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May 14, 2005

Notes from the MA Dem Convention in Lowell, 5/14

Today was the off-year state Democratic convention, held in Lowell. The off-year conventions are known as "issues conventions", meaning that the platform and charter are approved. There was supposedly actual business at hand (four amendments to the platform, and several changes to the charter), but these are mostly passed via pro-forma voice votes. Not exactly democratic-feeling.

But I gather that's not really the point of an off-year convention. It's the schmoozing and the speeches, both of which were quite useful and informative. (For instance, I hear that my state rep, Alice Wolf, is considering running for Jarret Barrios' Senate seat, as he's running for Middlesex County DA. She'll make a decision some months hence.)

I rode up this morning with former Cambridge City Council candidate and all-around good guy John Pitkin. While looking for the Affordable Housing "breakout meeting" (i.e. a rap session with experts and pols) held at Lowell High School, John and I stumbled upon the Health Care room, in which were sitting Mike Dukakis, State Rep State Senator Mark Montigny and John McDonough of Health Care for All. We were only there for the last part, but some good ideas -- and a lot of horror stories -- were thrown around. The frustration on this issue is palpable -- is there anything that makes people feel more like Sisyphus, pushing the rock to the top of the hill, only to see it roll down again? And yet, folks are still in there, plugging. And really, we've got an excellent chance this year to see some far-reaching legislation passed. (My bottom line is that improving health care is a political problem, even more than a policy problem. While the policy is always going to be complicated, the moral principle is simple: Everyone deserves to see a doctor when they're sick. If we hammer the moral principle, I think we win. Eyes on the prize.)

But really, the main attraction is the speeches. It really is a great wealth to have some political rockstars among our MA Dems: Teddy Kennedy, Ed Markey, and -- it must be said -- Deval Patrick.

TK's garrulous speaking style sometimes lacks focus. Well, today proved he's still got his fastball: this was a scorching speech that demolished the idea of a Republican mandate to enact policies that most people don't want. There was the old Democratic tendency toward the laundry list of issues (education, environment, health care), but it was framed by a fiery appeal to justice and compassion. The honorific "Liberal Lion" has never sounded so apt. Rowrrrr.

The gubernatorial candidates came next, and by the reaction of the crowd, I suspect that one got a good idea of where this thing is going the next twelve months to eighteen months.

Flashback to first thing this morning: As we drove in, the driveway to the Tsongas Center was a wall of signs, many for Patrick, Reilly certainly with his fair share ... and a mere handful for Sec. of State Bill Galvin. I wondered aloud, "What is the Bill Galvin magic? Where's the romance?"

Well, after hearing him speak ... I still haven't seen hide nor hair of Bill Galvin stardust. His stump speech, frankly, sounds like a small-market truck commercial. Paraphrasing:

To win, like the Patriots, we need teamwork. And teamwork means a great QB. We've got to get our state moving again. What happened to Massachusetts? We used to be a leader. We will be again with the right leadership. I know the problems of this state, and I know how to fix them.

Oh, thank goodness, it's all settled then! The response to Galvin's speech was as wooden as its conception and execution. Sorry to get all Simon Cowell on him, but he really needs a lot more City on the Hill, and tell us why he wants to be governor.

You want contrast? Next up was Deval Patrick.

This is straight from my scrawled notes: "BIG APPLAUSE. PARTIAL STANDING O. Enthusiasm!" If he has name recognition problems in the statewide polls right now, that sure wasn't evident in Lowell this morning. His signs were everywhere, and his people were very visible, wearing neon-chartreuse t-shirts. And despite his mildly adenoidal speaking voice (hey, I know people who can help him with that), Patrick commands the room. Today's speech had more fire than his appearances that we've covered -- a bit more withering sarcasm directed at Romney: The Governor bashes teachers, and says MCAS is all we need to fix schools. The Governor calls for the death penalty, but cuts local aid that pays for cops.

Patrick is also clearly running on his bio: he has lived the American dream because of opportunity afforded him in Massachusetts (i.e. his scholarship to Milton Academy). He has been both a corporate lawyer and a family lawyer; counseled a President in the Oval Office and then had trouble hailing a cab home.

He engaged in some slightly hokey call-and-response (on the phrase, "Yes We Can"); and ended with what I would call an artistic risk: an extended metaphor of his grandmother's rosebush, which, with care, grew tall even in an unfavorable environment; we must also tend our garden. In the moment they both worked -- although at the end, I was reminded, perhaps unfortunately, of Bernstein's Candide.

Bottom line: Patrick's got plenty of time to get that name recognition up. And for my money, he's absolutely got the highest ceiling of any of the declared candidates in the race -- including Romney.

