Today, I had the honor of attending the 2nd and 3rd of the Change Commission meetings. Again – this is a group created at the Democratic National Convention and chartered to:
- Address the timing of primaries/caucuses (trying to do a better job of consistently selecting a great candidate and building a wave of support behind him/her they are thinking that a key move is to ameliorate the primary concentration at the start of the calendar)
- Reduce the role/influence of the superdelegates (unpledged delegates)
- Help resolve a number of issues/concerns with caucuses
Our first meeting was in June – at which we got historical insight from a number of sources. That was, perhaps, the greatest civics lesson I’ve had – with a lecture from Sandra Day O’connor as a close second (especially pointing folks to www.ourcourts.org). Our second meeting, scheduled for the end of August, was cancelled (it was the same Saturday of Senator Kennedy’s funeral). SO – this one functioned as both our 2nd and 3rd meeting. In the morning, we heard ideas/suggestions from a few different folks regarding the three areas on which we’re focusing and then in the afternoon, we heard and discussed a few options from the staffers of the committee. Our 4th meeting – Dec 5th – will be when we vote/decide on the final proposal. Below is my net takeaway and then my full notes. It’ll essentially go from Net observations to morning session notes to afternoon option recommendations and my comments. Between now and the next meeting, the staffers will munge all that we shared today and then, on the 5th, present us with ideas/options to consider. They’ll reach out in the meantime for additional ideas/insight.
- the primary window in 2012 opens March 1st (as opposed to Feb 1st in 2008). The “pre-window” is Feb 1st – when South Carolina, Nevada, Iowa & New Hampshire are slated to go.
- By and large, the priority is to get the best candidate nominated with the biggest wave behind them. The thoughts about what can do this are:
- Spreading the primaries out more over the 14 weeks so that the candidates can have more focus on each individual state and/or region. However, the reality is the analogy I shared with the group about 5 year olds playing soccer – they all gather around the ball, don’t spread the field and rarely make a goal.
- Considering regional primaries so that candidates can spend more time in a zone
- A lot of the complexities around timing are made even more difficult because of state laws governing primary timing
- Having the candidates come to a state also helps the local candidates for office – so there’s very good reason to try to set the states and regions up to get more individualized attention
- The western states didn’t want to be in a “region” with California for fear of getting overshadowed by them –but California clearly resented acting as an “ATM” for the candidates and not seeing them for that much campaigning.
- Options that were proposed are described below (no consensus on this yet)
- A bunch of states testified to the value of their doing theirs later – they got more attention by going later and not getting gummed up in Super Tuesday.
SUPERDELEGATES UNPLEDGED DELEGATES
- There was a recognition that we’ve had delegate creep and that we have too many – what started out as just a few hundred has grown to just shy of 1000 delegates and 19% of the delegates.
- There was also a general sentiment that some unpledged delegates were necessary in order to have some type of almost oversight and to also provide a way for our elected officials to be able to be delegates without having to run against their constituents.
- For those whose status was going to go away, there was the idea that things like special access and status at the convention could work as an incentive to relinquish the title.
- Note – whatever we recommend will be brought to the whole DNC – so it’ll be interesting if they’d vote against their access to (what I believe is) disproportionate voting power.
- “Superdelegate” above is stricken because we wanted to honor the fact that none of them, that we know of, has a cape & underpants and that they felt that it was a misnomer.
- You’ll see the proposed options in the detailed part below (no consensus on this yet either)
- Peter House – the Legislative District chair at my caucuses in Seattle would have been very proud of the discussion and positive sentiment towards the caucuses – (including the citation of his online submission when they ran through online comments).
- They were generally very appreciated as great ways to organize and build the party in the states that ran them.
- Fundamentally – we want to extract out the benefits and goodness that came from them and identify how to ameliorate the bad stuff. Including the following recos (no official consensus, but not much controversy):
- Keep the caucuses
- Option – Create a best practices guide – and a parallel peer group that’ll work together to discuss ways to seek economies of scale and will, possibly, set up recommendations and quality standards so that future caucuses run more smoothly. This group would discuss things like – increasing transparency and providing better guidance on what attendees could expect.
