At the age of 99, Betty Chaka of Richland attended her first caucus Saturday.
She came to support Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, saying he raised the issues that interest her.
Sanders would end up collecting the majority of delegates in Benton and Franklin counties Saturday, just as he did in all Mid-Columbia Counties and statewide in Washington.
Washington Democrats picked delegates Saturday for upcoming legislative conventions, with Sanders winning almost 73 percent of delegates and Hillary Clinton winning 27 percent.
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The Democratic party announced that Sanders won 78 percent of the delegates Saturday in Benton County and 80 percent of the delegates in Franklin County. Other Mid-Columbia counts included 76 percent support for Sanders in Yakima County, 71 percent in Walla Walla County, 77 percent in Columbia County, 79 percent in Grant County and 74 percent in Adams County.
Turnout was heavy at Tri-City caucus locations. At Richland High School, one of several Benton and Franklin county caucus sites, an estimated 1,000 people showed up to support their candidates.
Bob Parazin, a former Benton County Democratic Party chairman, said turnout looked comparable to the 2008 caucus. But what impressed him was the overall age of the crowd. Many millennials showed for the caucus, some of them who will only turn 18 in time for the November election.
People gathered at caucuses to “reject ugliness and divisiveness,” said Jaxon Ravens, the Democratic state chairman, in a letter read to caucus participants.
David Harvey, a precinct chairman, credited the strong turnout to fear of Republican candidate Donald Trump and what he stands for as the Republican’s conservative wing gains control of the party, he said.
Hillary Clinton is the status quo, into Wall Street and GMO’s.
Saturday was the first step in the Washington Democratic caucus system. Caucuses picked 27,170 delegates based on their support of either Sanders or Clinton. Through a series of legislative district, county district, congressional district and state caucuses, the number of delegates will be narrowed to 101, including some party leaders. They will represent Washington at the national convention.
Chaka voted for Sanders at Precinct 160, a north Richland precinct with 29 people who showed up at the Richland High School.
An initial vote showed that 20 people supporting Sanders, seven supporting Clinton and two undecided.
And then the speeches began, as Precinct 160 members made their cases to sway the undecideds or pull others to their candidates.
Korie Pyle, who came to the primary despite being just weeks away from her due date for twins, argued for Sanders. The nation needs a candidate who will not be thinking about how policies affect Wall Street, she said.
“Hillary Clinton is the status quo, into Wall Street and GMO’s,” said Ryan Pyle, who described himself as a “union guy.”
Isaac Lewis said he’s spent most of his life as an independent. But this election he registered as a Democrat. He believes Sanders will defend labor and the “little people,” people like Lewis who come from a union family, he said.
There is only one person running for president who has the resume that says she can do the job.
Michelle Prange said she respects Clinton, but she is a “polarizing person,” she said. She also was concerned that Clinton voted as a senator to authorize the war in Iraq, or at least to allow President George W. Bush to authorize the war, as others in the caucus described the vote. Prange’s brother was sent to war.
Chaka did not try to persuade her fellow Democrats to support Sanders, but said as the caucus concluded that she liked Sander’s support of the 99 percent rather than the top 1 percent of wealth holders in the nation.
Sanders supports raising the cap on Social Security and keeping pensions for elderly people, she said. She also supports his “Medicare for All” plan, or universal health care.
Clinton supporters countered with talk of her experience and policies.
“There is only one person running for president who has the resume that says she can do the job,” said Lucie Fritz.
Clinton’s on record defending and promoting human rights and women’s rights, said David Harvey.
“I think she has the best chance to beat Trump in November,” he said. Her background as an attorney, a first lady and a U.S. senator will help her reach across the aisle, he said.
Ed Miller said he was concerned about whether the United States could be a first class industrial nation without maximizing trade. Sanders has opposed free trade, he said.
It’s democracy in action. I love the spirit.
But no one was swayed to change a vote. The final tally remained the same, with two voters still undecided.
Precinct 160’s four delegates will include three for Sanders and one for Clinton.
“It’s democracy in action,” Chaka said at the end of her first caucus. “I love the spirit. It is like colonial times.”
She moved to the Tri-Cities from Cleveland a year ago, and Ohio does not hold caucuses, she said.
The caucus was crowded and noisy, the organizer’s microphone repeatedly wend dead and steps remain before the final delegates are decided.
“It is maybe a little awkward, but it works,” Chaka said. “Democracy is awkward, but it works.”