Wednesday, February 21, 2007

UW Madison College Dems: No Blacks Allowed?

Are blacks and Hispanics welcome in the UW Madison College Democrats? You might not get that impression judging from the bizarre antics at their endorsement meeting a few weeks ago.

In one of the most boneheaded maneuvers ever, the College Dems' leadership, in their zeal to support a favored candidate for Madison City Council, took unprecedented measures that prevented almost every single minority student at that meeting from participating in the endorsement vote. The College Dems weren't deliberately being racist, but perception is reality in politics, and it looks really bad when a bunch of white Democratic students change the rules at the last minute to block a bunch of black and brown students from voting at a party meeting. Not exactly the best way to encourage minority involvement in the Democratic party.

This is a complicated story that hasn't been covered well in the MSM, and I know I'm going to stir up a hornet's nest by wading into it. But I firmly believe that Democratic leaders, even students, must be held accountable when they do things that hurt the party.

There's an additional reason that I'm bringing up this issue now. This Thursday the Dane Dems will hold an endorsement vote on the same city council race. Usually we simply follow the lead of the College Dems, but this year I believe that we need to carefully consider the fact that doing so implies tacit approval of the tactics used at the College Dems meeting, and therefore will only compound the damage. Given that both candidates in the race are well qualified progressives with almost identical stands on the issues, I think the Dane Dems should just stay out of this mess and let the cards fall where they may.

Here's the story:

Eli Judge (L) and Lauren Woods (R) are competing for the Madison 8th District City Council seat currently held by retiring alder Austin King. This district covers many of the UW Madison dorms, so it's quite liberal even by Madison standards, and tends to elect very young candidates.

Both Woods and Judge are UW students with solid political experience; Woods was president of the Wisconsin Black Student Union and has worked for Senator Lena Taylor, and Judge was Chair of UW-Madison Students for a Fair Wisconsin. Both are progressive activists who's views reflect those of the district, and both are well qualified to serve on the City Council.

The retiring King recruited Woods as his heir apparent, and delayed his retirement announcement as long as possible to discourage other challengers. King is very popular, and has a formidable political machine in the district, and Woods has the strong support of many minority groups on campus. But Judge, with the backing other groups and, critically, the College Dems leadership, also threw his hat into the ring. With two ideologically similar candidates vying for the seat it promised to be a tough race, boosting the importance of endorsements.

But the College Dems leadership faced a problem. They couldn't guarantee that Judge, their favored candidate, would receive their endorsement under the rules they traditionally used for endorsement votes. The College Dems have always allowed everyone who showed up a meeting to vote. Endorsements were decided largely by how many supporters each candidate could bring to the endorsement meeting, and it was probable that Woods, with support from King's machine, would be able to turn out far more people than Judge.

Faced with this the College Dems leadership took two unprecedented actions: They scheduled a snap endorsement meeting with only two days public notice, and they simultaneously announced a change in the voting rules to require attendance at a previous College Dems event as a prerequisite to vote.

The effect was to prevent almost all of Woods supporters from voting. Given the groups that support each candidate, it came down to a bunch of white students telling a bunch of black and brown students that under the brand new rules they were no longer entitled to vote for their own candidate.

I don't have a problem with the College Dems adopting any rules they want. But I do have a problem with them changing them at the last minute to help their buddies, particularly when doing so drives a wedge between the Democratic Party and the minority community.

But there's a bigger problem here. Some of our Democratic party leaders are not only completely oblivious to the racial overtones in this case, they also appear to be supportive of what the UW Madison College Dems did and how they did it. This "win at any cost" culture, while necessary for a political party to succeed, tends to obscure the fact that some battles just aren't worth the cost. A "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" attitude is great most of the time, but you still have to think about the consequences of damning those torpedoes, and many of our party leaders are incapable of doing so. They tend to think very short term, tactically rather then strategically, and this leads to errors in judgment. Sadly, those errors can really damage our party.

I want to make it very clear that my objection isn't to Eli Judge as a candidate. Although I prefer Lauren Woods for many reasons, I believe that either candidate would do a good job representing their district on the city council. My beef is with the utter stupidity of the College Dems board members and the adults who advised and supported them.

Here are some links from both sides of the issue if you want more information. Be sure to read the comments on the stories to get a flavor of the strong feelings this race has generated:

The Badger Herald 1/19/07 - UW students go head-to-head for District 8 seat. A good intro to the race.

The Badger Herald 1/24/07 - College Dems endorse Judge. This is the original news story about the College Dems endorsement. It doesn't mention the controversy at all.

Badger Herald 01/30/2007 - UW Dems limit Woods’ support. This is the first story that talks about the voting rule change.

