Published August 25, 2012
South Sound delegates head east to support Romney, ObamaBRAD SHANNON
Washington might look like a blue state on national electoral maps, but Garry Holland of Olympia wasn’t the slightest bit discouraged as he packed for the national Republican Party convention in Tampa, Fla., that starts Monday. Holland, a state employee who got help from other Mitt Romney supporters in Thurston County to defray some of his travel costs, said the GOP ticket faces an uphill challenge in this state. But he holds out hope, saying activists are noticing more Romney support than they anticipated. “I think the election is in a lot of flux. We’re excited. Even here we’re just starting to put out yard signs and do the things we need to do. There’s always a possibility we’ll see a surge toward Romney at the end,’’ he said. Holland is just one of about two dozen South Sound residents heading to national political conventions this weekend and the next. Washington Republicans are sending about 80 delegates and alternates to Tampa, including 11 from Pierce and Thurston counties. Among them are Secretary of State Sam Reed, who says he is going for the first time, and former Pierce County Republican chairwoman Jane Milhans of University Place. On the other side of the aisle, Washington Democrats are sending 139 delegates, alternates and credentialing committee members to their convention which runs Sept. 3-6 in Charlotte, N.C. At least 15 are from South Sound – not counting Gov. Chris Gregoire, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Tacoma and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks of Bremerton, who are attending by virtue of their elected positions. The Democrats’ delegation includes repeat convention-goers, such as Sharon Winesberry, a retired military veteran from Steilacoom who attended the national convention in 2008 as a Barack Obama delegate, and newcomers, such as 18-year-old Michael Snodgrass of Olympia. “I’m still enthused about Obama. The enthusiasm is even more – because I see what he’s tried to do and has done so far,” Winesberry said, praising the passage of a health reform law that is giving some of her relatives and friends assurance of health coverage. “Being a veteran, I know that he is looking out for the best interests of those that are active duty as well as those who are veterans.” Winesberry said President Obama needs a second term to finish his work on the economy, and she believes he will win. But if he loses, she says: “If we think we were hurting when Bush was in office, it’s really going to be a disaster.’’ Winesberry will roll up her sleeves while in Charlotte. She said she is joining other Democratic delegates to build a home for a veteran – part of an effort on Sept. 3 that includes Ty Pennington, former host of the “Extreme Makeover” home renovation show. A similar event is planned at the Republican convention this week. As thrilled as Winesberry is with Obama, Milhans is skeptical – believing Romney and Ryan have a better grasp of the economy and a better awareness of what tax increases can do to hiring at a time the nation needs jobs. “The economy and the jobs is my No. 1 thing. I work in the financial industry and I was laid off for a couple of years,” Milhans said, noting that a lot of friends also lost jobs in banking. “I’d like people to get back to work. Once they have money in their pockets they can spend it. A lot of people I know like to help out those less fortunate but feel a bit stifled right now.’’ Milhans’ past activism included leading an initiative to try repealing gas tax increases in 2005, and she attended the 2004 convention in New York City, which took place amid heightened security concerns. After landing in Tampa on Wednesday, she was taking stock of reports about hurricanes and was getting adjusted to high humidity. “I’ve got my camera. I’ve got my little tablet. If there is Wi-Fi access (inside the convention) I may try to blog,” Milhans said, adding that she wants to soak up the excitement and expects “a very upbeat convention.” She also is looking forward to hearing U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane speak to the convention on Monday night. “It’ll put Washington on the map a little bit,’’ Milhans said. Reed said he also is looking forward to the speeches, having had to stay home and watch them on TV because he usually stayed home to campaign during most of his career. “I do think it’s Romney’s chance to make his case and show what kind of person he is,” Reed said, noting that Republicans portrayed Romney as a liberal during the primaries while Democrats are working hard to paint him as far to the right. Garry Holland said he likes that Romney picked conservative U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a budget expert from Wisconsin, as his running mate. Holland says he thinks Ryan can help spark a discussion on changing the country’s course on deficit spending. But Snodgrass said he believes Obama can do more to provide opportunities for young people than Romney would. Although his college costs are largely paid through his participation in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, many of his friends are facing big debts that he thinks Obama and Democrats are more concerned about than Romney is. Snodgrass, who met Obama earlier this year while doing an internship for congressional candidate Denny Heck, is one of the youngest delegates for either party. The recent graduate of Olympia High School will begin classes at Gonzaga University on Tuesday before rushing off to Charlotte. During the convention, Snodgrass plans to blog and take pictures. He also is hoping to pick up tips for grass-roots organizing – which he hopes to do during the fall campaigns while in school. “I want to bring that excitement back. I think a lot of delegates go for the experience and they don’t bring it back,’’ Snodgrass said.