It seems there is a growing market for an understanding of Party Rules among those carefully watching our Democratic Party Processes -- so I thought I would take up two areas of interest, the selection of Super Delegates, and our Platform Processes. A Caution, what I know is derived from party experience in Minnesota's DFL, and while the DNC sets overall rules and guidelines, (with the ultimate sanction being having your delegates not seated at the National Convention, as Florida and Michigan face this year) rules and processes differ state by state. In fact one should always keep in mind that there is really no such thing as a National Democratic Party -- there are 50 plus state and territorial parties that have the franchise for their state, and in turn the DNC, Democratic National Committee is a representative body elected by the State Parties. People came to understand this in 2005 when Howard Dean was elected Chair of the DNC on the platform of strengthening the State Parties by investing in assets and skilled staff, something those who have problems with State Parties having influence have had a bit of difficulty with over the past couple of years. Last year we all witnessed Rahm Emanual calling out Dean for not sending his DCCC committee more funds, while Dean kept putting assets and staff into states. Understanding such power jousts is just one element in seeing the picture of our party as it currently exists. Dean solved the problem by borrowing money that he shared with Rahm, but the assets Dean put at the State Level ended up electing more Congresspersons than Rahm's committee did. For now, Dean 1, Rahm 0. But one thing is sure, there will be another tournament, for power centers are always contested.
Back in the bad old days before 1972, Party Bosses played a much more powerful role in Democratic Parties than they do today. The elections for the ongoing officers in the party were closed systems -- old Mayor Daley would sit down with his best buddies and decide endorsements for office, state and national committee people, state and local party officers, and it would all be put on one slate, and offered as a package, with little opposition. The McGovern-Fraser reforms ended all that, State Parties must have elections for these positions, and the process must be open to opposition, and in any sort of delegate selection, awards must be based on rules of proportionality, gender balance and affirmative action with respect to racial, religious and ethnic groups. It was a huge change -- and one result of it was that the old Powers-that-Were actually let a number of State Parties go into Bankruptcy rather than conform to the new Rules. A number of State Parties in the South took this route rather than allow Black elected Party Officers control the parties. They declared bankruptcy, local courts took them into receivership, and the same good-ole boys continued to control things. When Dean was elected one of the first things he had to do was pull the parties out of receivership, in many cases discovering that assets in warehouses were little more than 1970's typewriters and mimeo machines. Some parts of the land like their politics one-party flavored, thus narrowing the range of who can contest for power. Many insider fights are about such.
Super Delegates -- how we select them
When we did the McGovern-Fraser reforms, we intentionally took any advantage elected officials had in selecting the party nominee away from them, but over the years since 1972, people gradually realized that excluding them from the ongoing business of the party weakened the party. Delegates selected in a Presidential Year tend to be primarily about "their candidate" -- with less interest in the ongoing nurture of the party. They are less dependable for turning out for a down ballot race, putting things aside and pitching in for a Special Election say for a State Legislative Seat. Thus after the 1976 election, the party looked for a means to incorporate current office holders in the party structure without taking away the things that had been accomplished by the Reforms. Thus the first super delegates were office-holders elected in special caucuses limited to office holders at specific levels, for a certain number of delegate seats that were added to the total delegations. Thus, around the country this spring you will see State Legislators gather in caucus, and elect some assigned number of their own to Super Delegate status. Likewise you will see mayors have a similar caucus state wide -- and there will be another caucus for County Commissioners and City Council delegates. The rules will say how many must come from small communities, how many from metro and city governments. Minnesota's delegation went up by about thirty delegates when this reform was instituted -- I think it was 69 to 95 but I could be wrong. States that voted for the last Presidential Candidate get a few more slots than those who supported the opposition. The DNC sets the number according to a formula in the National Call. In effect, this puts our state elected leadership in position to be persuaded by any Presidential Candidate, and should that candidate win the National Election and occupy the WH, then the elected official might have leverage on appointments, or perhaps policy. They may get phone calls returned.
There are other super delegates these days. We give a slot to all of our Senators, our Congresspersons, and State Wide Constitutional Officers. We also reserve a place for the State Party Chair and Co-chair (must be of opposite genders), and the elected delegates to the DNC. In Minnesota we have four, and they are elected for four year terms at the State Convention. Other States put Committeeperson on the Primary Ballot. What really distinguishes Democrats from Republicans these days is that we insist these positions be filled by election -- either one held among office holders, or as a result of an election. One cannot say that a member of Congress is not elected. Moving in this direction over the last 30 so years has been a matter of incorporating in those likely to be concerned with the ongoing party -- between elections. Today, about 38% of the full convention Delegates come out of these processes -- in my mind we have probably gone a little too far with it, I would personally like a rule that limited Super Delegates to 1/3rd of the total National Convention delegation. On the other hand we also have a rule that elected officials should not run for a delegate position outside this system -- meaning we do reserve the majority of the delegate positions for candidate supporters.
While we have already seen some super delegates make candidate commitments, (George Miller of California made one this week for Obama) many will not, they will wait to see the level of support each candidate receives in their state, and generally they follow along. The State and Local elected officials have not been selected yet, and again it is my experience that the selection mirrors proportional support in the state as a whole, after it has been established in a caucus or primary. But in a two person race, such as between Clinton and Obama, where the elected delegate count may stay fairly even for a time, most of the Super Delegates will hold off. If one pulls ahead, then they will rush to join the bandwagon. I hope that at least the State Chairs and the DNC members extract promises for keeping the Dean Reforms of the Party as the price of their endorsements. It is one area where I have Clinton Doubts -- her Husband was not a party builder, and he did not recommend DNC chairs who cared about the State Parties. Hillary sided with Rahm Emanual in that little joust last year over party money, and she did not support party ownership of all the new technology Dean has distributed to the state parties. Put clearly, I want strong state parties so we can win the battle of reapportionment in 2011, and the only way to do that is to control State Legislatures and Governorships. And I have my doubts about Obama too, what with all the talk about bi-partisan approaches. In one sense he is of the remains of the old Chicago Machine, and while much of it is dead, some parts still live.
I'll come back to Platform Rules in my next post.