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Strong Support For Bernie Sanders In Unalaska

Greta Mart

36 Democratic voters gathered at Unalaska's Methodist church to caucus for their preferred presidential candidate Saturday. Most came to support Bernie Sanders, but six voters headed to the Clinton corner when it was time for the morning's fan out.

The areas designated for Rocky De La Fuente backers and the undecided remained empty. Sanders garnered 30 votes, receiving three delegates. Unalaska's six votes for Hillary Clinton earned her one delegate from this area of Alaska's House District 37.

Jeff Hancock is southwest Alaska's International Longshore and Warehouse Union representative. He said the ILWU and the Inland Boatman's Union both endorse Sanders, and he was there to caucus on the unions' behalf.

"We're supporting Bernie Sanders because he's the best candidate for America's working families. He's for improving working conditions; he's in favor of collective bargaining, protecting workers' rights, free tuition for public colleges, better trade agreements that protect American jobs. So we're supporting Bernie all the way, he's our candidate," Hancock said.  

The ILWU represents 50,000 longshore workers along the West Coast and members in Hawaii, Panama, Australia and Canada. Hancock said "rank and file" ILWU members passed a resolution to endorse Sanders at the union's international convention last year. Members of ILWU's Alaska Longshore Division, representing longshore workers in Dutch Harbor and other Alaskan ports, voted to support for Sanders at their fall convention.

Hancock said because caucuses require voters to appear in person for a couple of hours, many Unalaska and Dutch Harbor union workers couldn't get time off Saturday morning to participate.

"This is a busy working port, and our employers basically refused to stop the jobs that were going on in port today. We have longshore workers today who had to decide whether they were going to pass up on the day's wages and come here to participate in this, or in some cases, their economic situation was such that they couldn't afford to do that," Hancock said.

Unalaska City Council member Frank Kelty came to caucus for Hillary Clinton, just as he did eight years ago.

"The experience that she brings to the table, I think, is a lot stronger than what Senator Sanders brings, her experience as secretary of state, her years as the senator from New York, and being the first lady for eight years, she was heavily involved and I'm sure she was an advisor to her husband," Kelty said. "And I really respected her work on heath care as first lady and taking that battle on. So I think her experience is overwhelmingly stronger than Senator Sanders and that's why I support her."

Unalaska resident Lori Gregory said she felt compelled to participate in the caucus because Sanders supports the underdog.

"Which is people without money or political influence...I've always said that education is a key to a better life, and us 99 percenters need a better life, and Senator Sanders believes that too," Gregory said. "I'm a lifelong Alaskan and I'm very progressive in my viewpoint. I think living in rural Alaska has made me that way, and I just felt that my candidate, Bernie Sanders, deserved my support and I had to be here," Gregory said.

Abraham Rodgers was wearing a "Feel The Bern" t-shirt he got via the candidate's website.

"I've been a die-hard fan for about six months now, excited to see the media blackout of his candidacy has ended and he's getting the recognition I think he deserves," Rodgers said.

The Alaska Democratic Party posted caucus results on its website late Saturday afternoon. District 37  -which encompasses Dillingham, a portion of the interior Alaska mainland and the Aleutian Islands - will be sending 14 delegates to the statewide Democratic convention in May. 133 people participated in caucuses across the district, and of those, 29 supported Clinton and 104 were Sanders supporters.

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