As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, June 09, 2008

Open Forum For California DNC Candidates

You wouldn't know this unless you follow these things closely, but this coming Sunday, June 15, is very significant in the future of Democratic politics. On that day at the California Democratic Party executive board meeting in Burlingame, 19 men and women from throughout the state will be voted in as DNC members. Those elected will take their positions after the Democratic National Convention in August, and will serve through the DNC in 2012. Here's the list (it's a PDF) of names who will appear on the ballot - 9 men, 9 women and the 19th-highest vote-getter regardless of gender will win the election.

Now, why is this important? These 19 DNC members will be part of the organization that will need to decide how to reform our completely broken primary process that almost turned a historic nomination season into utter chaos. There is no other issue - not the war, not poverty, not the economy, not health care, nothing - where DNC members will make any kind of a difference compared to primary reform. I know a lot of party members read this site, so let this be a jumping off point for discussion. No California e-board member should vote to elect any of these candidates without knowing their plans for primary reform. And on the flip, here are a few ideas.

Here's a brief sketch of some of the necessary reforms, IMO, that I wrote at The Washington Monthly last week:

Now the next challenge, in my view, is reforming this disastrous primary system entirely, reviewing it from top to bottom and ditching the most undemocratic elements. I would move to a rotating regional set of primaries (decided by lottery on January 1 of the primary year so nobody can park in any one place prior to that), superdelegates with no vote until after the first ballot, which is reserved for delegates picked directly by the voters (so they get to go to the party but not have an undue influence on the process), and all delegates selected proportionately based on their state's popular vote. I would remind those who think caucuses should be thrown out that they are tremendous party-building tools, and many of the states with caucuses this year are swing states (Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, even Texas perhaps), and those state parties captured priceless voter contact information on hundreds of thousands of voters who could be turned into volunteers.

Let's go a bit more in depth.

Primary schedule - the reason that we ended up with such a chaotic system for delegate selection is that Michigan and Florida jumped the line set by the DNC, and instead of past years where sanctions would be granted on those states only to be lifted after the winner was chosen and the delegate counts no longer mattered, this was a close race. So that sanction hung over the entire primary season. Yet the DNC must be able to manage their own nominating process. So it seems to me that they shouldn't allow one delegate to be chosen before their set date for the beginning of the primaries, and that states should be grouped by region and chosen by lot. This breaks the Iowa/New Hampshire stranglehold (and if they don't like it, really, let them secede), eliminates the penchant for 30 visits to the early states on the calendar, and continues to allow for retail politics through the various regions. It's somewhat similar to the American Plan.

Real proportional representation - the current system is kind of a joke, in that congressional districts which allocate even-numbered amounts of delegates have quite a bit less influence on the overall result as districts which allocate odd-numbered amounts. Simply put, it's easier to gain an advantage in an odd-numbered district, needing only 50% plus one, as it is in an even-numbered district, needing as much as 63% of the vote. There is absolutely no reason why the delegate allocation can't be proportional based on statewide popular vote, with the congressional allocations included later. Furthermore, the states need to be proportionally represented relative to one another - the system of add-on delegates and rewarding states that kept their primaries later in the process and giving Puerto Rico more delegates than 27 states simply has to end.

Dealing with the superdelegates - all of these DNC members elected will then become so-called "superdelegates," so I recognize that asking them to renounce their own power and influence is kind of dicey. But nothing had a more damaging impact on the party than the perception that the process was controlled by party insiders who could subvert the will of the people. That it "worked out" in the end is of no consequence. Superdelegates really shouldn't have such an outsized impact on the nominating process. I suggest that their votes for President and Vice President at the DNC don't count on the first ballot, ensuring that they get a ticket to the event but the voters have the first crack at choosing the nominee. A standard of 50 or even 55% could be set as the necessary threshold to get the nominee over the top, if superdelegates want to hold out the option of having their wise counsel be determinative.

There are probably dozens of other ideas, but I want to open this up to discussion. How would you reform the primary process, and what can potential DNC candidates do to assure you that they will adequately represent the interests of California voters to see the process reformed?

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