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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “Kim Wyman and Pam Roach’s SB 5978 won’t guarantee a meaningful presidential primary”

  1. Non­bind­ing elec­tions are a waste of mon­ey. Hope WA does­n’t go down this road…

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