Tuesday, February 4, 2014

When Is a “Minority” Not a “Minority”? And Other Issues in the Alabama Democratic Party ...

Will Rogers, the famous cowboy humorist, noted that “I am not a member of any organized party – I am a Democrat.” While Oklahoma’s Favorite Son perished in a plane crash in 1935, he could just as easily have uttered those words last Saturday at the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery, at the meeting of the State Democratic Executive Committee. The meeting had originally been penciled in to be held for the purpose of formally calling the 2014 primary, but a court decree entered by Republican state officials required that formality to be accomplished by an earlier mail ballot. Insiders have little doubt that they were motivated, in large part, by a hope that the shortened time frame would prevent Democrats from recruiting candidates against vulnerable Republican legislators, and for statewide offices.

The bulk of the meeting’s contentious discussion is summarized in this video, edited and posted by the staff of the website Alabama Political Reporter.



This action centered on two proposed amendments to the Bylaws of the SDEC. First was an effort by SDEC member Sherry Kuntz of Birmingham to take an amendment from the table, that had been submitted at the October 2013 meeting. That amendment would have made all county chairs ex officio members of the SDEC. The SDEC voted not to take the amendment from the table, meaning that it will have to be resubmitted at a later meeting ab initio.

The second issue was what was referred to in the video as the “Shadoin Amendment,” offered by SDEC member Amy Shadoin of Huntsville. That amendment would have changed the definition of “minority” in Article III, Section 1(a) of the ASDEC Bylaws to include “blacks, native Americans, Asian/Pacifics, Hispanics, women and youth.”

A short primer on the issue, with some historical perspective, is necessary to a full understanding of what transpired. There is currently no definition of “minority” in this section. For at least 30 years that I know of, the various state Chairs, including John Baker, Redding Pitt, Joe Turnham, and Judge Kennedy, have held that “minority” in this section means “black.” This section was put in the Bylaws in the 1970’s, over much opposition from the then-George Wallace faction, to assure that blacks had representation on the SDEC commensurate with their proportion of the Democratic vote in general elections. Without the predecessor version of that language, it is possible that George Wallace’s 1974 effort to seize control of the SDEC from Judge Robert Vance, Sr., and
the “Loyalist” (as in loyal to the national Party and nominee) caucus, might have been successful. Those of us who were present when Wallace failed recall that it was, as Wellington said of his victory at Waterloo, “a damn close-run thing.”

The Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) Charter has two slightly different “inclusion” provisions. Article Eight, Section 2 provides that “discrimination” in the Party (including state units) “on the basis of sex, race, age (if of voting age), color, creed, national origin, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic identity or physical disability is prohibited.” There is really no comparable provision in the ASDEC Bylaws. Article Eight, Section 3 provides that “to encourage participation by minority groups, blacks, native Americans, Asian/Pacifics, Hispanics, women and youth ... [the state parties] ... shall adopt and implement an affirmative action program which provides for representation as nearly as practicable of the aforementioned groups, as indicated by their presence in the Democratic electorate ...” This is the language the Shadoin amendment copied, which is why LGBT and disabled persons were not included. There are effectively parallel provisions in the ASDEC Bylaws with respect to women and blacks. Article III, Section 1(d) provides that one male and one female shall be elected from each State House district, assuring gender equity in the overall membership. Gender equity is further enshrined in Article IV, Section 1, which requires that the Chair and First Vice Chair of the SDEC be of differing genders. Article III, Section 1(a) provides the mechanism by which the black percentage of the SDEC is the same as the black percentage of the Democratic presidential electorate. This is necessary to prevent black under-representation, as many of the 210 “district” members are elected from heavily white Republican districts in places like Baldwin and Shelby Counties. Members elected by the Minority (black) Caucus under Section 1(a) are required to be elected in equal numbers of men and women, to preserve gender equity.

While I disagree with Dr. Reed on many issues, I do think he has a valid point when he notes that including women in the definition of “minority” in this section would have arguably undesirable consequences. It would put white women – who, due to the racial composition of House districts and the Bylaws, constitute a large number of SDEC seats – in the minority caucus, which was historically designed to insure racial equity. I know most of the proponents of recent Bylaw amendments, and I do not think for an instant that any of them contemplate actions that would make the SDEC unrepresentatively white. But that would be the exact effect of the Shadoin Amendment, in the form in which it was submitted.

