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December 16, 2017

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Days after ugliness in Nevada, Democrats still show few signs of healing

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Christopher DeVargas

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters attend the state Democratic Party convention Saturday, May 14, 2016, at Paris Las Vegas.

The melee at the Nevada State Democratic Convention on Saturday continued to echo across the nation on Wednesday.

In a storyline that has played out in national media, the clash spiraled into a spat between the Sanders campaign and the Nevada state Democratic Party and left Sanders taking fire from some of his fellow senators for not taking a stronger stance against the threats of violence made by some of his supporters in the wake of the convention.

Among the more recent developments, California Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Hillary Clinton supporter who attended the Saturday convention, told CNN that she had spoken with Sanders on Tuesday night to express her concerns about the convention, where she said she “feared for her safety.”

"It was a scary situation," Boxer said. "It was frightening. I was on the stage. People were 6 feet away from me. If I didn't have a lot of security, I don't know what would have happened."

At the heart of the issue are thousands of death threats and misogynistic insults that the state party's chair, Roberta Lange, received via text messages and voice mails since Saturday after her cellphone number and other contact information were disseminated by some Sanders supporters online. On Sunday, the grievances of Sanders supporters were scrawled in chalk on the walls and sidewalks around the state party’s offices in Las Vegas.

The party filed a complaint Monday afternoon with the Democratic National Committee, accusing the Sanders campaign of “inciting disruption” at the convention and warning that the state convention and its aftermath could be a “harbinger of things to come” at the national convention in Philadelphia in July.

“We write to alert you to what we perceive as the Sanders campaign’s penchant for extra-parliamentary behavior — indeed, actual violence — in place of democratic conduct in a convention setting, and furthermore what we can only describe as their encouragement of, and complicity in, a very dangerous atmosphere that ended in chaos and physical threats to fellow Democrats,” wrote Bradley Schrager, an attorney for the state party, in a letter to the DNC.

When Sanders broke his silence and issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon, it was largely to accuse the state party of stifling a “fair and transparent process” and repeat a number of allegations that his supporters have made against the state party.

Sanders called the assertion by the state Democratic Party that his campaign is predisposed to violence “nonsense” and offered what was perceived by some of his fellow senators as a tepid condemnation of the aftermath of the convention that only came mid-way through his lengthy statement.

“Our campaign has held giant rallies all across this country, including in high-crime areas, and there have been zero reports of violence,” Sanders said. “Our campaign of course believes in nonviolent change, and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals.”

The DNC responded to the party’s complaint Tuesday morning saying it was “deeply concerned” about the details the party laid out and that it would reach out to both campaigns to ask them to denounce the “threatening and violent” behavior that occurred following the convention.

“There is no excuse for what happened in Nevada, and it is incumbent upon all of us in positions of leadership to speak out,” said DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said in a CNN interview on Tuesday that he was “surprised” by the statement Sanders put out, saying that he thought Sanders “was going to do something different.”

“Bernie should say something and not have some silly statement,” Reid said. “Bernie is better than that. He should say something about this, not have some statement someone else prepared for him.”

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Reid told Sanders, “If you want the two damn delegates, you can have them” — referring to the two delegates that were essentially in play on Saturday between the two candidates.

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine was similarly critical of Sanders’ response.

"What he did yesterday was sort of say it's the party's fault," Kaine told CNN. "That deflection of responsibility is not leadership."

Aside from the response to the threats of violence, the state party has taken issue with allegations that the Sanders campaign has continued to make against it.

“(Sanders campaign manager) Jeff Weaver’s allegations against the state party this morning are blatantly false, and his refusal to apologize for the death threats and harassment against our state party chair that his campaign incited on Saturday is unacceptable,” said the state party’s executive director Zach Zaragosa in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

The party additionally sent out a three-page response rebutting claims made by Weaver on national television on Tuesday.

Among those claims:

• That the state party changed the rules to “shut people out of the debate.” The rules, however, are essentially the same to those in years past and that the campaign expressed no formal concern to party leadership over the rules, the state party has said.

• That a voice vote of the convention was clearly a “no” vote. Two early votes of the convention were clearly divided between Clinton and Sanders supporters, who voted yay and nay, respectively. The Sanders supporters were arguably louder in shouting their “nays;” however, there were more Clinton delegates in the room, suggesting that the Clinton supporters and their “yay” votes should have prevailed.

• That there were not enough chairs for everyone at the convention. There was space for 4,300 people in the main convention hall, according to the state party, but only 3,358 showed up.

• That the state party refused to allow all of Sanders’ delegates to be seated. The state party said that of 64 potential Sanders delegates, only eight delegates showed up and attempted to register at the state convention, and six were seated after investigation. The remaining 58 delegates had failed to provide missing identification information or were not registered Democrats by May 1. Additionally, the credentials committee, the body charged with looking into delegate issues, was made up of five Clinton and five Sanders supporters.

The party has also said Clinton prevailed overall in securing delegates at the state convention because her campaign’s turnout operation was superior — not because the convention was in any way rigged — and the numbers back up that assertion.

Despite having won the popular vote of the caucuses, Clinton was allotted only 1,722 delegates to Sanders’ 2,124 to the state convention. That’s because Sanders had a superior turnout to the county conventions — including the Clark County Convention, where Sanders had about 600 more delegates show up than Clinton.

Of the delegate spots to the state convention, Clinton left only 27 delegate seats vacant, where Sanders left 462 empty. Because there were more bodies in the room supporting Clinton, she won seven of the 12 delegates that were up for grabs at the state convention.

State party leaders had hoped that the convention would be a unifying event for Sanders and Clinton supporters, but the last few days have left some Democratic leaders worried that the party won’t heal its wounds before Philadelphia.

“One thing I hope that you can all agree with me on is that this contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has made us all proud to be Democrats,” Lange had said in her opening remarks as convention chair on Saturday. “The primary has energized our party because both of our candidates have consistently offered strong, well-thought-out visions to move America forward.”

At that point, however, tensions between the state party and some Sanders supporters had long ago become strained.

Some Sanders supporters had sued the state party over a deadline for party office, circulated a petition online advocating for changes to the party’s convention rules, and alleged that the party’s chair, Roberta Lange, would not be neutral in her role as convention chair. The state party, in turn, had characterized that group as “disgruntled activists who have chosen disruption over unity.”

As emotions began to boil over at the convention, a couple of Sanders’ prominent supporters, including former Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, tried to urge calm. But by then, a crowd of several dozen Sanders supporters — a small minority of about 1,600 total — had already gathered around the stage to protest the way the convention was being run, a few of them hurling insults at the party leaders who sat there.

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