- Consider a blended absentee/proxy representation (that’d be available to those who can’t come because of military, health, religious… issues – note – WA has an absentee/proxy vote now for caucuses for these limited reasons). Rather than listing only the first choice, though, it’d have their 2nd and 3rd choices as well.
Overall – it made me miss the 2008 campaign and really appreciate how long the season went. However, it also made me identify a lot of ways that we could improve infrastructure for caucuses and get some economies of scale – especially around data management and how we improve how we train and inform folks up front and then maintain our relationship more consistently afterwards. But that’s for another blog on another day….
Chairman/Rep Clyburn set the tone by reminding us to keep in mind, we “Must be as inclusive as we are diverse”
2012 aready set for March 1st start of the Primary window – so already have shortened primary cycle
Online public comments on timing:
- Four maybe 5 regional primaries – saves time
- Primaries more evenly distributed, shorter time frame, rotating schedule of first
- Regional primaries with a rotation
- Value of having late primaries
- Regional primary worked well with DC/Maryland/Virginia
- One state going early (Alabama) felt ignored ‘cause it was on Feb 5th – reco is to spread them out
Curtis Ganz speaking – Election expert – ran gene mccarthy’s 1968 campaign in New Hampshire
- Had previously testified on the McGovern commission (proving that he has been dedicated to this for a long time).
- 8/9 years ago – had a chance for a very good solution – but it was shot down by George Bush at the RNC. BUT this time, we have an opportunity because the Republicans are doing
- System went off the rails in 1988 because Southern democratic chairs thought they could get a more conservative candidate by having a southern regional party early in the year.
- Jessie Jackson won 5, Dukakis won 5 and Al Gore won 5.
- Hoping that this time we move away from states unproductive selfishness.
- Heard it so many times mentioned that California was an ATM and they moved up.
- Look at creating a durable system that works from here forever. The major problems are 2 fold: 1) early primaries, 2) grouped primaries.
- Happy with the March 1 mandate – especially with the snow.
- Big states at the front means that you have an ersatz campaign for a year in advance because they have to pay their money for those big states.
- Recommends having up front smaller, diverse primaries up front – that way you raise less in advance and then by winning then start raising more.
- Opposes regional primary – as thinks that would lead to regional candidates
- Opposes rotation – wants durable solution
- Wants longest track – longest period of time across the schedule for the candidates.
- Wants flexibility for them to not necessarily have to campaign in every state
- Want the opportunity to enable candidates to enter later in case we get someone not so good.
- Want to enhance grass roots campaigns and reduce negative attack campaigns. Thinks that regional primaries would foster the latter.
- Wants: starts in march, leads with individual primaries, goes up the scale with size, goes up the scale in terms of diversity.
- Enables all candidates to get in; full scrutiny
Q: about asking about a selected number of primaries and caucuses in February?
A: Doesn’t have a problem with New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada early on – but doesn’t want regional primaries. Just individual primaries.
Q: RNC & DNC coordination?
A: had been collaborating before. The RNC has the same value as us and have the power to set the schedule. Gut says that the principles he’s outlined are the principles they share too – that they want a durable schedule with the long
Q: Seeing that the early states are disproportionately affecting national policy – why not rotation?
A: Iowa is just as important as the next state. Enormous publicity for those 4 states – last few season showed that these states are not really determinative. Thinks that having durable system works better because of the states having to change their laws with a rotational system.
Q: Confirmation – regionalism promotes attack advertising?
A: Yes – Grouping promotes attack advertising – but more importantly, concerned that the regional would promote regional candidates. Also detrimental to citizen involvement. Suggesting building in to a schedule regional diversity.
Q: couldn’t regional candidates happen anyway?
A: yes- but less likely
Q: You suggested that the biggest barrier is proprietary nature of states – any other barrier to which we should pay attention?
A: Lack of seeing the whole: the charge is to get the best president, not having the first state. We want the system for choosing the best nominee. That will help subsume feelings fo who should exert influence when and produce a track that tests the candidate in a variety of situations, allows us to judge and re-judge and involve as many people in that process as possible. Biggest obstacle is a lack of perspective.
