Here's my summary of what happened at the convention.
1) Resolution to end the occupation of Iraq:
We won on the resolution to end the occupation of Iraq. We handed in 843 signatures and it was easily certified. The vote was declared in favor by consensus. The party chair wore one of our stickers on his lapel.
Some people complained that the chair did not ask for the "nay" votes after the "consensus" vote. The chair turned to another person on the podium and said, "Did that sound like consensus to you?" The other person shrugged assent, and I would concur that it was the loudest assent of the day. We discussed among ourselves for a minute about asking for a "nay" vote, but I wouldn't know how to do that without sounding like a jerk, and in the 5 seconds we had to decide, no one else did either. So we accepted consensus, and that's now on the record.
2) Voting Reforms:
We handed in 540 signatures. Only 389 passed certification, primarily due to errors in SSDs (state senate districts). Hence we did not get a floor vote. Details on this one below, for those interested in the gory details.
3) Instant Runoff Voting:
We collected 320 signatures, not enough to even ask for certification. I think that the party is just not ready for this reform. Too many delegates said, "This is complicated and I need to study it," and then did not sign. Presenting a complicated issue at convention is challenging -- the delegates are on a tight timeframe and, for better or for worse, conventions are not a great place for political discussions.
We did hand out a couple thousand information flyers, so we can credit ourselves with some education on this issue. We also have the list of 320 delegates who signed, since we did not submit them for certification (the submitted ones are "sealed"). That list is a good list to build... something.
4) Restoring "America and the World":
We collected 120 signatures. Obviously we did not have enough people collecting signatures on this petition. I think we DID have enough on IRV -- about a dozen people -- but it was harder to collect those. The lesson from "America and the World" is, if you can't get enough people committed ahead of time, drop it. We started this one too late, and would have been better off focusing our resources.
5) The party charter:
This document is now a disgrace to democracy. The party establishment added numerous clauses intentionally aimed at thwarting progressive action in the future, and in stopping activists from positively affecting the party. Our colleagues at PDS worked hard to overturn these changes but failed (gory details on that below, too). The negative changes include:
- The party establishment can now hold secret meetings (old rule: all party meetings were open to the public).
- The party establishment must grant permission in advance for any amendments introduced at convention (old rule: anyone getting 500 signatures was entitled to a floor vote).
- The party incumbents get longer terms: 80 two-year seats are converted to four-year seats, making challenges more difficult (old rule: there were 80 two-year seats up for challenge in early 2006. The new charter is ambiguous on when those seats elected in 2004 expire).
- Independent voters must decide by Xmas this year whether they want to attend the gubernatorial nominating convention in June 2006. In 2002, potential Reich delegates could switch from independent status to Democrat until the day before the caucuses -- which brought in many hundreds of newly registered Democrats in a few weeks prior to the 2000 caucuses. One might naively think that the party establishment would LIKE something that brought in many hundreds of new party registrants. No, they see that as a threat to be stopped, and have now stopped it.
- The signature requirement stayed at 500 signatures. But the number of delegates is going to drop, from about 3,000 to about 2,000 (that number is not in the charter, but is determined later this year). This year we needed to get signatures from about 1/6 of the delegates -- in the future, that rises to 1/4. And it's worse than it sounds, because MOST of the delegate cuts come from regular elected delegates, while the party establishment seats do not get cut.
- The old rule was that Democrats were barred from endorsing anyone running against the duly-nominated Democratic primary winner. But that was before a progressive became a duly-nominated Democratic primary winner, in a race against a member of the party establishment. In 2004, a strong progressive beat an establishment candidate in the state rep primary in Somerville/Medford, and the establishment candidate ran in the general election as an independent. Party members could not endorse him. Now they can.
- The worst rule change of all is very subtle. It says that the state committee can override the convention. The old rules were that the convention was the highest authority in the party -- we cited that often when the state committee tried to overturn the convention's decision in support of the Mass Scorecard. Now they can overturn anything the convention decides. It makes future conventions pretty much meaningless, which is another step in the establishment's long-time goal of abolishing conventions altogether.
