Sanders Sweeps Bethel Caucus

by Anna Rose MacArthur on March 26, 2016

Counting the Sander's votes at the Bethel caucus. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Counting the Sander’s votes at the Bethel caucus. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders swept the Bethel Democratic caucus, taking 67 votes and receiving 14 delegates. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took 13 votes and received three delegates. The caucus’ two other options—Roque De La Fuente and the uncommitted category—received zero votes.

Caucus-goes like Katrina Domnick congregated in Bethel’s Evangelical Covenant Church Saturday morning.

“It’s time to caucus for Bernie Sanders,” said Domnick before the event began.

And in House District 38 that’s what most people did. When it came time for voters to chose their candidates, a mass migration shifted to the Sanders’ side of the room, while a few people slide to the Clinton area. Sixty-seven votes Sanders. Thirteen votes Clinton. Each candidate needed 15 percent, or 12 votes, to obtain a delegate.

Domnick, a college sophomore, was caucusing for the first time, partly because of Sanders’ stance on federally funded college tuition.

“People think that because I’m in college, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, free college!’,” Domnick said. “Actually because my dad is an employee of KuC [Kuskokwim University Campus] I don’t need to pay tuition. But I know a lot of other people who really would like to go to college who can’t afford it.”

Sanders’ platform on reforming the corporate tax system and instating a single-payer national health care program also appealed to Domnick and to follow first time caucus-goer Pete Keller.

“I took a test online and I got 98 percent Sanders, which I already kind of knew,” Keller said.

Keller says Sanders is the first candidate who’s compelled him to not only caucus but to volunteer with a campaign and donate

Counting voters before the caucus. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Counting voters before the caucus. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

money.

Unlike other voters, Bev Hoffman’s ultimate decision to support Sanders came, she says, not from reading platform points but from a winged creature.

“I was on the fence Hillary, Bernie, Hillary, Bernie,” Hoffman said, “and when the bird landed on the podium last night— and I had been leaning towards Bernie Sanders— that was it. My voice needs to be heard for Bernie Sanders.”

She’s referring to when a yellow bird landed on Sanders’ podium while he was delivering a speech during a campaign rally in Portland, Oregon Friday afternoon.

“And the whole place erupted. And I think that was a sign. It was a sign for me. It could have been a warbler of some sort, migrating back to Alaska,” Hoffman said.

Whether or not the bird was migrating to Alaska, a 2012 report prepared for the Arctic Landscape Conservation Cooperative found climate change, a Sanders’ platform point, could negatively affect bird migration to Alaska from around the world.

In Sander’s campaign video played at caucuses across Alaska, the senator called for a national move away from fossil fuels towards energy efficiency and sustainability. The statement comes as the Alaska legislature is slashing millions of dollars in state funding and trying to write a budget after a sharp decline in Alaska’s oil production, which for years largely funded state agencies.

Richard Hall, a Sanders supporter who calls himself a left-leaning socialist, agrees with the candidate’s position on climate change, especially on Sanders aim to remove fossil fuel corporation dollars from government funding.

Sanders supporters high-five before voting. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Sanders supporters high-five before voting. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

“I’ve very involved personally in the stock market, and yet I am not a profit at any cost person,” Hall said. “I think we have to protect the environment to protect our children and grandchildren.”

This issue of climate change for Sanders supporter Diane McEachern elevates the significance of this year’s presidential election winner to a critical high.

“I just feel like climate change and what’s happening with the earth will bring us all into unity, because it’s devastating what’s happening,” she said.

Though Sanders supporters overwhelmed the room, Clinton supporters, like Millie Twitchell, secured delegates for their candidate as well.

“I think that she’s the best person,” Twitchell said. “She’s the most qualified to run for president and be president of the United States.”

Twitchell appeared unfazed by the outcome of the Bethel caucus, saying she had read polls predicting Sanders would carry the state.

“In the overall election, Hillary is going to win and beat Bernie out,” Twitchell said. “Already she’s getting close to the number that’s needed, so this was just a minor setback.”

Juanita Hodge also came out to vote for Clinton but arrived after the doors had shut at 10:05 a.m., barring Hodge from participating.

“I felt bad,” she said, “but then I realized I was late. But I’ll be here in November.”

Voters registering for the caucus. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Voters registering for the caucus. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

A handful of other people also showed up past the cutoff. One woman pointed to misleading information on social media and another woman spoke of confusing times with other district caucuses.

Chuck Herman, the volunteer running the event, called the caucus a disenfranchising system, especially in rural Alaska where communities are spread out off the road system.

“It makes it exceptionally difficult for people in surrounding villages when they are unable to or would be to forced to take a plane, boat or snow machine a great distance to participate in a multiple-hour event, verses having a polling location in their home community,” he said.

House District 38, where Bethel sits, contains about 20 other communities, and the caucus occurred after a string of above-freezing days where reports of overflow and standing water on the Kuksokwim River generated a series of travel warnings.

Madelene Reichard, District 38’s newly elected House Democratic Chair, says she’ll push for a state primary to replace what she calls a flawed system for rural Alaska.

“I think the shift to a primary would be ideal,” Reichard said, “so more people from more areas throughout the district would have a chance to participate.”

With a total of 80 votes, the District 38 Democratic caucus received almost twice the turnout of the district’s Republican preference poll in March, which gathered 41 votes.

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