Dan Blue – Speaker in North Carolina house of representatives for a long time, now a state senate
Historical standpoint: since 1972 – has been involved in the process. Has been following since. North Carolina has played a role in it heavily. Why having late primaries is not the worst thing in the world. Life after Super Tuesday. He was part of the group that fought against moving up NC. It royally fouled up the democratic process because they had taken away the momentum for the other related primaries. They lost every position in the state. Got it back in synch – but helping neighbors – ie South Carolina. Having a late primary in 2008 helped them become a major player – moreso than ever before. Also gave them a chance to train foot soldiers in neighboring states so that they were ready to go by the time it came to NC. Also helped them elect other positions down the ticket – primarily because of the resources brought to the state. NC is now a purple state. If we’re using the primaries for broader purposes – party building and empowerment, there has to be something other than a schedule that puts 29 primaries within 7 days of each other. End up having a general election strategy play out in the primary. Perhaps greater incentives/bonus delegates – have to break it up. Front loading has to be spread out. 4 years ago, there was a graph of where the primaries had fallen since 1976.
Q: what is the situation about states having separate state & presidential primaries? Ie – California did it.
A: expensive – but sense that California being so late is problematic. Last time California went early and they still didn’t get the attention. Very unsatisfactory then. State legislature seems to like moving it up. However, remember that incumbents benefit with an early primary ‘cause challengers haven’t been able to raise money and awareness and these positions are often chosen in the primaries.
Q: How would budget deficit in California affect 2012?
A: Bifurcating the 2 primaries is expensive. Usually have to stay unhitched to address local laws. Brought up the Affect of redistricting (will happen ‘cause of census)
Q: states with federal and state primaries on the same day?
A: most are together – but will find out exact number.
- Clyburn stating: North Carolina would not have gone blue and you wouldn’t have a female governor if NC had gone early
- Plouffe confirming that – for Indiana and Montana as well. They wouldn’t be targeted in advance. The organizing time and perspective really helped. Separating yourself from the pack helped – even helped economically because of the advertising, hotels and such.
- Oregon Party Chair, Meredith Woods Smith also emphasizes that Merkeley may have won because of the later primary
Virginia: Jennifer McClellan – state rep. –context for Virginia – have elections every year. Primary season kicks off 2 year election cycle that affects gov. race & presidential. Successful primary is critical. Because we have elections every year – party is broke by December. State elected officials can’t raise from jan – mid-march. Therefore – having a primary that counts where candidates come in and campaign – helps motivate base and raise money to get them through the presidential cycle to rebuild for the final year.
- Potomac primary helped in a number of ways:
- Same media market (economical for candidates), but also helps with concentration of voters & expensive media market. Makes it more likely for them to buy the media. But the only way that works was if there was only that region going. Not sure it would have happened if there were other states at the same time. Recommends one region at a time.
- Wanting to emphasize obstacles to rotation of the primaries: state law. By moving the primary, have to have bipartisan support for the timing. Given elections every year and financial cycle, can only afford a state-run primary. Thus – need to keep state and state law in mind.
- There’s a place, but number is out of control
- Reduced and votes worth less
- Should not be allowed to go against will of voters
- Existence & Status is important so that they don’t have to run against their supporters
- Get rid of the superdelegates
- Wish that they could have spent more time with constituents and voters, not supers
- Declaration of support should align with timing of that state
Don Fowler – past chair of the national party & South Carolina state party
- Timing comment – when the charter was written in 1974, window in march. In 1992 moved up so that Georgia could go early to help Clinton; got moved up in feb to allow the dems raise more money earlier. Urge us to be cognizant of the long term effects of what we do here. Thinks it should be back in March – if not April. Thinks process is too long. Closer to election & convention.
“Automatic unpledged delegates” –
Conclusions – advocate for AUD. Thinks number and percentage should be reduced. Need to focus that they’re there for a reason other than to affect selection of the President. There are other aspects of party governance that could develop that the presence and wisdom of the AUD is important. They were introduced by HUNT commission after 1980. Rationale was simple – (every party in world has some form of it – including the Republicans – although not as high a proportion.) provide council, leadership & guidance in case of a crisis. With 2008 process, he never thought that the AUDs would rock the boat by toppling the will of the voters. He anticipated what happened – AUDs moved to Obama. 1972 crisis of leadership where the AUDs would have been helpful: replaced the VP nominee and icked out DNC chair and elected new chair. True that the DNC made those decisions, but AUDs at the convention would have tempered the discussion. They are, afterall, people who’ve been elected, know the party.