The Daily Cardinal 2/7/07 - UW Dems bylaw change unfair to Woods, some say. Another story that gets into the rule change.

The Critical Badger Blog 2/7/07 - The Daily Cardinal… what are you thinking?. A critique of the story above by a member of the College Dems. I believe the "Bloggers in the area [that] will be going crazy with this story" refers to me.

Lauren Wood's campaign website

Eli Judge's campaign website

A final word. I've talked to many people on both sides of this issue, and while everyone schemed behind the scenes to support their own candidate, it's my opinion that the UW Madison College Dems board and particularly their chair, Eli Lewein, have been considerably less than honest about their actions and motivations. Although much of the blame must be placed on the adults within the Democratic Party who are selecting and mentoring the College Dems leadership, that doesn't excuse either what they did or their unwillingness to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. This incident exposes a serious flaw in the way we recruit and train future Democratic Party leaders, a flaw that must be fixed if the party is to be truly successful in Wisconsin.


UPDATE: Although the Dane Dems board recommended an endorsement of Eli Judge, the endorsement did not pass at the general membership meeting on 2/23. Unfortunately Judge's endorsement was lumped in with several other endorsements that were voted on as a group, so there was little debate. I would have preferred to have seen a robust discussion of the issues, but I think we did the right thing by staying out of this race.


Anonymous said...

This is actually a really balanced read on what happened. Great piece of writing!

Anonymous said...

I think you've forgotten an important link:

Anonymous said...

I am one of those "black or brown" students you speak of. There were plenty of us at the meeting who were allowed to vote. Why - because we're actually members of the College Democrats, not just friends of a candidate!

I am a racial minority. And I am a dedicated College Democrat. I've been to every meeting this school year and volunteered in the fall elections, sometimes from 6 in the morning until 10 at night. Why should someone who hasn't done anything to help get Governor Doyle and other Democratic candidates reelected or even been to a single College Dems meeting get to vote in our endorsement?

It's people like Ashok Kumar who hijack the endorsement process that force rule changes. If the Dems allowed everyone and their mom to vote if they showed up, what would stop the College Republicans or, say, Progressive Dane, from getting their candidate - in this case, Lauren Woods - endorsed?

Lauren Woods is not a College Democrat. She may be a Democrat, but by no means is she a UW-Madison College Democrat. She didn't spend a single minute in the fall elections working for Democratic candidates or even spare one hour of her time to come to a College Dems meeting.

And then she asks us for our endorsement???

And, contrary to popular belief, us "black or brown" students don't vote for someone simply because they are the same color as we are. I didn't vote to endorse Lauren Woods -- does that make me racist? Or, if I had voted against Eli Judge, would that make me homophobic?

There are two reasons (neither of them dealing with rule changes) that Eli Judge was endorsed by the College Democrats:

1. Eli Judge is a College Democrat and has been since the beginning of his college career, coming to meetings and getting to know the members who ultimately endorsed him.

2. And, a fact that was made evident during the endorsement debate, Eli Judge was - and IS - the better candidate for students in the 8th District.

Russell Wallace said...

Anon #1, I didn't link to letters to the editor or blog comments because I didn't feel they were as significant as the links I posted.

To address what seems to be the main point in Neil Goldsmith letter, I don't have any problems with the new rules that the College Dems adopted, just with the way in which they were adopted.

When you require attendance at a previous event to be eligible to vote, yet give only two days notice before adopting that rule, it sure looks like you're trying to screw somebody...

Russell Wallace said...

Almost all of Eli Judge's supporters at the endorsement meeting were white, and almost all of Lauren Wood's supporters weren't. You may be an exception, Anon, but there weren't "plenty" of you.

Race is still a big issue in our country and, like it or not, it's an issue in this campaign. Unfortunately it's a bigger issue than it should have been as a result of the actions of the College Dems.

Once again, I don't have any problem with the College Dems changing their rules to prevent their meetings from being packed, only in the way in which those rules were implemented.

Of course, had the College Dems put these exact same rules in place two years ago, none of their current board members would have been elected, but that's a post for another time.

Anonymous said...

I think there's an important distinction to be made between "College Democrat" and "college Democrat" that isn't being made here.

The big C would go to those who actually show up at events put on by the College Democrats and have a stake in the organization while the little c would go to those who are Democrats who happen to be in college or college students who happen to be Democrats but couldn't care less about the College Democrats organization.

The College Democrats made their pick. The college Democrats sat on the sidelines. What more do you want?

Anonymous said...

Unprecedented manuever?

That's funny, becuase I rememeber DFW doing the same thing a few years back after your state party chair endorsment meeting was packed and Wineke won the endorsement.

