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“Fundamental reforms are needed in how General Assembly delegates are elected”

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Excellent points by Ben Tribbett and other commenters on last night’s Democratic nomination process in the 74th House of Delegates district. Astoundingly, just 43 votes were cast, 40 on the final ballot, to select the person who will almost certainly be the next delegate in that district. Even if you believe that this process was forced on Democrats, that’s about as far away from “democracy” as you can get and not acceptable in my opinion. Anyway, first here’s Ben’s comment, followed by a few other interesting points by other commenters.

First of all, congratulations to Kevin J Sullivan on his nomination tonight, I’m glad to see someone from organized labor heading to the General Assembly.

That having been said, the process used to select a nominee was disgusting. Voting was limited to those who had joined a Democratic committee and all other voters were shut out of the process. This type of undemocratic way of selecting a nominee is completely unacceptable. Unfortunately as I said many times in 2012 when I was running for DNC- the DPVA officials keep these rules as fluid as possible to allow for committees to make rules to influence the outcome of the process. I don’t believe in that, never have and never will. These seats are for the public to decide, and we shouldn’t be putting people forward in them who are not selected by the public to run.

Yep, I largely agree with that. Next, former Fairfax Dems Chair Rex Simmons argues:  

Joe Morrissey is ultimately responsible for this. Plus this district is gerrymandered like all the rest of them. Essentially 24 voters will have chosen the next delegate. I wish Mr. Sullivan all the best, but fundamental reforms are needed in how General Assembly delegates are elected. Ethic reforms and non-partisan redistricting are sorely needed…

I agree it is not democracy. But neither are hyper-gerrymandered districts that aren’t politically competitive and designed to virtually assure incumbents’ re-elections. The system of campaign financing, with no limits on special interest contributions, further erode democracy. It adds up to an illegitimate governing institution. Conservatives have long had outsized voices in Virginia state government and people need to rebel, figuratively speaking of course, against this kind of government.

Strongly agreed!

Democratic activist Paul Friedman also makes some strong points:

This was a special election. There are times when just one person is able to select not just a low level Delegate but a U.S. Senator to fill out a seat that opens mid-term.

In a reasonable amount of time there will be a real opportunity for a full primary and general election to give more voters a chance to be heard.

Unfortunately, even then, way too few voters will participate due to their own lack of interest.

Rex’s points are far more salient. The heart of our democracy is being ripped out by a system that has been captured by big money special interests.

The idea that Virginia can elect three Democratic state officials and two Democratic U.S. Senators but our House delegation and state legislature is GOP dominated is directly due to a failed system at the federal and state levels.

The people will ultimately rebel if their will is thwarted long enough. We must hope that rebellion will find peaceful and effective paths.

On a very-much-related note, I’m reading Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama, and his analysis of the “decay in the quality of American government” really ring true (especially after watching events of the past few days regarding Joe Morrissey and the nominating process to replace him).  There are, of course, many aspects to this phenomenon, but a few are the gerrymandered district problem, mentioned above; the lack of an “informed, engaged citizenry,” and manipulation of the system in various ways by “elites” (as we saw last night, even if the intent was understandable given the circumstances – to prevent jailbird Joe Morrissey from winning the nomination).

P.S. Another bad outcome from this fiasco is that Republicans will throw this in our faces every time we complain, justifiably, about their efforts to suppress voting rights. It won’t be fair, but since when do Republicans play fair? The point is, we shouldn’t give them any openings at all to claim the Democrats are not “democratic.” Stupid on our part, even if they are utterly dishonest, devious, etc.

  • BatCave

    The people will ultimately rebel if their will is thwarted long enough.

    What planet is Friedman living on?  Your typical voter doesn’t care about any of this – as a matter of fact, most voters don’t know what redistricting is or even how it works.  And more than half of voters don’t even show up in races for the legislature.

    I wish Kevin Sullivan luck but I think Morrisey still has an edge in the general election running in this seat.  And Goldman filing suit against the process was smart, keeping the issue alive in the press and painting Morrisey the victim in all of this.  Labor is going to have to do a heck of a job turning out its members for Sullivan to win.

    In a low turnout election in January, can a Republican win this seat?  There seems to be some Republican precincts in the eastern part of this district.  And in 2013, write-in votes against Morrisey were as high as 12% in some of these precincts.  I suspect there are not enough GOP voters for a GOP candidate to win, but if the GOP candidate makes a good showing, does that really hurt Sullivan, by splitting the anti-Morrisey vote?  I think it does – and maybe the Sullivan campaign needs to make that case to GOP voters in some of these precincts in the eastern part of the district.  

  • on Facebook:

    Congratulations to Kevin Sullivan for House of Delegates 74th District of his nomination for the 74th- I was happy to give him an early donation this past summer. And thanks to Lamont Bagby and Floyd Miles for running as well. Despite having a lot of these special elections recently, still a great deal of confusion and misinformation by press and activists over these elections.

    This wasn’t a primary election- in fact, given the short turnaround to decide a nominee, the State of Virginia doesn’t even offer that as an option; essentially the state says they don’t have enough time to run a primary so ask the parties to run their own elections using mostly volunteer labor (and ask them to do this with a mandated 5 day turnaround). In doing so the state looks to the Democratic and Republican Parties to use their own, internal, processes to determine who will be their nominee. With over 130 local committees throughout the state, some are used to running elections, some are not. Giving too much discretion to how these elections are run can sometimes lead to confusion, lack of uniformity, and as we saw last night, very low turnout. I think it would benefit the Democratic Party of Virginia to tighten up this process and lay out a more uniform and predictable format for these elections. That will be a huge help to local committees charged with running these elections and the candidates will have a better idea what the process will be like and can plan accordingly.

    Clark adds, “I’ve never seen a caucus open to only members in ‘good standing’. It creates problems and I don’t believe a healthy precedent, nor do I think it’s consistent with the Party Plan.”

  • scott_r

    …I could not agree more that the gerrymander is the issue.  Competitive districts would increase voter participation both at the ballot box and in the party selection process and tend to marginalize the radical extremes.  

    We are long overdue for the compact district revolution…I’d be more interested in learning how this was accomplished in California (was this the result of a direct referendum?) and how we might implement that here.  

    The complicity of the VA Democratic Congressional caucus in GOP redistricting was pretty shameful.  

  • to the caucus were we nominated the other Sullivan for Delegate, Rip Sullivan, over the Independence Day weekend.  More than 2100 votes were cast.

  • cliff

    Do I agree that the process within the local Democratic parties ain’t always wonderful? Yes. Do I like the outcome this time? You betchya I do. I am thrilled that Morrissey will not get to run as the Democratic nominee. It is icing on the cake that the nominee will have a labor background!

    Democracy is that anyone who qualifies, either through the party nominating process or as an independent, is on the ballot in the general election, and that registered voters can vote. But, if you don’t register you don’t vote and you don’t have a bitch. Same goes with party nominations. If you don’t join the local committee there is no guarantee you will get to participate in the party nominating process. It is pretty simple.

    Ask Cantor about the hazards of having an open party primary where anyone can vote. Would any of you really have liked a “democratic” open Democratic primary that nominated Morrissey as the Democratic candidate? I hope not.

    I have supported Senator Deeds efforts to reform our mal-districting process. With enough support, and this “special” election as an example, maybe he can get some traction in the upcoming GA session.