The Montgomery Democrats Decide to Suppress Democracy — Just Like the Republicans

Originally published  December 14th, 2007 in DaytonOS

Big meeting last night at the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s Headquarters. The party endorsed primary candidates for the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate. At the previous meeting in October, my motion to discontinue the practice of making early endorsements was soundly defeated, so this action by the party last night, though depressing, was not surprising.

I’m sort of a newcomer to all this — I was elected to the Central Committee in 2006 — I’ve had a lot to learn about how the party actually works. I’m learning that the Selection Committee is the key committee of the county party organization. All of the key people in the party are members of the Selection Committee and it is this committee that actually chooses candidates to be endorsed. I’ve never seen any decision by the Selection Committee ever be overturned.

At every monthly meeting, the Executive Committee meets at 7:00 PM and reviews the evening’s agenda and, by vote, makes specific recommendations to the Central Committee which meets at 7:30 PM. The Central Committee, the official legislative body of the group, always agrees with the Executive Committee. It is an organizational structure that would have pleased Joe Stalin, because control of important decisions is condensed to only a few people. And of those few people, one person, the chairperson, usually has disproportionate power.

At the Executive Committee Meeting last night, I moved that the endorsements for primary candidates be delayed one month until the January meeting so that the endorsements would be made after the filing deadline for primary candidates, which is January 4.

My argument to the Executive Committee to delay endorsement was the same as before. I said that the Democratic Party should take no actions that would give the appearance that, in any way, it wanted to suppress democracy. I reminded the group that the Republican Party had made endorsements in July and had been roundly ridiculed for their antidemocratic action by the Dayton Daily News in an editorial illustrated by noted cartoonist, Mike Peters. (I made a post in July, “Montgomery County Republicans Take Action That Effectively Suppresses Grassroots Democracy,” that printed the Peter’s cartoon and quoted excerpts from the DDN editorial.)

I said that the hallmark of the Democratic Party should be the fact that we are the party of the people, that we are the party of democracy, and that waiting another month to make endorsements would probably not impact who the endorsed candidate would be anyway.

My argument would have made a lot of sense if, in fact, endorsement was the issue. But endorsement is not the issue. The reason the Executive Committee would not delay its endorsements until our next meeting is the fact that the central issue is not who to endorse. The central issue is how to suppress the primary process. If endorsement was delayed until after the filing deadline, then all interested candidates necessarily would have already filed and their names already printed on the primary ballot. As it is, even though would-be candidates have already circulated petitions and are prepared to officially file, candidates have been waiting on the party’s endorsement and, because of the party’s endorsements last night, most un-endorsed candidates simply will drop out and will not make an effort to run as un-endorsed primary candidates.

The discussion in the Executive Committee confirmed my view that this process should not be call a process of endorsement at all, because after all, what difference could it possibly make to delay an endorsement for a few weeks? What this process should be called is a process of discouragement. The Party simply doesn’t want more than one Democratic candidate in each primary race. And therefore, all potential candidates, other than one, are discouraged from filing. It is really sort of amazing. Of course, not all un-endorsed potential candidates drop out and I hope that a few can be convinced to stay in the race. I told the Executive Committee that I, for one, intended to telephone each person who has petitions for office in circulation and urge him or her to stay in the race.

It seems to me, the whole reason why a primary system for candidate selection was set up in the first place was to help political parties give their constituents more choice. In our Executive Committee meeting, I expressed that idea and in the discussion that followed, one Executive Committee member made a comment so amazing I wrote it down: “The time to make that choice is in the general election, not the primary.”

I said that I felt strongly that taking action designed to suppress primary activity was against the values that most Democrats believe in, and that if we were to act as a representative body we needed to take those actions that would represent the values of most Democrats. I said I was trying to speak up for — as Dean had said – “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”

Most of the Executive Committee members attending the meeting are also members of the Selection Committee and were involved in making the endorsement choices. I was asking them to change their minds, but they were set in their decision, and, my motion went nowhere. There were several tepid “Ayes” voting to accept and a roaring “No” voting to reject.