Misty-eyed and biting back his lips, Fred Hicks walked toward his wife at the back of a room awash in applause.
The Columbia clergyman had just stood in front of dozens of Missouri Democratic delegates pledged to North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and made his pitch to be allowed to cast a vote for the candidate at the Democratic National Convention this July in Boston.
But Hicks also promised he would do more than simply stand in as one of the 15 congressional district delegates Edwards won in Missouri’s Democratic primary. As a veteran of a previous national convention, Hicks told fellow delegates he would work out his political muscles in Boston — if not to help earn their man the No. 2 spot on the ticket, then at least to keep him involved in the national Democratic Party.
Hicks and two other Boone County residents — Boone County Collector Pat Lensmeyer and Columbia resident Elizabeth Kerry — were among the five Missouri delegates picked for the convention during the 9th Congressional District caucuses Thursday night at the Audrain County Courthouse in Mexico, Mo. Hicks and Elizabeth Kerry are pledged to Edwards; Lensmeyer is pledged to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
Of the 88 delegates Missouri sends to the Democratic National Convention, 48 plus eight alternates are selected from pools of congressional district delegates. At the state Democratic convention April 17 in Columbia, 16 more delegates and five alternates will be picked. All except the remaining “super delegates,” who are party leaders and elected officials, are pledged to vote at the national convention according to the percentages of popular votes won by Kerry and Edwards in the primary election.
Only candidates who won at least 15 percent of the primary votes get congressional delegates. Super delegates choose whom to vote for.
The role of the congressional delegate at national conventions, however, is more than a ceremonial raising of the hand, delegates said.
Caucuses, workshops and social gatherings allow delegates to take their issues straight to Democratic leaders and help set party platforms, 9th District delegates said. Some also look at the job as the beginning of a political career.
“Actually these are almost like mini-elections,” Jim Gardner, spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party, said of the caucuses. “I know several people who are seeking to be delegates, sending letters and receiving phone calls and campaigning for these positions.”
While serving as a delegate in the 2000 Democratic National Committee, Hicks said he spoke with Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman when the vice presidential candidate met with him and fellow members of the African-American caucus.
“He came in and addressed whatever issues I had, and the caucus, and I felt comfortable in my candidate,” Hicks said.
Rachel Brekhus, a librarian at MU’s Ellis Library, and her husband, Wayne Brekhus, an MU assistant professor of sociology, said they got involved in the caucuses so they could influence the candidates’ agendas.
“We’re very progressive,” Wayne Brekhus said. “What we want is a Democratic Party that doesn’t imitate Republicans.”
The Brekhuses, first-time caucus-goers, said they hope to pack the Democratic National Convention with as many Boone County delegates as possible because their stances are all far enough to the left to suit the Brekhuses’ taste.
At earlier legislative and county-level caucuses, low turnout meant nearly everyone was a de facto delegate. But that made the Brekhuses even more excited about the process.
“We’d thought we would have to fight and make speeches,” Rachel Brekhus said. “But everyone who went, even people we just dragged along who are Green Party people, got to go on to the next level.”
Turnout wasn’t much of a problem at the congressional caucus, although a few alternates did fill in for delegates.
Delegates poured into the courthouse before the event began, and the basement rooms were filled with the mild roar of Missouri Democrats mingling.
9th District Congressional Caucus Chairman Jason Woods of Franklin County said he was proud to see so many delegates turn out for the event, which he thinks is an important part of the political process.
“What we do today will affect Missouri for 20 years,” he said.