Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Primary Concern

I was all set to be indifferent to the proposed primary changes that were to be discussed tonight at the Democratic State Committee meeting. Blue Mass Group calls it a power grab by party hacks. NoHo Missives wants Democratic Party Chair Phil Johnston to resign. For some reason, though, I just could not get excited about the party tinkering with the primary schedule and eligibility requirements. That is, until I read this:

The current rules call for 6,257 delegates, but the commission wants to reduce that number to 4,777. The largest cut, some 1,100, would come in those elected from the caucuses. Delegates who are party officials and are not elected are given more representation. [emphasis mine]
Okay, I understand that 6257 is a lot of people for a small state, and perhaps it would be better if there were fewer people at the nominating convention. I've never been to one, so I feel that I can't judge. However, taking away spots from people elected in local caucuses -- the people on the ground actually doing the footwork to build the party -- and giving them to unelected party officials really ticks me off.

In addition to paring down the size of the convention, the DSC is considering changing the eligibility requirements for ballot access from requiring the support of 15% of the delegates at the convention on one of two ballots, to just the first ballot. This will mean that there will be no second chances by the time that first vote is taken to determine who will be in the Democratic primary. Since the size of the delegate pool is smaller, potential candidates actually need about 220 fewer votes to get on the ballot, which I thought was an improvement. If the proportion of elected and unelected delegates remained the same, it would be. Given, however, that it will be harder for someone to get a substantial number of supporters to convention through the caucus mechanism it seems to me that this would actually restrict the ability of an outsider candidate to gain traction. Cutting the number of delegates from the local caucuses severs a link from the party to the people. I think that is a shame.

UPDATE: The Globe reports that both restrictions passed unanimously.

The fact of the matter is that elections in Massachusetts are not competitive enough. I understand that the Democrats have no incentive to change this, but the Republicans are not innocent in this either. Still, take a look at these numbers from 2004:
Candidate Unopposed in the General Election:
  • half the county sheriffs
  • 3/4 of Governor's Council
  • 43% (59 Dem/10 GOP) of Representatives
  • 30% (9 Dem/3 GOP) of State Senators
For the Democratic Primary:
  • all Congressmen unopposed
  • 5/14 Sheriffs unopposed
  • 5/8 of the Governor's Council unopposed
  • Only 2 Contested State Senate Primaries
  • Only 28 Contested Rep Primaries
Granted, nearly all the Constitutional offices (Governor, Lt. Gov, Treasurer, Auditor, etc) have competitive Democratic primaries, but in many cases (aside from Governor) the Democratic primary is the de facto election for these positions. The Democratic Party of Massachusetts really has nothing to fear by opening up their Primary, rather than closing it off. In fact, they could probably benefit at the higher levels if they generated a little more excitement down ticket. It's much harder to bring yourself to the polls if half the people on your ballot are running unopposed.