Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Take Down the SDEC’s “NO GURLZ” Sign

On March 1, 1848, Governor Reuben Chapman signed into effect a law whereby Alabama, acting ahead of more historically (and currently) “progressive” states such as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Wisconsin, became one of the earlier states in the Union to afford married women the legal right to fully own property in their own name, and not subject to the automatic ownership and control of their husband, as had been the case at common law. (1847 Ala. Acts 79 (1848) for the documentally inclined.)

On August 14, 2010, the State Democratic Executive Committee took an embarrassing step sideways, if not backward, when it tabled a proposed amendment to its Bylaws that would have made the President of the Alabama Federation of Democratic Women an ex officio member of the Executive Board of the SDEC. When the SDEC reconvened on August 26, 2010, to strip Kenya Marshall of her Jefferson County judicial nomination and replace her with Elisabeth French, First Vice Chair Nancy Worley (as I was told; I was not there) ruled out of order a motion to take the proposed amendment up off the table.

An aside on parliamentary procedure. According to the SDEC Bylaws, the primary procedural authority for the SDEC is the Rules of the Alabama House of Representatives. Under the provisions of Rule 26 of those rules, the Motion to Remove from the Table is recognized as a valid motion. While not specifically covered in those Rules, the Motion to Take from the Table (the difference is purely semantic) is held to be timely if made at the next session of the body, within that calendar quarter. Robert, Henry M., Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, (10th ed. 2000) p. 206. The August 26 meeting satisfied that deadline. If, as I understand, no other main motion was pending, and no other SDEC member had the floor when the attempt was made to remove (or take) the amendment from the table, it was clearly in order. The Party Bylaws specify that any matter of unfinished business is considered to be in order at any meeting of the SDEC, whether or not in the call. Bylaws, Art. VI § 3. A note to proponents: the main motion to adopt the amendment would now be considered dead by most parliamentary law authorities, not having been taken from the table before adjournment of the next meeting. You’ll need to make a new motion to adopt it, and comply with the Bylaws’ notice provisions before you do.

Though fun, the parliamentary-trivia interlude is now over.

What remains is to express my disappointment, sorrow, and ire at the actions of the SDEC leadership at their manifest opposition to this amendment to the Bylaws. For two straight meetings of the SDEC, the amendment has been thwarted by questionable calls from the Chair (first by Chairman Joe Turnham; in his absence on August 26, by First Vice Chair Nancy Worley). Since the amendment’s proponents were denied their clearly-articulated call for a division of the house at the August 14 meeting (and I was in attendance there), it’s not possible to say with certainty that a majority of the Committee supports it, but the voice vote to table it was certainly close, if not audibly defeated. Nothing leaves people feeling more alienated and unenthusiastic than leaving a meeting with the sense that they have been cheated. The middle of a general election campaign is probably the worst possible time to do that to a significant group of supporters.

Not only did these actions leave bad tastes in a lot of Democratic mouths, they gave the GOP a wide-open shot to run down the Democratic Party’s long-stated commitment to gender equity. As Chief Pig Mike Hubbard was heard to squeal:
The Alabama Democrat [sic] Party has once again shown just how big their tent really is as they have denied the President of the Alabama Federation of Democratic Women the right to have a seat on the Party’s Executive Board. The Alabama Republican Party is proud that Mrs. Elois Zeanah, President of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women, and all previous and past Presidents of the organization are, by nature of their position, automatically afforded a seat on the Party’s Steering Committee.
Regardless of the procedural and PR issues surrounding the suppression of this amendment, it’s simply something that is the right thing to do. With the possible exception of the men and women of organized labor, no one contributes the person-hours to the endless and thankless tasks of staffing headquarters, stuffing envelopes, working phone banks, and knocking on doors, than do the members of AFDW. And if their contributions of “sweat equity” to the Democratic enterprise were not enough, they are increasingly important to the Party’s fundraising effort, as traditional large contributors give way to the grassroots in the Internet era.