All of that said, I think there is a wide consensus that it is time for the SDEC to take action with respect to equitable representation of those interests recognized in the broader language of the DNC Charter, Article Eight, Section 2. Alabama’s Hispanic population is growing, and could become a key component of restoring the Party to a competitive position. Although they are under-registered, many Hispanics living here were born in the U.S., and are eligible to vote. More importantly, recognizing the legitimate concerns of LGBT, disabled, and other groups in that DNC clause is simply the right thing to do. I am hopeful that Dr. Reed’s words in the above video, that “we can give all the other groups some equitable representation,” will be borne out by actions and support when the matter comes again before the SDEC. Not included in the video were remarks by former Jefferson
County Commissioner Shelia Smoot, who noted that both proponents and opponents of recent SDEC Bylaw amendments seem to be talking past each other. To a large extent, she is correct. Her open invitation for progressive amendment proponents to “call me” and work on mutually acceptable proposals, is another helpful signal that I hope will be taken up. For their part, Dr. Reed and his supporters in the Minority Caucus need to refrain from stonewalling any reform, and particularly from tabling without debate any proposal that does not originate with them. This only leads to frustration and hurt feelings on both sides. Only the GOP benefits.

Exactly what form such changes take is something better worked out over coffee, or perhaps stronger beverages, not in a stylized forum choreographed by Robert’s Rules of Order. Both sides have legitimate concerns. My own thought is that whatever recognition of LGBT, Hispanic, disabled, and women’s interests is made, do not need to be made in the context of the Minority Caucus, as it is constituted in Article III, Section 1(a). That recognition, and hopefully some form
of representation, can be made elsewhere in the Bylaws. As another British Prime Minister noted a century and a half after Wellington, “jaw, jaw is better than war, war.”

Various efforts to recognize these legitimate concerns have consumed much of the last two or three meetings of the SDEC. Other issues are more worthy of our attention. Party finances, transparent and efficient Party governance, and most of all, breaking the Republican one-party stranglehold on Alabama, are far more worthy of our concern. And our time. To return to the Sage of Oologah, Mr. Rogers, in a 1929 letter to 1928 Democratic Presidential nominee Albert Smith, he wisely noted that “We can make this thing into a Party, instead of a Memory.”

14 comments:

  1. Eye (pun intended) agree with everything you said except this: "For their part, Dr. Reed and his supporters in the Minority Caucus need to refrain from stonewalling any reform, and particularly from tabling without debate any proposal that does not originate with them. This only leads to frustration and hurt feelings on both sides. Only the GOP benefits."

    Again, this is not about reform, it's about getting rid of Joe Reed and his bunch by some of the same people who supported Artur Davis over Ron Sparks as the democratic nominee for Governor of Alabama, and, by some of the same people who are welcoming Dr. Parker Griffith back to the Alabama Democratic Party with open lips, I mean, arms.

    How do you think we feel when we have to constantly fight for our rights to be included in a party that wants our votes but not our voices? Talk about hurt feelings.

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    Replies
    1. As I said above, I would not support something that impacted the historic purpose of the Minority Caucus. My sole issue is with using an immediate motion to table without giving the proponents a chance to have their debate and blow off some steam. I have had discussions with some of the proponents of those amendments after they read this blog post, and a couple of them were unaware of the history of the Minority Caucus. It helps to have been around the SDEC for a few decades, and to remember some of those long-ago fights.

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    ReplyDelete
  3. "There is a perception that the ADP caters to black voters but ignores white voters. A significant number of Democrats, some on the SDEC, have expressed concern to me that the ADP will "become like Mississippi" where, I gather, race is the significant difference between the two parties. If you want to run for office and you're white, you run as a Republican, if you're black you run as a Democrat. Now, I know that isn't strictly the case in Mississippi since they recently had a white Democrat run (unsuccessfully) for Senate, but this is a huge concern for people who care about the Democratic party in Alabama." http://blog.al.com/wire/2013/10/alabama_democratic_party_avoid.html

    Is this what the proponents want to blow off stem about?

    ReplyDelete
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