Sunday, June 7, 2009


The most poisonous thing in a democratic society may well be doubt. George W Bush's legacy was tarnished from the get-go by the narrow, questionable winning margin in Florida that provided his victory in the 2000 election. More recently, the thin spread of the 2008 Senatorial election in Minnesota is being used by a desperate Republican campaign to keep a legitimately elected senator from being seated. The Minnesota Republicans will clearly try to keep the doubt of Senator Franken's margin of victory alive with a view toward his re-election. The first move of losers in many democratic elections in developing countries is to throw doubt on the election apparatus. Losing sucks but at least you know where everyone stands and can move on, whereas doubt never goes away.

Doubt can be poisonous...and that's when they count the votes.

The most critical juncture of yesterday's Democratic State Convention was a vote on continued usage of the current platform (described to me by Deval's former campaign spokesperson as "a 45-page document nobody reads") in place of the abominable proposed replacement. About 1 out of 6 delegates signed this amendment, nevermind supported it. The whole morass was incredibly dense anyway; I had a 10-minute conversation with one of the smartest members of the Legislature to explain what was going on, and I'm not sure we even got to clarity. Anyway, as per normal procedure, a voice vote was taken on the amendment.

The Chair of the convention was John Walsh, a man who sought such a bland document from day one. He declared the motion denied and went on to other business immediately. Almost instantly, calls to question the vote arose and were ignored. In the hall, the sergeant-at-arms refused to give me the microphone to say "doubt the chair" -- the words Walsh himself had told us to use in order to question the a voice vote. Online, well, you can read for yourself.

Now, I think the amendment did fail. I do think that my side lost. from what I heard. But I'll never know. I'll never know because in the interest of saving the 20 seconds he'd have needed for delegates to stand or raise their hands, Walsh immediately went on to the next piece of business.

It's odd, because we dwelt for a couple of minutes on a non-binding resolution on slot machines later that day. Walsh wanted to get that non-binding resolution right, but was far less meticulous about the entire raison d'ĂȘtre of yesterday's confab. It's odd because a couple hours later on the fathers' rights amendment, Walsh told the hall how easily some very loud "no" voices can be overrepresented in a voice vote. He evidently knew how misleading voice votes can be, but did what he wanted anyhow.

Chairman Walsh ran a fairer convention that his predecessor ever did. But his decision to save 20 seconds by grace of his own impressions comes at the expense of the legitimacy of the vote. The pivotal decision of the 2009 convention is tarnished, and our platform for the next two years will be as well -- all because asking the delegates to stand would have been too much bother.

This is how I see it as somebody who felt that a fair count would have been against us. For the several hundred somebodies in that hall who feel differently -- it feels like it's 2005 all over again.

As for the future, it's easy to see talk about amending the rules to mandate standing or hadn counts of delegates from now on. However, given that the Sergeant-of-arms did not obey the rules for this current convention (on doubting the chair, or suspension to let David Plouffe speak), I don't see the point of writing new rules if they won't be kept in good faith anyway.

PS: I am not ignoring the hard work of the education team to gather 160 signatures on the MCAS amendment despite no organization or budget backing us. The work we did at the convention is just the start, and I'm hoping to keep up our momentum in making the Democratic Party seriously think about education despite itself...more on that later.

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