Posted by: sweeneyblog | May 9, 2013

Whatcom Dems Prepare for Endorsement Meeting

Full disclosure: I am the Vice-Chair of the Whatcom Democrats.

Each year, the Whatcom Democrats gather to decide who will be their official endorsed candidates for the year. I have to say, I’m rather partial to the process. There are plenty of ways groups decide how to do their endorsements, and part of the reason I love the Whatcom Democrats method is that it is loud, noisy and democratic in the traditional sense.

The Counters

Ballot Counters from 2011

In 2011, I gave you a blow-by-blow report of the event and I plan to do so again this year. As we approach the day, I figured it would be a good opportunity to explore endorsement processes. If this is too much insider baseball for you . . . then why are you reading a blog titled The Political Junkie?

Many advocacy organizations (Washington Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood Votes, Gun Owners Action League, etc) do some variation on the survey/interview to decide their endorsements. First, a committee of 2-8 people draft a survey asking about their issues and send it out to the candidates. If the survey is returned on time, the committee interviews the candidates and decides whom to endorse. Often the organization makes the candidate’s answers public, so blatant pandering can be quickly exposed.

Whatcom Republicans

Republicans

The downside to this method is that the decision is made by a small, usually insular, group of people and can be rife with backroom deals and accusations of rigged process. Often, the people chosen by the organization as being politically-savvy are involved in campaigns in other capacities which can lead to conflicts of interest.

The Whatcom Republicans have a slightly different process. They form a candidate’s committee, which interviews the candidates, then makes a recommendation to the Precinct Committee Officers (local neighborhood party officials), who then vote for who gets the endorsement. While this has the advantage of involving party members to vote, the recommendation by the committee can be a powerful influence.

Whatcom Democrats loo

Democrats

The Whatcom Democrats, on the other hand, make it a full-blown election. Everyone who is a dues paying member of the Whatcom Democrats can vote and you need a 2/3rds majority to take the endorsement. There are speeches, sign-waving, pamphlet passing, the whole nine yards. It is a loud, noisy process and can be quite frustrating. I know that the 2/3rds majority requirement irks quite a few party members but it ensures that whoever gets the full backing of the Whatcom Democrats . . . has the full backing of the Whatcom Democrats. Candidates are encouraged to have their supporters join the party and turn them out on the meeting date, a good test of their organizational skills.

So if you want to vote in the Whatcom Democrats endorsement, you need to pay your dues by today! We require all members be paid up two weeks in advance of the meeting (so you can’t just bus in people at the last-minute). Even if you aren’t a member, come and show up. In 2011, even Sen. Doug Ericksen showed up to ask for the endorsement. It is great political theater and with two, potentially three races with primary challenges, it could be a contentious battle.

Is the Whatcom Democrats system perfect? No, but I believe anytime you give candidates a chance to openly compete for votes, it is a good test of their skills for November. The real question is, are these endorsements worth the time and energy. Advocacy groups are often sought for their donations or volunteers, while political parties and unions are sought for their volunteers and campaign infrastructure. While no endorsement is a smooth ride to electoral success, it is definitely a key step for many positions.

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Responses

  1. You’re right about the Dems being a Big Tent and the insular/potential problems of the endorsement process in smaller orgs. And I love the big, messy process, too. But those orgs are sometimes a more helpful endorsement to the average voter because the Dems endorsements have always been a bit loose. The Dems process has been tweaked to make it a little more sensible and restrictive, but the threshold that has to be met means that both campaigns can turn out 20000 people, the endorsement can take 40 years, and at midnight on the 41st year, still no one gets endorsed. All of those people with shiny new memberships who had to listen to Angry Guy 1 fight with Angry Woman 2 for three hours over whether or not to vote to endorse the endorsement process, only to go through the process without any clear endorsement, end up not coming back to a Dems meeting ever again. It’s not good for the Dems for their one big meeting to be chaotic, long, and, ultimately, pointless. It’s hard to drag those people back kicking and screaming every few years when someone they like decides to run, much less to engage them as new members who might want to be involved in the future. But yes, I love the wacky Norway Hall mural and the speeches and the all-ye-comers atmosphere and the chaos and noise.