Reilly was last, and I don't envy him for having to follow Patrick. He was greeted with warm but not fervent applause.

He seems to be positioning himself as the candidate of the acceptable, electable middle: We will not waste tax money, we will grow the economy and jobs. Especially striking was his emphasis on reaching out to independents -- that they need to be listened to, not lectured to. People who are struggling to send their kids to college, young people who are considering moving away because of the high cost of housing -- these folks used to be Democrats. These are our friends and neighbors.

Reilly's bottom line: "Pay attention to the middle, i.e. where I am." I think it's a valid approach, but it comes a bit short of presenting a vision of what you want government to do for people. There is a nugget of real compassion in Reilly's speech that could be expanded -- I hope he does so. If he finds his inner Bill Clinton, he could actually be a decent candidate.

I may have more later from my notes, but I'm going to hang it up for tonight.

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 11:18 PM in Massachusetts | Permalink

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Comments

Thanks - nice initial review. I really wish I could have gotten in. (Turns out it was for the best, I'm coming down with a cold.)

I was at the last issues convention (in Lowell) - but as a petitioner with GLPJ and CPPAX for the anti-PATRIOT action item and anti-war resolution. Of course, the Dem state party managed to lose their "action items" sometime after.

As of right now, I'm not all that impressed with our level of organization. There is room for improvement.

Posted by: Lynne | May 15, 2005 1:02:14 AM

Enough signatures (over 500) were collected to bring to a vote the platform amendments on ending the Iraq occupation and supporting hand-counted paper ballots. The DSC threw out enough signature sheets on technicalities to claim the amendments weren't properly submitted.

Several people signed up to comment on the charter amendments, but the DSC got around that by first calling for a vote to extend the convention by two hours (since the interminable speeches by the platform committee ate up all of the working time), which as they intended, failed. So all discussion was closed off.

The DSC then called a voice vote to approve the charter amendments, which failed, but the chair claimed it succeeded. Catcalls forced him to call for a second vote. He called for a standing vote (which is not an acceptable method of voting as in the rules) which he again claimed succeeded. A motion was made from the floor to call for a roll call vote. That vote failed, and the convention was adjourned.

The charter amendments are pretty bad. The most significant changes the party's open meetings rule ("All Party meetings at all levels shall be open to the public") to a secret meetings rule (all meetings may be closed by a two-thirds vote). The DSC members terms have been made 4 year instead of 2 year, they only have to meet 4 times instead of 6 times, they don't have to do work if they claim finances don't permit, opposition to their actions by convention delegates now have to pass by a two-thirds majority, and other bad changes.

Again: the open meetings rule has been now changed to a secret meetings rule.

I guess what's good for Dick Cheney is good for the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

Posted by: Brad Johnson | May 15, 2005 6:02:56 AM

Point of clarification: it was the motion to call for a roll call vote which failed, not the roll call vote. The roll call vote never happened.

Posted by: Brad Johnson | May 15, 2005 6:09:23 AM

Thanks for all that, Brad. Certainly the Part 2 amendment to the charter (cf. CapeAnnDem) seems to allow the Democratic State Committee to ignore the charter and convention resolutions altogether. Pretty strange stuff.

I'm really interested in politics. Usually, the politics *about* politics is beyond me. Thanks for filling that gap for us.

Posted by: Charley on the MTA | May 15, 2005 9:51:47 AM

I was greatly disappointed with the way the MA Dem Leadership handled business. At the "standing vote" they claimed over 1000 yays to under 200 nos. That was blatantly false.

Furthermore, after they rammed the (mostly horrible) changes in the charter, they had 4 final votes: three on seemingly "obvious" ammendments, and then a vote to finish the convention.

On those three "obvious" ammendments, he asked for the aye votes, and then said the ayes have it. HE NEVER ASKED FOR THE OPPOSITION VOICE VOTE. It was bizarre. A classic "who does the counting" snow job.

I'm not saying that any of those three ammendments wouldn't have passed. But for God's sake, if you're going to have a vote, solicit both the pro and the con votes. It was really a sham, and it has half-hardened me to work harder for change within the party, adn half-irritated me enough to not want to be involved with state Democratic politics at all.

Absolutely putrid leadership, and downright unethical behavior in forcing through changes that benefit current leadership at the expense of the rank-and-file whilst ignoring a democratic process.

