On the Trail: Missouri delegates look ahead to the Democratic National Convention | St. Louis Public Radio

On the Trail: Missouri delegates look ahead to the Democratic National Convention

Jul 22, 2016

You could say Jimmy Loomis has accomplished a lot in a short period of time.

The 21-year-old Washington University student is president of the school’s College Democrats chapter. He’s also a Democratic committeeman in St. Louis County, which means he’ll get a say in who will follow state Sen. Joe Keaveny in the Missouri Senate.

But perhaps Loomis’ most impressive feat may have been besting dozens of people to become a national delegate for likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. That means he’ll get to go to Philadelphia next week with some of the Show Me State’s most prominent activists and political figures. And he’ll get to be an active participant in what’s been a historic presidential election.

“I’m keeping an open mind. I’m sure that there’s going to be some minor conflict,” Loomis said. “But I think the goal of those four or five days is to show unity to everyone watching that the different factions can come together and present a united front for November.”

What Loomis is referring to is any fallout from the Democratic primary. That’s where Clinton outflanked Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders to become the first woman to secure a major party’s presidential nomination. But Sanders won plenty of fans along the way, especially in Missouri: The Show Me State’s delegation is basically split between Clinton backers and Sanders supporters.

Whether those two sides can substantially unify could play a role in the outcome of Clinton’s general election battle against Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

"This is all about defeating in the election in November," said Jenna Squires, a Sanders delegate from St. Joseph. "We should do anything and everything to keep the conversation going as to push the current party's ethics more toward Bernie Sanders' policies."

Split delegation

Democrats use a proportional system to determine the division of their pledged delegates to the national convention. Since Clinton defeated Sanders in Missouri by a very small margin, Missouri’s delegation will have 36 Clinton delegates, 35 Sanders delegates and 13 “unpledged” (or super-) delegates.  

Ferguson Councilwoman Ella Jones, left, confers with state Rep. Sharon Pace, D-Northwoods, at the Missouri Democratic Party state convention in Sedalia.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

Since Sanders endorsed Clinton recently, there probably won’t be that much nomination drama at the convention. Sanders supporters have tried, with some success, to infuse some of his ideas into the party platform, which will be officially ratified in Philadelphia.

Sanders alternate delegate Adam Kustra said the mood of the convention could depend on how much leeway Clinton supporters give fans of the Vermont senator.

“What we saw in Sedalia and what we’ve seen in the platform committees has been a mix of positive change and still a realization that there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Kustra. “There will be still a lot of pushback from the more establishment base of the Democratic Party. However, I think that a lot of people on that side are realizing it benefits the party as a whole to be open to that communication and that conversation.”

State Rep. Sharon Pace, though, doesn’t expect a lot of conflict or contention at the convention. The Clinton delegate said last month that even though the candidates may differ on some issues, they have more commonalities than people realize.

“I think the goals are basically the same,” said Pace, D-Northwoods. “And so when you have the same ideology, there’s less conflict. So I think that makes a big difference.”

Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple is the head of the Missouri delegation. He said in late June that he’s been sensing a lot of Democratic eagerness this cycle – especially to defeat GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“I think there is a lot of enthusiasm for this election year. I think part of that is driven by the candidates on our side,” Temple said. “Part of that frankly is driven by the candidates on the other side. And people really do feel that this is a turning point election, and they want to be part of the process and be engaged. I hope that extends well beyond the convention, and carries onto people wanting to participate in the election in the run up to November.”

Cost of convention

As Temple explains, there’s more to the Democratic Convention than picking a presidential (and vice presidential) nominee and adopting the party platform. There’s also a chance to meet up and socialize with Democrats from all over the country.  

Clinton delegates Rachel Gonzalez and Jack Coatar talk at the Missouri Democratic Party's state convention in Sedalia. Gonzales is the youngest delegate at the national convention and has been crowdfunding to pay the costs to go to Philadelphia.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

“If you have an interest in politics, which certainly everybody that goes through the bother of running to be a delegate does, it’s an exciting time,” Temple said. “You have a daily breakfast with a speaker, and get a little bit of a feel for what’s going to happen in that day. There are caucuses: So that women, labor, African-Americans, LGBT people can find people who are doing work in other states and work together to try and get good ideas for how you can advance your cause within the state you happen to live in.

“And then there’s always the occasional celebrity sighting, which is more exciting for some than for others,” he added.

But that experience comes at a price. While prospective delegates were warned about the cost, it’s caught some people, like Loomis, a bit by surprise.

“It’s not cheap,” Loomis said. “So you have airfare. In addition to that, I think the cheapest hotel room at where Missouri is blocked off is like $550 a night. Which is outrageous. Thankfully, my parents are helping me pay for it. But I still am working an extra job to help subsidize that.”

Despite the sticker shock, there are some benefits to the Missouri delegation’s hotel. It’s in a convenient location in downtown Philadelphia, which means delegates should be able to get to the actual convention and surrounding events fairly easily. By contrast, Missouri Republicans’ hotel was in Akron – which is more than 40 miles away from Cleveland.

And some delegates are figuring out ways to defray costs. Some are sharing a room, while others are using crowd-funding websites.

“These conventions tend to take place in large urban centers. The costs of them are non-trivial, certainly,” Temple said. “And, you know, that’s frankly part of this process. I think the DNC does the best it can, and I’m sure the RNC does, to negotiate those rates as best they can. But it is an expensive process. And people find ways to reduce costs the best way they can. But the contracted rates are what the contracted rates are for us.

“So the choice is do we want to pay for an expensive hotel in a good location or do we want to pay for an expensive hotel in a bad location?” he added. “And so, we opted for an expensive hotel in a good location.”

In any case, delegates like Pace say there is value in witnessing – and participating – in political history.

“The cost is always an issue, but of course it’s well worth the time and effort – and seeing that history is being made,” Pace said. “And so, I am going to enjoy myself, be there, and especially be there for Hillary Clinton – our next president.”

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.