In June, right here in Providence, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Executive and Rules and Bylaws Committees met for several days discussing and voting on major issues that would help shape the Democratic Party for years to come. One of those issues is revamping the Superdelegate process. The rules and bylaws committee tackled this very thorny issue in a methodical, spirited and democratic manner. The 40 or so members decided to recommend that superdelegates be renamed Automatic Delegates and that automatic delegates not be allowed to cast the first ballot at the Presidential selection process at conventions. This was a significant development and one that was welcomed by those who felt slighted in 2016. (In Rhode Island, for instance, Bernie Sanders won the popular vote by 13 percent – but the delegate count went 19/10 to Hillary Clinton. With the new formula for first round voting only the pledged delegates would have been able to vote – which was 13-10 for Bernie. This decision kept all the automatic delegates in place, yet would increase the competitiveness in the primaries. 50 percent plus 1 would still be needed for a candidate to win in the first round of voting.)
The second major ruling that took place was that Tom Perez and the executive committee, including member Christine Pelosi (Nancy Pelosi’s daughter), put through a resolution outlining a DNC ban on Fossil Fuel donations. Christine Pelosi hit the nail on the head when she said, “Today we can act — in harmony with the millions of Americans demanding that we clean up our planet and our politics and join the hundreds of individual Democratic political candidates for office across the country who have pledged not to take money from the fossil fuel industry.
“We can RESOLVE today to send a clear message to the polluters and the people: reaffirm our progressive, pro-environment positions, encourage grassroots donors, and reject corporate PAC contributions from the fossil fuel industry that conflict with our DNC Platform.”
This was an incredible first step in reshaping the direction of the party and recognizing the work of many grassroots, millennial and student groups. These organizations are feverishly passionate about saving the environment and combating climate change. At the June Rhode Island Democratic State Committee meeting, Student Climate Action members, which is an affiliate of The Sunrise Movement, asked Democratic State Committee members to support Tom Perez and the DNC and agree to take the no fossil fuel dollars pledge. Over 30 Rhode Island candidates and members of the Rhode Island General Assembly have signed the pledge including Matt Brown for Governor and Aaron Regunberg for Lieutenant Governor. Other notables include Senator Jeanine Calkin, Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and a host of candidates. You can see all those who took the pledge here.
Both of these initiatives are in jeopardy at next week’s Democratic National Committee convention. Tom Perez appeared to have retracted his support for the No Fossil Fuel Dollars Pledge on August 15 and a resolution was voted on to rescind the ban of fossil fuel dollars, but those outside the meeting are still scratching their heads as to what actually happened. A DNC spokesperson told The Huffington Post that the resolution was “not a reversal.”
In a second development the superdelegate modifications may be in jeopardy. On August 15, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, wrote to Tom Perez to, “urge him to withdraw support of the changes to be voted on at the party’s meeting at the end of the month.” Representative Richmond’s reasoning was that, “There should be enough room in the process to include the perspective of local party activists and officials, and Members of Congress. One group should not be harmed at the expense of the other. Passage of the reforms in their current form would disenfranchise elected officials for no substantive reason and would create unnecessary competition between those elected and their constituents.”
This in itself highlights the division in the party. There are those who want to maintain the status quo and others who want to reform the party to make it the inclusive, go to party of the future that it needs to be.
Superdelegates have only been in place for 40 years – and we are no longer in the 20th century. What was true in 1980 is not the case in 2018. Media influence, television and the dying out of print information makes the existing rhetoric that superdelegates are not an influence over the voters null and void. In June of 2016 right before the critical California and six other primaries, a Washington Post piece that was picked up by every major media outlet declared that Bernie Sanders had no path to victory because the superdelegates were all accounted for and therefore Sanders lost the election. The influence of this announcement can not be measured – but it could have cost him tens of thousand of votes or more. Had this not been the case there may have been a different outcome. We cannot allow that kind of influence to happen again.
We, as Democrats, need to take bold steps to transform the party. In order to re-energize and re-engage unaffiliated voters across the country, we need to have clear messaging and recognize that 20th century tactics and philosophy will no longer cut it. We need to tell voters, “Yes, we hear you. We will be the grassroots party that is inclusive, welcoming to new ideas and be a true big tent.” In order for this to happen Superdelegate reforms and taking the no fossil fuel dollars pledge must be approved. This is our path to victory in 2018 and beyond.