Sunday, June 19, 2016

State Convention: The Hangover Edition

If you had polled the floor of the Iowa Democratic Convention at about 1:45 yesterday afternoon, a motion to ban the use of voting "clickers" and to go back to the traditional paper ballots would probably have passed.

And that would have been a big mistake.

Despite the hour or so it took for delegates to learn the functions, and despite one unanticipated problem with them, electronic voting drastically speeded up one of the two biggest time sinks of the convention, vote counting.

The other massive time sink, platform debate, not so much. That lasted till 2 AM, four hours after I left. But the fact that the truly mission critical work of the convention was done by 10 PM is a Festivus miracle.

Not very many people, not even very many party activists, are convention geeks, so let's jump back up to the top for the actual news of the event.
Democrats are slowly moving toward unity. Team Hillary won the ground game - I got multiple emails, multiple phone calls, and would likely have gotten many more had I not signed a personal blood oath to Sue Dvorsky that I WOULD be there.

Team Bernie also did well, considering that - and I DON'T want to hear the "superdelegates haven't voted yet" rant for the 635th time - considering that Hillary has clinched the nomination. 85% attendance for a defeated candidate is a remarkable showing, on a par with our county convention's tie for Bill Bradley in 2000. (Just to remind my Bernie friends that I know how you feel.)

But Hillary performed at 100% plus, filling all its seats plus. The everyone shows up, no one switches math coming out of county conventions was Hillary 704, Bernie 700. The final credentials report listed Hillary 714, Bernie 571. That was almost exactly a 5 to 4 split on the pledged, at large national delegates; my spreadsheet showed 5.001 to 3.999. Ten Sanders supporters switched over to Hillary, but another 70 or so would have needed to move to shift a national delegate.

Team Hillary wasn't pressing Team Bernie hard; it was an unspoken understanding that this convention was kind of a last hurrah. The handful of Sanders defectors seemed to be folks who felt like they'd had their say and it was time to get together, and on most votes Team Hillary seemed comfortable letting the rest have their final moment. (There were a couple items, though, where Team Hillary dug the heels in.)

As for unity in other races, Rob Hogg spend most of the day on site, and got a national delegate seat as a consolation prize. I spotted him attentively watching Patty Judge's speech and heard lots of positives about him all day. I did not spot Bob Krause (who sadly lost his dad just after the primary) and Tom "Unity" Fiegen was notably absent, not that even most Bernie folks cared. Desmund Adams was also on hand; he and Gary Sherzan immediately got on board for Jim Mowrer. I did not see Pat Murphy - or for that matter Monica Vernon - all day; I'd been told that Vernon was supposed to arrive in the afternoon.

I was supposed to be seated right away as an alternate with a signed credential from a delegate who couldn't attend. That person dropped the ball and never got me the papers, so I joined the waiting list of alternates. However, I only waited maybe a half hour before I was seated. I've done a lot of county level credentials, and I tip the beret to the team that did this thankless work at state. There were none of the ugly rules, credentials, or massive mistrust fights that were seen at places like the Polk County or Nevada state conventions. I only heard of one credentials issue, concerning residency, and that was resolved without a floor vote.
Things started slowly after lunch with the hour long clicker lesson (an hour well spent) and the beginning of platform debate. We began with absurdity: a debate over a comma vs. a slash and a motion to replace the word "people" with "human beings." Not only was this in all sincerity - it was a way to emphasize opposition to Citizens United - it was a close fight that actually triggered the first use of the clickers.

Luckily that discussion ended about 3 PM when we broke into preference groups. Team Hillary promptly moved into elections for "PLEO" delegates. These are NOT superdelegates; rather, they're pledged delegate seats, apportioned based on the preference group numbers, that are set aside for party leaders and elected officials.

Case in point: As a sitting US Senator, Tom Harkin was automatically a superdelegate. But as a RETIRED senator, he is only a "party leader" and thus had to run and get elected. Which he was, easily, in absentia, though some folks gracelessly started to shout down Sue Dvorsky when the letter she was reading on Harkin's behalf ran over the time limit. C'mon folks. It's Tom freakin' Harkin and you'd give anything to have him back right now.

Hogg was also a first ballot winner here, and the third winner was Som Baccam, a Broadlawns Hospital trustee and former Des Moines school board member.

This put Team Hillary in a slight jam, because Clinton leadership really, REALLY wanted state treasurer for life Mike Fitzgerald in the national delegation. He got a do-over in the male delegate at large contest (all delegate seats at the district and national level are broken out into separate contests by gender).

This perfectly illustrates one problem with the elimination of superdelegates - a priority platform plank for Team Bernie that passed in the wee hours. The most likely person to win any election is someone who has won an election before. If you eliminate the set-aside seats, people with even higher profiles than a nine term statewide elected official will have to run against the rank and file delegates - and they will almost certainly win.

I get that it's important that Fitzgerald's seat comes out of the pledged seats Hillary earned rather than as an unpledged "bonus." I also get that you could increase numbers of delegates. But it's hard to argue that getting rid of superdelegates will mean that more grass roots people will get to go to the national convention.

