Last evening was the quadrennial MCDP Reorganization Meeting. My five proposed changes to the MCDP Constitution (see below) received strong support by some members, but in the end all proposed changes were all handily defeated.
The most revealing part of the evening happened when a long-time member of the Central Committee said that she was insulted that anyone would dare to take away her right to a secret ballot. She had quite a head of steam expressing her indignation. She said that she was totally opposed to requiring her to sign a ballot. In the discussion that followed, several members reminded her that the Central Committee is a representative body and the Democrats in her precinct who elected her to the Committee have a right to know how she votes.
This member is mistaken, because the Central Committee must abide by the rules stated in the Ohio Revised Code. But it is understandable, however, why she feels she had a right to a secret vote. That’s the way the MCDP operates. I made a motion to make a roll-call vote for proposed changes to the constitution. I had prepared a handy ballot that required a signature — a roll-call ballot — and my motion was to use this ballot. (The ballot the Chairman Owens approved whited out the “Reasons.”) My motion to have a roll call vote was defeated, but a good number, I’d say a least one-third, of those voting supported the motion. Voting to not make the Reorganization Meeting transparent meant that the constitution amendment to require transparency concerning endorsements also would surely fail.
These proposals to change the MCDP Constitution stem from the disastrous decision of the party to make an endorsement in the Rev Ward vs Rev Fairchild contest. This endorsement needlessly divided Democrats, needlessly divided the party, needless spent money. This audacious decision on the part of the Screening Committee and the rubber stamping of this decision on part of Central Committee follows an established history of unwise and unproductive endorsements. I believe if transparency concerning endorsements was required by the MCDP Constitution, many unwise endorsements would be avoided. Secrecy empowers bad decisions. In practical terms, the Ward / Fairchild endorsement decision was a secret vote — there was no record kept of who voted for endorsement, who voted against and who didn’t vote — and, as the indignant Central Committee member pointed out, some members of the Central Committee feel pretty entitled to secrecy.
PREAMBLE: “We the Representatives of the Democrats living in Montgomery County — in order to form a strong party organization that empowers representative democracy within our party and throughout the county — do establish the Montgomery County Democratic Party Constitution.”
If I could have a do-over for the evening, I would ask for a separate vote on this preamble. I wrote this preamble as a proposal for discussion — I circulated it in a letter to Central Committee members, but there was never any discussion. These words were approved as written at the short meeting of the “Constitution Committee.” The words were highlighted in the xerox of the revised Constitution that everyone at Reorganization received, indicating that it was new text, but nobody at the Reorganization Meeting suggested the preamble should be discussed. I should have pressed the point. This preamble advances a point of view that contradicts the POV of a Central Committee that would reject a motion for roll-call vote. A debate likely would have resulted in tabling the preamble or referring it to a committee, so I said nothing. That was a mistake. The preamble should have been debated.
The underlying premise of the Preamble is that when the party empowers representative democracy and when it holds itself to the high standards of transparency expected of a representative body, it is a stronger party. This premise is the crux of what the Democratic Party should be debating. I don’t think that the Democratic Party can become the strong party it must become — unless it changes its ways and commits to operating as a small-d democratic organization that is responsible to its constituents. The place for the transformation needed in the Democratic Party to begin is at the county level. The Reorganization Meeting demonstrated how difficult it is to start the process.
The outcome of quadrennial Reorganization Meetings depends on who shows up. First of all, over 60% of the precincts in Montgomery County failed to elect a member on the Committee, so if everyone elected showed up at this Meeting, the Central Committee would not come close to representing the county’s 60,000 Democrats. As a representative body, it is a failure from the get-go because of this lack of numbers. Of the 93 people at the meeting (26% of the total precincts in the county), a big part were old-timers but there were a lot of new people. I’m guessing at least one-half of the group was new.
The argument for voting “No” that prevailed was that the proposed changes to the constitution dealing with endorsements are not needed — after all, the MCDP operates according to Roberts’ Rules — and that a constitution should not needlessly constrict the options available to the organization. I argued that history shows that the MCDP needs a constitution that will establish guardrails to prevent big endorsement mistakes. Requiring transparency on endorsement votes would provide the needed guardrails. I was glad that a number of members rose to emphasize the same or similar points. By big majorities — there is no record of how each member voted, of course — the Reorganization Meeting agreed to give the MCDP the option of continuing these past bad practices:
- Central Committee members may be expected to ratify or reject endorsement recommendations the same evening they are made. (No time to consult with constituents.)
- The Central Committee may continue to make endorsements for the Democratic Primary contests two months before the deadline for candidates to file with the Board of Elections. (Deliberately suppressing primary participation)
- The Central Committee may choose to not keep a record of how members vote on endorsement motions (making endorsement in practice a secret vote).