The main argument made against the amendment is that since the First Vice Chair, and Chair, of the SDEC must be of opposite gender, at least one woman is assured to be on the Executive Board. This is not persuasive. As I have noted before, there is no provision for the elimination of the positions of Vice Chair of Minority Affairs should a person of color be elected to the Chair or First Vice Chair position.

Another problem with the current setup is that women are not allowed to elect the “women’s” representative on the Executive Board, as the Minority Caucus is permitted to elect the Vice Chair for Minority Affairs. Whether the Chair or First Vice Chair is the mandated woman in the apexal dyad of the SDEC, that woman is elected by the entire Committee, not by the constituency she is supposedly representing. In this case, what is good for the ganders is good for the geese. And as a matter of principle, these constituencies should each select their own representatives among the Vice-Chairs. The criticism has been made by others, and it is well taken, that although there are provisions in the Bylaws for assuring proportionate minority representation on the Executive Board (again, elected solely by the Minority Caucus), there is no similar requirement for membership supplementation to assure gender equity. The saliency of this point is underscored by the fact that, except for First Vice Chair Worley, all the Vice Chairs elected at the August 14 meeting were male.

One passing note about the elections of the Vice Chairs is in order. One white SDEC member was complaining to me after the August 14 meeting about being excluded, along with others, from the Minority Caucus meeting at which Dr. Reed was selected as Vice Chair, and other seats were filled to bring the SDEC into compliance with the Bylaws. If the Caucus did close its meeting, and I was not there to observe this happen, it violated the applicable rules of the Democratic National Committee. Minority members of the SDEC, in their individual capacities, are free to meet whenever they wish, discuss whatever they need to, and exclude whomever they want. However, when they are sitting as the Caucus, and exercising their official prerogative to select Party officers, they must conform to the requirement that, “All meetings of the Democratic National Committee, the Executive Committee, and all other official Party committees, commissions and bodies shall be open to the public, and votes shall not be taken by secret ballot.” Charter of the Democratic National Committee, Art. IX § 12 (2010)(emphasis added). The elections of Dr. Reed and others could be subject to legal challenge if they are undertaken at a closed meeting, and I want us to avoid the mischief that could cause.

Now, no one knows better than I that the operation of the SDEC is one of factions, opposing (and malleable) alliances, and contentious decision-making. Frankly, I am glad it is. That is little-d democracy in action. We Democrats have a big enough tent to allow for this. Let the Republican meetings look like the first round of the shuffleboard tournament at the Obese White Peoples’ Retirement Village. I know that the resistance to this Bylaws amendment has its roots in particular personalities, faction, and underlying controversies. On most of those controversies (including this year’s gubernatorial primary), I have sided with those personalities and factions that are pushing back against this amendment.

Perhaps that gives me some room to speak to those personalities and factions not as opponents, but as a friend, and in any case as a fellow Democrat. I ask them to drop their opposition to this amendment, and to allow it to pass. Those who have been opposing this amendment are strongly, if not overwhelmingly, represented on the current Executive Board. The addition of one additional member to that Board, which already has 25+ members, is not going to result in any change in the likely outcomes of Board proceedings. What is more, there are those who are not as well-disposed to the amendment’s opponents as am I. Some of those persons, who claim to be good Democrats, are using the opponents’ position on the amendment to attack the opponents. Those individuals have often spoken ill of the amendment’s opponents, and of the need to push them out of Party leadership altogether. Such talk is rubbish, but, I ask the amendment’s opponents, why hand them ammunition? This amendment is a long overdue recognition of irreplaceable work done by a key constituency of the Party.

If no better argument can be made for amending the Bylaws to give the AFDW this recognition, it is this: despite the rather impertinent treatment with which their request for a seat at the table was treated, the women of the AFDW have not gone to the house and sulked. Everywhere I turn this year, I see their leaders, and their members, busily working to elect Democrats at every level. While this speaks volumes about their character, it would be unwise for those who have taken them for granted to think that we can continue to treat them thus forever, without serious consequences.

