Defying Convention, Some Governors Staying Home

By: - July 26, 2004 12:00 am

When U.S. Sen. John Kerry officially accepts the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention this week, a few of his party’s highest elected state officials will be missing in action.

Among those conspicuously absent will be North Carolina Gov. Michael Easley, who intends to skip the Boston gathering even though his state’s junior senator, John Edwards, is Kerry’s running mate.

Also staying away from the entire four-day convention are Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who are giving up the chance to be “super delegates” who automatically get votes at the convention. Democratic governors, members of Congress and national party officials are given special seats in their state’s delegation, joining party activists and average citizens who usually are elected to be delegates at state party gatherings.

Of the nation’s 22 Democratic governors, only 16 plan to spend all week in Boston for the anti-climactic process of officially selecting Kerry the party’s presidential nominee.

Missouri Gov. Bob Holden plans to show up Thursday only for Kerry’s acceptance speech, while Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner plans to leave just before Kerry takes the stage. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski will leave Wednesday to attend the funeral of an Oregon National Guard soldier killed in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the party will focus a spotlight on other governors. Among those chosen to deliver speeches are: Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who will speak Tuesday; convention chairman and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2000, who all will speak Wednesday; and Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, who will address the convention Thursday night.

The only state legislator speaking in prime time — on Tuesday — is Barack Obama, state senator from Illinois who is running for the U.S. Senate.

The most glaring absence will be that of North Carolina’s Easley, who is running ahead in his quest for re-election to a second term against former GOP state Sen. Patrick Ballantine. Thad Beyle, political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said it’s suprising that Easley is snubbing the convention, especially with Edwards now on the ticket. Easley already has come under fire for skipping Kerry’s and Edwards’ first North Carolina campaign rally in Raleigh two weeks ago.

Easley’s press secretary, Cari Boyce, would not comment on why the governor is staying in North Carolina, calling it a “political decision made by his campaign.” Easley’s campaign spokesperson, Jay Rice, did not respond to requests for an interview.

Jack Fleer, political science professor at Wake Forest University, said it would not be the first time Easley bowed out of a Democratic Party event. In his three years in office, he frequently has missed political rallies and fund-raisers, including his party’s own state convention this year.

“Gov. Easley marches to his own drum,” said Fleer, who wrote the book “North Carolina Politics.” “But this causes some concern and tension with the state party, and some critics say he hasn’t done enough for the party.”

In Indiana, Kernan will be only the second governor from his state in 65 years to skip a nominating convention, but he faces one of the tightest governor’s races in the nation. Kernan, who took office after Gov. Frank O’Bannon died of a stroke in 2003, is polling even with Republican challenger Mitch Daniels, a former White House budget director. Daniels plans to skip all but the first day of the Republican National Convention in August in New York.

Indiana Democratic Party spokesperson Terry Burns said Kernan’s choice to stay home was easy. “The only Hoosier voters in Boston next week are in our delegation, and I suspect we’ve got their vote already,” he said.

Wyoming’s Freudenthal is not campaigning for re-election, but as a first-term governor will stay home to host the state’s biggest tourism and economic event of the year, Cheyenne Frontier Days, the world’s largest rodeo that runs from July 23 to Aug. 1.

Minner, Delaware’s first female governor, will miss the convention highlight — Kerry’s speech — because Thursday is Governor’s Day at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington, Del. “They’re hosting a huge dinner in her honor, so she couldn’t possibly miss that,” spokesperson Kelli Steele said.

In Missouri, Holden is campaigning for a tough Aug. 3 primary against State Auditor Clair McCaskill and is expected only to attend the final day of the convention in Boston. A poll released July 21 showed Holden and McCaskill deadlocked in the primary race. 

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