Utah Demos have bad seats

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 26 2008 12:28 a.m. MDT

DENVER — Utah delegates spent the opening day of the Democratic National Convention fighting to end the war, fighting their way through snarled traffic and fighting to see the stage through some less-than-ideal seats.

Sometimes, it just feels like Utah Democrats don't get a lot of respect.

"We have our traditional seats with a good view of the butt" of the convention speaker, joked Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party. Worse, many of the delegation members can see only the rear ends of cameramen on a riser directly in front of them — and cannot see the speaker at all while seated in their chairs.

Utah's 28 delegates are sitting to the far right of the speaker's podium, as seen in TV broadcasts. They are not on the floor of the Pepsi Center, like most delegates, but they are on the first bunch of seats above it.

The first Utah delegates to arrive in the hall decided to head for the seats in the back of the Utah section, because they are high enough to see over the camera stand. State Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Salt Lake, said he found seats reserved for alternate delegates and guests — which are supposed to be worse than those of delegates — actually have a better view.

State delegate Kurt Bestor lamented as he looked at the prime seats of Michigan and Florida — which were stripped of half their delegates because they held primaries earlier than allowed. Even with that, they had better seats than Utah.

"It looks like their half-vote counts more than my full vote," he said.

Taylor said a silver lining in the seats are that they may allow a good view of celebrities and leaders as they walk up from the rear of the podium toward the speaker's stand.

Taylor noted that seats technically are not determined by how many Democrats vote in a state. But important primary or caucus states (like Iowa and Vermont) and other states seen as important in an election seem to get the best seats every four years.

And, of course, Democrats did worse in Utah four years ago than in any other state. John Kerry received only 26 percent of the vote (lowest of any state for him) to President Bush's 72 percent (highest in the nation for him).

Utah hasn't voted for a Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is the only Democrat in the congressional delegation — and he isn't even here, but stayed home in Salt Lake City.

When Utah Republicans attend their national convention next week in St. Paul, Minn., no doubt they will be near front-and-center in front of the speakers' podium, as they have been in recent national conventions.

Besides fighting to see the stage, the delegates found they had to fight through traffic jams to get to the convention. The Pepsi Center is about two miles from their hotel, but buses often took more than an hour to make the trip, thanks primarily to the many other buses hauling delegates.

"It'll get better as the week goes on," and bus drivers and convention officials work out problems, Taylor said, speaking from experience.


E-mail: lee@desnews.com; bbjr@desnews.com

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