Convention recollections (Sept., 11, 2008)

Residents attend party gatherings

Sept. 11, 2008
By Greg Elias
Observer staff

For Chris Roy, the Republican convention affirmed his longstanding support for the party’s presidential nominee. For Taylor Bates, the Democratic convention provided a political education.

Both Willistonians recently attended their parties’ national gatherings.

Roy, co-chairman of McCain’s Vermont campaign, was on hand for the Republican convention held Sept. 1-4 in Minneapolis-St. Paul.


    Courtesy photo
Taylor Bates poses with Vermont Rep. Peter Welch during the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Bates, 18, was one of the youngest delegates at the Democratic National Convention, held Aug. 25-28 in Denver.

The Observer asked about their impressions of the national party gatherings. Given the difference in their ages and levels of political experience, Bates and Roy unsurprisingly took away very different things from the conventions.

Republicans: loyalty rewarded

Last week’s Republican convention was Chris Roy’s second. He also attended the convention held in 2000 in Philadelphia.

That was a year after Roy began his involvement in McCain’s political efforts in Vermont. McCain of course failed to win the nomination then, so Roy said it was especially gratifying to see his candidate emerge victorious this time.

“It was great being there for the final roll call, hearing state (after) state calling out his name,” Roy said. “I’ve been doing this for years and it was nice to finally get to that point.”

Roy, an alternate delegate, attended the convention as part of the 31-member Vermont delegation.

Not surprisingly, Roy ranked the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for vice president as the convention’s highlight. The surprise announcement energized what was expected to be a routine convention.

The selection wasn’t immediately welcomed by some Republicans, Roy said. It was only after her speech that support for Palin was cemented.

Roy said he wasn’t entirely surprised by the selection. He said he had been telling people that she might be picked based on his experience with the campaign and McCain’s tendency to defy expectations.

Critics say McCain failed to thoroughly vet Palin. In the days following her selection, there were revelations about questionable decisions as governor and the pregnancy of her teenage daughter.

But Roy thinks those things came as no surprise to McCain. While acknowledging he has no special access to the campaign’s inner workings, Roy believes that McCain knew about Palin’s record and family and still concluded she was the best pick.

“There are a lot of people in the media that cannot imagine that someone would do all research, and, having thought about it, still select Sarah Palin,” he said. “He tends to rely on his gut instincts, good and bad, which tends to drive some people up the wall.”

Roy, 43, is married and has three children. He is a lawyer with Downs Rachlin Martin in Burlington and serves on the Williston Selectboard.

Unlike many delegates, Roy said he skipped most after-hours activities. His lone nighttime activity was a concert by the classic rock band Styx.

“I had more interest in what was going on during the day than staying out until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning,” he said.

Besides, he added with a chuckle, he no longer has the energy of the younger delegates.

Democrats: energy and networking

Bates graduated from Champlain Valley Union High School in the spring and now attends Tufts University. He is the son of Dennis Bates and Ann Hazelrigg of Williston.

Bates was selected as a Vermont delegate after a short but intense campaign. The effort included baking 600 brownies and distributing them at the state Democratic convention.

His selection to the 27-member delegation made him one of the youngest to attend the national convention. Only 30 delegates were age 18 or younger, according to the Denver Post.

Bates was impressed by the enthusiasm and energy of his fellow delegates.

“As the cliché goes, we were revved up and ready to go,” he said.

Bates, along with the rest of the delegation, enjoyed front-row seats at the Pepsi Center in Denver. He attributed the prime placement to Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who now serves as the national party chairman.

Bates participated in the party’s efforts to hold a “green” convention. He chipped in $200 to buy carbon credits to offset the impact on the environment the Vermont delegation had by flying to Denver.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had challenged delegations to be carbon neutral and organized a contest. Vermont came in second behind California.

Bates said he was surprised by the amount of networking going on during the week. Despite feeling “awestruck” and being younger than most, Bates said he too tried to introduce himself to as many new people as possible.

“Everybody was trying to meet everyone else,” he said. “That’s really a big skill in politics, trying to create a web of political connections.”

Bates met the state’s leading Democrats, including Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch. He attended a breakfast event hosted by Leahy and got to shake hands with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and comedian Al Franken of “Saturday Night Live” fame.

The speech by Barack Obama was the highlight of the convention for Bates. He said the speech at the sold-out, 75,000-seat Invesco Field at Mile High — home of the Denver Broncos — combined an inspirational message and policy specifics. And again, he had a good view, sitting at the 35-yard-line, not far from the stage in the middle of the field.

Bates thinks the convention may one day be viewed by historians as the beginning of a long-term change in American politics.

“There was just the sense of history in the room,” he said. “Some day someone will look back on it as the beginning of one of the great changes of the 21st century.”