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2a) Gory details on Voting Reforms:
At 9:45 we collected all the petitions together at the CPPAX table, and at that point we had 460 signatures -- 40 shy. I put out the call for getting more papers in, and by 10:05 we had just broken 500, and I told the sergeant-at-arms. He said we needed our 3,000 information flyers then. Since Ed Loechler was still operating under the assumption that we were shy on the count, he waited until the last minute to come to the floor, not realizing that what was needed was the boxes of flyers.
As 10:15 approached, the sergeant-at-arms reminded me several times that when the gavel dropped, we were disqualified. Ed came running down the aisle at 10:14, dripping sweat and carrying all the papers, and we handed the sergeant-at-arms the papers. Before Ed could even sit down, the chair gaveled the convention -- literally ten seconds between the two events.
The count of signatures slowly grew during those anxious 10 minutes as other people got their petitions to the floor -- so we handed in 540. Several more sheets came in after the gavel -- 35 extra signatures that we could not count. The sergeant-at-arms pointed out that I owed him a favor because he accepted another dozen signatures at the last second, from Ed, even though we had handed in the official batch.
2b) The count
I had visions that we would be 34 signatures shy, and the too-late 35 would have been a tragic instance of post-gavel syndrome. In fact, we weren't that close. The final tally of the 540 was:
- 389 signatures accepted
- 120 with unidentifiable SSDs
- 31 invalid (unreadable or duplicates).
On the Iraq petition, if the same failure ratio applied (28% bad), we would have 607 valid signatures - well over the limit (they just told us it was certified, without numbers). We did nothing different on that petition. On the 2003 anti-Patriot Act petition, we got certified with only about 540 signatures, so I'm unclear whether we were better at checking SSDs then, or if the party establishment was more lenient about enforcing the rules.
A state committeewoman who evidently was involved with the counting the voting reform petitions yelled at me for a good while that we could have made it, had we been more conscientious about the SSDs (I think she liked the petition). Indeed, if we had another half-hour, we could have filled some in ourselves, by looking up addresses and towns (that's why they're on the petition -- addresses are not required by party rules). Ed asked the sergeant-at-arms for details (and mercy), but the sergeant-at-arms concluded with, "You had your chance BEFORE you handed them in. Read the rules." If we had been shy by 20 or 30, we might have had a case, but the numbers just weren't on our side. Some details:
2c) What we missed
First of all, we got 389 SSDs right, so our basic method was ok. But there were several problems. The primary problem was time, i.e., we ran out of it. We can't change that next time, except that we now have experienced signature gatherers, who know how the hectic morning works, how SSDs work, how the hall passes work, etc.
The other problems we COULD have addressed. We should have checked all of the SSDs for signatures we gathered on Friday evening (when we had time to check them). That would have taken several hours -- looking up towns and so on -- but would have gained us some. We could also have a person at the CPPAX table who did nothing but fill in missing SSDs.
The best thing to do is to always get the SSD right with each signature. We had two problems with that.
The party printed some SSDs incorrectly. Sen. Jarrett Barrios' district is called "MSE" but all of those delegates had credentials incorrectly labeled "5MI" (an old outdated name for an overlapping district). That was obviously the party's mistake but we paid the price for it, if we did not correct it (i.e., we should have spread the word to convert all "5MI" SSDs to "MSE"). That's the only party mistake that I know of, but there might have been others.
We should have trained all signature-gatherers better. They followed the rules right, but didn't have enough information. Particularly, we needed to list the SSDs themselves so people would be familiar with what they looked like. Many signatures were labeled "DL05" or "BL05". Those codes were printed on the credentials right next to the SSD code, but they were not SSDs. They meant "Delegate fees paid" and "Boxed Lunch paid."
2d) What is always missed
We had to rush to get signatures at the last hour, when more delegates were present. There's an inherent problem with hecticness because the best time to gather signatures is also the last hour. It's therefore a tricky balance between getting signatures to the floor and the sergeant-at-arms, since people have to run them in, rather than collect signatures. Accordingly there are always some late -- like our 35 -- because people underestimate the time to run to the CPPAX table or to the floor.
