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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Sanders Supporters Weigh 'Bernie Or Bust' Or Clinton At Washington Convention

Washington Democrats are gathering this weekend in Tacoma for their state convention. Just like with the state Republican convention in Pasco last month, Democrats are a party divided. Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee. But Bernie Sanders supporters represent the majority of delegates.

Convention planners hope for a smooth process while convention-goers are trying to make sense of these strange times.

It was a little bit chaotic at the convention check-in tables Friday morning. Convention attendees were having a hard time figuring out which line to get in to get their name tags. Noel Frame said she hopes that’s about as unruly as this convention gets.

“I don’t anticipate major concern, major chaos,” she said.

Frame is a Democratic state representative from Seattle and Bernie Sanders supporter. She’s also expected to be elected chair of this convention -- normally a job that defaults to the chair of the party.

Convention chaos?

But this year is different. Sanders swept Washington’s Democratic caucuses. That means his supporters are the dominant force here at the convention.

Frame knows part of her role will be to keep the peace.

“You know there are a lot of people that are very new to the process and are understandably a little let down at this point,” Frame said. “And I think having somebody running the room that can be responsive to that real emotion but also have a firm hand and keep the room in order is going to be critical to us being able to move through our agenda.”

Things didn’t go smoothly last month at the Nevada Democratic convention. That’s when the proceedings devolved into shouting and protests when Sanders supporters felt the process was rigged.

But Sanders delegate Learner Limbach of Orcas Island doesn’t expect a repeat of that in Tacoma.

“You know, I expect because the Bernie campaign has the large majority already that it’s going to be a lot more peaceful than, say, Nevada,” Limbach said.

But that doesn’t mean Limbach is ready to accept that a Clinton nomination at the national convention in Philadelphia this summer is a fait accompli.

“Right now he’s still in it, he’s still going to the national convention so until he signals that we’re doing something else, that’s what I’m doing,” Limbach said. “We’re going to the convention, we’re trying to create the most progressive platform as we can and still in it for the nomination as long as there are states that haven’t certified their results yet.”

Washington state will send 118 delegates to the national convention in July. Most were already selected at Congressional district caucuses in May. The remaining national delegates will be chosen at the state convention this weekend.

‘I’m still at I don’t know’

Sitting next to Limbach was another Sanders supporter, Johanna Baxter. She’s feeling more torn.

“Do I stay with Bernie, do I go with the Hillary vote and I’m just, I don’t know,” Baxter said. “I’m still at I don’t know.”

Baxter hopes this convention helps her make up her mind.

Donna Burdick came to the state convention with a crocheted version of Bernie Sanders on her arm.

“And he has a shirt on and a bird on his shoulder," she said. "I made him in a few days to bring to the conventions.”

Burdick is a Sanders delegate to this convention. Her top issues: universal health care and putting more money into mental health as a way to reduce mass shootings. Burdick is not yet ready to forsake her first choice candidate for the presumptive nominee.

“Right now I’m not feeling like I’m going to support Hillary,” Burdick said. “I’d like to see her come further towards us, the problem is she can talk but will she do what she says.”

Sanders backers do intend to make their mark here. For one thing, they plan to pass a resolution calling on the national Democratic Party to eliminate so-called super delegates. These are elected officials and other party insiders who are not bound to a particular candidate.

Clinton’s minority support

Even though Sanders may have the numbers at this convention, there are Clinton supporters to be found. Among them was Karin Troger who said there are things she likes about Sanders.

“But I come from another country, socialistic, and his ideas sound that way,” Troger said. “And I think it’s a great thing, but in this country this will never pass. I don’t believe people will go for that.”

Troger’s friend Jeanne Kramer also likes some of what Sanders stands for. But she questions whether he’s up to the job.

“I feel like his age is against him because can he take all the stress in the next four years, I don’t think he could,” Kramer said. “I think Hillary can. And also she has Bill behind her. That helps.”

Plus, she added, it’s a time for woman in the White House.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."