    • I think that is as good a metaphor as any for elections in general. You get people kicking and screaming, to show up and support someone and sometimes it takes a long time and the results aren’t what you wanted . . . but that’s how it works.

      I should say that this year, we are trying are hardest to streamline the process.

      • Except that I don’t have to leave my house for an election, and I have to get childcare, set aside a whole night that I could spend doing other things, listen to angry people yell at each other at the Norway Hall…it’s a pain in the ass. Elections aren’t a pain the ass, they’re envelopes with little arrows.

      • I do agree that it is very good for campaigns to have to go through it, because they have to motivate large numbers of people to go through a boring, tedious, and ultimately very likely pointless process—all extremely important to campaigning. Their ability to do so is a good sign of viability early in the game. But it’s not that great for the members.

      • I definitely concede it is a burden for members. I’m glad so many of them go through it.

  2. Good post. Thanks Riley!

  3. What do we make of a sitting mayor handing her endorsement to a potential council member?
    To me it speaks of a lack of suitable boundaries and wielding power and influence inappropriately.
    Will we see Mr. Louws echo the exercise with his pet candidates?

  4. Riley, Rubie makes a good point. Will the Whatcom Democrats be discussing this issue? Many people are upset about this but do not want to speak out for fear of recrimination. Who will be their voice?

    • I believe there will be a question and answer period so anyone can ask questions publicly of the candidates before the voting occurs.

      • I am unclear about what the Dems would request of elected leaders? They have no power over an elected’s endorsement. But then, I don’t quite understand the problem with electeds endorsing, either.

  5. When the mayor uses her clout to help someone get elected, it erodes the checks and balances that are intended to exist between the legislative and executive branches of government. I want a council member who is not beholden to the mayor for any political favors so that he/she can be as independent from the executive branch as possible. I suggest the Dems discuss how they feel about their own endorsement process under this situation. Is it OK to endorse a city council member who has been endorsed by the mayor as a matter of policy? This has never happened before, so the Dems have never had to ask this question.

    • I don’t see that endorsement erode the checks and balances between branches of government. Obama endorses candidates. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray endorse candidates. Seems like unnecessary hand-wringing to me. I also don’t see how individual endorsements have any bearing on the Dems’ endorsements or their process. I don’t know what you mean by “this has never happened before.” Mayors have often weighed in on council races in Bellingham. Sorry, Wendy, your argument just doesn’t connect for me.

      • Obviously, the risks of cronyism are much greater at the local level. Why would you be opposed to the Dems discussing this issue? It is wise to err on the side of “unnecessary hand-wringing” when it involves issues of democracy and fair representation. I take these matters seriously.

      • I’m opposed to the Dems discussing the issue because I don’t see that the Whatcom Democrats have a place in endorsements made by other groups/individuals. I take election matters seriously, too, which is why I don’t think the Dems should be sitting around dictating how other groups/individuals should or should not endorse. And I don’t think of endorsements as cronyism, unless there are promises of jobs and/or contracts post-election. An elected expressing their support for a candidate isn’t corruption, it’s just an endorsement.

      • Cronyism occurs within a network of insiders-the “good ol’ boys (or girls),” who confer favors on one another. It does not have to involve jobs, or anything illegal, to be bad policy. Besides blurring the the lines between the executive and legislative branches, it erodes public confidence in government, and discourages public participation in the political system. These are all appropriate matters for the Dems to consider as part of their endorsement policies.

        We have a politically savvy and experienced mayor that people are afraid to openly criticize. I am breaking taboo even to mention this. That speaks volumes. She has endorsed a candidate with limited experience and understanding of issues, whose main qualification appears to be knowing the right people. This creates the public appearance that the mayor is looking for a user friendly council. Which explains why the executive should not endorse council members.

      • I really don’t know what you’re talking about. With the exceptions of Bob Burr and Clayton Petree, there isn’t a candidate running for a city position who has little experience or qualifications. I don’t understand your argument or your criticism.


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