Sunday, March 13, 2016

Making The Caucuses Happen: Johnson County Convention

The most important lesson to take from yesterday's Iowa county conventions is that politics is about personal relationships as much as it's about issues.

The Polk County Democratic convention situation was bad on every level. Credibility, personal relationships, Iowa Nice, post-nomination unity, future of caucuses, everything. If First In The Nation wasn't dead before yesterday, it sure is now, with both campaigns crying foul.

Other writers are going to dive deep into that one. I'm going to look at Johnson County's convention and perhaps by example show how things could have gone better.

Johnson County, mostly because of long ago platform fights, has a reputation for being contentious at conventions. My perspective yesterday was limited - I barely left the credentials bunker and never cast a vote or heard a speech (Blog For Iowa has some of that) - but from what I saw everyone behaved and everyone cooperated.

That kind of cooperation starts way before caucus night. It starts way before the caucuses. Our biggest blessing was to have two  people with a long relationship leading the convention prep for the two campaigns - Rod Sullivan for Team Bernie and Sue Dvorsky for Team Hillary. They were able to work together through normal minor issues, explain the process to newer people, and keep focused on the big picture that we have two great candidates one of whom will be a great president and a great ticket leader.

It seems like one of the issues at Polk yesterday was "people who were not properly elected as delegates." For those of you who may have forgotten, caucus night was a little confusing. Names didn't get written down, people think getting elected to the county central committee means they're a delegate, all that kind of stuff.

That was bigger than usual this year because the precinct candidate captains were each reporting their delegates and alternates to the campaigns. So people got written down on, say, the Hillary alternate list but not the Official alternate list. The Big Boxes of caucus paperwork that I brought to the convention (and which are now resting in my basement in case of a county special convention) include lots of photocopies of those.

I sent the first draft of our delegate/alternate list to both teams on February 8, and felt bad about that because I was one day late. The campaigns did their own cross checking while I worked on the more Official problems of people who had voter registration issues.  A few of those didn't get solved till yesterday - we put registration forms in those people's packets.

I talked to one of those people and it was a simple issue: he'd left his apartment number off his registration, his voter card wasn't delivered, and the auditor's office was required to put him on Inactive status. (A LOT more on that next week)

Here's how Johnson County solves problems:

From: John Deeth
Date: Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 9:55 PM
Subject: Re: Question
To: Bernie staffer, Bernie chair, Hillary chair, Credentials cochair, the two precinct chairs

The feedback all points to adding the two alternates, so without objection I did.
(a couple off group replies in between)
On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 6:12 PM, John Deeth wrote:
To: Bernie staffer, Bernie chair, Hillary chair, Credentials cochair, the two precinct chairs

Went through the paperwork and not seeing names listed as alternates anywhere. I do see both signed in as attendees, and both are registered Dems in good standing. Staffer where do you have info listing them as alternates? Chairs, remember anything? Suggestions? Since they're just alternates, does not affect math between the campaigns. deeth

On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 1:39 AM, Bernie Staffer wrote:
Hey John,

I can't seem to find the response you so graciously provided when I inquired about this earlier..

We have 2 people who should be listed as delegates/alternates, but are not listed.  

Person 1 (IC23) should have been listed, as well as Person 2 (IC18) but there names are not included in the spreadsheet you've been sending updates for.

Can they still come to the convention and somehow be listed as an alternate?

So sorry for the inconvenience of the additional message. 

Thank you again for all of your help!

Yesterday four more items like this came up: three alternates who hadn't been written down. We checked the boxes, saw that they'd attended, and in one case the precinct chair was available to confirm. We checked with the other campaign and there was no objection because that's not what we do in Johnson County.

The fourth one was my bad: a husband and wife who were alphabetically consecutive and I checked him when I should have checked her. When you hear people talk about "computer errors," it probably means stuff like that. I don't think we even bothered the other campaign with that one because in our convention culture no one would even dream of objecting.

Sign in started at 7 and I was on data entry; I did delegates while another volunteer took the alternates. Tom Larkin, my co-chair, stopped in six or eight times with various issues like those I've described, and we fixed them.

When sign-in ended at 9 we had maybe 120 open slots to be filled by alternates. At this point I hit a couple delays. 1) I wasn't able to come up with a way to do the newly required seating priorities of precinct, similar precinct, and at large without a stage of manual data entry. 2) After I had connected my printer to the school district's open wifi network at 7 AM and tested it Just To Make Sure, the network had been disconnected, so I had to re-connect using my phone as a wifi hot spot.