Your response? Rules change that prevents non-members of DFW from voting in endorsement proceedings.

You're a hypocrite.

Russell Wallace: Do as I say, not as I do.

Anonymous said...

The Student Organization Office at UW-Madison has been tough on the College Democrats for dropping too much lit in classrooms during the fall races. There is a SOO rule preventing certain amounts of non-UW students from attending student organization meetings, so to comply with the university and remain an organization, they had to make a rule change. Both Woods and Judge in theory, could have bussed in friends from out of town, aged 30+. Also in theory, George W. Bush could have voted at the meeting. The rule change from what I understood, was attending one college democrat meeting in the past year. I think it’s a bit unfair to forget that in your commentary.

Anonymous said...

I should also add that the critique of "well, but it's how quickly they changed it" should not apply. That would make sense for non UW-Madison College Democrats to argue (and Woods, as that she was not a member of the student organiation) but everyone in the organization knows that in reserving rooms, getting the exec board to pick a day, etc. requires a lot of planning. They are all busy college students and that will require final decisions happening 1-2 days before a meeting. Very often, general college democrat meetings are not sent out in the listserv until a few days before.

Russell Wallace said...

Lots of excuses being posted here by apologists for the College Dems.


"There is a SOO rule preventing certain amounts of non-UW students from attending student organization meetings, so to comply with the university and remain an organization, they had to make a rule change."

Read carefully, I would prefer not to have to write this again: The problem isn't the rules, it how the rule change was implemented.


"That's funny, becuase I rememeber DFW doing the same thing a few years back... Your response? Rules change that prevents non-members of DFW from voting in endorsement proceedings. You're a hypocrite. Russell Wallace: Do as I say, not as I do."

I wish you guys had done as I did. DFW did indeed put a rule in place to prevent our meetings from being packed. But we announced the proposed rule change well in advance, put it to a vote of our full membership, and timed it so that it wouldn't impact any upcoming endorsement votes or elections. In other words, we did it right.


"[T]he critique of "well, but it's how quickly they changed it" should not apply... They are all busy college students and that will require final decisions happening 1-2 days before a meeting."

Eli Lewein, the chair of the UW Madison College Dems, told me that the board decided to change the rules last summer. If he had publicly announced their intent to do so at the time, or at the beginning of the fall semester, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

Anonymous said...

So your entire argument has now gone from a page long critique, down to a sentence: "oh well, er, if he had just mentioned it last summer"

Yep. A student organization didn't submit a formal press release to WisPolitics. C'mon Russel, you're really confusing student politics with the "big boys" here. Could they have been better at the rule change? Sure. But you agree with the fundamental nature of the rule change, you agree Judge isn't so bad, and you agree it wasn't done because of skin color. Weak sauce.

Anonymous said...

Thank god they made the rule change or this guy could have shown up and voted.

Anonymous said...

Are you, Russell, using the guise of race merely for publicity? From what I have read, I see that even you agree that the rule change and the endorsement weren't racially motivated but only seemed to be because of the circumstances.

I don't see anyone calling Mayor Dave or the organizations that have endorsed him "racist." So what - he's running against a black guy. It's the issues that matter!

Or so we/you say...

Your blog, Russell, wouldn't receive half the hits it has today if you had actually stuck with facts instead of contrived drama. You're trying to make a story out of nothing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the Democratic Party insiders are reeling from this! If you didn't want to be called out on the carpet for rigging the process at the last minute, you shouldn't have done it. Whether it was the intent or not, the effect of this last-minute process switcheroo was to disenfranchise students of color that haven't traditionally been involved in the nearly all-white college dems. There are no Latinos or African-Americans actively involved in the leadership, and instead of trying to change that, they insulate themselves to prevent new people with different perspectives (all Democrats) from participating. That's just sad and misguided, and hopefully instead of defending the action and attacking the author of this post, you'll look inside and try to make some changes to diversify the leadership and membership.

Anonymous said...

Hey Russell,
I actually went to both websites to see what was the deal with the two candidates.

Eli Judge's website looks amazing. It is informative and rather inspiring.

Lauren Woods's website is basically nonexistent, except for a homepage and a donation form.

If we go by her nonfunctioning website, I think its safe to say that either a) She has nothing (bio, issues, endorsements, contact info) to be proud of or b) She really has nothing to say.

Going solely on the websites alone (the proven medium of choice for the voters in the 8th District), I would say that Eli Judge has shown that he is serious and actually cares and is not merely a nonfunctioning front.

Pat said...

