Sunday, June 15, 2008

Convention 101

In preparation for Denver, I have been learning about the Convention itself. Between now and August, I will be sharing with you some of what I've learned.

The 45th National Democratic Convention will be in Denver August 25 - 28. Over 4000 delegates will attend the Convention from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and Democrats Abroad.

Some History

Until 1824, our Presidential nominees were determined by party caucuses of the US Congress. Then state legislatures and conventions were tried for a while. The first Democratic national nominating convention, the brainchild of President Andrew Jackson, was held in 1832 in Baltimore, and it required a 2/3 vote of those present. This rule resulted in many endless Conventions as all sorts of deals were made in order to get that magic two thirds. Over a hundred years later, it was finally replaced with an absolute majority in 1936, and only one convention (1952) has gone beyond one ballot since then.

The delegations to these conventions were primarily decided at state caucuses dominated by the powers that be. The sixties brought much turbulence to the Democratic Convention. In 1964, there was the famous challenge by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (which included black voters) to replace the all white delegation selected by the Mississippi Democratic Party. They were unsuccessful, but they cast a national spotlight on discriminatory voting laws, and their actions led to the passage of the 1965 National Voting Rights Act.

Then in 1968, the nominee (Hubert Humphrey) that was selected by the Party establishment had not participated in a single primary. The resulting riots and protests by voters who felt disenfranchised by the Convention led eventually to major reforms in delegate selection. These reforms increased the use of primaries in the delegate selection to allow for a more democratic process and led to the bizarre 1972 Convention which selected a nominee (George McGovern) who only won one state in the General Election.

The Democratic Party has been working ever since to be sure that something like 1972 never happened again. One result of the 1972 reforms was that the Democratic political leaders of each state were rarely at the Convention, partially because they were reluctant to subject themselves to an election that gained them nothing and could cost them their political career. So in 1984, the Democratic Party created the Superdelegates to bring elected officials and Party leaders back to the convention. In addition, these delegates were not required to be pledged to any presidential candidate. Since they constituted almost 20% of the entire convention, they could play a significant role in preventing a fringe candidate from getting the nomination.

Mississippi Delegation

This brings us to the 2008 Convention. In Mississippi, we have eight unpledged Superdelegates, but some have announced their support for a candidate.

  • Four qualify for Superdelegates because they serve on the National Democratic Executive Committee: Carnelia Fondren of Oxford, Johnnie Patton of Jackson, Wayne Dowdy of McComb, and Everett Sanders of Natchez. All have announced support for Obama.
  • Three qualify because they're members of Congress: Travis Childers (First Congressional District), Bennie Thompson (Second Congressional District and Obama supporter), and Gene Taylor (Fourth Congressional District).
  • We do not have a Democratic Governor or US Senator or what are called Distinguished Party Leaders (basically former Presidents, Vice Presidents, Minority or Majority leaders, or Party Chairs) any of whom would qualify for Superdelegates.
  • We are also allocated one Add On Delegate, Attorney General Jim Hood, who was chosen at the State Convention because he is the only Democrat elected statewide.

We have thirty six pledged delegates (22 Obama and 14 Clinton). Twenty two were elected at the Congressional District Conventions and the rest were elected at the State Convention. We also have six alternates (4 Obama and 2 Clinton) who serve if something happens to a delegate. The proportion of Obama to Clinton delegates was determined by the results of the March Primary.

The Convention has three standing committees: Credentials, Rules, and Platform, and Mississippi has one person on each.

The Mississippi Delegation has an equal number of males and females, as required by party rules. About two thirds of the delegation are black, and one third is white. This is probably a good reflection of the makeup of the State Party.

Class is dismissed for now!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Live From the MS State Convention II

Attorney General Hood was elected as the unpledged delegate to the National Convention. Now they're electing the 4 Pledged Party Leader and Elected Official (PLEO) delegates - 3 for Obama and 1 for Clinton. Senator David Jordan, Representative Angela Cockerham, and former Governor Ray Mabus were elected as Obama PLEO delegates. Former Senator and former party chair Gloria Robinson was elected as the Clinton PLEO delegate.

The state delegates then adopted a party platform without discussion. One major plank was increasing the cigarette tax (one of the lowest in the country) and decreasing the tax on food (one of the highest in the country) - and is in stark contrast to the Republican policy.

In the Democratic party, rules require equal numbers of male and female delegates, but all other goals for diversity are recommended not required. At this point, there are more male delegates than female. So the election of delegates today has to correct the inbalance. There was some delay in figuring the numbers, partly because Mississippi increased their allocated number of delegates when Travis Childers was elected.