Even before Governor Chapman signed that Act in 1848, the Alabama Legislature had passed numerous “private acts” - a common method of obtaining relief in those days - to protect the property of individual women from automatic ownership by abusive, intemperate, or spendthrift husbands. The Suffragist movement was as active in Alabama as anywhere, led by the efforts of such leaders as Birmingham’s Pattie Ruffner Jacobs (shown here). Even hapless Richard Shelby, as a Democratic State Senator before his elevation to Congress and his defection to the Republicans, led the fight in the Alabama Senate for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. It’s embarrassing for the party of gender equity not to continue this proud tradition, and recognize the work of the AFDW. Pass the damn thing. Please, so we can get back to beating Republicans together.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Don’t Get Sprayed by the Poll Cat

Amazing what the inattentive can miss.

Once again, we are close enough to an election that every newscast is likely to offer us a new poll on one race or another. The thing about many of these polls is, they always seem to come in handy to prop up the media’s accepted narrative of an election cycle. Of course, the media’s accepted narrative this year is that the Democrats are going to be buried in an avalanche of Tea Party enthusiasts who are all upset about Democratic accomplishments in health care, financial regulation, and preventing the recession from becoming a Depression.

What has been lacking in all this coverage is a little Political Science 101. Yes, the Tea Partiers make for amusing news coverage. For TV news, they are better B-roll material than the media have enjoyed since Chicago 1968. But the first question should be: what, exactly, do they bring to the GOP table? Look (if only briefly) at the crowd at the typical Tea Party event. The first thing you notice is, they are overwhelmingly white, and the handful of blacks the TV cameras find often look like they’re out past their curfew from the nursing home. If you do listen to interviews, or even the speeches of the “leaders,” you realize pretty quickly that the educational standard of these mobs is ... a little lacking. But they do show up for rallies and political events, so we know they have an above-average level of political participation. Finally, they obviously express extreme, not to mention confused (“Keep the government away from my Medicaid!”) conservative ideals.

Just to put it simply, if we put this data before a competent political scientist who had just emerged from a three year coma, and never heard of the “Tea Party,” what would he or she predict about these Tea Partiers’ 2008 voting behavior? If you guessed first, that this group probably voted ≥ 98% for McCain, you get a free pint of Publius’s BBQ Sauce, when I get around to a production run. Perhaps equally importantly, given their current high level of activism, our political scientist would tell us that these people were already in the active voter pool in 2008. Modalities of activism may change - 2008’s phone bankers are 2010’s Tea Party demonstrators - but overall participation levels are more stable. Somehow, though, it is always the unspoken assumption not only of media commentators, but of the “experts” they trot out for their stories, that these protesters are all newly emergent voters who will bolster the GOP’s weak 2008 and 2006 showings. All too often, this “analysis” has gone unchallenged by Democratic spokespersons.

What has stricken me so far in this election cycle is how dominant has been the presumption that Tea Partiers represent a response to widely held views, and not that widely held views have been formed by the misleading narrative of Tea Partiers as a “populist groundswell of opposition to the Democrats.” Voters with shallow ideological roots (an impolitic way to describe “swing voters”) are easily swayed by the dominant themes they see in news coverage, and the Tea Party has been Story One in the media since mid-2009. One thing we do know about these voters is that their attention to politics sharpens as an election approaches, and they begin behaving more consistently with their interests and prior predispositions, than with the wind that was blowing them around in the spring and summer.

Which brings us to what the inattentive may have missed.

