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Fires May Keep Mont. Dems. Home

August 14, 2000

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The emotional television images draw them home, even from the midst of glitzy political parties: Towns choking beneath a shroud of smoke and ashes; firefighters emerging from blackened forests.

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Montana delegates said they were preoccupied with the fact that their state is still burning.

During a week in which the small delegation’s primary goal is to rub elbows with party leadership, the continuing disaster makes it tough to be upbeat.

``We know that there are still lives on the line in our forests and even in our communities,″ said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Hundreds of residents driven from their homes in several areas by smoke and flames were allowed to return for a few hours Sunday, but later wind-driven blazes erupted and forced additional emergency evacuations.

Arriving in Los Angeles, which was blanketed in a dirty, yellow and brown haze, some delegates found a new perspective on smog.

``I never thought I would have to go to Los Angeles to get a breath of fresh air, especially being from Montana,″ said delegation spokesman Kevin Parsneau, who is from Helena. ``There have been days when going outside is taking your life into your own hands.″

It is especially hard for delegate Ed Tinsley to be away from home. Tinsley was one of hundreds of volunteer firefighters who fought a blaze at Yellowstone National Park in 1988.

``I wish I could be out there actually fighting the fire,″ said Tinsley, also from Helena.


In the convention culture of sipping wine at exclusive bashes and devouring corporate-bought hors d’oeuvres with abandon, Pennsylvania delegates almost bit off more than they could chew on the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

A Monday breakfast that was to have been sponsored by huge, and strikebound, telephone monolith Verizon had delegates choosing between alliances with unions, the company and the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Verizon withdrew its offer to sponsor the breakfast, averting what promised to be one of the strangest affairs of the convention for the delegation.

Delegate Jim Eisenhower, who is running for attorney general, had said he would not attend the breakfast because the AFL-CIO has endorsed his candidacy.

``Our commitment is to working families in Pennsylvania,″ said Eisenhower, one of the stars of the delegation. ``As long as there is a strike I would not attend an event like this.″

Several union members said that attending the breakfast would have been like crossing a strike picket line.

``At the point that they agreed to sponsor the party a week ago, there was no issue _ but a lot has changed,″ said Richard Bloomingdale, an executive officer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and a member of the delegation. ``It would not have been appropriate for us to have them sponsoring our breakfasts when there is strike. As union members, it would have been more than an issue of appearance.″

But some delegates felt the breakfast would not have been a problem.

``Are people buying votes? No, I don’t think so. It just makes it possible for us to come,″ said Mark Singer, a lawyer from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., who initially thought that as a delegate his trip to the convention would be funded.

Verizon officials did not immediately return calls for comment by The Associated Press. Delegation officials would not comment on who initiated the withdrawal of the sponsorship.

The strike by telephone technicians and operators affects Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.


Susan Parker stopped keeping a pistol by her bedside when she woke from a bad dream one night with the gun clutched tightly in her hand.

``I realized I could have shot myself. It was scary,″ said Parker, Alabama’s state auditor and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Now Parker keeps her pistol in a drawer away from the bed. And she’s given up squirrel hunting for golfing and fishing. She supports selling guns with trigger locks and banning certain assault weapons.

Alabama’s delegation includes mothers and hunters, school teachers and sportsmen. And many are seeking middle ground in the debate over gun control in a largely conservative, rural state where some hold hunting rights as dearly as voting rights.

``It gets back to our message that we as Alabamans are not out to take away peoples’ rights to own a gun,″ Parker said Sunday. ``We’ve allowed Republicans to scare people.″

The issue has divided delegates in other states, such as Pennsylvania, where hunting is extremely popular.

State Rep. Bill DeWeese, for example, is proud that his voting record mirrors National Rifle Association policy and is upset that the draft of the party platform calls for trigger locks on guns and background checks for handgun purchases.

But some urban delegates said they wish gun-rights supporters would keep a low profile this week.

``To have Democrat NRA supporters makes it sound like we are sending a mixed message on an important issue,″ said Linda Ryder, a political director for a teacher’s union and a delegate from Philadelphia. ``It’s a little embarrassing.″