Sunday, May 15, 2005

The State Convention: A Layperson's Perspective

[Guest Post by Mrs. sco]

I'm not nearly as involved in politics as my illustrious husband, but I went to the state Democratic convention out of curiosity. I pictured a bunch of people sitting around tables, debating issues, and voting on the platform. It turned out that the issues and platform were decided long before; the convention consisted of lots of speeches.

We got to Lowell early. We spent an hour or two waiting around for Ted Kennedy while chewing on tough bagels and listening to all the speakers who were trotted out to fill up time. They ranged from Howard Dean to a teenage girl who announced how excited she was to be at the convention. Several of the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor put in appearances. Deval Patrick and Tom Reilly, who would have the floor later, made pro-Democrat speeches. Deb Goldberg and Andrea Silbert took advantage of their brief time at the microphone to talk themselves up and repeatedly ask the crowd for our support (and, in Silbert's case, to admonish us for not paying close enough attention). Finally, Kennedy ("the greatest senator in history!", as we kept hearing all day) showed up and... well, I can't remember what he said, but I remember everyone cheering a lot.

On the convention floor, there were more exhortatory speeches. The three candidates for governor all spoke briefly. I had heard the candidates' names, but I didn't know much about any of them. Like sco, I liked what Bill Galvin had to say about businesses moving out of Massachusetts and the recent United Airlines pension debacle. Deval Patrick talked about his own background as well as his ideas. He said that he had worked in a corporate boardroom, but had also operated a lathe in a machine shop; he had counseled President Clinton on civil rights issues in the Oval Office, and then had trouble hailing a cab after the meeting. I'm sure this is a standard part of his speech, but it resonated with me as a minority and a relative newcomer to the state. I feel like there's a sense of entitlement with entrenched party insiders like Galvin and Reilly.

After all the big speakers in the morning, the afternoon was a letdown. A procession of speakers read out the party platform, which we had printed in the newsletter we received several weeks before the convention. Yawn.

In the last half hour or so of the convention, we voted on amendments to the charter. Well, sort of. As sco mentioned, it was an all-or-nothing vote; we had to accept all of the amendments or none of them. It was clear that many of the delegates were not happy about some of the proposed changes, but they did not have an opportunity to voice their concerns. Finally, several resolutions where accepted with an "aye" vote... but nobody ever asked for a "no" vote. The convention ended and we all filed out. I was still a little confused. What had just happened? There must be a flaw in the rules if they prevented debate over the amendments, right? But I learned that I was just being naive. The party leadership didn't want to encourage debate; they wanted to push through their changes, and they bent the rules a little in order to succeed. After all the talk of party unity and local involvement and the politics of hope, that display of power left a bad taste in my mouth.

All in all, I'm glad we went; it was good to hear Democratic state and national leaders talking about the issues and riling up the crowds. But I was a little disillusioned by the end of the convention.