In all the impending-Republican-deluge hype, one little story has been overlooked. This week, the Gallup Poll released a poll indicating a sudden shift in the generic Congressional ballot. Whereas the Republicans had moved out to a 51%-41% lead a week earlier, the poll this week shows a dead heat at 46%. Part of this is that the 10% GOP lead may look a little like one of those outliers that from time to time intrude on the best polls. It was something of a jump in the GOP total when we look at the poll’s results so far this year:


But these results bode well for the Democrats, and are consistent with an historic structural trend in polling and voting patterns. In order to get an idea of how this has historically worked, we need look no further back than the Gallup daily tracking poll from the 2008 Presidential election:


In this poll, we see something that many have forgotten: as late as early September 2008, McCain actually had a lead over Obama! Most of us have fixed memories of a near-landslide 52.9%-45.7% win, as represented in this map, which adjusts the state size for electoral votes:


Seeing those 365 electoral votes on the map in 2008 has left a lot of people forgetting how close the whole thing was a few weeks earlier. But it’s an old story in American politics. People respond to the dominant theme in the weeks and months before Labor Day, because most people have relatively low levels of political attention until an election is imminent. This year, the low-information voter is asked by the pollster how he plans to vote, and his or her vague thought (in the 3 seconds or less before answering) is something like, “All I been hearin’ is ever’body gittin’ all over Obama,” so he or she indicates a Republican preference.

Then, something funny happens on the way to the local precinct. As ads fill the airwaves, and yard signs dot the drive to work, the voter becomes more aware of the impending election. On the margins, voters begin paying more attention to the detailed news coverage of the election, not all of which is horse-race drivel. Suddenly, the reality of Ron Paul or Sharron Angle wanting to dismantle Social Security makes it to the radar screen of the lower-information voter, and suddenly those previously expressed GOP preferences start dropping off. The end result starts looking more like November 2008.

There are two important points to take away from all this. One is that it is important for us to push back, as Democrats, against the accepted wisdom of a GOP tsunami. A majority of voters - I hate to quote Nixon, but the silent majority - agree with our positions on the issues, when they are focused on them. The second thing, and this may be more important, is to keep heart. There are doorbells to be rung, and envelopes to be stuffed. 2008 wouldn’t have happened if we’d given up when McCain was “ahead” in September.

Today’s post is dedicated to the memory of JR (1945-2010) - union man, and a proud Democrat.

Friday, September 3, 2010

GOP Takes Strike Three Looking

The Republican story line has taken another hit. Or three.

Late in the day Tuesday, word broke in Montgomery that State Senator Jim Preuitt, Republican of Talladega, had announced that he was throwing in the towel on his re-election bid. Preuitt made headlines on April 6 - the last day of qualifying for this year’s primaries - when he showed up at Republican headquarters to file, after serving as a Democrat since 1990. Before that, Preuitt’s main claim to fame was never sitting for a portrait in which he didn’t look like the magnesium citrate was taking too long to work.

Just how big is this? It’s huge. Every back-of-the-envelope calculation in both parties, and among the media, regarding Senate control next January, figured on Preuitt squeezing out the win in his new pachydermic garb. His Democratic opponent, retired Circuit Judge Jerry Fielding of Sylacauga, was seen by many as a good candidate - if not running against a 20-year incumbent with deep pockets. The Big List at Doc’s Political Parlor has carried the district as “Leans Republican” most of the year. There are only 35 members of the entire Senate, so a flip in any seat has disproportionate impact, especially when the chamber is as closely divided as is the current Senate. For the Republicans to lose a seat they hadn’t even treated as in play is even more significant when you consider that everyone who isn’t a GOP shill (sadly, that includes some in the media), has said that if the GOP can take control of the Senate, it only has a one-seat margin to do so. That margin is now gone.

How gone is it? Danny at Doc’s Political Parlor asked GOP State Representative Ron Johnson of Sylacauga if he were planning to seek the GOP nomination. His response:
“No way,” he tells the Parlor.

