Montana Sanders backers believe claims of ‘rigged’ system

Sanders

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

At a campaign rally at the Montana Pavilion at MetraPark in Billings in May 2016, Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of several thousand people.

Montana Democrats who supported Bernie Sanders were left scratching their heads after a former national party insider said last week that the 2016 Democratic presidential primary was rigged for Hillary Clinton.

In her new book, former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile said she found evidence that Clinton’s campaign rigged the party’s nomination process to favor Clinton over Sanders.

While some in the party passed Brazile’s allegations off as nonsense, others — primarily Sanders supporters — believe it’s founded in fact.

“I’m at a loss for words on this one,” said Bill Geer, of Lolo, who served as a Sanders delegate for the Montana Democratic Party during last year’s nominating convention. “I would like to hope it’s not true.”

Geer said he cast his vote as a delegate for Sanders during the convention. But when Sanders didn’t win the party’s nomination, he voted for Clinton, who went on to lose the general election to Donald Trump.

Trump’s victory, seen as a political upset, left many Democrats angry and frustrated with party leadership, including Montana’s delegates for Sanders. Geer believes the allegations, if true, could come with consequences, though he couldn’t say what those might be.

“I would like to hope this isn’t true, but I don’t have a great deal of confidence right now,” Geer said. “I believe in the principles of the Democratic Party, that’s for sure. But those who are representing us in the party, one has to wonder if they hold true to the same principles we hold dear.”

Brazile alleges that the DNC, the Clinton campaign and Clinton’s joint fundraising committee conspired to “control the party’s finances, strategy and all the money it raised.”

But Carol Williams, of Missoula, who led the state’s Clinton delegation at the national convention and is a longtime Clinton friend, said Brazile should have been aware of the party’s financial problems when she took the job from former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Williams said it was Clinton — not Sanders — who raised money to support the Democratic Party, which was broke at the time. As a result, Clinton had the right to receive the benefits of her own fundraising, Williams said.

“Sanders is no Democrat and had no interest in raising money for the Democrats, and he raised no money for the Democrats,” Williams said. “We had one candidate in this last election who cared about the party and wanted to raise money to ensure it was supported, and Clinton did. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”

Jennifer Merecki, of Billings, who served as a delegate whip for the Sanders campaign in Montana, said the state’s Clinton delegates treated them as “second-class citizens” throughout the convention.

When the state’s Sanders delegates were left out of several events, including the delegates’ breakfast, Merecki said she only considered it rude. But when the Clinton delegates left Sanders delegates out of the second round of voting, she began to see a conspiracy.

Jenn

Jennifer Merecki

“As a delegate whip for the Sanders campaign for Montana, we were supposed to alert the camp of any strange happenings — anything that seemed out of the ordinary,” Merecki said. “When I reported that they took a vote without us present, our Sanders contact person said they weren’t surprised. It was happening all over the country, and it must have been a directive from the DNC. They (Sanders’ campaign) had suspicions from the very get-go.”

Andy Boyd, a Sanders delegate from Bozeman, said he also had suspicions.

“I’ve always thought it was true that Clinton rigged the process, but I don’t think it matters anymore,” Boyd said. “We definitely need to hold the party accountable, but we need to move forward. Sanders has said we need to look past it and build unity. But I’m mad about it.”

Roughly 61 percent of registered Democrats in Missoula County voted for Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary compared to 36 percent who voted for Clinton. Sanders also carried the state with 65,000 votes compared to Clinton’s 55,000 votes.

But during the roll-call vote at the Democratic National Convention, the state’s delegates went to Clinton, including most of the state’s super delegates.

“The reason there are super delegates in the party — according to Schultz — is to keep any grassroots uprising from gaining a foothold,” Boyd said. “When Sanders won Montana, you’d think he’d walk away with more delegates from the state. But with our super delegates and with the statement from Schultz and watching the same results play out in other states, it gave me even more suspicion to not trust the DNC or the Montana Democratic Party.”

In excerpts released this week by Politico, Brazil said that when she took the helm at the DNC, she decided “to get to the bottom” of whether Clinton’s team had rigged the system, as leaked emails had suggested.

The national party was broke, she said, and Clinton’s team helped right the ship. But in doing so, it took advantage of the system.

“As Hillary’s campaign gained momentum, she resolved the party’s debt and put it on a starvation diet,” Brazil wrote. “It had become dependent on her campaign for survival, for which she expected to wield control of its operations.”

Anita Green, a Sanders delegate from Missoula, believes that Brazile is telling the truth.

“I identify as a Democrat and always have identified as a Democrat and I feel as though the Democratic Party let me down,” Green said. “I wish there was more transparency within the Democratic Party. I don’t want to leave it, though I understand why many have. I hope the Democratic Party can be reformed in such a way that we can bring the people we have lost back.”

Roy Loewenstein, communications director for the Montana Democratic Party, said the party was focusing on its future.

“The Montana Democratic Party has always been a big tent party with diverse points of view and folks from all backgrounds,” he said. “Right now we are focusing all our energy on winning seats up and down the ballot in 2018.”

This article originally appeared on Missoula Current, an independent online newspaper, of which Martin Kidston is the founding editor.

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