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!

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