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Fairfax Dems Chair: “FCDC as an organization has become virtually ungovernable”; Time for Major Reform

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From Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) Dan Lagana:

From FCDC Chair Dan Lagana:

Let’s Build a Lean, Mean, FCDC Fighting Machine for 2020 and Beyond

The accompanying resolution is the first of a two-step initiative to revitalize the way FCDC pursues its mission to elect Democrats. This is a two-step initiative because the solutions are interrelated and critical to protecting FCDC’s integrity. They cannot stand independently.

Step 1: FCDC’s membership level – to be voted on at the September 24 FCDC meeting.

First, our annual reorganization process requires that we determine a membership threshold or “cap.”  The attached resolution, which received unanimous recommendation by the FCDC Steering Committee, is that first step.

According to the FCDC by-laws, the membership must vote on the resolution at the September 24 meeting.

However, at the January reorganization, I will remind members that the membership cap must be adhered to throughout the term. Currently, FCDC has an “open” membership policy, where the cap applies at the time of reorganization only.

Step 2: Additions and Amendments to FCDC’s By-Laws – to be voted on at the January Reorganization of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee.

  • More nuanced and detailed discussion will begin AFTER Election Day

Second, much-needed refinements and reforms to our bylaws will help preserve and protect the integrity of FCDC and its processes and procedures.

Our work is incredibly valuable and also never-ending.  In 2017, we elected Democrats and got ready to do so again in 2018.  And we did. For the past year we have all been working nonstop leading up to the biggest local elections in many years.  And then, 2020…

Unfortunately, our work has become more and more difficult, not because we aren’t trying or because our candidates aren’t superb (they are!), but because FCDC as an organization has become virtually ungovernable.

Governance Reform

The DPVA Party Plan mandates that we must meet quorum at our meetings.  This quorum requires 30% of our membership be in attendance. Reaching a quorum has long been a challenge for FCDC–especially over the past decade—and of late the situation has become untenable.  We must address this.

Membership Reform

What Does it Mean to be a “Member” of FCDC?  All of us have our own reasons for joining. However, our respective abilities to commit our time to FCDC’s mission understandably and legitimately vary.  Currently, membership and the membership threshold, or cap, is not defined in either the FCDC by-laws or DPVA Party Plan. This vague concept of membership leaves open the potential for manipulation.

That potential became a stark reality this year when every candidate in a competitive race to win the endorsement of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (magisterial and at-large) recruited members solely for the purpose of endorsement voting and not for actual involvement and engagement in our mission.  We can all agree this sort of activity violates, at a minimum, the spirit of membership. We cannot allow this sort of activity to harm FCDC’s integrity and reputation.

Endorsement Process Reform

Endorsements for nonpartisan races, which rewards candidates with placement on the FCDC election day sample ballot, are conducted by a vote of FCDC members.

Candidates spend months campaigning among existing members—instead of within their communities–and are incentivized to recruit members for the sole purpose of voting in the endorsements. The effect is a loss of precious time and campaign exposure to the broader community. Lastly, candidates not familiar with the party are at an immediate disadvantage.

The highly-socialized nature of committee membership can reward candidates with strong personal connections or appeal. Furthermore, reasonable arguments are made that the current system lacks inclusiveness and unfairly penalizes people of color.

These phenomena are for the most part not new. But now the size and scale of the problem demands immediate and resolute action.

Fixing the issues

At the conclusion of this year’s endorsement process, I formed a special task force with a mandate to address FCDC’s membership and endorsement processes. “The Membership and By-Laws Committee” is comprised of the following members:

  • Maggie Godbold, Sully District Chair
  • Bryan Graham, FCDC Vice Chair of Technology and 11th CD member
  • Dan Lagana, FCDC Chair and 8th CD member (Committee Chair)
  • Jennifer Lowe-Davis, Springfield District Chair
  • Ray Marin, Providence District Chair
  • Donna Rostant, FCDC General Counsel
  • Andrew Scalise, FCDC Assistant Treasurer
  • Christopher Schäffer, Braddock District Chair

The task force drafted a “Reorganization Resolution” for discussion and adoption at the September 24th FCDC Meeting, and proposed changes to FCDC’s by-laws at the reorganization in January.

Balancing Our Efforts in Pursuit of FCDC’s Mission

If Democrats stand for anything, it is openness and inclusivity.  But we also believe firmly in straightforward good governance and the obligations of participation that accompany the privileges of membership in any organization.

Broadly, the FCDC Steering Committee agreed to pursue the following additions to FCDC’s By-Laws in January.

(Please note that these changes are not exhaustive, nor is the language below to be considered text for by-laws amendments).

1. Establish that membership may not exceed a cap.

  • A membership ceiling must exist for the good order, conduct, and the integrity of FCDC.
    • Note: FCDC will conduct reorganization caucus training.

2. Create two categories of membership.

  • Broadly, membership will fall into two categories: those who may vote at FCDC meetings and count towards quorum and those whose participation is more limited. In the attached resolution we attribute the former to be “voting members,” however the labels and titles are not final and subject to discussion.
  • We believe strongly believe that offering two categories of membership is the best way to ensure a welcoming and opening committee as well as providing for a streamlined, efficient, and most importantly compliant, conduct of business.
  • We are sensitive to concerns surrounding the actual labels and titles used in designating these two membership categories.

3. Establish participation requirements for activities (Modeled after Loudoun).

  • Members must participate. Broadly, we are proposing that “voting” members who become inactive after a period of time become non-voting. The effect is either an opening for an active non-voting member or quorum is revised downward.
  • The participation requirements are designed to encourage active membership and reduce the quorum requirement.

4. Firehouse primaries/caucuses for the endorsement of candidates in non-partisan offices (Modeled after Arlington).

  • Remove clear and obvious conflicts of interest and poor incentives from the endorsement process and the committee–critical for the integrity of the FCDC.
  • Strengthens the candidate and the party.
    • Elevate the profile of magisterial committees and candidates in their districts.
    • Sharpen candidates’ political instincts and habits.
    • Encourage community engagement.

There is much to discuss. This must be a decision that involves the entire committee and one that will continue through December.

Thank you,

Dan Lagana,
FCDC Chair

The Steering Committee voted unanimously to recommend the Resolution on Tuesday, September 10th.