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DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee Does the Right Thing

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The DNC RBC meeting I saw yesterday was one in which members and presenters strongly advocated their positions, but shared a commitment to Democratic Party ideals of participation, fairness, and party unity.  Thus the Committee was able to reach compromises which implement those principles, resolve the outstanding disputes over seating of the Florida and Michigan delegations, and allow our presumptive nominee to focus on the issues that confront the American people.  Specifically, the Committee voted to seat the full number of delegates from each state, each delegate with a half vote, and allocate the delegates generally according to primary percentage, with some adjustments for Michigan.

 The Committee did an excellent job, and, with all due respect to Will Rogers, I think its time it’s time to retire his comment that “I don’t belong to any organized political party – I’m a Democrat.”  In fact, a comparison to the Republican Party of Virginia’s inexplicable delegate selection process, which resulted in the right-wing coup at yesterday’s Convention in Richmond, demonstrates that Democrats are the organized political party.

 Special kudos to Virginia’s own National Committee woman and RBC member Mame Reiley.  Although an early and avid supporter of Senator Clinton, Mame offered a fair and reasonable compromise proposal on the Michigan challenge.  Her motion carried by a vote of 19-8 and allowed the party to resolve this matter (we hope).  This is the kind of independent judgment and strong leadership that Mame has shown on the DNC and she has served – and should continue to serve – Virginia well.

 And just by the way, the Press’ focus on a handful of inappropriately-spirited Clinton supporters who shouted at the Committee totally distorts the proceedings.  The vast majority of Clinton supporters and Obama supporters were enthusiastic, but respectful.  The Obama campaign actively discouraged protests outside the Marriott and set up an alternate activity – a voter registration drive – to which would-be protesters were directed.  We are a Democratic Party on its way to unity and victory.

The Issues and Their Resolution

Simply put, the DNC adopted a calendar of state primaries and caucuses which provided that state could not hold such events before a certain date. Pursuant to its plan to mitigate the impact of Iowa and New Hampshire, it permitted demographically diverse states of South Carolina and Nevada to hold their events sooner. Florida and Michigan, in violation of party rules, expressed intention to hold early primaries, and the DNC RBC voted in August and December 2007 to impose the maximum sanction of refusing to recognize the results of those primaries and imposing a 100% loss of delegates.

This Saturday, the RBC considered challenged filed by the Florida and Michigan state parties which sought restoration of 50% of their pledged delegates, and Florida also sought 100% restoration of its automatic (super) delegates.  Michigan and Florida did not deny that they violated DNC rules by holding un-authorized and premature primaries.  The only issue was what sanctions should the Committee impose.  The challenges raised three common issues. 

First, should Florida and Michigan be restored any, 50%, 100% of their elected and pledged delegates?  Despite assertions (in today’s Dana Milbank column in the Washington Post, for example) that the 50% restoration was a “compromise,” it was not.  DNC Rule 20.C.1 clearly imposes an automatic sanction of 50% reduction in delegate strength for states that violate the DNC timing rules.  Florida and Michigan recognized that the sanction was mandatory in their appeals and I never heard any coherent justification for not applying that sanction.  The Committee properly imposed the 50% reduction.

Second, should Florida and Michigan be restored any, 50%, or 100% of their automatic or super delegates?  This was an issue because the DNC Charter, Article 2, section 4, can be read to give super delegates rights apart from the actions of their states.  Long-time committee member (and Clinton supporter) Don Fowler, argued that this interpretation was inaccurate.  The Committee properly voted to treat super delegates the same as elected delegates and impose a 50% reduction.  Docking the super delegates half a vote was especially appropriate because these were the folks who lead the state parties to violate the timing rules.

Third, and certainly most complicated, if we seat delegates from Florida and Michigan, how to we do allocate those delegates between the presidential candidates?  Clinton supporter Harold Ickes was correct in asserting that “fair reflection” of voter preference in allocating delegates is a primary principle of our process.  But fair reflection presumes a recognized and sound process.  Here, as virtually everyone agreed, these processes were flawed because the DNC didn’t recognize the primaries as valid, voters were told the results wouldn’t count, and candidates were forbidden to campaign.  In Michigan, moreover, Senator Obama removed his name from the ballot (although Senator Clinton did not), “Uncommitted” got 40% (to Clinton’s 55%), and 5% of the total votes were write-ins that were not counted at all.  So the Committee accepted the Florida and Michigan state party proposals – allocating the Florida delegates according to the primary and allocating Michigan delegates by taking into account primary results, exit polls, and the write in votes.  Such a process was far from perfect, but provides as “fair reflection” of voters’ preferences as is possible under the circumstances.

The Clinton campaign indicated that it might challenge the Michigan allocation, contending that Clinton should receive an additional four votes and all those apportioned to Obama should go to “Uncommitted,” with the concession that most of those Uncommitted delegates are likely to go to Obama.  My personal view, however, is that this is the end of this controversy.  Net result – Clinton picks up 24 delegate votes, although if you allocate the Edwards Florida total to Obama, it is actually 17.5.  Time to move on.