Posted by: stomv | May 15, 2005 10:07:46 AM

From casual observation (by no means am I really educated about this) it seems to me that this is the malaise that the state Democratic party has been struck with for some time. I suppose it's not surprising that we haven't had enough time to press for change yet. I've mentioned before about my disappointment in sending my Youth Delegate form and just "not getting processed" (OK, I should have known better and followed up, but I just thought they already had too many and I sent mine in too late) and more importantly, the egregious (or maybe deliberate) disorganization that happened after the last issues convention, after which they *lost* the action agenda. Just lost it! Not a copy to be found anywhere, after we had spent a long day pulling signatures for the anti-PATRIOT act resolution and having that pass almost unanimously. So this year's convention disorder and top-down rule isn't an isolated incident.

However, what these blogs are doing in exposing the methods that are disagreeable to grassroots and reformist Democrats in the state is very important! The first step to changing the way politics is conducted in this state is to know what's wrong in the first place.

You guys (and I hope to join you) are engaged in diagnosis. I wouldn't have known anything about this stuff if people hadn't gone and reported it. I'm sure it'll be missing from the newspapers.

The next step is to find people to take on the task. I know people in local towns here (Chelmsford, for one) who are "infiltrating" their Dem Town Committees. That's certainly one way to elicit change.

(Speaking of which, I do need to find out more about my own DTC in Lowell so I can decide if that's worth while...I did try once, but hit a dead end.)

Posted by: Lynne | May 15, 2005 11:03:27 AM

Lynne: I think it's worthwhile.

One of the rule changes the DSC executive committee recently made, drastically reduces the number of elected delegates to future conventions, while keeping the number of ex-officio delegates the same. The largest category of ex-officio delegates is ward and town committee chairs (which they reclassified from "ex-officio" to "grassroots" to disguise the reduced voting power of caucus-elected delegates). That means that in order to have strength at the nominating convention next year, grassroots activists need even more than before, to get on their town and ward committees, and elect good chairs (or become chairs).

Posted by: Cos | May 15, 2005 11:15:37 AM

Thanks, Coz, I'd heard about that rules change but it's good to be reminded (and clearly told what it means).

What's weird, is I know there's an active Dem group here - GLAD or Greater Lowell Area Democrats. I'm not sure where they fit into the structure, but I do know some movers and shakers in the local party are in it.

My problem is twofold: one, I'm pretty busy with volunteer work already; and two: I'm really lost when it comes to technical details about state/local politics and how it all works. Of course, the DTC's seem to only meet MAYBE once a month at best, and do very little work, but the point of joining them is to prompt that to change, not stay the same! I have so many good ideas about boosting the local political scene (like starting a Drinking Liberally chapter here), but they all require a huge time commitment and I never seem to find people willing to put the time in with me. (Of course, there's Greater Lowell for Peace and Justice, but its members, like me, are already up to their eyebrows in grassroots time commitments).

I'm hoping that eventually my blog will flush out some willing accomplices...

Posted by: Lynne | May 15, 2005 11:43:33 AM

Hi and greetings from Cape Cod and a newbie to this blog. I was a delegate to yesterday's festivities and agree with much of what Charley posted already. The whole amendment situation encompasses what is wrong with much of the centralized State Committee. To folks on the local level, the grassroots level that Mike Dukakis spoke of as a key missing piece, the state party is pretty irrelevant. I don't see much for logistical support coming down from the top. We spent time allowing certain officials the party wanted to spotlight say nice things about the existing platform. Clearly the desire was to bully though the amendments. The move to reduce the number of elected delegates is evidence of the wrong headedness. While one would rather have party endorsements than not, it has by no means been a rubber stamp or kiss of death to a candidate. There certainly is a difference between what gets the activists excited, versus the general electorate.

That brings me to Deval Patrick. I freely admit I'm one of the folks that is in full swoon over his candidacy. I think like a certain person from the town of Hope, he does remember his roots- it is a very Clintonesque approach. And if that approach works as it did for Clinton, it will bring home some of those other voters that Reilly was talking about.

And let us remember what Patrick said and we'll see how this develops:
"I’ve learned how to build bridges across different worlds; how to take the time to listen, as I have to people all over this state; and how not to put people in an ideological box, just as I insist that you not put me in one."

Tom Reilly is not a bad guy, said good things, etc. I just see him as another of the tried and true colorless, non inspiring candidates that we've thrown up there for the corner office. Galvin was clearly the bottom rung of the three.

I did not like Reilly passing around the State House News poll that showed him trouncing Patrick right now. It is irrelevant and because they know it is, it's the kind of old school politics that I don't like.

Reilly would be better off wondering why, as a very recognizable state wide official, his approval rating is in the low 40's.