Judging in no way the events that occurred at Madison, I just want to inform you all that the University of Minnesota College Democrats (U-DFL) require attendance at at least 2 meetings to vote. It is written into our constitution. I think it is a fair rule for many of the reasons stated above, yet I can see why the sudden rule change looks bad and made some people angry.

Anonymous said...

I've started reading many of the old posts on this blog and there is such a hard on for "pissing people off" and creating a ruckus. That's cool if you want to shake things up should there be problems to commment on, but be wary of someone who has to make it known: I AM DIFFERENT! I AM UNIQUE! READ ME! READ ME! PLEASEEE READ ME! Let me show you how INNOVATIVE I CAN BE in my commentary

Anonymous said...

"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." - Mahatma Gandhi

Keep up the great work, Mr. Wallace.

Anonymous said...

I am sure Gandhi wanted his comments to be used in an adversarial format to weigh two competiting political candidates and their proxy wars/supporters.... please.

Look, this entire thing is clearly a front which will be used in several hours to justify various arguments. The timing is too perfect. So much for the fairness and rational nature this blog wants people to think it has.

The poster has taken things out of context, not replied to major arguments, backed down from the "top hits" used to argue race issues, refused (based on unknown criteria) to post important links, and took quite a beating on his own turf. That speaks the loudest.

Anonymous said...

I gotta say, progressive politics here is getting more screwed up by the day. Frequently, petty machinations of one group or another take precedence over good candidates, a strong party, good debates, and general good little-"d" democracy.

The College Dems should have made their anti-packing rule active long ago. If they'd already had a problem with packing of meetings, they should have taken care of it immediately afterwards. Then this becomes a non-story.

That said, Woods' supporters crying foul is ridiculous too. If any of them had been to a College Dem meeting in the last year, they would have been able to vote. That they weren't speaks volumes about their (and their candidate's) committment to the CD organization. Getting upset because you can't pack a meeting is silly.

Perhaps the College Dems should do a better job of recruiting members and leaders that aren't white, but that's a different, broader issue.

All of this is driven by little sub-groups of liberals here shooting themselves in the foot by trying to shoot the "wrong" liberals in the head. DFW meetings, Dane Dem meetings, College Dem meetings... they're all getting "packed" by people that are never otherwise there for some mostly meaningless endorsements.

Everyone should just get over themselves and try working for a candidate you like. If you prefer one candidate to another, great. But don't waste everyone's time playing silly playground-bully games with other organization's meetings.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that many of the criticisms of this post fail to acknowledge that the college dems have a higher responsibility than simply to endorse one of their own. They represent the Democratic Party as a whole and I would agree have done a poor job of it with this last minute rule change.

I don't see what is wrong with calling them out on it. Maybe they'll learn that there are consequences to their actions.

No political party should be the personal sandbox of a few appointed individuals. Rather it should respect the role that it plays in our society.

Say what you will about the motivations of all sorts of people, but a last minute rule change that gives unfair advantage to one side of course is going to reflect badly on the college dem leadership. There is no excusing it so let's stop pretending otherwise.

Anonymous said...

thanks for posting anonymously again on your own blog Russ

Russell Wallace said...

It's interesting that the comments have here have largely turned into an example of the sort of short-term thinking that I condemned in my post. Part of the responsibility for that is clearly mine, so I'm going to try to refocus things.

Nobody has talked about the bigger picture, which is why this incident occurred, and why such behavior is tolerated and even encouraged within the Democratic Party as a whole. College Dems are the future leaders of our party. They should be our best and brightest, and they should receive the best training and mentoring we can offer them. Clearly this system is broken somewhere.


Just so my friends in the College Dems and their supporters don't think I'm trying to avoid the smaller issues, I challenge them to identify themselves rather than posting anonymously so that we can engage in a real public debate with some accountability on both sides. It's easy to spew garbage when nobody can tell who you are, but much harder to do so when those words might follow you into the future. So stand up for your convictions, come out of the online closet, and lets go on the record.

Anonymous said...

Um Russ, what smaller issues would you be trying to avoid by allowing anonymous posts? I don't really see any comments accussing you of avoiding any issues BASED on the fact that your blog permits anonymous posts. They accuse you of avoiding issues based on many other factors, just not on the only one you claim.

I actaually really am pals with some College Dems leaders, so I'll pass on your rather befuddling challenge to them.

Russell Wallace said...

I'm not trying to avoid anything, large or small, but it is rather difficult to have a serious debate with multiple anonymous commentators who can use the cover of anonymity to post just about anything. I'm obviously willing to publicly stand behind my positions, and I would hope that the College Dems leadership would be as well. To show my good faith, I would be happy to come to a College Dems meeting to explain and defend my positions.

