Saturday, March 8, 2008

Denver Democrats

I just got back from a very long day at the Denver County Democratic Convention and Assembly. The good news is that I got picked as a delegate to the next two levels: the CD1 convention here in Denver and the state convention in Colorado Springs. I'm going to state, baby.

But a few points of reflection on today's convention.

1) Democrats love arguing about process. After the morning voting on the presidential and senatorial candidates, we broke into our state house districts to pick delegates for upcoming conventions. There were around 250 Obama supporters from my district, and we had to somehow pick just 63 delegates and 63 alternates, and of course all of us wanted to go. So a few plans for delegate selection quickly emerged:
  • Lottery. Put everyone's name in a hat.
  • Descriptive representation. Break into racial and ethnic groups and have each group pick its delegates.
  • Geographic representation. Break into our 55 precincts and let each precinct select a delegate. The remaining 8 would be picked by lottery.
The second option got no votes, thankfully. The other two were fought over, but we ultimately went with the geographic version. Most of the precincts, including my own, seemed to just go with a lottery. That went reasonably well, but then we had to pick the remaining 8 delegates and alternates.

Our state representative took to the microphone to beg us to set aside two slots for the two disabled people in the room, who had not been seated as state delegates. Some of us were uncomfortable with this. Yes, we're Democrats, and we believe in sending a diverse delegation to the state convention. But why a setaside for the disabled and not any other group? So then someone else shouted that we should set aside a few seats for gay and lesbian delegates. Another member asked how we would know if a delegate was truly gay or lesbian. At which point a man stood up in his chair and shouted, "I HAVE BEEN CHOSEN AS A DELEGATE AND I AM A HOMOSEXUAL!" We all applauded him and he sat back down. So we ultimately assented to seating the disabled delegates and picked the rest by lottery.

2. For all the focus on process, there was not much focus on planning. The meeting was supposed to adjourn by 3PM. The last two hours were supposed to be spent on platform proposals. We never got to that. The morning agenda was still being worked on when I left at 5PM. All voting was hugely protracted, and there seemed to be no consistent way of conducting elections, checking credentials, or seating alternates. It was the same sort of disorganization I saw at the caucuses last month, but the excuse "We didn't know so many people would attend" was a tad more plausible then. This was an invitation-only event, so organizers knew full well how many people would attend. It was still a mess. But, as someone there pointed out to me, democracy is supposed to be messy. If it's efficient, that's when you should worry. That means the results have been fixed.

3. Speeches matter. The speeches on behalf of the presidential candidates were both good and effectively rallied supporters. But I don't think they changed any votes, and they really weren't designed to in a chamber full of pledged delegates. It was in the smaller breakout meetings where the speeches mattered. My house district had to choose between three Democrats running to replace the termed-out incumbent. I had been leaning toward one candidate most of the day but changed my vote as a result of another candidate's speech. It impressed me. I'm not sure how many other votes moved, but I was rather surprised to find my vote changed.

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