Posted by: Steven Leibowitz | May 15, 2005 1:01:45 PM

Jeez, I just spent a bunch of time trying to figure out what to tell my fellow DTC members about how disappointed I was in this convention. I am going to just point them over this way and tell 'em to read up. The descriptions of the foolishness that went on with the voting process is spot on. I don't have anything to add except that to me, it seems like the state party is trying to concentrate its power at the top in order to squeeze us grassroots folks out. What can be done about this? I thought I'd be able to vote on it, but apparently someone has made off with the democracy in the state democratic party.

Oh, and I got a bunch of pictures if anyone is interested.

Posted by: Mariposa | May 15, 2005 4:11:46 PM

Jesse Gordon has another great breakdown over at frederickclarkson.com. (Jesse, goddammit, get a blog already! We need you!)

Posted by: Lynne | May 15, 2005 9:05:48 PM

Gosh... I'm pretty amazed that this post is becoming a clearing-house of sorts for (justified!) complaints about the amendment/voting process and treatment of delegates, especially considering how blithely I treated it in my initial post. But by all means, we need to air some dirty laundry, and I'm very glad that folks who know and understand more of the rigamarole than I do are coming here to clear things up.

I think it's *awfully* ironic that I showed up to my first ward meeting, and was elected an alternate delegate, partly because of an email I got from John Kerry's operation. Kerry, of course, was nowhere to be found, and openly distanced himself from the platform.

Also ironic were the shenanigans of the voting process and the charter amendments, especially coming after Dean's exhortation to get out and become a precinct captain for the Dem candidate in the governor's race. Now, allowing that Dean had nothing to do with the voting process, the overall message is this: *Get to work, but don't ask questions and don't think you run this thing.*

So, that makes us a little chuffed. But let's be productive: we need a real and honest process for charter and platform amendments. That goes for collecting, identifying and counting signatures, and voting on amendments. And it's probably too much to cram into 5-6 hours of one day. So how would we do things differently?

-- The voting needs to be a ballot vote, period. Hand out the ballots at a given time, say 1pm. Every delegate has a double-blinded ID number. You take 20 minutes, people vote, you find out the results afterward, maybe even a few days hence.

The voice vote, standing vote, all this pseudo-Robert's rules stuff ... it's just too easy to abuse. It's not a corporate boardroom, it's a hockey rink with a thousand people there.

Posted by: Charley on the MTA | May 15, 2005 9:40:35 PM

Of course, this kind of thing is not limited to conventions. In my State House days I watched the legislature in action on many occasions, and it was amazing. Tommy Finneran up there talking faster than anyone could possibly keep up. "Thequestioncomesontheadoptionoftheamendment. Allinfavorsayayeallopposednotheayeshaveit. Theamendmentisadopted." No one ever actually says "aye" or "no." Blink, and you've missed the enactment of a bill into law. Thought someone might have a chance to vote "no" on a so-called "voice vote"? Ha. Never looked like democracy to me.

Posted by: David | May 15, 2005 9:51:37 PM

Hey Mariposa, nice pics. I think your mystery man at the delegate breakfast is Rep. Jim McGovern. (He kinda looks like Karl Rove, if you ask me.)

Posted by: Charley on the MTA | May 15, 2005 9:52:19 PM

It was nice to read Jesse Gordon's words, which jibed with what I saw and what Jesse said on Saturday. It's also nice to see that there are indeed people "paying attention."

Ultimately, the question remains: how to get progressive Dems in favor of open politics and general fairness more control of state Dem politics.

Posted by: stomv | May 16, 2005 9:24:15 AM

Q. Who is worse. Tom Finneran or Phil Johnston?

You guys are right. I hope you stay on this?

Posted by: The troll | May 16, 2005 9:30:43 AM

This is about power and position. Pure and Simple. Retaining power. Like Putin is doing in Russia. We have the power now let's make sure we keep it. It is not as much philosophical as it is not losing a good gig. High profile position with nice salary and big budget. The power is not state political powqer as much as power in this organization. Like any other.
The only person who has the power to change to leadership of the party is Ted Kennedy. Because that is basically the party's only purpose. To organize and basically run Ted's re-election campaign every 6 years. Seriously.
Now the party is causing disallusion among true progressives. Unfortunately it has been doing this against white ethinic working class dems for 35 years. The common interests between these 2 groups is so much greater then one would believe. Now the current state party drives the wedge between the 2 while keeping its personal power and positions.
There has to be a meeting of minds of these 2 groups if social and economic justice in a capitalist and democratic society is to ever have a chance to prevail.

Posted by: The troll | May 16, 2005 10:00:41 AM

A very insightful comment, troll. Thanks.

