Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How I Almost Got Elected Chair (And What I Would Do to Keep That From Happening Again)

A funny thing happened to me at the Ward 5 DFL convention:  I was almost elected chair.  Ok, so "almost" is too strong a word, as the vote wasn't all that close.  But I was nominated, and in spite of  not having run a campaign for the position, or even having thought about doing so until Saturday, I did get a surprising number of people who voted for me.

(I was also nominated for the constitution committee; a role that may have suited me better anyway.  But the affirmative action statement isn't just something we read to the crowd prior to elections.  It is a guiding principle of the party.  So I stepped aside, knowing a friend of mine who was also nominated would do a fine job.)

So here's how my ward was almost either lucky or foolish enough to wind up with me as their chair.  I was rather unhappy with how certain elements of the convention were being handled, and made no secret of that.  I was flitting from one group of people to the next like a butterfly, venting about it.  A giant, yelling butterfly.

And then someone said, "Well if you feel that strongly about it, why don't you run for chair?  I'd vote for you."

Without really thinking, I shot back, "If you want me to run, why don't you nominate me?"  And the hell of it is, he did.  I'm not the kind of person who lobs criticisms from the sidelines.  If I care about something enough to get this worked up over it, I won't shy away from being asked to be a part of the solution.  But for better or worse, the delegates stayed with the status quo.

So instead of becoming a party insider, I get to remain a party activist - a role that suits me better, for now.  Which means I'm free to vent about all the things I'd do differently if I could wave a magic wand over this convention.  Things like...

1.  Resolutions.  Right now there is "no place" for them to go, but creating such a mechanism shouldn't be that hard.  Even if resolutions that passed at the ward or precinct level were shelved until the senate district committees dealt with them the following year, that would be a step in the right direction.  And it might be the best route anyway, as a resolutions committee every year would mean that many more volunteers the party needs to scrounge up.  But a lack of this mechanism makes it more difficult for off-year issues to affect what becomes part of the party platform.

2.  A more open and transparent way to select committees, which I've already addressed.  But while we're on the topic of openness, transparency, and accessibility...

3.  The local DFL website didn't have the complete date, time, and location for the convention. It might seem like delegates and alternates should know to show up, but we had a stark contrast between eligible delegates and those who registered at the convention.  I know delegates can be bombarded with political entreaties leading up to the convention, but the party itself should make some kind of reminder effort.  An email or phone call or postcard or web post or Facebook or tweet or smoke signal or singing telegram--SOMETHING to make it easy for people to remember what they signed up for, when, and where.

4.  Speaking of "where," let's not have these things at North Commons anymore.  Other ward conventions across the city have been held in schools, where each campaign is allowed a hospitality room, where candidates can offer amenities to their volunteers, delegates, and anyone else whose vote might be swayed by a really good doughnut.

5.  And along the category of equity with other conventions, southwest Minneapolis allowed for a mayoral straw poll, whereas in ward five we were told this was out of line with the DFL constitution and therefore out of order to request one.  And so once again, whichever way the rules were supposed to go, north Minneapolis had its political voice silenced in a way that other parts of the city did not.

6.  At a few key points (like asking to adopt ranked choice voting) the chair ought to pause for about a second and a half and ask if there is any discussion.  Perhaps the rules don't require that, and I certainly appreciate not wanting to have to discuss every last tidbit ad nauseum.  But steamrolling through certain spots forces people who DO want discussion to start interrupting and shouting down the chair at random.  Too much of that, and the crowd begins to think that's acceptable at any point, and we lose all semblance of order.

7.  Finally, at the precinct caucus, many precinct chairs did not have enough basic materials for the delegates and alternates present.  There were other inconsistencies from one precinct to the next that seemed to indicate a lack of cohesive training on the part of the precinct chairs.  Along with committee selection, the time between conventions should be used to train the chairs in how to run a precinct caucus.  (This is something I'd volunteer to do.)

These are seven rather minor things, and I hope that our party committee members take them to heart.  If not, there's always the chance that someone will be crazy enough to give me those marching orders in the future.

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