosen at caucuses held statewide this Sunday (May 1). District-level delegates’ votes are pledged to their candidate, while superdelegates can vote for whomever they choose.

Butte County is part of the expansive 1st Congressional District, which includes much of northeastern California and is allotted six delegates. Caucuses are held for each candidate, and Chico will host two—one for Hillary Clinton at the ARC Pavilion and another for Sanders at the Chico Grange Hall. District 1 caucuses will also take place in Nevada City (Sanders) and Colfax (Clinton). All of the caucuses statewide will start at 2 p.m.

All registered Democrats can vote in the caucuses, and the top three male and top three female vote-getters will be potential delegates. The delegates are then divvied up according to the percentage of votes the candidates receive in the June 7 primary. For example, if the candidates split the district’s popular vote evenly, the top three Clinton and top three Sanders delegates will be headed to the convention.

Confused yet? You can blame Chico’s Bob Mulholland, a longtime member of the Democratic National Committee, who claims credit for writing the current caucus rules about 25 years ago. Mulholland, himself a superdelegate, said the rules are designed to ensure access and participation at a grassroots level.

“All the average person really needs to know is to show up at the right caucus, get a ballot, circle the candidates you like and put it in the box,” he said. Voters can also register on-site.

Mulholland described the caucuses as lively events where would-be delegates sometimes hand out leaflets, meet voters and give short speeches. He said 2008 saw record turnouts to the caucuses, and he expects this year’s scorching Sanders-Clinton showdown to bring comparable crowds. He noted the number of candidates vying for local delegate spots is particularly large, with 19 candidates for Clinton and 51 for Sanders. Statewide, there are more than 4,700 hopefuls looking to fill 317 openings.

Mulholland said the contests serve more purpose than just choosing delegates. “It’s not a beauty contest,” he said. “It shows the party which individuals have the ability to get out into the community and organize and campaign.

“For many people, it’s the beginning of their political lives.”

Once elected, delegates are expected to continue campaign efforts and raise the necessary funds to attend the convention. As a veteran of 10 conventions, Mulholland said those who make the cut are in for the experience of a lifetime, noting that candidates and other high-profile Dems often visit delegate breakfasts held each morning, and delegates can spend their days attending forums on a variety of issues.

The Republicans have their own delegate caucuses and set of rules. People interested in becoming a GOP delegate can apply straight through their candidate of choice’s office until May 8.

Whether or not they win positions as delegates, the Stowes say they plan to keep stumping for Bernie through November, and that they’re enjoying their newfound political awareness.

“Before we got involved in this, I never thought of delegates as actual people, just numbers,” Patrick said.