Posted by: David | May 16, 2005 10:17:38 AM

Lynne: Your own comment explains why you should join your ward committee. You have ideas for boosting the local political scene, and a hard time finding people who will put in the time to help you make them happen? And you have a ward committee that isn't doing a lot? It sounds like you need them and they need you. Surely you can get a couple of people from the committee to co-host a Drinking Liberally.

Posted by: Cos | May 16, 2005 12:47:26 PM

I agree with Troll that it's about power. The feeling I got from attending the convention was that many of the people who have been running the party for a long time, feel proprietary about it. It's their party, and they instinctively resent the newcomers who try to push their issues, get the limelight, and be part of the party. Ideologically, the party insiders & leaders are some of the most left-wing people in the state, and when it comes to issues like gay marriage, the death penalty, universal health care, and the Patriot act, they and the new progressives are in violent agreement. It's on the process issues that things break down - who is in control.

The draconian new charter amendments are, in a sense, a good thing: They actually reflect the way the party has been doing business already.
* They had an open meetings rule, but they made decisions in secret anyway. Now they have it down on paper, that they can conduct secret meetings.
* The old charter said the state convention was the highest authority in the party, but the executive committee ignored decisions made at conventions and reneged on agreements. Now we have it in writing, that they can override convention resolutions.
* Until now, floor votes at the convention needed a majority. But when the party didn't like the way a vote was going, they called it the other way anyway. Now the charter says we need 2/3 - which practically speaking, is probably the level of support something needs to make it impossible for them to get away with mis-calling the vote.

Instead of trying to play by the good rules and finding out, time after time, that those rules don't actually govern, now we have the real rules out in the open and on paper. Now we can talk about them more openly.

There are thousands of party members who have been delegates to conventions, but have not been actively pushing for change within the party. Most of these people saw the rules and believed they were members of a truly Democratic party, with open process. They didn't realize that if they actually tried to USE that open process, they would be shut down. Now, hundreds of them at the very least, have seen it.

Posted by: Cos | May 16, 2005 12:57:49 PM

If "you guys" can
1. get through gay marriage and feel secure about it in this state;
2. agre that abortion laws will not change and that there are people who believe that they should not change either, but still hope many chose life (without shoving it down people's throats) and
3. Give consideration to charter schools and vouchers, which are working class issues. and not jump step against it. These issues are teacher's union issues and not some big philosohical thing. Kids have a right to puiblic education. They do not havea right to the specific system or of education currently in place.

These are the big three and if people can agree to disagree on these you would find a lot more friends for other causes. The dem party can be taken back if it is more inclusive with out giving up legal rights.
The education issues are political. Teachers union have soooooo much power in state dem party that u will never win them. So go around them
"You guys" can take over p[arty if you ally with educated and non educated middle and working class white ethnics that have jumped to republicans and independents because they feel isolated and unwanted in their own party. Yet they favor abortion rights and civil unions and no the little guy is getting screwed yet feel the dem party is not for them.
Inclusive means reaching out to this lost sheep.
UNITE and take over state party.

Posted by: The troll | May 16, 2005 1:13:09 PM

If "you guys" can
1. get through gay marriage and feel secure about it in this state;
2. agre that abortion laws will not change and that there are people who believe that they should not change either, but still hope many chose life (without shoving it down people's throats) and
3. Give consideration to charter schools and vouchers, which are working class issues. and not jump step against it. These issues are teacher's union issues and not some big philosohical thing. Kids have a right to puiblic education. They do not havea right to the specific system or of education currently in place.

These are the big three and if people can agree to disagree on these you would find a lot more friends for other causes. The dem party can be taken back if it is more inclusive with out giving up legal rights.
The education issues are political. Teachers union have soooooo much power in state dem party that u will never win them. So go around them
"You guys" can take over p[arty if you ally with educated and non educated middle and working class white ethnics that have jumped to republicans and independents because they feel isolated and unwanted in their own party. Yet they favor abortion rights and civil unions and no the little guy is getting screwed yet feel the dem party is not for them.
Inclusive means reaching out to these lost sheep.
UNITE and take over state party.

Posted by: The troll | May 16, 2005 1:13:37 PM

...know the little guy is getting screwed...

Posted by: The troll | May 16, 2005 1:14:56 PM

Thanks Charley! I will update my gallery.

My Town Committee meeting is tonight. Our special guest speaker will be State Committee member and Co-Chair of the Field Services Committee Kate Donaghue. I like Kate a lot and I think she is an example of what is good about the state party. Having said that, she's got some 'splainin' to do. :-)

Posted by: Mariposa | May 16, 2005 5:06:16 PM

How did meeting with Kate Donaghue.
Don't blame her. She is just soldier earning a pay check.

Posted by: The troll | May 17, 2005 9:02:33 AM

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