RE: the number of the AUDs – w/Hunt – there had been half the number. Congress elected 2/5 of it. DNC was smaller maybe 350 or so. Expansion to include all DNC and congress – means that 17% of total delegates are Supers. Look at reducing that number, not eliminating concept or role of these people. Reduce DNC representations. Congress could just be elected leadership and chairs, etc.. Urge us to look at the process generally and not “fix what was wrong last time”. Look at the institution long range advantages.
Q: Can you talk to the numbers and reduction proposals?
A: DNC – state chairs, vice chairs and national officers; Members of congress – leaders, committee chairs, senior leadership; Governors; distinguished party leaders (currently 25) 300 is a more appropriate number – 2/3 reduction. Thinks that i
Q: process to keep the same people involved? How to engage congresspeople more effectively and keep them involved?
A: they are put in the role of running against grassroots if you try to have them as pledged.
Q: Was one of the original purposes to correct a mistake? Would it make sense to disavow their role of the primary process? Is there a way to make sure that they don’t overrule the will of the other delegates?
A: Never any mention at the onset of the AUD creation – never determined that they should overrule. It was simply council and wisdom. HOWEVER – hypothetically – if there were someone determined at the beginning and something happened to indicate that person shouldn’t be the candidate, they’d be able to help resolve that. A resolution to preclude the ability of the AUDs to over
Q: What went right that we should be sure to stay tuned to?
A: Right – long drawn out contest of having the two candidates all over the country – in the news a ton. How to structure a system to ensure that result. 2008 – Had too many processes too early. State parties took more seriously the task of putting on the primaries and caucuses. The candidates went more frequently.
- Comment from Bill Carrick: Hunt commission never intended the ballooning size of SDs. Initially recommended election of each delegation’s delegates (this helped Mondale) – but that was a big miss. We didn’t overrule – but instead, overruled them up front.
- Comment from Meredith: stop using the term “superdelegates” – unpledged, rather than
- Comment from Clyburn: hunt undid a horrible thing the mcgovern commission initiated. Bad when you have the elected officials competing against their constituents for the delegate positions
Q: How would you apply the later application of the rules and rebalancing and notion of equal division?
A: had equal division rule before AUDs – and think that it was adopted in 78 or 79. Responsibility for equal division is up to the state parties. Most of it is that you get an imbalance out of the members of congress.
Q: What do you think about having members of congress who are not AUDs to vote along with their constituents – so they have a middle role? Issue is that there are some states without any leadership roles and it’s conceivable that a state wouldn’t have any unpledged delegates
A: not in favor of that (used Sen. Kennedy as an example). DNC rule: No delegate shall be forced to vote for a candidate they do not support.
Fundamentally – how do you get elected officials to attend the convention without them having to run against their constituents?
Comment: balance between exuberance and experience needs to stay intact and we shouldn’t just react to correct for the last time.
Q: when was the last time that the vote actually mattered for AUDs? Can they be leaders without having a vote? Sit with the delegation?
A: opinion – gave them the right without the vote – only 1/3 would show up. (suzi note – an interesting proxy is the state convention – and thinking about WA state convention. We had some of our elected, but not all.)
- Initially confused, but thanks to the info, was excited and felt con
- Caucuses are the first way to engage
- Got to find a way to ensure events can accommodate everyone
- Loved the experience & volunteered as a result
- Need a system so that people know they can participate
- Became an activist because of it
Larry Gates – chair of the Kansas dems
- Brought up what the commission resolution included – recommended making absentee participation viable
- Not good about caucuses – limits participation from military, elderly, poor, shift worker. We should develop an aggressive proxy/absentee system.
