Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The California Democratic Party Endorsement

This weekend was an opportunity for Steve Filson to demonstrate that he has any sort of substantial support within the district. Specifically, a caucus of various representatives from the Democratic Party voted on whether to place a candidate on the consent calendar for endorsement by the California Democratic Party at their convention at the end of this month. Even though state Senator Mike Machado and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren both called the eligible voters on Steve Filson’s behalf, he came away with a paltry showing. Once again, we have evidence that Steve Filson’s main constituency are elected officials, many of whom don’t even live in the district. Meanwhile, Jerry McNerney made a very strong showing.

The Process

To begin with, let me explain the process so that the relevance of this vote can be understood. Each election year the California Democratic Party (CDP) is asked by candidates to make an endorsement in partisan races across the state. This endorsement takes on a special importance for partisan races with contested primaries. But, because of the divisive nature of primary battles, the CDP has a process that ensures that all stakeholders in the party get a chance to vote (through their representatives) on the endorsement, and that an endorsement of a non-incumbent is made only when supermajorities of the eligible voters want to give the endorsement to that particular candidate.

This weekend was the first of two opportunities for a candidate to get on the consent calendar for the CDP endorsement on Sunday, April 30. A consent calendar is a list of uncontroversial motions that are dealt with en masse. Thus it is usually difficult to get on a consent calendar and fairly easy for those who oppose a motion to take it off the consent calendar. Specifically, for a candidate to be put on the consent calendar at the pre-endorsement meeting this weekend, the candidate had to receive 70% or more of the votes cast. And even if the candidate met the 70% threshold, any five delegates from the district to the Democratic State Central Committee (the body that meets during the CDP convention) can take that candidate off the consent calendar by challenging the placement in writing.

For those races in which one candidate received at least 50% but less than 70% at the pre-endorsement meeting this weekend, and for those candidates who received 70% or more but whose placement on the consent calendar was challenged by five members of the DSCC, there is another opportunity to be placed on the consent calendar at the convention itself. (If no candidate in a given race received at least 50% this weekend, no endorsement will be made for that race).

And at the convention, the threshold to be placed on the consent calendar is lowered to 60% for non-incumbents (or 50% for incumbents) of voting delegates who live in the district. (I should note for the sake of accuracy that some delegates don’t attend the convention and they proxy their vote to someone who would otherwise not be a delegate, but in that case the proxy voter is counted as if he or she were the delegate whose proxy vote he or she holds).

If someone is placed on the consent calendar at the convention it is virtually impossible to remove them barring some huge problem with the candidate (e.g. they are a follower of Lyndon LaRouche or something similar). So if a candidate in this race meets that 60% threshold at the convention, they will get the endorsement of the state party, which is obviously huge.

What Happened on Saturday

On Saturday, Jerry McNerney received 27 of the 39 votes cast, with Steve Filson receiving 10 and two people voting “no endorsement.” Consequently, McNerney received 69.2% of the vote to Steve Filson’s 25.6%. (Steve Thomas either didn’t seek the endorsement or nobody voted for him).

Now it is important to note that the universe of eligible voters on Saturday was greater than the universe of eligible voters at the convention. On Saturday all delegates to the DSCC living in the district, all members of the Democratic County Central Committees who live in the district (some of whom are also delegates to the DSCC), as could a small number of representatives from the Democratic Clubs, were eligible to vote. At the convention, only the DSCC members will have a vote. But the vote on Saturday was public, so it ought to be possible to figure out who voted for whom and see what’s going to happen at the convention.

Still, it’s likely that at least five of those ten voters for Filson are members of the DSCC. So even though McNerney fell one vote shy of the 70% threshold, it is still likely that had he received that extra vote, he would have been removed from the consent calendar by a challenge from DSCC members and essentially put in the same place he is now. And if Filson could not find five members of the DSCC to support him now, he’s not going to stop McNerney from getting the endorsement at the convention. So I consider the simple fact that McNerney received 69% of the vote to speak volumes about the level of support for him within the district.

This is especially true because Zoe Lofgren and Mike Machado personally called eligible voters to get them to vote “no endorsement.” They clearly knew that Steve Filson would not hit the 70% threshold and almost certainly wanted to see neither McNerney nor Filson receive 50% of the vote on Saturday, which would have ended the endorsement process and would have prevented anything from happening at the convention. So the votes that McNerney got came from people who are solid supporters and not inclined to bow to the pressure of the electeds. (I should also mention that the two “no endorsement” votes came from members of the San Ramon club, and I suspect that the votes reflect a lingering desire for Margee Ensign to still be in the race/the same dissatisfaction with McNerney and Filson that led to Ensign getting so much support in the first place. I say this because neither Machado nor Lofgren represents San Ramon, so it’s unlikely that a) they called these voters or b) that these voters would be especially swayed by these types of calls).

Conversely, the fact that Steve Filson only received ten votes speaks volumes about how little he has expanded his base of support within the district. For all of his bluster about a growing campaign, he has really failed to demonstrate any sort of strength in the district. I mean, 25.6% is a really horrible showing. Think about it. If it were not for the two “no endorsement” voters who could have simply abstained, Jerry McNerney would have been placed on the consent calendar. Thus, Filson only managed to block McNerney on the basis of a functional coalition between people who support Filson and people who don’t support anyone. And remember, this was for a 70% threshold, which is a very high bar.

