Monday, May 05, 2008

Electing Obama Delegates - First Thoughts

Yesterday I attended the 2nd Congressional District delegate caucus to elect pledged Obama delegates to the DNC convention in Denver. If I have time I'll do a detailed post about the process, but I came away from the caucus somewhat disappointed and dejected, so wanted to get these thoughts out first.

It seems to me that pledged delegates should be chosen based in large part on how much work they do for a campaign. Extraordinary efforts should be recognized and rewarded, and becoming a national delegate is a traditional means of doing so. In addition, the amount of work a volunteer does is a strong indication of how committed and loyal to the campaign he or she is, which is a real concern given the possibility of a fight at the convention this year.

Despite this, several people were elected delegates who, as far as I can tell, have done little or nothing to support the Obama campaign. They defeated superb and deserving candidates who have donated hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to Obama.

The delegate caucus was stacked. Quite legally, but stacked none the less. It looks like all of the Obama delegates who were elected yesterday were political insiders with ties to the Doyle administration. And while some clearly deserved to become delegates, others did not. They won because they had the support of the roughly thirty Doyle folks who were at the caucus.

Unfortunately this is par for the course. Not all all unusual when the grassroots gets rolled by political professionals. But I had some conversations at the caucus that prompted me to think about what happened, and to realize that there's a cost here that tends to get overlooked. A cost to the Democratic Party, and to our candidates.

The Party needs committed campaign volunteers to succeed. But yesterday some of our most active and successful volunteers were kicked out of the way so that politically connected insiders could grab the perks of a successful campaign. We failed to recognize and reward some truly extraordinary efforts, and by doing so we discourage such efforts in the future. Cutting our own throats. It's what Democrats do best.


Northwoods said...

That sounds like a bitter disappointment for someone who poured their heart into the Obama Campaign. Wisconsin's Primary was a great victory for Obama, one that put Hillary back a few steps.

I just hope we can count on our Obama delegates not to crack at the convention and sell Obama out if things get contentious.

Love your blog Reform-Dem! It's my favorite Progressive political blogs. You always have something insightful to say. Hope to catch up with you again at the state convention this year!

Russell Wallace said...

I hate to admit it, but I'm worried about the loyalty of some of the Obama delegates as well. Supporting a candidate is often as much about career advancement as it is about principles for political pros, so they tend to be more susceptible to certain inducements then your average campaign volunteer.

I think the real problem here is that the people at the top of the political food chain don't even bother to consider how their actions affect those at the bottom. Insiders have many routes to the convention, but the lowly campaign volunteers usually have just one - the delegate caucuses.

What happened at the 2nd CD caucus was a stupid and unnecessary slap in the face to the dedicated grassroots volunteers who helped make Obama's victory in Wisconsin possible.


Thanks for the praise Northwoods, but too much just makes my head swell up. I expect to be at the convention, so see you there!

Obama Girl said...

I know all 5 of the people voted in as caucus delegates and personally saw all of their commitment and dedication to Obama. My understanding is that all people interested in being delegates all had the same opportunity to lobby for these spots.

Russell Wallace said...

One of the delegate candidates, when specifically asked at the caucus to speak about what she had done for campaign, basically responded by saying it's not what you do, it's who you are.

You would think that such an answer would have made her unelectable. Yet she won.

While you can argue that everybody theoretically had an equal opportunity to get elected, Obama Girl, that isn't really what matters.

What's important is how this sort of thing affects the Democratic party and our candidates in the long run. And I guarantee you that the results on Sunday will not encourage more people to volunteer for campaigns and make the sort of commitments and sacrifices that we need to succeed in the future.

Look, one incident like this isn't a big deal. But slights by political insiders to grassroots volunteers and activists occur all over the country, in many different ways, and they drive a lot of good people away from Democratic Party.

It is irresponsible of insiders in positions of power and privilege not to consider these issues and try to minimize the negative consequences. That didn't happen on Sunday, and it's a real shame.

Anonymous said...

Russell is 100 percent right.

Many grassroots activists voted for Stan Davis because he deserved it. Stan worked hard for the campaign. Byron Eagon and Mary Lang-Sollinger also deserved to win. On the other hand, obviously Roberta Gassman was selected because she is a political insider. The sad thing is that a woman who had gone to three states for Obama and had done many other things for the campaign was denied a delegate slot.

It is also obvious that while grassroots activists voted for deserving political insiders the opposite was not true.

That hurts the Democratic cause.

On the Creek said...

Russell -
As you know, I also spent Sunday afternoon helping to select the 2nd CD's Obama delegates. I left with a very different impression than you. I was, overall, very pleased with our slate and feel that we've got passionate, hardworking, uber-committed Obama supporters headed to Denver. In particular, I was delighted that three candidates who had more than earned my vote (Bryon Eagon, Mary Lang Sollinger and Stan Davis) all are going to represent us at the convention. I'm not sure who the "several" are among our slate of 5 (plus 1 alternate) who you think are so undeserving, but I certainly left the Labor Temple on Sunday feeling proud that we had just elected a strong, dedicated, fired-up, racially-diverse slate of delgates to help bring this home for Obama in August.


