Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Meet the DNC delegates: Kathy Karpan

Kathy Karpan grew up in a Democratic neighborhood. In Wyoming.

"I didn't know there was a Republican Party," says Karpan.

That was in Rock Springs, back when most hard-rock miners were Democrats. Follow the railroad and the mines from Pine Bluffs 350 miles west to Evanston. This corridor, the same one I-80 now transverses, was where you found the majority of the state's Democrats.

Karpan's parents and grandparents -- and thousands of other European immigrants -- were met at the boat by party organizers

"They all had a collective memory that when the gangplank hit the earth at Ellis Island, there was only one political party there to greet them and invite them to be Democrats," Karpan says. "They were very loyal because of that."

Karpan moved upward and outward from Rock Springs. She traces her career in thirds. She spent one-third in the private sector as a journalist in Cody and Cheyenne, as a press secretary in Washington, D.C., and as an attorney. She spent one-third of her career in Wyoming state government. The final third was in the employ of the federal government, mostly in D.C. She did three tours in D.C., the most recent as Pres. Clinton's Director of the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement.

"That was a nice match-up," she says. "I come from a coal mining family. My grandfathers were coal miners."

Karpan was out of a job when Bush took over in January 2001 (as she puts it -- "when Bush stole the election from Gore"). But later that year, she was still in D.C. exploring other options when her neighbor came to the door one September morning. "I was packing and the neighbor said that they just hit the Pentagon. I lived in Crystal City, a quarter-mile away."

The military commandeered the hotel next to her building. That night she took a photo of the Pentagon. It showed flames still erupting from the building. Helicopters circled the site, their searchlights stabbing through the smoke. "This is as close as I want to come in my lifetime to the London Blitz," noting that it was sobering to think that a U.S. Government building had been hit "by the enemy."

This will be Kathy Karpan's seventh convention. Actually, it will be the seventh she was elected to but only the sixth she's attended. She was elected chair of the Wyoming delegation in 2000 but broke her leg at home in a freak accident while watching the Cheney-Lieberman V.P. debate. She still wanted to go to the L.A. convention, but the doctor scheduled surgery instead.

Karpan remembers that Ed Herschler was the Wyoming governor at the time of her first convention in 1984. "Dave Freudenthal was a delegate -- it was in San Francisco," she says. "I've seen this whole progression," noting that Freudenthal is now Gov. Dave, attending his second of these national Dem gatherings as leader of a red state.

Maybe one of the delegates to this year's Dem convention will be the state's gov in, say, 2032?

Karpan is the "Clinton whip" of the Wyoming delegation. When we talked, she'd just had back-to-back phone calls with the Clinton camp about the upcoming convention. "Hillary was very clear about this, and my opinion is that we are all going to do our best to unite our party."

As whip, she's charged with bringing the Wyoming Clinton delegates news about any position on votes "if something comes up, but," she adds, "this convention will be highly rehearsed."

When it comes to the general election, "people will see the clear choices between candidates and I'm confident that the Clinton people will rally behind our nominee."

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