Fay Herold, a delegate at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention, expresses concerns about a proposed change to the party’s platform on Saturday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Fay Herold, a delegate at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention, expresses concerns about a proposed change to the party’s platform on Saturday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Alaska Democrats gather in Juneau to make party plans for national convention in Chicago

Peltola, national party chairman among speakers; delegates get advice from protester at 1968 event.

Ed Wesley was among the protesters at the historic 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, so as an Alaska delegate returning to that city for this year’s convention he has plenty of expertise to offer other delegates for an event some pundits say could see comparable turmoil.

Wesley, who at age 17 was protesting the Vietnam War and seeking to lower the voting age to 18 at the 1968 convention, has been an activist on multiple levels in the decades since, including serving as the state Democratic Party’s national committee chair and president of the Alaska NAACP.

Ed Wesley, a delegate at the upcoming 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, tells fellow delegates about his experiences as a protester during the 1968 convention in that city during the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention on Sunday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Ed Wesley, a delegate at the upcoming 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, tells fellow delegates about his experiences as a protester during the 1968 convention in that city during the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention on Sunday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

During the past weekend Wesley was among dozens of party leaders gathering in Juneau for the Alaska Democratic Convention, where delegates to the national convention were elected, and featured speakers included Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola as she seeks a second full term and Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison.

“One of the things that I would recommend is that if you’re deciding you’re going to go out of your hotel and you’re going somewhere let someone know where you’re going so that way we can check on you,” he told the national delegates during a Sunday morning briefing focusing on practical aspects of the event such as security, hotel arrangements and convention floor schedules. “Also, if you can just be with someone that’s a good idea with the two of you out there. But it’s pretty safe in downtown Chicago. It’s when you go into some of the outlying areas that you can get into trouble.”

Also, he emphasized, “whatever you do make sure you go to the Magnificent Mile,” referring to the city’s famously upscale commercial district.

A tense convention scene is expected due to the almost certain rematch of President Joe Biden against former President Donald Trump, and widespread protests frequently targeting Biden that have become particularly tumultuous in recent weeks due to ongoing hostilities in Gaza that supporters of both Israel and Palestine are faulting the president for.

Wesley, in an interview after the meeting, said where the setting is the same as when he was a protester, the situation is different.

“Back then it was a bit more free-flowing where they had different delegations and people just kind of free-flowing, and (Mayor Richard Daley) was running things back then,” he said. “But now it’s controlled, it’s very different. Now outside there’s gonna be a lot of protests. There’s always a lot of protests at conventions. This time I suspect there will be two: one will be pertaining to the Palestinian issue if that’s still going on and the other one would be the climate.”

A supporter takes a photo of U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola during her speech at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention Saturday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A supporter takes a photo of U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola during her speech at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention Saturday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Alaska is sending 20 delegates and two alternates, including several Juneau residents, to the convention. Among the local delegates is Brenda Knapp, who attended the 2012 and 2016 national conventions, and is the state party’s national committee chair. She said there were tense moments in 2016 due to the split between supporters of nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders who fell short as a challenger, but those ultimately were smoothed over between the two principals.

“I think because of the rematch between Biden and Trump, and the divisiveness of the country, and the relatively low ratings of both of them I think there’s going to be so much going on outside from the Republican camps — the MAGA section — that it’s going to feel like a contested election between our own candidates,” she said. “I mean there’s going to be things that will be responded to and there’s probably going to be lots of demonstrations.”

“I don’t think there’ll be any police beating people on the heads. But I do expect a lot of energy outside the stadium where we will be.”

The Alaska Republican Party held its convention in Anchorage last month, with about 300 attendees selecting its party representatives and hearing keynote speeches from Peltola’s two main GOP challengers, Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom and Nick Begich III. The party did not endorse a candidate and due to Alaska’s open primary system, where the top four candidates advance to the general election regardless of party, a fall matchup that includes Dahlstrom, Begich and Peltola is nearly inevitable.

The winner will be determined by ranked choice voting, currently used only by Alaska and Maine for statewide and presidential races, which some observers have said may have helped Peltola and other candidates perceived as more moderate than their opponents during Alaska’s first elections with the methodology in 2022.

Because such voting is being considered by numerous other states and/or municipalities within them it’s among the key national issues where “we need to have some talking points on them,” said Lindsay Kavanaugh, executive director for the Alaska Democratic Party since 2019, during Sunday’s meeting.