Russell Wallace said...

Vicky, I agree with you that the delegates you named were more than deserving, which is why I supported them at the caucus.

Where we apparently disagree is the remaining three (two delegates and an alternate). I feel that there were much more deserving candidates in terms of how much work they did for the campaign, and that the three folks who won, all being well connected political insiders, could and should have taken other routes to get to the convention (PLEO's, at large, committee assignments, etc).

The result would have been better for the party, and better for our candidates.

On the Creek said...

The fact of the matter is that, as in any election, turnout matters and so does name recognition. While I share your disappointment that someone like Renee Knight - who has worked creatively, diligently and with tremendous spunk on behalf of Obama - isn't going to Denver, she's a good example of someone who simply got out-organized by people who are pros at it. A delegate ticket is a golden ticket and while we might like to think it's a pure meritocracy, it's not. Organizing skills matter and if other candidates did a better job at getting their friends & allies to show up to the county caucus so they could vote on Sunday or did a better job getting their names out there to other voters, well...that's the way elections go, my friend.
- Vicky

Russell Wallace said...

Vicky, you may be satisfied to simply say that life sucks when you're on the bottom of the political food chain, but my goal is to actually make things better.

When we recognize and reward our volunteers they tend to work harder and we attract more of them. That's a no-brainer. And if that means embarrassing a few insiders when they unnecessarily shit on some of our best and most committed campaign volunteers, so be it. Remember your own advise, it's all about the big picture.

On the Creek said...

This is not a contest, Russell, of who's more interested in 'making things better.' And you know me well enough (as does anyone who spends even one minute with me) to know that I am hardly content to let those "at the bottom of the political food chain," as you say, starve there. But Obama delegate selection was a relatively simple turnout contest that started with the county caucus in March. This isn't brain surgery: to be elected a delegate, a candidate needed only to bring a good-sized group with him or her to that county caucus, to qualify them to vote for said candidate at last weekend's final vote. Grassroots volunteers had just as much opportunity - and, one would think, far more skill than the "insiders," at this turnout game - as anyone else to bring a supportive crowd to become their electors. Whining after the fact that others were more effective organizers hardly seems to be 'making things better.'

Lindsey Lee said...

Hi Vicky,

Zach, you and others who ran the election did a great job and it was procedurally fair.

I want to point out that I supported Stan Davis who I had only briefly met at the 1st tier caucus in Verona last month. Stan would by any definition be considered a political "insider." I encouraged others to support Stan because he worked hard for the Obama campaign and was highly deserving of a delegate slot. I also supported Byron Eagon and Mary Lang Sollinger for the same reason. I barely know Mary Lang and I have still not met Byron.

It was clear Sunday that many if not most of those who draw their life blood from politics (i.e. paychecks) were not interested in voting for candidates based on merit. Instead, they voted for candidates based on their political connections. Some were deserving (Stan, etc.) and some where not.

Was there reciprocity?

Renee Knight, who I have just recently met due to her getting involved with the Obama campaign, was probably the most deserving person in the room. She went to three other states to work for Obama even though she has a small business to run and kids at home. Her not getting a delegate slot reflects poorly on us as a whole. It is not wrong to state that obvious fact.

Political insiders are often the first to whine about factionalism within the party. But then they are the first to use their might to shut out deserving activists. There seems to be a disconnect there.

Now maybe another delegate slot can be found for her later this month. That would go a long way to making things better.

Lindsey Lee

Russell Wallace said...

Vicky, you're so busy defending the process and the people who successfully gamed it that you seem incapable of stepping back and asking yourself if the big-picture result was good or bad for the Democratic Party.

That's the important question here, not who could or should have been able to out-organize who.

Russell Wallace said...

Looks like there's also an Isthmus Forum thread about the caucus. Kind of ugly.

On the Creek said...

Russell, I am merely suggesting that the activist, grassroots faction of the party can and will succeed only when we master the rules of the game as well as the insiders. The rules are not inherently unfair in most cases. The process is transparent and easy to understand. Instead of lamenting results after the fact, we've got to get as good at gaming the system as the so-called insiders do.

Instead of merely criticizing the results, how about suggesting some different ways the grassroots and candidates like Renee could be more effective in the future? I certainly can see some ways that the grassroots could've had more impact on delegate selection and now that I've been through the process once, I definitely have some ideas for things I would suggest be done a little differently next time and some specific advice I would give to someone seeking a delegate spot next time.

A blog like that from you helping to point the way to victory for the grassroots would've been welcomed and far more constructive than post-hoc finger pointing and claiming that grassroots volunteers were "kicked out of the way" by allegedly perk-hungry do-nothing insiders.

Russell Wallace said...

Vicky, there are two sides to the problem. You're correct that the grassroots can and probably should be more effective at organizing, but in the end the grassroots and the insiders are on the same team.

The best answer isn't an organizing arms race that would inevitably cause more conflict and division, but rather for the insiders to think more carefully before they stomp on the grassroots worker bees in their way. Kill the bees, and nobody gets any honey.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, Renee K. should have showed up with the Governor's chief of staff sitting next to her.