I've always strongly supported the College Dems as an institution, although I do sometimes have problems with particular actions and individuals. As I think I made clear in my post, I feel that the College Dems, at least in Madison, are not always well served by some of the "grownups" in the DPW, and I believe that this incident is at least partly a result of that.

Anonymous said...

oh russell your such a father figure

Anonymous said...

Russell Wallace and Eli Lewien need to have an 18c.-style duel. Like Aaron Burr and Alex Hamilton. Next College Dems meeting. Let's do it. My money's on Russ.

Anonymous said...

Amazing Job!

Anonymous said...

That’s funny that you all say Ashok didn't have the support of the Democrats. When he ran every Democratic leader in town supported him, including a public statement of support from Howard Dean. He also had the Dane County Democratic Party support, and the unanimous support of the college democrats executive board over his opponent. At the college democrats meeting the vote total was 38-2 (only Brian Shactman and the other candidate were voted against Ashok). What kind of fictitious reality do people live in to make up lies about "packing meetings" by Ashok?

Russell Wallace said...

"Russell Wallace and Eli Lewien need to have an 18c.-style duel. Like Aaron Burr and Alex Hamilton..."

I'm cleaning my dueling pistols right now!

Anonymous said...

Threatening a student leader?

Brilliant move.

Andy said...

I think the person here to blame is not the organization as a whole, but one specific person... Eli Lewien. He manipulated the system for his own personal gain. Well, I hope he is regretting his decisions and actions now.

Anonymous said...

Russel Wallace poops his pants.

Anonymous said...

I always thought Austin was good at packing meetings....

Russell Wallace said...

"Russel Wallace poops his pants."

Lame. You didn't even spell my name right. Check out and come back after you've practiced a bit. Or in your case, maybe a lot.

Anonymous said...

I remember about a year ago a republican commentator on a new show saying they should run Condi 08' cause how could the liberals vote against a black women. Its that same misplaced logic that is being used here. Race should not matter, what should matter is who is going to do the best for the district. If you can honestly say that you have given both candidates an open minded look over and think that woods is the better one then saw that. Justify it using the platforms and track record of both. Other wise your just a big hack. So stop being a hack and use facts over appealing to emotions aka being an ideologue.

Anonymous said...

you are a weasel. how does it feel to know you've sold out? what do you plan to tell your god?

Anonymous said...

For historical record: Wallace wrote nothing but post after post for the Progressive Dane organization. This was just a vicious attack peace because Austin King and Ashok Kumar called him up. Wallace wanted to influence the endorsement process at the Dane County level. Wallace is a piece of chicken shit and did not investigate claims of fraud, harassment, and lies from the Lauren Woods campaign. Both Lauren Woods and Russel Wallace are everything wrong with politics today. He is not fit to lead the 2nd District, nor is he fit to run a fruit stand on State Street.

Anonymous said...

How ironic that the College Dems instituted a rule to prevent packing one of their meetings when a bunch of them were willingly used by the AT&T lobbyist/state party chair to pack a DFW meeting a couple years ago. (And 2 years ago, they failed to win an endorsement with their packing tactic.)

Anonymous said...

I work for one of the student newspapers at UW-Madison and came across this. I personally heard rumors of anti-Semitism, homophobia, and lying (calling Eli Judge a Republican) by elected officials and members of the Lauren Woods campaign during this past election. I'm utterly shocked by this blog post and can say that there will be questions asked about this guy when we investigate more into what I've been told by a highly credible source. It is kind of odd that an adult wrote a column like this as well, because even though 2/3 of the student papers had some content on the matter, the story died that week. More investigations by our paper found few things wrong. Even College Republicans stayed silent, as one told me it was, “not a story.” Another person close to King said he only asked Lauren to bring friends and allegedly members of her church in order to personally embarrass the chair of the UW Democrats.

Anonymous said...

Hey asshole, I have a question for you. Why doesn't Lauren talk to Austin anymore? HMMMM? There's a blog post there, you fucking partisan-asshole-hack. You're the worst of the worst.

Anonymous said...

You are the worst of the worst. I pray that one day you go in front of God, and he/she/it says, "How dare you set the standards of morality for me!"

Will you blog about it then? Hmm? You're everything wrong with the world.

Anonymous said...

I demand you look at Lauren Woods' campaign finance reports. On March 17th, Austin King was paid for "party supplies" which means kegs. Also on 3/17, numerous, maybe 30+ UW students donated small amounts, specifically $5 to her campaign. This amount is notoriously the cost of getting into a kegger on campus. Ask any UW student.

Austin King threw a kegger for Lauren, getting underaged kids to donate money? This is fishy. I expect a full report by next week.