Tuesday, December 01, 2015

An Account of the NHDP JJ Fundraising Event

I don't do it often, but from time to time I accept a piece written by another blogger. This next piece was written by someone who wishes to remain anonymous, and asked me for blog space. I agreed, because I know and trust the writer. I want to be clear - I was not at this event. The views expressed are those of the writer. It's also worth noting that I've heard similar accounts of this event from other people. 



Let me preface this by explaining who I am. I'm posting this anonymously, but I am a middle-tier political activist here in New Hampshire, who has been active in state level races and a few federal races supporting progressive candidates up and down the ballot. This cycle, I'm supporting Bernie Sanders' run for President. Over the last decade I've been active in New Hampshire politics, I've essentially been in the 'activist bubble'. Very little interaction with party insiders, very little in-person exposure to party leaders or elected officials. That said, I am a Democrat and I feel the need to be honest with my friends, hence this letter. 

Last night I attended the 2015 Jefferson-Jackson dinner, commonly known in New Hampshire as “The JJ”. I don't normally go to events like this, preferring to donate to candidates directly rather than to the party. This year I broke my pattern, and went with a VIP ticket. This got me into the VIP room before the event, and landed me a pretty good seat for the speeches. In the VIP room I got to meet Martin O'Malley, who was the only presidential candidate to stop in. He was quite cordial, ignored my white Bernie button other than to say “I hope I'm at least your second pick.”, and smiled when I assured him that he is. Both candidates for Governor were there, sitting Governor Maggie Hassan, former Congressman Paul Hodes, a few state senators and state reps – it was a 'who's who' of party insiders. I felt very out of place, but I expected it. Overall, the little pre-event dinner party was fun and an amazing chance to talk to some great folks. 

Then the actual event started, and things went south very quickly. Before I could even get to the room, I was accosted not once but twice by young intern-age men who I presumed to be ushers. Both were decked out in Hillary gear, checked my ticket and asked if I needed a sticker while trying to hand me an H sticker. Keep in mind I was wearing a white Bernie button on a dark shirt, which would have been very hard to miss. I said a polite “No.” to the first one, and kept walking. When the second one tried to push a sticker at me, I became officially annoyed. I stopped dead in my tracks and looked back-and-forth between my Bernie button, and the usher's confused face, 4 or 5 times before he got the message, and showed me through the door. Was this kid there to staff the event, or was he a Hillary staffer who had somehow gained access to the entry for VIP ticket holders? If he was staffing the event, put on by the party as a whole, why was he being permitted to try and solicit Hillary stickers to people? If he was a Hillary staffer, how did he get permission (and who from?) to be where he was doing what he was doing? We will probably never know.

The VIP tickets were color coded. Specific seats were not assigned, but groups of seats were marked with a color that matched the tickets, and it didn't look like there was a pattern or anything. I was near the middle of the pack and when I got in a lot of seats were already taken. The first thing I noticed was that the seats came littered with Hillary paraphernalia. There was a pair of “thundersticks” (those annoying as hell tube balloon things people have had for clapping at events this year), and a Hillary sign, on all of the available seats but nothing for the other candidates. In fairness, it is entirely possible that people had been dumping their unwanted thundersticks onto the empty seats, but it looked like a good number of attendees in the VIP section still had them so I personally don't think this was the case. I also don't know if the “regular” seats were prepared this way. I moved the thundersticks and sign to the floor and took my seat. The seating position I got was deep in the bowels of the party establishment. I was seated in the third row, near the side of the row, but I was surrounded by party elders, state senators, former elected officials, out of state party vice chairs, DNC members, and so on. Almost all of them were wearing Hillary buttons or stickers. I felt slightly uncomfortable, but told myself that these people are professionals and we're all in the same party, at a party building event, so things would be cordial regardless of which primary candidate people were supporting. Oh boy, was I mistaken.

