Saturday, March 12, 2005

I Just Had to Ask

Earlier today, I was in Roxbury at the Democratic Committee Activists Day, sponsored by the state Democrats. Phil Johnston gave the opening remarks praising the Massachusetts Democratic grassroots, as did almost every speaker throughout the day. During lunch, they had time for a few questions and answers and I figured this was as good an opportunity as any to voice my concerns. I managed to stammer out some version of this question:

The party has talked a lot about how important the grassroots are now and how important they will be in 2006. How do you square that with the actions the DSC took this past week in reducing the number of spots for grassroots members from the committees and in tightening the rules for ballot access in the primary?
The scattered applause from the crowd after I walked away from the microphone made it seem that a few Internet cranks aren't the only ones who were frustrated by this decision.

It was clear that they were not really prepared to answer my question, but a women from the DSC did speak to the issue. She emphasized that the Massachusetts nominating convention was just too big, especially when compared to other states. California, for example, has an attendance of less than half of what we had under the old rules. She talked up the Dukakis-McGovern commission and its 17 recommendations, 14 of which the DSC approved; these rule changes were a part of that 18 month study. She also reassured the group the proportions of delegates remained the same and the number of add-on youth, disabled and affirmative action spots would also remain unchanged. I should have stayed at the mike to follow-up, but we were running late as it was, so it was probably better that I sat down.

In the meantime, an attendee from Democracy for America Boston came over and told me, point blank, that what the DSC representative was saying was not actually true. He pointed out that apparently one of the recommendations not enacted was the shrinking of the number of ex officio (unelected) convention spots. We did some calculations on paper and it came out that the number of elected attendees in 2006 would drop to something like 60% down from well over 70% in 2002 (I don't recall the exact numbers). If the ex officio spots have, in fact, not been reduced, their power is considerably enhanced by a reduction of the elected spots, despite what the party officials may say.

So, the upshot is that either the State Committee doesn't realize the implications of its actions from a Town Committee perspective, or it's indifferent to their effect on participation from the Town Caucuses. Either one of these is a shame, but the first is at least reversible. I think what should be made clear is that the problem is how the proportion of attendees elected from the caucuses are being reduced, not how the size of the convention as a whole has been cut.

As for the rest of the meeting, about 80% of what the party leaders said was either platitudes or pep rally type stuff. The real value of the day, in my opinion, was in talking to members and chairs of other Town Committees and sharing ideas for outreach and fundraising. It was especially good for me, since I'm relatively new to Town Committees; it acted as a crash course in what they could do. I have to give a lot of credit to the state party (even as I spent the bulk of this post criticizing them) for setting these up and making them free of cost. I think the party is at least trying to go in the right direction with their relations to the grassroots, even if they may need a poke from time to time.