With Democrats in Denver, it's anything but conventional when it comes to choosing a candidate
You don't need to be a wealthy political donor to become a delegate to a national political convention. Being persistently and passionately involved at the grassroots level can get you there.
That's what Tulsan Jacque Tomsovic found out earlier this year, when she was elected to represent Hillary Clinton supporters in Oklahoma's 1st Congressional District at this year's Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.
I spoke to Tomsovic last Thursday morning, following the first three nights of the convention, as Democratic delegates were anticipating that night's open-air acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium by the party's nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack H. Obama.
This is Tomsovic's first time to serve as a national delegate, and when I asked how she became a delegate, she began at the beginning.
Tomsovic, 63, said she had never been very involved in politics until a few years ago, when she decided to start at the bottom of the Democratic Party--the precinct level. She volunteered for local campaigns. She ran for a party office, and although she didn't win, running was a valuable experience and helped other grassroots Democrats get to know her.
Tomsovic also joined Just Progress (justprogress.org), an interest group within the Democratic Party, which, she said, most closely aligns with her values. She said that being a part of this group has been "enormously helpful," giving herself some visibility within the party and helping her make connections. She now serves as the vice chairman of Just Progress.
She is an enthusiastic supporter of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and worked hard for her campaign, not only in Oklahoma, but south of the border, too, helping the campaign at a chaotic, overcrowded precinct caucus in Texas.
In January, she filed a declaration of candidacy with the Oklahoma Democratic Party to be a national delegate, pledging her support to Clinton. Each presidential campaign filtered the list of those who applied, and candidates on the filtered list made their appeal to a caucus of 1st District Clinton supporters at the party's state convention.
Five Democrats went to Denver to represent the 1st District: Tomsovic, Mildred Banks, and Stuart Price pledged to Clinton; State Rep. Jabar Shumate and Adriane Jaynes pledged to Obama.
Although Clinton released her delegates on Tuesday and many Clinton delegates voted for Obama in Wednesday's roll call in a show of party unity, Tomsovic nevertheless felt an obligation to the 1st District Democratic voters and state convention delegates who backed Clinton. She said that they elected her to vote for Clinton: "I came to do my duty as an elected official."
The schedule was packed with activities. Tomsovic grew up in Denver and visits regularly, so she skipped the usual sightseeing and concentrated on the various convention meetings and caucuses. She could have kept herself busy every day from 7:30 in the morning until 1 the next morning. "You physically can't do everything."
Her only regret is that she couldn't get to everything she wanted to. Her feet held up, but her stamina was the limiting factor.
It was never as quick to get from one event to another as one might think. "You meet people along the way and get caught up in conversation. Before you know it, you're 15 minutes late."
Tomsovic enjoyed spotting the important and newsworthy people who come to a national political convention. She had a couple of "brushes with greatness." Actor Richard Dreyfuss almost ran into her at the Pepsi Center. She met Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at an event at one of the downtown hotels and asked for a picture with her. Pelosi was "very gracious," Tomsovic said.
The speakers at the evening sessions, the part most of us see on TV, comprise just a small part of the event. Tomsovic enjoyed listening to Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, but her favorite speaker (at least as of Thursday morning, before the nominee's acceptance speech) was Beau Biden, attorney general of Delaware and son of vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden.
The younger Biden paid tribute to his father's devotion to his family as it was demonstrated in the aftermath of the tragic auto accident that killed the senior Biden's wife and daughter shortly after his first election to the U. S. Senate in 1972.
After the convention session ended each night at about 9pm Mountain Time, there were plenty of parties to attend, going on into the wee hours. Her favorite was a reception at the Denver Aquarium, sponsored by Chesapeake Energy in honor of the Rules Committee. (Former Oklahoma Gov. David Walters was one of the co-chairmen of the committee.)
Tomsovic said that Denver residents were very helpful and very friendly. They seemed to be more accustomed to walking than visiting delegates, and in giving directions they'd tend to minimize the distances one would have to travel. "They'd say, 'It's not very far. It's only a mile away.'"
Oklahoma delegates had several different ways to get from their hotel to the Pepsi Center, about eight miles as the crow flies. They could take a door-to-door shuttle at certain times.
But in order to get into town for caucuses and special meetings during the day, it worked better to take light rail. The hotel is about three-fourths of a mile away from the station. The hotel ran occasional shuttles to the nearest station, or you could hoof it, then wait for a train. Many delegates would share a cab to get into town.
Once downtown, a delegate would have to make her way to an official convention hotel in order to catch an official convention shuttle bus to the Pepsi Center. Only official buses were permitted within the security perimeter. The light rail station at the arena was closed during the convention for security reasons.
Getting around downtown was eased by the 16th Street Shuttle, a free bus that runs continually up and down the same street, allowing riders to easily hop on and off of to get within a block or two of most venues.
Wearing a delegate badge drew only positive responses from Denverites. Tomsovic's most heartwarming encounter came on one of her rides on the 16th Street Bus, when she was stopped by a man who wanted her to explain to his granddaughter how one goes about becoming a delegate.
Denver is very different than it was during Tomsovic's childhood. "The only (thing) I recognize is the street names." It was a cowtown back then, but she noted that they always had wonderful transportation, and they rode the bus everywhere. She didn't get her driver's license until she went off to college at Colorado State University.
Downtown, she said, is well organized. "They've done an excellent job of planning."
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