Bernie Sanders was the very first speaker, right after the state chairman Ray Buckley made his opening remarks to start the event. They introduced Bernie before he was ready, and there was a very long delay between the introduction and Bernie taking the stage. It was so long that they had to loop his intro music a second time. This is when the commentary started from the crowd seated near me (see the previous paragraph for a reminder of who I was sitting with). There were more than a few “old jokes” suggesting that he had gotten lost in the hallway, things like “Old people don't move so fast”, etc. Then Bernie made it out, and started his speech. Just about every single sentence was an applause line. However, most of that applause and chanting came from the back of the room in the “regular” seats. It was very very clear in the first 5 minutes that the 'VIP' section and the 'regular' section weren't the same crowd. I can't help but wonder how many of the other folks in the VIP section noticed this disconnect, or how many would have cared if they became aware of it. Anyway, Bernie went through his normal stump and was given ample time to finish. Throughout his entire set of remarks, there were snide and rude comments from the people around me accusing him of pandering, copycating Hillary (ironically, on issues where SHE “evolved” to adopt HIS positions….). All of this was said in hushed tones and I wouldn't have heard any of it if I was one or two more rows back; a lesson in what the establishment crowd says when they think they're in closed company. For a double dose of irony, I recognized some of these same people as folks who had posted on facebook about Bernie supporters “viciously attacking” Hillary Clinton (which means mentioning her record). Anyway, I made it a point to observe the dichotomy between the reaction of the “front” and “back” of the room to the three candidates, and it was pretty clear the two crowds were most certainly NOT on the same page. Only O'Malley seemed to get equal reactions from both, but I'll get to him in a moment. During the section of Bernie's speech when he got into foreign policy, one of the folks near me made one comment in particular that I felt was incredibly rude and accused Bernie of “only talking about commander in chief issues because of Hillary, if she wasn't in this his entire platform would be about tax hikes.” I came to the event prepared to support all three candidates. I was wearing my Bernie button, but it was an event put on by the NHDP which is ostensibly neutral in the primary so I figured it would be a good time to celebrate the choices we have and sadly learned how wrong I was. After Bernie was done, more rude comments such as “well at least THAT's over with, now we can get on to business.” A few state legislators and activists were then recognized with awards to some deserved fanfare. One of them took a jab at Maggie Hassan's stance on refugees (one of several such jabs during the course of the evening) which flew like a lead balloon with at least two of the folks seated near me who remarked to each other about how inappropriate his comment was. Remember that while reading the rest of this. 

The next featured guest was O'Malley who was well received by the VIP crowd. He made eye contact and waved with a few people near me, it was clear he had met a bunch of them during his frequent trips to NH before he officially declared. His remarks were pretty strong, and got an enormous amount of applause including more standing ovations than the other two candidates. His willingness to call out Trump and the NRA by name is refreshing, but he also went in to the other Democratic candidates. One line he gave, that he was “not a recovering socialist, or a recovering republican” was a pretty direct barb referencing Bernie's long time identification as a democratic socialist and Hillary's having campaigned for Barry Goldwater. There were zero rude or sarcastic comments from people in the VIP seating during O'Malley's speech, at least none that I heard. 

The event also featured Senator Shaheen, and Governor Hassan, as headline speakers. Both of whom took the opportunity to give a plug for Hillary, which I felt was incredibly inappropriate at a party-building event. Did any of the other VIP section people feel that was inappropriate? Would they have felt it inappropriate if one of the featured speakers came out for Bernie or O'Malley? At least a couple of them felt it was inappropriate to merely mention refugees in the presence of Maggie Hassan. There were more awards given out to activists and state legislators, during which time Hillary staffers started handing out signs and foam glowsticks. Stop for a minute let this sink in – Hillary staffers were given access to walk the other side of the ropeline up near the stage to hand out paraphernalia while awards were being handed out. It was so absolutely brazenly inappropriate that one of them was called out by Ray Buckley from the microphone (but not stopped in any way) as he was trying to give out an award. Would staffers for the other campaigns have been given the same level of floor access? Would they have been allowed to hand out goodies to the VIP section? (Not that anyone would have taken them.) Whats worse, before Hillary came out her staffers flooded the stage to setup a special glass of water for her (the unopened bottled water wasn't good enough I guess), move the stool around, leave a copy of her remarks up on the podium in a box (seriously – in a box, compared to Sanders who had a stapled bundle of papers and O'Malley who I'm pretty sure spoke from memory), and then dimmed the lights. The lead-in to Hillary was more built-up than the other candidates or guests, and she was the last speaker. The impromptu light tricks, and presence of the glowsticks handed out by her staff with questionable levels of access to the event, were all a pretty over the top shilling that I can't help but suspect would not have been extended to the other candidates if they had asked. Take a look at the picture with this article, and consider that the attendees brought absolutely none of those signs, glowsticks, or anything else, to their seats – all were handed out or placed on seats in advance. But I doubt the other campaigns DID ask if they could hand out materials– and that's a whole other point. The Hillary campaign saw a party building event as an opportunity to co-opt it into an event for THEIR campaign, and party unity be damned. It either didn't even cross their minds that it might be inappropriate (which lends to a sense of entitlement I can't begin to describe) or they just didn't care. Pick your poison, but either one will make you sick.

During Hillary's remarks, I noticed a few interesting things. She got comparatively little applause, and the majority of it came from the VIP section. People around me were making comments like “such a visionary!” after she announced policy positions that Bernie had made barely an hour earlier and gotten snide remarks for from these exact same people. I didn't stand or applaud for anything Hillary said. I had told myself going in that I was going to support all three candidates, but by this point I was just so tremendously offended by the conduct of the party insiders I was seated with and the way the event was seemingly structured to puff up Hillary, that my hands just couldn't find each other when it was time to clap. Sorry folks, I just couldn't do it, even though I liked most of what Hillary herself was saying.