He states clearly that he has no interest in being in the Senate, and also notes that Senate District 11 is a very Democratic district. “I really don’t know any Republican other than Preuitt that would be likely to win that district.”
There may be even more good news, but stay tuned for this. There is a legitimate dispute as to whether the GOP can legally replace Preuitt on the ballot. The Code of Alabama does not provide a clear answer as to what is the last date a party may replace a withdrawn candidate. A Secretary of State regulation, adopted in 2003, says that:
Election officials are authorized to submit, accept and otherwise act on amendments to certifications of candidates to the full extent permitted by the circumstances or until the applicable ballots are printed, whichever occurs first.
In this case, absentee ballots have already been printed for Talladega County, which is in SD 11. Now, reports quote Beth “I wish I was Mrs. Dog” Chapman’s office as saying because all ballots haven’t been printed, the GOP can still substitute a nominee. However, at the infernal SDEC meeting in Montgomery on August 14, when the Kenya Marshall nomination was being debated, a point of inquiry was raised as to when the drop-dead date was for the Party to replace her if she were stripped of the nomination. Responding for the Chair, ADP ED Jim Spearman said the Secretary of State’s office had advised him that would be Friday, August 27. It was on the basis of that representation that the SDEC re-convened on August 26, to give Marshall the longest possible time to sort out her Bar case. Even if the Secretary of State is not legally bound by that representation, changing the advertised drop-dead date would constitute a change in a voting practice or procedure, requiring preclearance by the Department of Justice under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even if that preclearance is obtained, it won’t be done before we have reached what all parties will have to concede is a for-real drop-dead date, by which ballots have to go out to comply with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.

Meanwhile, back at the Supreme Court ... The number of Republican Supreme Court Justices who have donated to Democratic Supreme Court nominees has now doubled. Justice Champ Lyons, a Mobile Republican, acknowledged this week that he has given $1,000.00 each to the campaigns of Democrats Judge Mac Parsons and Rhonda Chambers. This, of course, follows the earlier $5,000.00 contribution to Parsons by GOP Justice Tom Woodall. Lyons explained his contributions by saying “My first loyalty is to the Alabama Supreme Court ... We’ve got two extremely qualified Democrats running for the Alabama Supreme Court.” King Pig Double Dipper, and GOP Chair, Mike Hubbard has been quoted as saying in response, “Oink.” Wait, excuse me. What he said was, “I have no idea, and I have not spoken with them. It’s obviously something we don’t condone.”

This support from Justices Woodall and Lyons is significant. Both have been working alongside Justice Parker, Parsons’s opponent, for the last five years, and have seen his what-me-worry approach to his judicial duties at first hand. They have also likely had the occasion to review some of Judge Parsons’s work, when his decisions were appealed to the Supreme Court. Likewise, Justice Lyons has had the opportunity to closely review the work of Judge Kelli Wise, who is currently on the Court of Criminal Appeals, and whose opinions go up on appeal to the Supremes. (Judge Wise, since her election, has reminded me of the advice of the late Lewis Grizzard, who cautioned against proximity to “women whose first name ends in ‘i’.”)

And, down in the Wiregrass. Democratic nominee Jennifer Adams, who is also the Houston County Democratic Chair, has withdrawn from the race for the Alabama Senate in District 29. You will recall that the Republican Party refused to allow incumbent Senator Harri Anne Smith qualify to run in their primary because of her support in 2008 for Democratic Congressman Bobby Bright. (This, after the GOP has called Democrats “insular,” “power hungry,” and “dictatorial” for decades for enforcing the Radney Rule.) Smith has qualified as an independent for the seat. I have two guesses about this. First is, that some deal has been hatched for Smith to caucus with the Democrats if she’s elected. The second is this: she may well win. In her GOP Congressional primary campaign against Jay Love in 2008, she mopped the floor with him in that part of the Second Congressional District which she represents in the Senate. And Bright, whom she endorsed, did well there, too. At the very least, this is another instance of where the GOP is going to have to drop some serious coin on what should be a safe, base district.

