As we move toward Super Duper Tuesday, and many who hope things will be decided that day, need is to know some additional obscure rules of the Democratic Party, that most years make little difference. This year they might.
Unlike our Republican opposition, we Democrats have rules about proportional representation, meaning that state by state delegates must be elected so as to reflect degree of support in every state. We don't do winner take all. For the most part, we do it congressional district by district, and reflect proportinate support in each, and then we select some delegates later at the State Wide Level, again divided by degrees of overall state support. Yes, it is a complex system, and yes, it is the response to LBJ throwing the nomination to Hubert in 1968, and the follow on McGovern-Fraser Commission rules, but unless you understand the rules, and how all this plays -- it will be hard to deal with Tuesday and what it might mean.
Right now I am just thinking over what Jim Oberstar's endorsement of Obama today really means. (Oberstar chairs the House Transportation Committee,) represents Duluth and the Iron Range, the 8th District, and that district usually returns about 80% of its votes for the DFL. It is an ethnic mix of various Yugoslav tribes, Cornish Miners, Polish and Hungarians, and lots of Finns plus a supply of Norwegian Loggers. Not many African Americans in the 8th -- in fact they had one of the few Northern Lynchings in 1919. (We have since put up a memorial to the victims). Back in the 60's, when the Air Force Base was active, the State Civil Rights Commission was always dealing with one or another serious discrimination case. But, they are going Obama this year. In addition, it is the only Congressional District that ever actually elected a Communist to Congress. Old Johnny Bernard (FL-1938-40) has that distinction. Anyhow Oberstar is apparently leading the 8th to Obama.
But that does not get us to Rules that now have meaning. Once the full state delegations are selected through primary, caucus & Convention or because of Superdelegate Status, each State delegation forms up and selects delegates to serve on the Rules, Credentials and Platform committees, with the numerical support for either Clinton or Obama in each State being in control of the selection process. They select two for each committee, one M and one F. Then shortly before the Denver Convention, these committees assemble, and if there are disputes, this is where they get their first hearing.
Now in the case of Florida and Michigan Delegations, the decision to strip them of delegates was made by the DNC at the recommendation of the ongoing Rules or Credentials Commission. Such Commissions do party business between conventions, but when we are on the eve of a national convention, the 120 or so member committees delegated by the states (add in DC and the territories), become the authorative bodies, and an appeal from a DNC ruling is rightly brought before these committees. If they receive such an appeal, they will hold hearings, and eventually issue a "majority report" -- and if 25% or more of the committee do not agree with that report, they can write a "minority report" and that will send the decision on seating Florida and Michigan to the floor for debate and resolution. Minority Reports are always debated and voted on first. If such fails, that indicates the floor favors the Majority Report. That vote could well determine our Nomination this year.
There is another way to go to the floor -- and that is by petition. My memory has it, you must have 40% of the delegates credentialed in order to put the issue on the floor in this way. Again, the debate would begin with the petition position, and then the DNC ruling. Florida and Michigan, not yet being seated, would not participate in this debate or vote as they would have no delegates. (Nor would they participate in the Credentials Committee resolution votes.) The vote of the Convention Floor is final -- no appeal.
Why are these obscure rules important? -- because the difference between a first ballot victory for Hillary may well depend on seating these delegations, which she "won" in two unsanctioned primaries. Yes, one can argue that they violated the DNC rules by moving their primaries forward, and well they did, but one also must observe that it is hardly good politics to slight Florida and Michigan which for various reasons could be critical in a Democratic Victory in November, no matter who our candidate will be. Remember, in the end this is about electorial votes.
Now I know these obscure rules are complex, but I have a real thing about the importance of Floor Fights, if you can set one up so that it means something. Back in 1948, in Philly, the Democrats had a doozy over the Minority Civil Rights Plank, which was spoken too by then Mayor Hubert Humphrey in what is now called the "Sunshine Speech" (come out from the dark ages of States Rights, and into the bright Sunshine of Human Rights.) God, what a moment in Democratic Party History! Strom Thurmond led the segregationist Dixiecrats out of the hall once the minority plank past, and it was the beginning of our party's effort to change from its racially exclusionary past to something very different. I was Eleven at the time, my Dad and I (no TV) sat in front of the radio and listened, and then kept a talley of the vote, while all the time my Mom wanted to get going to a Family Picnic, as she had the potato salad on ice, and ready to go. We stayed and finished counting the votes.
Four years later the Republicans had a Floor Fight between the Taft and Eisenhower wings of the party -- Taft, who voted against Public Housing and joining NATO and the Marshall Plan, and Ike who was an internationalist associated with the Vandenberg wing of the Republican Party. Fascinating floor fight that settled Republican International Politics till the Neo-con's came along.
Democrats had another one in 1972 -- whether to seat the California and Illinois delegations, elected in opposition to the open and proportional representation rules of the McGovern-Fraser Report of that year. It settled the matter, we do proportional representation, and gender balance.
And can one ever forget 1964 and the Floor Fight over the seating of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation, led by Fanny Lou Hammer? Poor Hubert, sent by LBJ to deal with the problem, but no real and easy compromise was on offer. It was a year before the Voting Rights Act, but it set the course. Mississippi would be seated, but two Freedom Democrats would get the At Large seats, and sit in the delegation. The Mississippi whites walked out, and quietly the Freedom Delegation were allowed into their seats. Mississippi was "told" no seats next time unless the process for selection includes everyone. They quickly became Republicans.
As I say, I love floor fights if they are about ringing the bells and saying real political cultural change has transpired, and the convention is observing and supporting the reality. The real spirit behind what Hubert did in 1948 was Eleanor Roosevelt, who was super busy at the time drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but who had pushed, shoved, pinched, kicked and other things --- Franklin, to do the right thing on Race, even though every Committee in the Senate was in the hands of a Southern Segregationist and a Democrat. Truman thought what Humphrey did would cost him the election. In fact it won it for him, and it is enlightening to read Robert Caro's description of how the Southern bigots comprehended in November 1948, when they read the detailed returns and realized that their own Committee Chairs, and Truman's Office had been saved by the working class black vote in the industrial north. One has to read the editorial pages in the Black Press to understand why old Humph moved that election as he did. Yes, Floor Fights can have great meaning. But is Hillary setting one up that will have meaning? That is the argument we should be about, understanding the sometimes obscure rules of the Democratic Party.
I remember when we were doing the talley in 1948, my Dad commenting that I was adding up real history. Yep, he was right. I wish I had saved our scratch sheet. But rules informed how that floor fight was done, and anything done this year will be by current rules. I only hope TV is willing to properly broadcast and has pundits who can properly interpret what might happen. But maybe the voters will settle it well in advance, and there will be no event. In a sense, that might be sad. No bells.