I very honestly wonder how many of the people who put the JJ together understand that events like this are supposed to be for party building, not plugging their pet candidate. I very honestly wonder how many of the insiders in the VIP section would have recognized how inappropriate the structure, and their own remarks, were if they saw it third-person with different candidates. Most importantly, I very honestly wonder how many of these party insiders understand how out of touch they are with the base of the party in the “regular” seats. I wonder if they even care….

Photo by the author  


Janice K said...

You forgot the Hillary cookie cutters.

Andi Johnson said...

I was also at the event on Sunday. And, this is on the flip side.
First, I am a Hillary supporter. I was "accosted" by several Bernie supporters to take their buttons and stickers, even though I was prominently wearing my Hillary button.
I sat next to 3 Bernie supporters in the cheap seats. When Bernie came to the stage, none of us sat like logs. We applauded and agreed at appropriate times.
When O'Malley came up, we applauded and agreed at appropriate times. (It's important to note that we are all going to be together in the end...)
During everyone's speeches, not just the Presidential candidates, I noted that the Bernie supporters made snide comments to each other, out loud, and sat like logs for everyone EXCEPT Bernie. It was embarrassing. They were rude. (Not just the 3 around me, but in looking around to others.)
I'll also note here that every seat had both a Hillary sign and a Bernie sign, ready for whomever was going to be sitting in the seat. I did not rip the Bernie sign in my seat. The Bernie supporters next to me made a display of ripping up the Hillary signs.
It made me so sad. I've never seen such a display of rudeness. We are not like that.
I've been active in Democratic campaigns going back 35 years now.

nhblogger said...

In response to Andi, nothing you said invalidates the premise of the lady's post that there is at least a perception that the party is giving unfair favorable treatment to one candidate over the others.

In regards to the behavior you observed, with their candidate being marginalized at every possible opportunity by the party, and with the NHDP seeming to officially unofficially be supporting Hillary Clinton, gee I wonder why some of the Bernie people might be a little jaded about the Clinton campaign?

Adam Samuels said...

"JJ"? Your own political correctness seems to have spoiled your own event's name! Haha, priceless cognitive dissonance conundrum...maybe you should rename it to the "Lenin-Marx" dinner, or perhas "Mao-Guevara"??

susanthe said...

Oh, my. Red baiting from a Free Stater using a pseudonym. You're a profile in courage, "Adam."

Ray Buckley said...

There is just so much to respond to, not sure where to begin. I am willing to go point by point if there is an interest but for now let me address a few:
1. Roundtable reception: You missed that former Congresswoman Shea-Porter and Congressman Dick Swett, former Speaker Notelli and dozens of regular grassroots folks who either paid the price of the higher ticket or obtained a ticket from someone else, like you.
2. No member of the NHDP staff was engaged in any shape, form or manner in distributing any Hillary stickers info or assisting her campaigning. Each campaign had 10 all access staff credentials how each campaign used them was up to them. Your 'ushers' were Hillary staffers making sure their supporters went to their correct seats. That's it.
3. The thunderstickers were from the NEA-NH, they paid a sponsorship to be able to distribute them (anyone could as be a sponsor). Every campaign was permitted to put they wanted on the seats.
4.Apparently you didn't notice that I was mid-way in presenting the awards when I was approached by NHDP staffers from different directions telling me that Bernie's campaign was demanding that he speak immediately and to leave the stage. We accommodated the request. I left and we immediately introduced him. Obviously he wasn't ready as we all waited seven minutes for him to arrive on stage. It has nothing to do with trying to embarrass him.
5. The senator and the governor both acknowledged all three candidates for president and did not "plug" theirs.
6.Senator Sanders and Governor O'Malley used the teleprompter. Hillary (I was told) did not. Regarding Gene, please see my earlier answer about each campaign having 10 staff all access passes.
7. Party fundraisers are simply that - fundraisers. They are designed to raise the most amount of money possible to fund the NHDP budget. Conventions are about party building, all three candidates saw the JJ event as a way to showcase the strength of their candidate and campaign - nothing more. If they didn't, they should be fired.

So in the end, I only responded to about seven of the topics brought up but don't take that as an inability to do so. I'm not sure why the writer felt it important to be anonymous, seems odd to me.

Frankly, I have spoken to over a hundred JJ guests after the event including the state directors of all three campaigns and to a person the JJ event was universally praised--- which is highly unusual. While I always find criticism valuable so I am glad it was posted I wish it was a wee bit more fact based.