CHARLOTTE — The scripted kickoff of Wednesday evening’s session at the Democratic National Convention here was sent off the rails by shouts of “nay” and a round of boos as Democrats amended their platform to include support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and inclusion of the word “God.”
Democratic leaders wanted the vote to go smoothly, appeasing critics after the platform drew fire from Republicans and the Romney campaign. They didn’t get their wish, thanks to folks like the delegates from Utah.
Paul Ryan called the platform Democrats passed on Tuesday night “tragic” for leaving out mention of Jerusalem.
Mitt Romney said lack of the word “God” in the platform showed the Democratic Party was “veering further and further away into an extreme wing that American’s don’t recognize.”
Located well off the main floor of the Time Warner Center, where the convention is being held, a visit to the Utah delegation found at least six nay votes to the platform amendments. The vocal opponents to the amendments were a diverse coalition, including a Muslim woman to young, white man.
They said they were opposed to what they saw as Republicans effectively forcing Democrats’ hand on their own platform.
“This is the big-tent party. We want to include all faiths,” said TJ Ellerbeck, a delegate from Salt Lake City who voted against the amendments. “And when you bring in one deity above any other deity, you’re automatically excluding people.”
Noor Ul-Hasan, a Muslim delegate from Salt Lake City, said she worried about including God in a way that could make people feel uncomfortable.
“Democrats need to feel included, it doesn’t matter what religion you are,” she said. “To have God in there, people who don’t believe in God, you’ve got to have those people included.”
Ul-Hasan was also concerned about the language delineating Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“We have two Muslims in our delegation and we have two Jews as well,” she said. “We work together. But I think if they told me that they were going to make a Muslim city be the capital, I think we’d be dividing our Democrats. That’s why I’m in the Democratic Party — because I don’t want to be divided.”
The vocal dissension in the Democratic ranks — and the video of convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa looking pained as he held the vote three times while a chorus of nays rained down — is the stuff Republican dreams are made of. But the dissenters in the Utah delegation said they didn’t care about what GOP leaders might say.
“We don’t worry about the Republicans,” said Angelea Urrea of Roy, Utah. She said Democrats passed their platform on Tuesday and didn’t need to change it because of outside pressure. “I don’t understand why some bad press means all of a sudden we change some words.”
Villaraigosa declared the two-thirds majority necessary to amend the platform based on the third of three voice votes. The Utah dissenters said they disagreed with his decision to end the vote — they said they had a bigger number of supporters than Villaraigosa seemed to think — but they conceded that the fight is effectively over.
“We’re allowed to dissent, that’s what democracy’s about,” Urrea said. “The amendments carried, and that’s the way it goes.”
Ellerbeck said the public dissent was a good reflection on the Democrats, no matter what Republicans might say.
“Obviously there are many different opinions because we’re a party that wants to welcome anyone with any ideas,” he said.
The yea voters in the convention hall were far less vocal than the dissenters. One delegate from Minnesota who declined to be named said he voted yea “to put ‘God’ back in the party platform because the Republicans think we don’t care about God.”
He said there were dissenters because some delegates in the hall “didn’t understand” the vote.
At the California delegation, Villaraigosa’s home, no one wanted to talk about the vote. Oregon delegates said the vocal dissension passed them by.
“I didn’t hear any boos or nays,” said Wayne Kinney, an Oregon delegate who voted yea in the hall. “I’m not trying to give you a snow job, I was just dealing with delegate issues, I guess.”