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DNC Change Commission Holds First Meeting

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The DNC Change Commission held its first meeting at the Capitol Hilton in DC to hear presentations on primary calender, super delegates, and caucuses.   Governor Kaine convened the meeting and charged the group to work to have a strong, fair, transparent process that is good for our party and the country.  The meeting was well organized and included some interesting presentations on the issues and served to bring all Commission members up to speed.  The next meeting on August 29 will feature public comment and the October 24 and December 5 meetings will discuss and adopt proposals.  See the official DNC  Change Commission website for updates.  A brief summary of the meeting, copies of the materials, and key issues to be addressed are set forth below.

Virginians on the Commission include Gov. Kaine, Del. Jennifer McClellan, Hon. Alexis Herman, and almost-Virginian Alice Germond, and honorary Virginian Jeff Berman; Sr. Advisor to the Chair Larry Roberts also attended.

Gov. Kaine started off the meeting and stressed the Committee’s mission to work to have a strong, fair, transparent process that is good for our party and the country.  He noted that we are working with RNC,  especially on the calendar issues.  He noted that we do not anticipate a contest re our presidential nominee in 2012, so we can focus on process issues.  Kaine  left early to campaign in Virginia for Democratic ticket

Patrice Taylor is heading up the staff – long time excellent RBC staffer Phil McNamara has left for Dept of Homeland security – it’s odd to see a DNC Rules meeting without Phil.  Patrice is a Virginian, very sharp, and extremely easy to work with, and she will do a great job.

Commission Chairs Sen. McCaskill and Rep. Clyburn give opening comments, commission members introduce themselves, Commission adopts rules.  See Meeting materials

  DNC_Change_June_Materials.pdf (2.3 MiB, 2,284 hits)

  The Commission is a very diverse group, with some long time rules folks and some newer party activists.  I was impressed with everyone I spoke to – they seemed very interested in addressing problems and improving the process.

Presentation by Prof. Rhodes Cook– History of process – Discussed evolution and increasing democratization of nominating process, increasing use of primaries, introduction of superdelegates.

Presentation by Dr. Elaine Kamarck– Unpledged delegates — Discussed the development of superdelegates, which arose out of the post-1980 convention Hunt Commission and the desire to involve elected officials in the process and provide some measure of continued oversight.  Superdelegates were important to Mondale at the beginning of the 1984 race and potentially very important in 2008.  With the lessening of the national convention role as a deliberative body, they assume less importance.  In fact, we are at the point were we could let go of the superdelegates.  She has a new book, but B&N doesn’t have a link to it yet.  When it comes out, buy it.

Presentation by Dr. Melanie Springer– Voters – Discussed voter attitudes on process from a 2007 survey (although it seems the data might not reflect the post-2008) view.  The survey generally found that most voters were happy with the system, thought frontloading was bad, favored a single national primary, and favored changes that would make the system more predictable, orderly, and fair.  She is the co-author of Reforming the Presidential Nominating Process.  Buy it here.

Presentation by Patrice Taylor– Change Commission issues – focused on plan to move first primary from Feb. to Mar. and examine issues of frontloadings, enforcement of timing rules, and cooperation   RNC.

Presentation by Mitch Stewart – Caucus systems – explained experiences primarily in Iowa, how caucuses work, benefits of caucuses in terms of party building.  Noted problems, including absence of absentee process.

Key issues:


Commission needs to keep in mind overall goals – fairness, transparency (clarity), openness, inclusiveness, a process which produces a winning candidate and a great president.


Primary Calendar

  • Any changes will require cooperation of GOP, state parties, state governments.
  • Opportunity to work with the RNC this year because it did not adopt schedule at end of convention as has been its practice.
  • Want to move back beginning of process a month to beginning of March.
  • GOP, however, has its window open on Feb. 7th.
  • Everyone wants process more spaced out, but everyone also wants to go first.
  • 2008 had bonus delegates as incentive for states to move back – NC took advantage, to its benefit.
  • One proposal was a sliding process with later primaries allowing winner take all so those states will have more of an impact – but winner take all processes overwhelm minority interests – we can’t do that.
  • National primary – not a good idea, impossible to accomplish
  • Regional primaries – good concept; impossible to mandate – DNC may be able to encourage groupings, e.g., Potomac primary (2008)
  • Commission may make recommendations on how to police the process – if states have too early primaries – strike all delegates and then give them all back (DNC 2008) or strike half the delegates (RNC 2008) or other approaches.
  • Important lesson from 2008 is it was supposed to be frontloaded process resulting in a quick nomination – the opposite occurred; unexpected consequences should be expected.

 Unpledged Delegates 

  • Goal was to involve elected officials in party processes, act as a counterbalance to activists as part of deliberative convention.
  • Unlikely that a convention will act as a deliberative, as opposed to a ratifying, body, although it almost did in 2008 (and GOP 1976).
  • Superdelgates may be viewed by the public as illegitimate and undemocratic.
  • Number of superdelegates has increased since 1984.
  • There likely will be proposals would to reduce the number – complete elimination seems unlikely.
  • Another approach would be to require them to be pledged, after the state’s primary, in proportion to the primary vote.
  • Note that we currently have elected pledged party leader and elected official (PLEO) positions, and we could expand the number of PLEOs.


  • Some states have a good process, or at least Iowa does; unclear how many other states share that commitment.
  • States should be allowed flexibility.
  • Caucuses can be an excellent voter registration and party building tool.
  • Problem of difficulty of participation, e.g., by those in military will be hard to address in an unassembled caucus.
  • Serious organizational problems at some caucuses in 2008 – largely due to record attendance.
    DNC should develop some optional, standardized rules and procedures for caucuses.


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