Star Herald: PI Democrats elect delegates, propose disability and Native American rights platforms at caucus

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PI Democrats elect delegates, propose disability and Native American rights platforms at caucus

Frank Bemis, left, Frederick Asam, center, and James Dunleavy, right, participate in the Presque Isle Democratic Party caucus on Sunday. (David Marino Jr. | The Star-Herald)

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Nearly 20 members of the Democratic Party caucused in Presque Isle Sunday afternoon, electing delegates to the state party convention, introducing themselves as candidates and submitting new platforms to be considered by the state party.

While the decisions made at this year’s caucus felt far more local than the national significance attached to previous presidential caucuses in Presque Isle, they will play an important role in the larger Democratic Party system in the month to come. 

The delegates chosen will be able to go to the Maine Democratic Party convention in Bangor May 29-30, where they will represent Presque Isle in helping to decide the state party’s platform. They will also help elect Maine’s delegation to the 2020 Democratic National Convention to be held July 13-16 in Milwaukee. 

Presque Isle lawyer Frank Bemis was the chairman of the caucus, leading participants as they voted on several procedural and policy issues. Attendees also elected him as the municipal chairman of the local party.

Members put forward several platforms that party members at the Maine Democratic convention will consider, with a focus on Native American and disability rights.

The disability rights platforms introduced were a legal requirement that disabled people receive the minimum wage and that active measures be taken to prevent discrimination against those with autism.

As for Native American matters, Presque Isle party members voted to propose a platform to “protect and defend” tribal sovereignty, as well as to work with tribal governments in fighting climate change.  

Participants also elected delegates to the state Democratic Party convention. Presque Isle has 14 delegates to the state convention, who will represent Presque Isle Democrats in a much larger state Democratic Party.

While delegates divided themselves into groups based on whom each supported for president — with Sanders receiving by far the most significant support — Bemis said dividing based on preferred candidates is primarily administrative. He said the primary goal of the delegate process is to represent the Star City at the state-level convention.

A few local candidates also showcased their platforms to potential voters and volunteers for their campaigns. Lavado, who was elected as vice chairman of the local party, said she was running for Maine House District 147, currently held by Rep. Harold Stewart III, R-Presque Isle.

Lavado described herself as a “dedicated community member” who wanted to represent Presque Isle’s under-represented groups in Augusta. Lavado founded HardScrabble Solutions in 2017 to provide resources to startups primarily run by women and low-income people in Aroostook County. 

Aroostook County Judge of Probate James Dunleavy said he was a “lifelong Democrat” who was the only Democrat ever to have held the position. 

Many participants noted the relatively high turnout and presence of young people in the caucus: about half of those attended appeared to be under 30. 

“That’s amazing to me, and I think really important for the longevity of democracy,” Lavado said.