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.
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.
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.
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.