- Will continue to survive because we’re responding to the lack of primary funding from our states. Don’t see that changing anytime soon
- Of the 18 caucus regions, 14 are geographically large and part of the challenge is to ensure close accessibility – could be 75 miles or so to a “polling” caucus location. How to do a caucus system that could recognize the fact that there may need to be a different geo boundary setting
- Good: had 30,000 people at the 2008 caucus (even though very very cold). Opened up the caucus system so that folks could register as a democrat on the spot. Got new registered democrats that night. Gathered a ton of emails and interested people.
- DNC needs to provide post-operative training and make sure there are ways of communicating with people and move things more quickly – but can’t rely on it.
- Issue of expense is out there
Q: is there a way to better align the caucuses across the country – economies of scale and best practices?
A: yes – but some state law precludes changes (ie Texas two step)
Q: concern that the absentee negates the value of getting folks out and there? How does Maine work?
A: Absentee provision for illness for disability, military, religion, etc…
Q: thoughts on number of caucuses/cascade of caucuses?
A: need to promulgate clear and simple rules that tell them how it fits into the overall process – make them understand that they will elect people to go onto the next level.
Q/comments: three different types of caucuses – Kansas type; firehouse – drop off a ballot; texas – coordinates with a primary. Best practices can be quite different. How can we get feedback quickly and then look at the various local provisions are.
- had been hundreds of negative comments about texas two-step
- concern that a caucus causes people not to want to participate because it’s not anonymous (ie employees and their bosses)
- (from Suzi) If the goal is momentum and getting people involved – there’s a lot of opportunity for setting expectations, training and providing support & infrastructure – invite Ashley to come to Seattle. This is a fantastic opportunity.
- no go on absentees
- Firehouse primary in New Mexico was a mess and is an aberration in the rules
Options on primary timing :
From the resolution – must move window from February to march and the prewindow to February (note – again – Iowa, NH, NV and SC timing not on the table as per the resolution from the DNC. I wish we could have discussed those, but alas – let’s keep the controversy to a minimum)
- Keep date moved back, encouraging regional clusters, but not mandatory – especially since state legislatures have to approve these. Bonus delegates as incentive for regional clusters
- Keep date moved back, allow states to set the dates, bonus delegates for states who move back
Other ideas and comments:
- Interesting idea to add to the incentive – hotel & seating as a part of incentive packages.
- How to spread it out across the whole window – the current rules already award bonus delegates by month
- Plouffe – places where we had a little bit of time – we end up helping our party building and giving time on the ground is very important. Also – want to make it easy as possible for our candidates – ie doing 8 or 9 events in a state/region rather than just 1. That also helps other candidates.
Jennifer – “successful” means that you are energizing the base, raising money and getting momentum. For regional cluster route – need to do it properly. Another idea for an incentive for the regional clusters is more visiting/relevance
- Some issues with clusters – Concern that Size matters. Smaller states would be penalized by being in a cluster with bigger states. BUT – could also look at different groupings.
- Clyburn talking about that delegates – even in small states – can be relevant.
- Plouffe – with proportional delegate system, they are frequently spending more time in smaller states. Spent more time in Delaware than New Jersey. And more time in Idaho/Kansas than California
- In the wintry states – weather is an issue and – in Montana had great value for going late.
- Plouffe – some states that won’t, can’t move (ie legislation). There are a total of 13 weeks – every week 3 to 4/week. Used Pennsylvania and gap of 7 weeks as an imbalance. Such a benefit of being in one timezone and be focused to build organization. Goal is to build the party. If 30 or 35 of the states move, that’s still a big deal.
- Incentives for both clusters & date and spreading it out
- Suzi used the analogy of 5 year olds playing soccer – seemed to examine the question of spreading it out.
- Suzi’s idea proposed: Could we have states request their weeks 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices for their week – regions could have a weighted request on a particular date – have a max number of states on a given date – if extra states are on a particular date, we reduce the % of their delegates
- How many of the pieces/states have flexibility anyway because there wouldn’t be a legal/administrative constraint? – then – can we set some of the proposals?
- If the goal is to stretch it out – to give some priorities – a state that would go in June – the get benefits, delegate bump, prio 1 list for hotels & seating, prior 4 is in may, etc… There are state law constraints, but can we build in real incentives.