I'm out of sequence because before we dealt with the Hillary male delegates, we started voting on women. And after we voted on men, we went back to women - for a long time. This was the longest chunk of the preference group time, and the only major problem with the vote by clicker system.

The problem was not actually with the clickers. The problem was that a very large group of women were very excited about the first-ever female major party nominee.  Hillary has been around so long that it's almost too easy to forget what a big deal that is. So a lot of women really, REALLY wanted to go to Hillary's convention. (The same technical problem I'm about to describe also occurred in the Bernie group.) 22 women filed for what turned out to be three slots.

As at the district conventions, it was much harder to get elected as a woman for Hillary than as a man for Hillary, as only six men ran for the two seats. The DNC's gender balance rules did not anticipate a contest with a big gender gap like this one had.

The party rules state that candidates who finish under 15% on a ballot are dropped. What happened was that the vote splintered so perfectly that EVERYONE was under 15%. The software, as programmed, did what it was told and dutifully dropped EVERY candidate.

It took a while for the rules and nominations committee to figure this out and rather than re-programming on the fly, they developed a work around. The bad news was it required multiple, multiple, multiple ballots. The good news is the results of each of those ballots were ready in about a minute rather than an hour. It still took a while, as the votes continued to splinter perfectly and we were only dropping one or maybe two at a time. But all those multiple multiple votes took about as long as ONE paper ballot. We were done by about 7 PM, a little sooner than Sanders.
Team Hillary took the interim time to do some slating work for the other upcoming votes.

Team Hillary's BIG priority, other than holding the delegate lead, was hanging onto the state's two Democratic National Committee seats. The two incumbents, Scott Brennan and Sandy Opstvedt, were both on Team H. They were challenged by Sanders supporters Mike Carberry and Mika Covington - again, separate male and female elections. All four campaigned hard all day. (There was also a third female candidate who also backed Bernie and appeared to be a self starter, and a male Hillary self-starter who dropped out before voting.)

Other states get to have other priorities, but the number one job of an Iowa DNC member is fighting like hell to hang on to First. That may not be a winnable fight this cycle, but the convention decided that the experienced team were the ones to make the fight.
(Tangent: I finally had some off record discussion with a few people about the caucus review committee. Not entirely convinced I got the whole answer as to my exclusion, but at least I got acknowledged. And I also feel that there at least some party leaders who are not in full denial and are ready for Plan B: if caucuses are banned, as I expect President Hillary to do, then we need to fight to get our primary into the early carve-out period.) 

Brennan's win predicted Opstvedt's win by a similar margin (550-276-85), indicated that
as of 8:30 PM Team Hillary still controlled the floor, yet also indicated that Hillary had lost more supporters to attrition. Assuming the male DNC vote was a perfect proxy for Hillary-Bernie with no crossovers, Hillary had lost about 180 bodies while Bernie had only hemorrhaged 100.

The race to the exits speeded up but Team Hillary was still working one more key vote, the presidential elector race.

An Iowa John Kerry "elector" unhappily agrees.

There were rumors at the district level that "Bernie Or Bust" people were in the elector contests. A party can handle a rogue delegate or DNC member. But the Electoral College is NOT the place for a protest vote. This is not a hypothetical problem: in 2012 one of the Iowa Republican elector slate was publicly talking about voting for Ron Paul in the Electoral College. She was swiftly dumped... but could the more process-obsessed Democrats have done the same? There are people who would actually prefer to see the presidential election go into the US House and elect President Paul Ryan rather than overturn a late night vote of a state party convention.

And those are the kind of people who stay at conventions until after 2 AM to debate the platform. Once I was assured that the elector contest was done (with the two Hillary backers winning), I left, at about 10 PM.

I arrived home at midnight to a Twitter feed full of the news that the remaining delegates had voted to place legalizing all drugs in the platform. I don't have the exact wording, but that kept me awake another hour or so snarking at the plank.
No one but GOP chair Kaufmann and the Des Moines Register political reporting staff is likely to read the full platform, but when they do this will be a bright gem. I think even the Libertarians would have thought more carefully about down-ballot impact of this one. At least it gives us a whole bunch of snarky names to use for the former Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, rather than Fall Gala which sounds like a brand of hybrid apple.

This kind of stuff is one of the reasons I hate platforms. When I stay to the end, I always vote No on final passage - but that's a flawed strategy because at the very end, only the platform nerds are still in the house. At that point, you can't beat the people who literally care more about a Statement Of Principles than they do about electing candidates, because no one else has the stamina to stay.

The other fatal flaw to platforms is there is no mechanism for enforcement. Anyone can register as a Democrat and run in and win a primary and general election. Once elected, they have zero obligations to a party.

Compare that to a parliamentary system. If a British MP votes against a key motion of the government (called a "three-line whip") they run the risk of being expelled.  And in a system without primaries, the actual party structure chooses the candidates. A candidate who strays too far from the "manifesto" (i.e. platform) gets de-selected for the next election.

If we had stuff like that, I'd care about the platform. Without it, I see platforms as an empty gesture and waste of time. In retrospect, though, maybe I should have stayed later last night.

Still, that's a relatively minor mar on what was otherwise a better than I expected day. Congrats to all the national delegates and other winners.

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