What’s Going to Happen Now?

As I said, above, all of this will be resolved at the CDP convention at the end of the month. Right now I cannot handicap the chance that McNerney will get the endorsement, although it’s pretty clear that Steve Filson won’t get the endorsement unless something drastic changes. I need to see who voted for whom on Saturday, and on what basis each voter was eligible to vote (i.e. whether they were eligible because they are a club rep, a DSCC delegate, or a county committee member). Also, not everyone who was eligible to vote on Saturday did vote. So it’s possible that there are some DSCC delegates who didn’t vote on Saturday but who will be able to vote at the convention. Again, I need to see a list of who voted for whom, and who didn’t vote.

Still on a prima facie level, it looks like McNerney has an excellent shot to win the endorsement of the CDP, especially since I have heard (but I need to verify) that McNerney did especially well among DSCC delegates. I certainly know (and know of) a lot more delegates for McNerney than I know for Filson. Regardless, I think the fact that Filson’s best hope is to prevent McNerney from getting the endorsement shows that he’s in a really weak position. Yet again, for all of his rhetoric, when given the opportunity to demonstrate his “strength,” Steve Filson has failed to deliver the goods.

(By the way, I was prompted to write this post by this diary at Calitics, which is a great community blog covering California politics).


Anonymous Dan Wood said...

Matt, that's a great explanation and analysis. (I am a delegate in another district, so I did the endorsement vote in other races. Still, I wish I had your insight on the process when I went into it!)

2:12 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger jpr said...

How can a person find out who voted and how they voted? I am new to this process myself.

2:54 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...


I'm not exactly sure how to get a list of who voted for whom, but I'd start with talking to people who were in the room when the vote was being taken. It was a roll call vote, and it's considered a public vote because each voter is a representative of a larger group in one way or another, so there can be no justification for someone refusing to tell you who voted for whom. I'd start with the CDP Regional Director who convened the meeting (from the CDP website):

Sandra Lucas
(209) 578-6533

5:29 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Thom K in CA said...

Excelent description Matt. I was at the Alameda County pre-endorsement conference signing people in and doing my votes.

You hit the nail right on the head about how just five people can overturn the decision of the 70% majority who put a candidate on the consent calendar. Not very democratic.

This is actually described in the state party bylaws, Page 30, lines 31 through 41.

I've not finished reading the bylaws to find out how to change this, but I think it should be stricken from the rules. Five people should not be able to overturn a grassroots candidate that receives 70% of the votes at a pre-conference endorsement. These people already had their chance to vote, so why do they get a do-over at the convention?

5:50 PM, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If someone is placed on the consent calendar at the convention it is virtually impossible to remove them barring some huge problem with the candidate (e.g. they are a follower of Lyndon LaRouche or something similar). So if a candidate in this race meets that 60% threshold at the convention, they will get the endorsement of the state party, which is obviously huge."

Why would you remove someone (even a larouche supporter)? We arn't the republicans, we are the DEMOCRATS. The party is open to the people.

8:45 PM, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous Rick said...

The diary you linked to about Jane Harman, one of the bigger names in the California Congressional delegation, having her nomination blocked from the consent calendar by a small group of activists exemplifies the types of hijinks that get pulled at these types of events.

Good for McNerney that he had his delegates lined up. But, there's a lot of arm twisting that will occur between now and April 30. It's way too early to call this one.

9:23 PM, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous Frank D. Russo said...

I even question whether the "California Democratic Party" should be making endorsements at all in primary races. This is why we have a primary--so registered Democrats can decide. We have gotten away from caucuses and other meetings deciding this.

It is one thing for clubs or individuals to endorse, but I think the party's endorsement is that of the voters.

Frank D. Russo
The California Progress Report

12:50 AM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Justin H. said...

Agreed. This issue should be addressed vocally at the conventions and county events.

1:25 PM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...

I disagree with Frank and Justin. The bar is set fairly high for non-incumbents to get an endorsement, and so there won't be any endorsement made in the most contentious races.

But the voters want some sort of guidance from the party about candidates. People legitimate questions and want to know whether there is some answer from the party apparatus.

Furthermore, the CDP endorsement process is the only process by which the stakeholders of the party in a region can come together to make a decision (or not) about endorsing candidates.

In this CA-11 race, Steve Filson has the strong support of many electeds who don't even live in the district and weak support among the grassroots in the district. Without this sort of process, there is no way to account for such scenarios. How is a voter supposed to weigh Mike Machado's endorsement versus the endorsement of (for the sake of argument let's suppose) the Greater Lodi Area Democrats? How is an average voter supposed to distinguish between candidates who barely eked by the endorsement threshold of a club versus candidates who had unanimous support of the club members? And what about voters who live in areas without strong clubs or any local Democratic officials?

Nobody is obligated in the primary to vote for the party's endorsed candidates. But there is some role for the CDP to make an endorsement in my view. And the CDP's endorsement procedure seems relatively representative of the various stakeholder groups of the CDP in the district.

I would never argue that the CDP endorsement procedure ought to replace the primary. Obviously the voters need to decide. But given that the voters have the ultimate say in who the nominee will be, I see no reason why the party, in principle, ought not to let the voters have a sense for whether the CDP prefers one candidate to another.

1:46 PM, April 05, 2006  

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