Although the Oregon delegation
to the Democratic National Convention in Denver includes party insiders, elected officials and big donors, many of whom have attended previous conventions, some of the 59 delegates are new to the process.
One of them, Karen Lonon-Jones of Reedsport, says she's completely consumed by the non-stop stream of Dem gatherings, special interest caucuses and floor speeches.
“What's happening here is wonderful,” says Lonon-Jones, 54, a retired Department of Defense investigator. “On a scale of 1 to 10, my energy level is 10.”
Lonon-Jones says she became a delegate more by accident than design. A friend, Richard Davison, asked her and her husband Bob to attend a nominating meeting in Douglas County. Although Lonon-Jones had done some door-knocking and voter registration locally, she was a newcomer to party organization.
Davison encouraged her to run for a delegate's spot and to her great surprise, she won. “I got excited with all the energy in the room and I got lucky,” Lonon-Jones says.
In Denver, she's dived into a frenetic process orchestrated by political operatives from all over the country and every left-leaning interest group.
Because Sen. Barack Obama's nomination is a formality—notwithstanding some grousing by die-hard backers of Sen. Hillary Clinton—the real purpose of the convention seems to be to reward loyal soldiers and send them home fired-up.
As is the case with other states, the Oregon delegation gathers daily for a 7:30 am breakfast, where Democratic Party of Oregon chairwoman Meredith Wood Smith outlines the day's events, introduces various attendees, including a series of speakers. (Today, the speakers were Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. House Speaker and Democratic Senate Candidate Jeff Merkley will address the delegation on Thursday morning; the man he defeated in the primary, Steve Novick is also expected).
After breakfast, delegates catch light rail or a shuttle bus into downtown where a series of caucuses focusing on such issues as faith, women's issues, labor, the military or rural concerns are held in the Colorado Convention Center.
On Tuesday, Lonon-Jones attended the African-American and faith caucuses. (Although protest activity has been far less than expected, anti-abortion protesters disrupted both the faith and military caucuses on Tuesday by screaming anti-Obama screeds)
“I'm a Marine and I'm here to tell you that a vote for Obama is a vote for dead babies,” yelled one beefy attendee at the military caucus, before he was hustled away by security.
The real—or really scripted—action starts at 3 p.m. each day when the convention begins at the Pepsi Center. Although delegates hold the awesome responsibility of nominating the party's presidential nominee, they are not allowed to eat or drink anything other than bottled water on the convention floor (a participant wolfing down a hot dog
is not good TV apparently).
When the delegates arrive on the floor, they are given a handful of signs, the waving of which is carefully choreographed by “floor whips.”
After the convention finishes each night at 9 p.m., each delegation repairs to night-spots around town for parties, typically paid for by corporate sponsors. On Monday, the Oregon party was held at a so-so jazz club; last night, Union Pacific railroad hosted the delegation in a string of vintage railcars, including one called “The City of Portland.”
For Lonon-Jones, who fell in love with Oregon while visiting friends in Coos Bay in 1989 and immediately bought property along the Umpqua River, coming to Denver has made her want to go home and knock on every door she can.
The highlight so far?
“I loved Michelle Obama's speech,” Lonon-Jones says. “She's so elegant, she reminds me of Jackie Kennedy.”