A wave of Bernie Sanders supporters who joined the ranks of Thurston County Democrats in recent months have put elected officials on notice: Oppose the 12-country trade agreement known as the the Trans Pacific Partnership or risk losing our support.
That message was loud and clear last week when Thurston County Democrats voted not to endorse two Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation, Rep. Denny Heck of Olympia and Sen. Patty Murray, in a meeting flush with new members.
Heck and Murray are up for re-election this year and have yet to announce if they support the trade pact. That indecision was enough to put the pair in the doghouse.
“If (Heck) wants me to respect his refusal to make a decision, he has to respect that we’re not going to endorse him,” said Jessica Blose, a Sanders supporter living in Olympia who was a delegate for the senator from Vermont at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
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Blose joined the organization this year. There’s also a large number of new precinct committee officers this year, according to several voting members of the organization interviewed by The News Tribune and The Olympian. Many backed Sanders over presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the state caucus.
Opposition to the TPP among the Democratic organization partially stems from a controversial aspect of the trade agreement that allows companies to challenge regulations, rules, government court rulings and more in a tribunal organized by the World Bank or the United Nations. Many Democrats have said the tribunals protect the interests of large corporations over health, safety or the environment.
“I am adamantly opposed to the TPP, and I do believe it is the biggest issue of my lifetime,” said Thurston County Democrats chairwoman Katie Nelson, who missed the endorsement meeting. “The people that voted against the endorsement feel very much that same way.”
The United States Trade Representative’s Office argues the tribunal setup has existed in other trade operations before and won’t have negative consequences.
Congress still has to decide whether to approve the trade agreement before it goes into effect. President Barack Obama has pushed for a vote on the pact after the November election.
Though undecided about the TPP, Murray voted for President Barack Obama’s Trade Promotion Authority, which enhanced Obama’s authority to negotiate trade agreements. This “fast track” authority was seen as a key step toward approval for the TPP. Heck voted against granting that authority.
The trade agreement is widely unpopular inside the Thurston organization, but not everyone in the Thurston County Democrats was onboard with the failed endorsements, Nelson said.
Some people pushed to support the Democrats, or “blue no matter who,” Nelson said, instead of holding candidates’ feet to the fire in an effort to keep them closer to the party platform.
“Some people are very upset about it,” she said.
Hillary Hunt, daughter of Democratic state Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia and a longtime PCO for the organization, wouldn’t comment on the TPP but said it didn’t affect her vote to endorse Heck and Murray.
“Compared to their opposition, they are fantastic candidates who largely align with my beliefs as a Democrat,” she said, later adding: “I like to look at the whole candidate when I make my choice, not just a single issue.”
Murray is running against Republican Chris Vance. Heck is facing Republican Jim Postma in Washington’s 10th Congressional District.
If losing the endorsement of his hometown party organization stung, Heck’s re-election campaign didn’t let on. Heck’s spokeswoman, Sophie Doumit, wrote in an emailed statement that “disagreements are a healthy part of our political process.”
“Denny is glad to be the official Democratic nominee of the Washington State Democratic Party,” she wrote, in part.
A message to a Murray campaign spokeswoman wasn’t returned.
The Thurston County Democrats aren’t the only liberals around the state to put pressure on elected officials for supporting Clinton or for their stance on TPP.
A Gig Harbor attorney this year tried to block Democratic superdelegates from getting campaign money from the state Democratic Party if they supported Clinton.
And Seattlepi.com reported the Washington State Labor Council in May denied endorsements to Murray and Democratic Reps. Suzan DelBene of Medina, Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor and Rick Larsen of Everett for voting “yes” on the “fast track” authority for the White House.
The Thurston County Democrats’ move is a statement against politicians who don’t follow their party’s supporters, Blose said.
“I just think it’s no longer something people are willing to accept,” she said.