But the hecticness is the real issue. We have to work under conditions of not knowing how we're doing until it's almost too late. Therefore we have to be on "auto-pilot" to get through that hectic last hour, and know in advance what we're going to do and when we're going to do it. We had a lot of new people who had never done convention petitions before, so we were at a disadvantage for going onto auto-pilot. Next time we'll have a lot more experienced people.
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5a) Gory details on the party charter:
I was only peripherally involved in the party charter fight -- it was led by numerous members of PDS -- so perhaps some PDS members can chime in with more information. But it was clear that MANY people had no idea what was going on during the charter votes, so here's a summary.
To start with, the charter is the party's constitution -- it defines how conventions are run, how party committees are run, and how party members are elected. The platform, in contrast, defines policy issues -- what we believe in and what legislation we support. So the party charter is much more an insider document. In section 5 above I list some of the most egregious changes in the charter.
5b) "Separation" vote:
PDS members introduced a motion to separate out the vote on each section of the charter. That would allow more detailed scrutiny of each section, and would allow debate on each of the issues listed in section 5. You might recall that the platform had each section introduced and summarized by a podium speech -- that did not happen for the charter, but would have if this motion passed.
The party establishment killed this motion by phrasing the vote as follows: "All those voting 'yea' to separate the charter sections and extending this convention by about two hours" versus "All those voting 'nay' and accepting the charter as presented." Delegates had been present for several hours already listening to long speeches on each platform section, so one can understand why they wanted to avoid another two hours. One might interpret that the REASON the party establishment sets up all those long speeches is to encourage a desire to go home before there are any meaningful delegate vote (notice that ALL the meaningful delegate votes are scheduled for the END of the convention -- they COULD be scheduled first!).
5c) Not accepting the charter:
There were several confusing votes on accepting the charter as a whole (which was the only vote on the content of the charter, because the separation vote failed). The first voice vote was overwhelmingly "Nay" -- in other words, the delegates did NOT accept the charter.
The charter committee chair then seemed legitimately confused about what to do next, and said something like, "Well, you don't want to vote on each section, and you don't want to accept the charter, so what DO you want?" I think the answer was clear: "We want to keep the old charter!" and I hoped it was going to end with that (good) conclusion, but no one pushed that procedurally.
5d) Accepting the charter:
The chair then had the delegates re-vote on the charter by a "standing vote" instead of a voice vote. You stood or stayed seated to express "yea" or "nay", which is easier to count. The chair declared the delegates in favor of accepting the charter based on the standing vote.
It was unclear to me why the vote would so shift from the voice vote to the standing vote. The solution would be to have a rollcall vote, which would take some time (everyone would vote and be tallied within their SSD) and therefore would give delegates time to understand fully what they were voting on.
5e) Brian Young's Point of Order:
Brian Young of Cambridge raised a Point of Order that most delegates did not understand what they were voting on, and could the chair please explain further before proceeding. That expressed my confusion at the vote-shift, and the raucous responses from numerous sections of the audience expressed concurrence.
The chair called for a vote on whether to have a rollcall vote as a result of this point of order. It lost. The chair then decided to NOT allow further debate -- despite that a dozen people were lined up at the microphone, and others (including me) had signed up to speak on various sections of the charter. I was unclear on the authority by which the chair could make that decision, but the charter was them summarily passed and the people desiring to speak had no opportunity.
Brian Young, as the only speaker for the progressive side, therefore immediately gained the status as the progressive hero of this convention and was seen being interviewed by a Boston Phoenix reporter in his new heroic status.
That's everything I observed. Several parliamentarians familiar with party process expressed to me that this was backlash from the party establishment for the progressive success in passing the Mass Scorecard in 2003. Those parliamentarians were generally in disagreement with the party charter changes, in terms like, "I don't agree with the things that you progressives propose, but you should be able to propose them." We will have allies in that category if we choose to fight these charter changes in the future.
-- Jesse Gordon
May 15, 2005