At that point I was the bottleneck of the whole convention and it was the only time all day that I got a little stressed.  Even that was just One Thing At A Time People level stress. (I've learned through bad experience to actively avoid the platform debate.)

Once that was done I took a Deep Breath Of Relief and gave each campaign a printed list of the alternates eligible for seating. Each team called their people up to the sign in table, Hillary first for some mutually agreed reason that I never heard about because it was never an issue. Half hour or so I repeated the process with a second-tier list, because some alternates from both teams had already left once it was clear that both sides had plenty of bodies to fill every seat.

There was a net gain of three for Hillary over the caucus night results. She picked up the one O'Malley delegate and one straight up defector from Bernie. The third gain had been expected since caucus night. A one delegate precinct that had gone narrowly for Bernie did not have a Bernie person who wanted to be the delegate. A Hillary person offered, and was duly elected, and reported on caucus night as "Bernie, one delegate." She was open about supporting Hillary on caucus night, and she of course switched back at check in yesterday.

As the person who trained the caucus chairs I got some blowback from this. It was not a situation I'd seen or even imagined before - and believe me, if we ever do this again, which I doubt, I'll emphasize it to the one-delegate chairs. But the real failure was on the part of the Bernie precinct captain, who should have caught it and had the precinct elect a loyal Bernie person who couldn't attend. That way a loyal Bernie alternate could have been seated yesterday. But the delegate is the delegate and every delegate has the right to switch.

In any case, the Bernie leadership knew as soon as caucus night at the bar, and regretfully accepted the fact, though some of the Bernie supporters were grouchy. It seemed like a big deal till we started hearing about Polk County. I don't regret being open about it, because that's better than not. Only thing I would have done different is I wouldn't have used the words "stealth delegate" in order to cram the explanation into one tweet. Some of this stuff just takes more than 140 to explain.

So our final seating was Bernie 208, Hillary 145, which breaks out as 54 state delegates for him and 38 for her, a gain of one for Hillary. Any two of the three preference switchers would have flipped the delegate.

I was briefly seated myself, but handed my packet over to someone else who wanted it more. Because that's how we do it in Johnson County.

By maybe 11 - the credentials room was windowless with no clock - everyone was situated. We waived realignment and broke into preference groups, with Bernie staying put in the main hall and Hillary moving.

In the Hillary room, 61 people originally stood up to run for delegate, and at the first mention of Put Your Hand Down To Be An Alternate that dropped to about 48. I chimed in with a brief Lead By Example speech: if you've been doing this a long time, be an alternate and let the new people go. (The person who should have sat down, and it is very very hard for me to not name him and shame him, never budged.) Someone else contradicted me with "the voice of experience is valuable." We sat on 39 people for maybe 15 minutes and were close to an election of "everybody put your names in a hat and we'll draw one out," when someone, NOT the guy who should have, moved.

At that point I walked back into the Bernie room - yes, in Johnson County we walk freely in and out of each other's rooms - and Rod Sullivan reported that they had just completed exactly the same process. All before lunch. I collected the lists from both sides and went back to the credentials room.

Since I hadn't been seated, and since I hate platform debate, there was really nothing for me to do in the hall. I briefly considered packing up and going home. Just then, someone asked to use my second laptop to project platform amendments, so I set that up, went back to the bunker and started data entering the state delegates, alternates, and convention committee members which was what I was going to do at home anyway. Sue Dvorsky and Rod Sullivan each stopped to visit and were both confident in the list, and by 2:30 I was finished.

Rob Hogg happened to be on hand by then and we chatted briefly; he'd been to five or maybe six conventions (he remembered; I don't). Things were very close to done and I grabbed a couple bodies to help me pack up. By 3:30 everyone was out the door and by 5 I'd gotten home, fixed a couple non-mission critical typos, and sent our list to the IDP.

I probably engaged in a little too much schadenfruede at Polk County's expense last night, but it was mostly out of my relief that our own efforts had been smooth.

I Put My Hand Down so I'm just an alternate to district and state. I briefly considered district credentials but now am very glad that I dodged that one. So my biggest role in all this process, which my life has largely revolved around for nine months, is now done. I feel like I just got done with a school year, with both an overwhelming sense of relief and an itching to start writing more.

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