Everyone divided into the Obama caucus and the Clinton caucus to vote for their delegates. Unfortunately, both caucuses met in different ends of the same large room. The Obama caucus got the microphone, and Clinton caucus was reduced to shouting to make themselves heard. Just another example of the discrimination the Clinton campaign has suffered. People in the Clinton caucus were not happy, but the Obama caucus didn't seem to care.

Next were the Congressional District caucuses, where delegates elected members of the State Executive Committee, including Audrey Seale from Adams County. Presidential electors were also elected, including Phillip West of Natchez.

Everyone reconvened and voted for Natchez attorney Everett Sanders for the National Committeeman for Mississippi overwhelmingly. There were several candidates for National Committeewoman, but the incumbent Johnnie Patton was reelected in a close vote. Finally, two at large Presidential electors were elected.

The Mississippi delegation met and electged Congressman Bennie Thompson as Chair and Committee appointments were announced. Then the Convention was adjourned.

It was an interesting and long day - and good practice for Denver. All the Mississippi Delegates have now been elected, and I should be receiving a complete list shortly.

Click here for the Clarion Ledger's take on the Convention.

Live From the MS State Convention

Here we are at the Williams Athletic Center at Jackson State University attending the Mississippi State Democratic Convention. There are a lot of people here - looking to be a cross section of the population of the state.

Adams county (because it starts with an A) has a front row seat. We're represented by Everett Sanders, an Obama superdelegate, Dr Bennie Wright, who's running as an at large Obama delegate, Mayor Phillip West who's running as an elector, and several others, like me, who aren't running for anything.

We were just treated to a presentation of colors by a contingent of the Mississippi National Guard and a spine tingling rendition of the Star Spangled Banner - bet the Republicans can't find a singer like that!

Now we're listening to the obligatory speeches from those running for office, but they are keeping them brief. Speaking now is Ronnie Musgrove, who is running for US Senate. He's not one of my favorites, but he's far better than his Republican opponent, and he might get elected this year with Obama on the ticket.

Next up is Bennie Thompson, Second District Congressman and Chair of the Homeland Security in the US Congress. Having already been elected, he spoke for Obama - and this crowd loves Obama. The people here are the grassroots activists,and they are excited - they smell a Democratic victory in Mississippi for the first time in years and years.

Here comes the hero of this party - Travis Childers, who was just elected to the US Congress in a vastly Republican district. He got a rousing reception. He motivated the crowd to be proud to be Mississippi Democrats and urged them to "rise again." As he did in his election, he deftly combined Bible verses with economic populism.

The next speaker is undoubtedly the best orator - Erik Fleming has the uneviable job of running against US Thad Cochran. He had the crowd chanting "This is our moment - this is our time".

Attorney General Jim Hood, the only statewide Democrat, has been coming to these conventions since he was kid and his father brought him. He was followed by Joel Gill, who is the Democratic nominee for the Third Congressional District, which includes Natchez - not much to write home about.

That's about it for political speeches.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Natchez Opts for the Status Quo

Yesterday the voters of Natchez had an opportunity for fresh, exciting, new government, but it may have been too scary. Instead voters chose the same ol' same ol'.

I still think City government will be better than it was. We do have three new aldermen, and maybe this election will teach those that were reelected a lesson or two. Although many of my friends think I was too easy on Middleton in my article, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

There are several interesting pieces of information that have come out after the election. However, I'm tired of this election, and I'll leave that to the commenters to discuss.

I want to conclude this election with a positive note by telling you how proud I was to support Gwen Ball for Alderwoman Ward 3. She was an even better candidate that I imagined.

First of all, she worked incredibly hard and was motivated totally by her deep caring for the citizens of Natchez. In order to be totally free from any special interests, she funded her campaign herself, except for unsolicited donations. As she went door to door to talk to voters, it was amazing how many people connected with her. Regardless of where they lived, what their economic status was, their age, race, or gender, they trusted her to take care of them, their concerns, and their city.

In fact, I think the only mistake her campaign made was she started too late. Although she knocked on practically every door in her ward, many were not home. She did try to call those she missed, but it's not the same as a personal visit, and it's hard to get people on the phone. If she had started earlier, she could have met with more voters, and I'm convinced she would have won.

I'm very sad that Natchez will not have the benefit of her caring, courage, and wisdom. She truly would have made a difference.