‘Reporting for duty’

After days at convention, Mo. delegates energized
Friday, July 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:40 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

The Democratic National Convention was winding down with one final night of speeches Thursday in Boston, but some local delegates said that the real work — getting their man elected — was just about to begin.

“I think that it’s incredible to be here, with all of the excitement and color, but basically, I think that the deeper on-going purpose has to do with energizing the people that work at the grass-roots level and inspire our Missourians with a hopeful message that we have the power to restore our faith and confidence in government,” said delegate Elizabeth Kerry of Columbia, who is not related to Sen. John Kerry.

And what does Elizabeth Kerry mean by “energizing the people?”

Research the candidates. Staff the phone banks. Go door-to-door. Get people registered to vote.

Another Columbia delegate, Boone County Collector Patricia Lensmeyer, said she also wanted to share John Kerry’s message with potential voters locally.

Lensmeyer said Columbia, with its central focus on education, should be especially interested in John Kerry’s message on education reform and the No Child Left Behind Act, a part of his platform that particularly interests her.

“I think the government has an opportunity with Sen. Kerry and, hopefully, President Kerry to elevate education and get some more funding,” Lensmeyer said.

Both delegates sounded energized after their few days in Boston.

“You go to the Fleet Center and you’re almost overwhelmed,” Elizabeth Kerry said. “The music is playing, flags are waving ... just being there is something that every American should participate in at some point in his or her life.”

Lensmeyer said she appreciated the humanizing quality of this chance to see the candidates.

“John Kerry’s brother spoke to us at our breakfast meeting, and it was kind of a down-to-earth, heartwarming experience to sit there within 12 feet of John Kerry’s family member, his brother, and hear him just talk about family things,” Lensmeyer said. “It’s far better than watching television or reading about it in the newspaper. It makes it all very real.”

It was all a little surreal for another delegate, Donna Cushman of Kansas City, who served as a fill-in for Rep. Dick Gephardt to open Missouri’s delegate vote. First-time delegate Cushman made the opening remarks for the delegation’s presidential vote or “roll call” as its known on the convention floor.

Normally, the position would go to the delegation chairman, but Gephardt couldn’t make it.

Cushman, a retired kindergarten teacher, said she found out she’d been picked when her roommate told her she was being paged for roll call.

“I didn’t even know it was called roll call, I thought they were going to make sure everybody was there,” she said.

She said the Kerry campaign had earlier asked delegates to submit short stories about themselves to be considered for Missouri’s opening remarks. Cushman wrote about her son, a former Marine marksman, and also her frustration with the No Child Left Behind Act.

She said she was given a sample speech, but she moved some paragraphs around and added a word or two of her own inspiration. She knew a little bit about how these things might sound — she’s been watching party conventions on television since she was in junior high.

Her remarks introduced the “proud Show-Me-State of Missouri, with the democratic legacy of Harry S. Truman and Dick Gephardt” and talked about how the delegation would be voting for John Kerry to represent Missouri values, Cushman said.

She wasn’t sure Missouri would even get to vote — Kerry already had enough votes to win his nomination — and told her mother back home not to get too excited, but the roll call proceeded through all 50 states, Cushman said.

Cushman figures she got picked because the Missouri delegation wanted a non-elected official, someone to represent the every day person, but said she still can’t believe that person was her.

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