- Meredith suggesting that we need to be realistic in terms of the effectiveness of incentives – what would encourage that type of participation.
- Dan Blue: if folks go late, you can guarantee trips, events, appearances to help the candidates to get elected (incentives are to help the legislatures and such)
there were under 900 unpledged (19% for the 2008 convention)
- 445 – DNC
- 300 – Dem Mem of congress
- 30 – Dem gov.
- 22 Distinguished party leaders
- 90 – unpledged addons (from the state party chairs)
- Option 1: eliminate unpledged delegates into non-voting delegates – honored delegation members
- Option 2: 40-50% reduction:
- No add-ons
- Reduce # of dnc members & congressional members
- Option 3: increase PLEOs to accommodate a portion of the DNC members & members of congress –
- Option 4: unpledged turned into pledged delegates. RBC would determine how they would be pledged (the Mondale)
Comments/thoughts from the group:
- Increasing # of pledges begs the question of dilution and too many people to fit in a reasonable space
- Suzi observation: getting momentum – state convention would be a way to get in front of folks. How do we keep everyone involved in the process
- Bill Carrick – why reduce the number of unpledged delegates – because felt that it was disempowering.
- It was also a question of not feeling like the people were representative – who are these people?
- If folks are in name alone
- Can we push back their decision/declaration timing?
- Issue was who was this person to have disproportionate representation?
- Possibly make folks “honored guests” in order for them to lose their AUD status.
- Linda – need to preserve some number of unpledged delegates, but then those who are subsequently excluded – make them pledged that they are a part of the process
- Reco that gov & senators should rate a buy as unpledged as well as party chairs. Thinks that other groups – other members of congress & dnc members
- Plouffe weighted in and shared that we should focus on what’s best for the party – when speaking with almost 500 AUDs, many were uncomfortable with their role. Reminded us that the people on the ground felt that there was an inside game. No candidate should have to spend their time with individuals like this. Thinks that there shouldn’t be unpledged delegates.
- Clyburn – if the AUDs hadn’t resolved their issues before Montana closed, then AUDs would, technically, have determined the election – and that would have had a major impact on the general election
- How to send a signal that unpledged delegates can’t/don’t control the election outcome.
- Question around elected DNC members? – 75 at large, small number of elected, party officers
Option #5 (combined and brought up later):
- DNC leadership only
- Party chairs
- Govs. & Senators
- Distinguished party leaders
- Expand PLEOs
- Convert remaining congresspeople and DNC members into “honored guests”
Option #6 (this option wasn’t really discussed (except among some commission members after the session) and I plan to send a separate note about to the staff:
- Eliminate the concept of UNPLEDGED delegate altogether
- Expand the PLEO ranks substantially (party leader and elected official – if becoming a delegate is the regular line at airport security and becoming a superdelegate is bypassing it, PLEO is like going through the premier line. You still have to wait a bit and go through security, but there are fewer people and you have a nicer suit. Many different levels of party leaders & elected officials are eligible to run in that category – including lowly old me – a PCO – precinct committee officer (like Yurtle the Turtle presided over all he could see, I am responsible for about a 4 block radius of my house to do political doorbelling and get out the vote efforts)).
- Offer all those who were UNPLEDGED delegates and don’t get elected as PLEOs special status and access for the convention (private mai tais with POTUS or FLOTUS, perhaps 😉
- Option #1: Develop best practices guide for caucuses – guildines for the states, consider limted resources, best practices should recognize the diversity of caucuses held across the country
- Option #2: have accountability back through RBC
- Larry idea : performance guidelines – how are you prepared to do the caucuses – provide an RBC process and whether caucus states are applying those guidelines
- Can be a great experience – but gone south turns people off big time
- An Idea that I brought up and that they seemed to really like: take the best practices guidelines further and create a committee/peer group of leaders from the caucus states who could discuss ongoing best practices and possibly also define some standards/provide some quality oversight.
- I also shared an idea to evolve the absentee ballot to be more of a proxy – but have restrictions on it to those who are infirm, military, have religious reasons, etc… – but allow them to select 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices – not just their first choice.
- WA state had absentee for military/religious/
Read related notes by Frank Leone who was in the audience: