Liveblogging the DNC Rules & Bylaws Cmte meeting

| May 31, 2008

[break for lunch — them, not me — will reconvene at 4:15 EDT, 2:15 MDT]

Wow. This has been great fun, and the discussion and debate for the most part has been pointed, intelligent, and sharp (with exception to the occasional lame references to the Florida 2000 election).

I’m going to be gone for a while this afternoon, so I may not be able to cover the debate, but I am DVRing it so that I can watch it later.

[UPDATED 12:50 pm MDT]

Thomas Hynes (Cmte member, Obama supporter): “Do you support the Michigan State Democratic Party’s proposal?”

Blanchard: No, we support the Clinton division.

Hynes: Do you think the primary was flawed?

Blanchard: No; people had a pretty good idea and wanted their voices heard.

Hynes: So there isn’t the unity that Sen. Levin states?

Blanchard: Not at all — Sen. Levin made it quite clear that he, Bonior and I would have different proposals. (Hynes: Do you think we should have rules?) I agree with Carl Levin that we have a flawed process. “New Hampshire is the world’s greatest political theme park.” I don’t think our rules should not disenfranchise voters. (Hynes is clearly upset with Blanchard’s comments.)

Sharon Stroschein (Cmte, Obama supporter): From South Dakota, and we still haven’t had our primary. “If you had it to do over again, what would you do.”

Blanchard: We had no choice — it was the legislature and governor. I would have recommened that no one be allowed to remove their names for the ballot. As for the timing, I agree with Carl Levin.

Don Fowler (Cmte, Clinton supporter): Name for me one other rule or regulation that this Michigan primary did not comply with. [Silence] So I cannot agree with the characterization that this primary was ‘flawed’.

Blanchard: “It is fair to say that almost all the uncommitted would be for Barack Obama — and by August, some may be switching back and forth, who knows.”

Allan Katz (Cmte, Obama): “We are not going to turn to those candidates who [abided by our rules] and then penalize them. . . . What happened in Florida in 2000 is not equivalent to what is happening here. Here is a dispute over how we measure the [primary results].”

Blanchard: “First of all, the principal is to treat the right of voters, the right to vote, as sacred. . . . I intend to respect [this committee’s decision].” But urges not to disenfranchise 600,000 voters.

Martha Clark (Cmte, Obama supporter): “I don’t believe that the voters in Michigan who were told that this was a process that would not count should be penalized for not voting.” Also wants to see the write-in-vote issue in Michigan fixed in the future.

Blanchard: Numerous media outlets urging people to vote, and to vote ‘uncommitted’ if you didn’t like the candidates.

Clark: 30,000 voters didn’t get that message and filed a write-in vote.

Blanchard: and we’d count them if I had my way.

Donna Brazille (Cmte, uncommitted): “Given that the state executive committee, comprised from representatives of all the campaigns, do you believe that the process they came up with is fair and is reflective of all those voters?”

Blanchard: the Clinton campaign did not and does not have any official representatives on that committee — our proposal is different.

Brazille: “My momma always taught me to play by the rules and to respect those rules, and my mother also taught me . . . that when you decide to change the rules, especially in the middle of the game or the end of the game, that’s referred to as ‘cheating’.”

Blanchard: “Hillary Clinton did play by the rules. . . . I just want to pick the paper up [tomorrow] and see that the [Michigan] voters have been treated fairly.”

Harold Ickes (Cmte, Clinton supporter): wants to make three comments in response to Bonior; shut down by committee chairmain [cheers]

[UPDATED 12:28 pm MDT]

Former Gov. Jim Blanachard (Clinton spokesman): Generally agree with Carl Levin’s scenario and description. Lots of early blather (his mom’s birthday?). “We have been reliably Democratic [in elections] than many of [the other [early] primary states].” Pledges to campaign for Obama if he’s the nominee — says that he has privately heard Clinton say that she will “campaign her heart out” for Obama if he’s the nominee. “It was the knowing, willing decision [of the other candidates to take their names off the ballot]. It wasn’t a flawed election; it was a flawed strategy.” [Cheers and boos] Nothing required these candidates to take their names off the ballot. “Some of the voters voted ‘Uncommitted’ because they were angry at the names being taken off the ballot. . . . There was a vigorous ‘Uncommitted’ campaign. . . . They were publicly urged to vote ‘Uncommitteed’.” 4x more primary voters than in 2004. “Michigan is a pivotal state.” “It doesn’t make sense to punish the voters of Michigan for the decisions of its party leaders. . . . any more than it makes sense to use our party’s rules to disenfranchise voters.” “If you turn your back on Michigan, you will be flirting with a McCain victory.”

[UPDATED 12:15 pm MDT]

Elizabeth Smith (Cmte, Clinton supporter): To Sen. Levin: “It’s not [the Committee’s] requirement of a party to withhold their name from the ballot.” [Interruption while my sweet wife comes in the door from work.] Raises issue of overriding actual voting results.

Bonior: flawed election; only fair solution

Mame Reiley (Cmte, Clinton supporter): “This is different for me from Florida. My concern is allocation, and I really do worry about this Committee making that decision. . . . I think we should argue the integrity of the vote. . . . Knowing what I know now, I’m not sure as a member of the Rules Committee I would vote [to sanction Michigan].” Says can be convinced to seat delegates, even at full voting strength, but doesn’t think Committee should allocated the ‘uncommitted’ delegates.

Bonior: “I think it’s important to respect the integrity of those who did not vote, or who voted uncommitted, or who voted in the Republican primary for whatever purposes. . . . We think putting this all in context, this is a fair approach to take.”

Carol Khare Fowler (Cmte, Obama supporter): Michigan is in the midst of its delegate selection process; some have been selected and some are still to be selected — if this Committee allows delegates, how would that impact the slating process?

Bonoir: we’d want to be involved in the process

Tina Flournoy (Cmte, Clinton supporter): How did the Michigan State party work to assign delegates to Obama? [other Cmte member: we worked to ensure that the ‘uncommitted’ delegates were people who would support Obama]

Flournoy: “What is being proposed here is that you go into a voting booth, somewhere down the road, someone else will decide who your votes goes for. If that’s the case, why don’t we cancel the 2012 primary and just decide now who our candidate will be.”

Gary Shay (Cmte, Clinton supporter): question about 50%/full seating.

[UPDATED 12:00 pm MDT]

Former Rep. David Bonior (Obama spokesman): As with Levin, is talking about adding diversity to the nominating process. “While declining to withdraw her name, Clinton said that the Michigan primary ‘would not count.’ Many Obama supporters stayed home, many voted for their second choice. Many voted in the Republican primary, the only primary they were told would count. Many voted ‘Uncomitted’; many wrote in Obama.” Gives exit poll stats. “Four of the candidates kept their names off the ballot out of respect to this Committee and its rules. . . . The Michigan primary was not a normal election and should not be seated according to its results.” And then proposes an even split of delegates between Clinton and Obama.

Cheers and (the first) boos!

Bonior: “Senator Obama was in no way responsible for the [Michigan Legislature’s] lack of interest [in scheduling a second primary].” “It is clear that the resulting delegates should be split evenly between the two remaining candidates. . . . Even the Michigan State Party indicates that [this was a flawed primary]. . . . The only fair approach is to split the delegates evenly between the two candidates.” [More cheers and boos.] “I ask that you reinstate all the unpledged superdelegates from Michigan and accord them full voting powers.”

[UPDATED 11:43 am MDT]

Ben Johnson (Cmte, Clinton Supporter): He’s pointing out that the idea in having other states go earlier (between Iowa and New Hampshire) was to make it Western and Southern states (e.g., Nevada and South Carolina). Levin: Yes, but our hope was also to get a manufacturing state in there. This committee adopted a rule that required the sequence to be changed finally.

Alice Germond (Cmte, uncommitted): “We committee members were up late discussing these issues [in non-smoke-filled rooms?].” “Our trouble is because we are now trying to give out certified delegates for events [the elections] that we said would not count.” “Help me to understand how you arrived at the 69/59 number, that would help.” [Me: duh: this is the midpoint between the Clinton and Obama proposals, with a slight edge to Clinton.]

Levin: Gives midpoint argument. “This is the best we could do.”

Mike Steed (Cmte, Clinton supporter): Thanks Levin for efforts to reform the primary process and hopes that he’ll work to do so for the 2012 primaries. “I’m worried about the precedent of taking delegates away from one candidate and giving them to another or to ‘uncommitted’. . . . I’m also worried about the precedent of giving delegates to someone who voluntarily removed his name from the ballot.”

Levin: “What’s happening on the ground [i.e., in MIchigan] is that we’ve reached a resolution that we think is fair.” “We did try to get a rerun of this.”

Harold Ickes (Cmte, Clinton supporter): “A compromise to one person is not necessarily a compromise to another person. . . . Other than affirmative action, it’s hard to think of a concept more deeply embedded in our political process than ‘fair reflection’. . . . ‘Fair reflection’ in our view is [as fundamental as the 1st Amendment to the Constitution]. . . . ‘Uncommited’ status stands in the same shoes and is given the same protection as a named candidate. . . . If there’s one thing we can agree upon it is that how this year exit polls have been notoriously inaccurate. . . . To take uncommitted delegates and give them to Obama does tremendous violence to the process. . . . The [Michigan Democratic] Party is asking to just take four delegates from Hillary Clinton and give them to Barack Obama. Hell, why not take ten? Or twenty? . . . I do not think that this Committee has the jurisdiction to entertain this challenge as drafted.”

Levin: “Let me see if I can remember your first, second and third questions. You’re calling for a ‘fair reflection’ of a flawed primary. What we’re trying to do is to keep a party together so that we can win a critical state in the fall election. . . . You can’t say that an election where you’ve got one name on the ballot and another one not on the ballot is a ‘reflective’ election. . . . We tried to get another primary. . . . There is validity to both arguments. Don’t disunify us.”

Ickes: “I asked a second question . . . about the credential committee.”

Levin: “There are a number of ways this problem could be solved.”

[UPDATED 11:20 am MDT]

Levin is still talking about the problems with the primary schedule again and New Hampshire’s unwillingness to abide by a DNC commission’s finding that 1 to 2 states hold primaries/caucuses between Iowa and New Hampshire; New Hampshire unilaterally decided to leapfrog the DNC schedule. The RBC was asked to enforce the rule, but did not; “You gave New Hampshire a waiver but denied us a waiver. . . . We decided we’re not going to sit by for another decade or two while one or two states decide that they have a God-given privilege to go first. . . . If you’re going to have an open system here so that it’s not always ‘Iowa, New Hampshire’, ‘Iowa, New Hampshire’, then please seat our delegation with full voting rights.”

[UPDATED 11:10 am MDT]

Sen. Carl Levin (uncommitted, speaking for Michigan): “That our party’s nominating system is flawed is illustrated by the sequence of events that brought us to this situation. . . . The Michigan Democratic Party has achieved unity: we ask that you preserve it.” He outlines the proposals for delegate appropriation that he expects from the Obama spokesperson (64-64, Clinton/Obama), the Clinton spokesperson (73-55), and the Michigan Democratic Party (69-59), but notes that all three groups agree that all delegates should be seated.

Levin: “No state should have the right to go first in every election, no state!” He’s making a long argument that the current primary system (mandating that Iowa and New Hampshire can always go first) is unfair and flawed. “Some of us deeply object to [New Hampshire’s privileged position].”

Note that C-SPAN is clearly identifying speakers, whether Committee member or not, as either Obama or Clinton supporters (or uncommitted).

[UPDATED 11:00 am MDT]

Harold Ickes (Cmte member, Clinton supporter; paraphrasing): “No party rule required candidates to remove their names from the Michigan ballot, and that was an entirely voluntary effort. Some have said that some candidates removed their names in order to curry favor with Iowa.” Heh.

Thomas Hynes (Cmte member, Obama supporter): “I think that a primary where you have a well-known candidate’s name on the ballot and along side that ‘Uncommitted’ is not one where you can have a reasonable election.” Also: “There’s a fourth category that should be considered here. There are voters who did not vote in this primary because [of the problems with the primary]. I also think there are votes that went to Hillary Clinton in that primary because her only opponent was ‘Uncommitted’.”

[UPDATED 10:54 am MDT]

The Michigan proposal is a division of delegates between Clinton and Obama, with a slight edge towards Clinton. The argument is that the “uncommitted” and write-in votes were all for either Obama and Edwards (who has announced for Obama). The first two questions were from Clinton supporters on the Committee, questioning the precedence of awarding those delegates to Obama not on the basis of actual votes but on the basis of exit polls, etc., indicating who these people would have voted for if Obama had been on the ballot. (Great quip: “If we decided elections on the basis of exit polls, John Kerry would be President.”)

[UPDATED 10:44am MDT]

This is some of the best political theater I have ever watched, period . . . far better than any of the debates on either side. The exchange between Rep. Robert Wexler (arguing for the Obama campaign) and Harold Ickes (a Clinton supporter and Committee member) — brief as it was — was priceless. Some of the other exchanges have been great as well; Tina Flournoy (another Clinton support on the Committee) had a longer, sharper exchange with Wexler. Wish I had taped this.

The Committee is done hearing the Florida side and is listening to Michigan reps. This is going to be even harder.

I’ve decided to start liveblogging this (hence the change in the posting’s title).


Politics at its finest. And I mean that seriously.

I’m sitting here, listening to the Democratic National Committee’s Rules & Bylaws Committee meeting, which has the responsibility to decide (if it can) what to do about Florida and Michigan primary results and delegates. (It’s been broadcast live on C-SPAN and can be watched on streaming video at the C-SPAN site.)

This is a tough issue from so many different angles. The race between Obama and Clinton is the tightest we’ve seen in 50 years. Obama clearly has an insurmountable delegate lead, but he’s unlikely to get a simple delegate majority. Clinton has no hope of passing Obama in delegates beyond having all currently uncommitted superdelegates commit to her, but she could end up with a popular vote majority, especially if Michigan and Florida results are allowed. Obama has weakened in the recent primaries, and some polls show Clinton doing better against McCain than Obama. [NOTE: my own experience is that presidential polls are mostly worthless until just a few months before the election itself.] And, of course, Michigan and Florida are key election states, and a decision to exclude either state at the Democratic convention could depress Democratic turnout in the general election. Supporters of either candidate are likely to be upset at any Committee decision that appears to favor the other candidate. Oh, and there’s the simple fact that Florida and Michigan did violate the DNC rules, though Florida Democrats argue strenuously (and, I believe, with some justification) that they had little control over that.

In short, this Committee meeting — and the decisions made at it — could well influence if not outright determine the outcome of this fall’s election. I suspect the members of the Committee never expected to be in this situation and certainly wish they weren’t.

God bless ’em. Should be interesting. ..bruce w..

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Category: 2008 Election, Commentary, Main, US Politics

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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