Every four years the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Convention set rules for the next presidential nomination cycle. These rules include the dates on which state parties may take the “first determining step” toward choosing pledged delegates. That first determining step is usually the state’s primary or caucus. Before that step, there can be no bias toward choosing any particular delegate pledged for any particular candidate.
Michigan and Florida’s state Democratic Parties ignored the rules and now are unable to come up with a plan to select delegates. In 2004, Utah faced even harder challenges than Florida or Michigan do and our Democratic Party ran an organized, efficient, popular primary that seated all our delegates at the 2004 convention in Boston.
In 1996 and 2000 the Delaware legislature chose run a presidential preference primary earlier than the Democratic National Committee allowed. Delaware wanted to grab the limelight of being first in the nation. The Democratic National Committee rejected the plan to choose delegates based on the early primary. Both times the Delaware Democratic Party wrote a new plan that included caucuses later on to select real delegates who were then listed on the roll.
In 2004 the District Of Columbia legislature chose to run a presidential preference primary before all the states. D.C. wanted attention to focus candidates on the issue of statehood. The Democratic National Committee followed its precedent and rejected the plan. The D.C. Democratic Party wrote a plan that selected delegates based on a lated caucus and those delegates were seated.
And in 2008 Michigan and Florida legislatures decided to run a presidential preference primary earlier than the rules allowed. The Republican National Committee responded by dropping those states’ superdelegates (yes, Republicans have them, but not very many) and cutting their delegate counts in half. The Democratic National Committee followed its precedent and rejected plans submitted by the state Democratic Parties to use those elections to select delegates.
Now Florida and Michigan could write new plans to use caucuses as their first committed step and select delegates. But the state party leaders in both states are partisans for a candidate whose campaign believes that it doesn’t have the skills to organize in caucuses. As a result, party leaders in both states refuse to hold a caucus and insist that only a primary will do.
It could be argued that making the decision between primaries and caucuses after the contest begins is unfair to the candidate who is prepared to organize a caucus. However the precedent was established in 2004, 2000, and 1996 that state Democratic Parties get to make that choice, even if their delegate selection plan is late. The scant evidence that one candidate under performs in caucuses is more a media creation than a statistical conclusion, anyway. Furthermore, primaries are a more democratic way to select candidates than caucuses. So we should all be looking forward to new primaries in Michigan and Florida this Spring.
In 2004 the Utah Democratic Party showed Florida and Michigan the way to do it. The three-fourths Republican legislature knew who their candidate would be and canceled Utah’s primary as a mean-spirited stab at the minority. Energetic young Democratic chairman Donald Dunn stepped up to organize a firehouse primary instead.
The Utah Democratic Party borrowed space in public buildings across the state to set up polling places. Mostly it was libraries rather than the traditional firehouses; we Utahns love to read and better fire codes have reduced the need to build firehouses in every community. Radio ads went on the air and there was a statewide media blitz to attract Democrats to the polls. On primary day volunteers across the state spread out to take the pulse of the public.
I headed out early to run the polls in the Salt Lake County South Jordan library. All day and into the night I took took registration forms, kept the polling book, and handed ballots to Democrats, independents, and even a few Republicans from across our great state. Salt Lake Tribune reporter Dan Harrie visited our polling place to see how the primary was going. A local Republican activist came to vote in our primary because there was a candidate on our ballot she wanted to support more than Bush. (She whispered to me who it was, but it’s a secret ballot so I’m never repeating it). Hundreds of citizens from the heavily Republican area came in to mark their choice.
Statewide turnout was over fifteen thousand. That was as many as voted in our 2000 primary, but not nearly as many as we had in 2008. At the Salt Lake City main library, the lines filled up the main atrium of the building. We made a giant splash in the news. People learned about the mendacity of our Republican legislators and that we had a healthy Democratic Party in Utah.
I’m proud of our 2004 primary. And we did it without any state support and with not one state dollar. I don’t know exactly how much it cost, but we didn’t have a lot of money so it couldn’t have been much.
Now in 2008 we see Michigan and Florida Democratic Parties can’t seem to get it together to hold a primary. So far they’ve spent a lot of time whining that the Republican Florida legislature and Republican Michigan Senate won’t take care of it for them and ruled out doing it themselves. Utah has shown that it’s entirely possible. The only conclusion is that these states are too lazy or incompetent to do the right thing. The Democrats of those states should dispense with their current leadership at the next available party leadership election.
Perhaps both states want to play a game of chicken with the Democratic National Committee. They might like to establish that they can select delegates in any manner they please, even outside the established rules. There is a procedure to appeal to the whole body of the Democratic National Convention to be added to the roll. It is mandated to be the very first order of business at the convention in Denver.
Florida and Michigan aren’t the closest of states in partisan preference, but they could be considered swing states some years. If the local parties argue that excluding their proposed slates of delegates, chosen based on the invalid plans rejected by the Democratic National Committee, could lose votes in November perhaps delegates from the other states might be persuaded to add them to the roll. It would violate any reasonable sense of fairness or democracy to seat delegates chosen according to those rejected plans, but it might happen.
Adding those delegates to the roll would be extremely unwise. Our nation is at war and the media love the Republican candidate who is an established war hero. Democrats have enough trouble proving to the American people that our candidates are tough enough to lead in wartime. A candidate who can’t stand up to rule breakers here at home can hardly hope to prove that he will stand up to nefarious forces abroad. A candidate who can hold firm against his own local parties in Michigan and Florida will win enough support with firm resolve and commitment to justice to overcome any sour grapes within those local parties’ leadership. Even in Michigan and Florida themselves, a strong leader should win more votes than a poor negotiator.