State Rep. Alyse Galvin, an Anchorage independent, and a canine companion listen to a speech by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola during the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention Saturday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. Galvin was among the unaffiliated officials who showed up as supporters of the campaign. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

State Rep. Alyse Galvin, an Anchorage independent, and a canine companion listen to a speech by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola during the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention Saturday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. Galvin was among the unaffiliated officials who showed up as supporters of the campaign. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The race for Alaska’s lone congressional seat is among the most “targeted” in the country since Peltola became the first Democrat elected to the seat in 50 years in what is generally considered a “red” state that has favored Republican candidates in every presidential election since 1968. However, the Cook Political Report as of May 7 rates the race as “lean Democrat” and the $4.5 million raised by Peltola as of her most recent campaign finance report is more than four times the combined total of Begich and Dahlstrom.

Peltola, during her speech at the state convention Friday, said the challenges of both the job and campaign are “even harder than you could imagine because we live in unprecedented times.”

“I really don’t care to make predictions, especially in the scenario that we’re in now where crazy things just happen every day,” she said, referring to what she called an uphill campaign battle.

While reciting a list of claimed achievements during the past two years the first — besides being the first woman to Alaska’s House seat and first Alaska Native representative — focused on energy, which is likely to be among the most heated issues for her during the campaign.

“Since 2022 we’ve made the largest investment in renewable energy in American history, so much that if we keep this up 75% of Alaskans can be powered by 85% renewable energy by 2035,” she said.

But Peltola has incurred the wrath of some within her party and environmental/climate advocates for actions such as supporting the development of the Willow oil field on the North Slope, which she also cites as one of her biggest accomplishments in office. Conversely, she recently declined to support an Arctic drilling bill she previously supported (casting a “present” vote most recently) citing concerns related to fishing communities, making it one of the issues Republican party officials say they will use against her during the campaign.

The divisiveness of energy as an issue within the party was evident during debate about the state party’s political platform on Saturday, when a proposal to tone down a provision calling for an end to new fossil fuel projects was debated at length before it was voted down by roughly a 2-1 margin. Many Democrats in Alaska are more supportive of oil drilling than is typical at the national level due to it being a cornerstone of the state’s economy.

Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison greets the spouse of a party supporter via cell phone during the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention on Friday night at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison greets the spouse of a party supporter via cell phone during the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention on Friday night at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The national party’s outlook on Alaska was offered during Friday night’s speech by Harrison, who as the DNC chair called Alaska a “purple state” due to gains made such as Peltola’s election to Congress and multiple state legislators elected as independents attending the convention as supporters. He also emphasized the heightened importance of contested races such as Peltola’s due to the current four-seat Republican edge in the House (217-213, with five seats vacant as of Monday).

“She’s going to win and she’s going to win because she understands what true leadership is,” he said. “She is listening to the people of Alaska and serving their needs. She brings together folks from different points of view and different backgrounds. But most importantly, folks, she delivers. But the one thing that we have to understand is that we can’t take anything for granted. We can’t assume that her seat or any other seat is safe. We have to continue to work together to elect Rep. Peltola and every other Democrat on the table. And that is how a purple state flips to a blue state.”

Besides Knapp, other Juneau residents who will be national delegates are state Rep. Sara Hannan, Kimberly Metcalfe-Helmar, a superdelegate from Alaska during the 2016 convention; Nadine Lefebvre, president of the Juneau Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO; and Monica Southworth, a research/bargaining specialist for NEA-Alaska; and Palmer Lane, the youngest member of the local delegation who is newly involved with the state party. Also attending the convention from Juneau is Willie Anderson, a staff representative for NEA-Alaska, as one of three standing convention committee members from Alaska.

Among the practical considerations for the trip to Chicago is the state’s designated convention hotel costs $450 a night, “so think about if you want a roommate,” Kavanaugh said.

“We’re not going to be there that much — let’s face it, you’re going to be there for about five minutes every night,” she said.

Delegation groups from various states and territories will have different partners each day during breakfasts to get to know each other, with Alaska’s partners including Hawaii, New Mexico and Guam. The breakfasts are also when daily credentials are passed out which, along with other security measures, are extremely tight.

“Do not lose your credentials,” Knapp said. “They will not be replaced and you will be without them for the rest of the day.”

The strict security is due to Secret Service requirements, even though all of the delegates will have been pre-screened, Kavanaugh said.

“We’re going to ask you for a lot of information all the time,” she said. “Please don’t get frustrated with us.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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