Finally, a late development with the shoe on the other foot. Word has broken that gubernatorial nominee Ron Sparks has said some nice things about Richard Shelby:
“I want Richard Shelby helping me to save the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. I want Richard Shelby to help me when we start looking at military closures in Alabama because they are extremely important. Can you imagine the economic impact of the military leaving Alabama?”
Understandably, this has caused some blowback in Democratic circles. That might be more understandable if many of those same critics hadn’t been among those blindly singing the praises of Artur Davis as he voted against health care reform, and otherwise pandered to the GOP. I am not sure this one slip, buried in the news on a holiday weekend, will make that big a splash among the wider Democratic base.

For one thing, Shelby has always had a way of maintaining a foot in the door of the Democratic base, even after his 1994 party switch. In his last Democratic run in 1992, against black icon (the not-yet-indicted) Chris McNair, Shelby coasted to a 46.4%-36.6% win in Macon County. (Disclosure: after Shelby announced his switch the day after the 1994 General, it was yours truly who thought of the bumper stickers later seen around Montgomery: “DON’T BLAME ME: I VOTED FOR McNAIR”. Someone with a couple hundred bucks left in their campaign paid for printing them, and I still have one.) In the 1998 General, he carried Colbert County, a reliable Democratic bastion, by 54.0%-46.0%. Shelby has always known how to put out street money to enervate Democratic opposition without the media catching on.

I see two possible explanations of this move by Sparks, and they can be classified as (1) cynical, and (2) very cynical. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of either, but if either helps regain the Governor’s Mansion, my criticism will be tempered. The cynical explanation is the Cult of the Consultant. It has become Conventional Wisdom among Democratic “experts” that the key to victory is appearing to try to be reasonable and bipartisan. While poll respondents tell pollsters they want politicians to be bipartisan, I don’t buy it. It’s what they tell pollsters; it doesn’t describe how they vote. Fighting works, as the decline in Obama’s approval ratings while he continues to try to be the Philosopher-in-Chief shows. The Commissioner may have fallen victim to some bad advice about how to handle this issue. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened to a Democrat of unquestioned party ideals and loyalties. One of my favorite memories of the 1996 cycle is watching as a DC hack, sent down to “advise” Roger Bedford on how to campaign, stood trembling for his life as a 250-pound Steelworker, who had not one ounce of fat on his frame, told the “expert,” from a range of about three inches, what he thought of his Bedford radio ads in which Bedford was touted as “a Reagan Democrat, not a Kennedy Democrat!” (The ads were pulled as soon as the DC hack could change into some clean trousers.)

The even more cynical explanation hails back to the issue of Shelby’s money. Shelby’s cash on hand as of June 30, 2010 was $17,179,661.00, and he hasn’t been skimping on the fundraising canap├ęs since then. That is an awe-inspiring sum of money, even for those of us who want to scream at Shelby himself. There are two salient facts about that figure. One is that it could do a lot of damage to the entire Democratic ticket if unleashed. That comes out to $256,412.85 per county. The other such fact is that, if this is (as many believe) Shelby’s last hurrah, when he leaves, he can do pretty much what he wants with the unspent balance. He can spend it on libraries, parks, and other shrines to which his name can be affixed, make contributions to other politicians (then earn fees lobbying them), and, depending on the accounting history, put some in his own pocket. Sparks’s statement certainly lessens the need for Shelby to spend money; by how much is open to debate. What is not open to debate is that Shelby is perfectly capable of cutting a deal with Sparks, to keep that $17,179,661.00 (or at least the vast majority of it) parked in the bank, in exchange for Sparks’s statement. Shelby is no more loyal to his current party than he was to his former. If this is what has happened, Sparks may have done a great service to the entire Democratic ticket - including, to an extent, William Barnes, his Democratic opponent.

Don’t shoot the messenger here. I am not saying I approve. I am merely speculating about what might be going on. But it bears watching to see. In the meantime, let’s all enjoy the collapse of Republican efforts to take the Legislature, and their problems holding their lead on the Supreme Court.