Editor’s Note: Yesterday, I traveled down in Olympia to testify before the House Government Committee on SB 5978, Kim Wyman and Pam Roach’s bill to replace our state’s presidential straw poll with an expensive, meaningless straw poll in the event the Democratic Party decides to use a caucus to allocate its delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The following is the text of my prepared testimony.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee:
For the record, my name is Andrew Villeneuve. I’m the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a netroots powered strategy center working to raise America’s quality of life through innovative research and imaginative advocacy. I’m here today to express our strong opposition to SB 5978.
This bill has been advertised by the Secretary of State as legislation that “requires” the state’s two major political parties to use a presidential primary for allocating their national delegates. But if you look through the language of the bill, you’ll see it does no such thing. And that’s because it can’t. It would be unconstitutional. The First Amendment protects the right of the Democratic and Republican parties to freely assemble and carry on their affairs as they see fit.
What this bill really does is replace our presidential primary with a straw poll in the event one or both major parties refuse to use the presidential primary to allocate some of their convention delegates.
The Washington State Republican Party, through its chair, Susan Hutchison, has already said it plans to use the primary to allocate some of its delegates.
The Washington State Democratic Party has historically never used the primary to allocate any delegates and lacks the flexibility under DNC rules to split its allocation between a caucus and primary. All of its delegates must be allocated through one method and one method only.
We agree a primary should mean something, if it is held, but this bill does not guarantee that. Under Section 4 of SB 5978, the Secretary of State will begin preparing to conduct the most expensive public opinion research poll in the history of the state, if, by October 1st of this year, both parties do not agree to use a primary for allocation of delegates.
We think this is irresponsible. Elway and other pollsters can tell us what presidential candidates Washingtonians support at a fraction of the cost of the straw poll this bill would authorize — at private expense. Why on Earth would we want to spend $11.5 million of the people’s money holding an election that doesn’t mean anything?
If this Committee intends to keep SB 5978 alive, we suggest amending the bill to strike all of Section 4. That would result in a bill that merely moves up the base date of the primary in state law (currently it’s in May, and it would change to March).
Although I am here today speaking on behalf of NPI, I do want to note that in addition to serving as NPI’s executive director, I serve on the Washington State Democratic Central Committee (WSDCC) and on the WSDCC’s Rules Committee. I would like to take an opportunity to provide you with some background from the perspective of one of the people who will be making the decision as to whether the Democratic Party chooses a primary or caucus for 2016.
The WSDCC’s Rules and Affirmative Action Committees will be meeting very soon to write our 2016 Delegate Selection and Affirmative Action Plan. Once we are finished with our draft, we’ll make it available to the public for comment ahead of our April 18th meeting in Pasco, where the full WSDCC will consider the draft plan.
At that meeting, we will make a decision as to whether to use a caucus or primary for delegate allocation. The DNC requires that we submit our plan to them for approval by early May. The decision is ours to make as the democratically elected leaders of the Democratic Party — not the Legislature’s, not the Secretary of State’s, and not the Governor’s. How we govern ourselves and choose our nominee is up to us; as I said earlier, the First Amendment gives us the right to freely assemble.
We do care what the public thinks, which is why we’ll be holding a public comment period. The party is committed to a nominating process that is inclusive and open.
The reaction I’ve gotten to this bill from talking to party leaders has been universally negative. If this bill moves forward as is, I think we are less likely to choose a primary for delegate allocation. The continued existence of this bill is only going to strengthen the position of those who favor continuing to use caucuses. We therefore suggest that it either be abandoned or amended to remove Section 4.
Thank you for your time this afternoon and I’d be happy to take any questions.