NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

Senate backs Kim Wyman’s irresponsible plan to alter Washington’s presidential primary

A bill that would auto­mat­i­cal­ly replace Wash­ing­ton’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry with a mean­ing­less, fan­tas­ti­cal­ly expen­sive pres­i­den­tial straw poll if the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty refus­es to begin using the pri­ma­ry to allo­cate its nation­al con­ven­tion del­e­gates passed the Sen­ate with ease yes­ter­day evening fol­low­ing a bewil­der­ing floor debate.

By a vote of thir­ty-six to twelve, the Sen­ate sent SB 5978 over to the House, where it faces an uncer­tain future. Except for Sen­a­tor Doug Erick­sen, who was excused, all Sen­ate Repub­li­cans vot­ed for the bill. Sen­ate Democ­rats were split.

The roll call was as fol­lows:

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tors Angel, Bai­ley, Baum­gart­ner, Beck­er, Ben­ton, Bil­lig, Braun, Brown, Dammeier, Dansel, Darneille, Fain, Har­grove, Hat­field, Hewitt, Hill, Hobbs, Hon­ey­ford, King, Kohl-Welles, Liias, Lit­zow, Milos­cia, Mul­let, O’Ban, Pad­den, Par­lette, Pear­son, Ped­er­sen, Ranker, Rivers, Roach, Rolfes, Schoesler, Shel­don, War­nick

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tors Chase, Cleve­land, Con­way, Fras­er, Frockt, Habib, Hasegawa, Jaya­pal, Keis­er, McAu­li­ffe, McCoy, Nel­son

Excused: Sen­a­tor Erick­sen

SB 5978 is leg­is­la­tion request­ed by Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman and prime spon­sored by Pam Roach (yes, that Pam Roach). Wyman and her staff claim the bill requires (their lan­guage) the state Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can par­ties to use the state’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry to allo­cate at least some of their del­e­gates.

But it does no such thing — because that would be uncon­sti­tu­tion­al.

As our read­ers know, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can par­ties are not gov­ern­ments. They are pri­vate orga­ni­za­tions. The First Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion of this coun­try gives them the right to decide how to con­duct their own affairs, includ­ing the choos­ing of their nom­i­nees for Pres­i­dent and Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States. The State of Wash­ing­ton can­not inter­fere with the par­ties’ right to freely assem­ble.

For those unfa­mil­iar with this bill and the pol­i­tics sur­round­ing it, a bit of his­to­ry is in order. Wash­ing­ton’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry came into being in the late 1980s after the Leg­is­la­ture adopt­ed an ini­tia­tive to the Leg­is­la­ture that pro­vid­ed for a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry every four years. How­ev­er, the pri­ma­ry has not been con­sis­tent­ly held.

In years when there was an incum­bent run­ning for reelec­tion (most recent­ly 2004 and 2012), it has been can­celed to save mon­ey.

His­tor­i­cal­ly, the state Repub­li­can Par­ty has used the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, when it has been held, to allo­cate some of its del­e­gates to the RNC.

Repub­li­can State Par­ty Chair Susan Hutchi­son told the Asso­ci­at­ed Press last month the par­ty is will­ing and ready to do so again next year.

The Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, on the oth­er hand, has nev­er used the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry to allo­cate any del­e­gates.

As read­ers may know, sep­a­rate­ly from my work at NPI, I am also involved in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is gov­erned by a sev­er­al hun­dred-mem­ber Cen­tral Com­mit­tee (the WSDCC), which is basi­cal­ly the par­ty’s equiv­a­lent of a leg­is­la­ture. Each coun­ty and each leg­isla­tive dis­trict elects two peo­ple, one man and one woman, to rep­re­sent them on the WSDCC. I am present­ly the state com­mit­tee­man for the 45th Dis­trict.

The WSDCC is the body that will decide whether to use a cau­cus or pri­ma­ry in 2016 to allo­cate del­e­gates. Nation­al par­ty rules allow us to choose either sys­tem, but whichev­er we choose, we must use that method to allo­cate all of our del­e­gates.

We do not have the flex­i­bil­i­ty, as the Repub­li­cans do, to use a pri­ma­ry to allo­cate some del­e­gates and use cau­cus­es to allo­cate the rest.

No state Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty uses a hybrid sys­tem except for Texas, and it is unlike­ly the Texas Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty will be allowed to keep their “two step” hybrid sys­tem in 2016, as it would require the grant­i­ng of a waiv­er from the rules.

The Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has pre­vi­ous­ly asked the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee to allow it to also use a hybrid sys­tem. And the state par­ty has been repeat­ed­ly told no. The state par­ty’s del­e­ga­tion to the DNC has con­clud­ed that ask­ing again would be fruit­less and point­less.

The rules for the 2016 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion have already been writ­ten. They were approved last Novem­ber; you can see them here.

Sec­re­tary Wyman was appar­ent­ly unaware of this — she seemed sur­prised when I explained to her at her Feb­ru­ary 187th press con­fer­ence that the rules were final­ized.

It is evi­dent to me that she did not con­sult with WSDCC Chair Jax­on Ravens about this leg­is­la­tion pri­or to announc­ing it, or she’d have known that.

Because the Repub­li­cans have the flex­i­bil­i­ty to allo­cate some del­e­gates using a pri­ma­ry, have his­tor­i­cal­ly done so, and are pre­pared to do so again, SB 5978’s pro­vi­sions are not aimed at them. Rather, they are aimed at the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, which has not used the pri­ma­ry to allo­cate del­e­gates.

Sec­re­tary Wyman and her staff have freely admit­ted to me that the bill rep­re­sents an attempt by them to gain lever­age over my col­leagues and I on the WSDCC (includ­ing our chair, offi­cers, and nation­al com­mit­teemem­bers).

I have explained to Sec­re­tary Wyman’s staff that the prop­er way for her office to per­suade the WSDCC to choose a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry is to come and talk to us. We in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty are open-mind­ed, and we would be will­ing to hear what she has to say. We will be mak­ing a deci­sion with­in the next few weeks.

NPI’s assess­ment of this bill is that it is irre­spon­si­ble and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. It com­mits the state to spend­ing around $11.5 mil­lion on an elec­tion that may turn out not be a pri­ma­ry elec­tion at all, but rather a very expen­sive straw poll.

We already have plen­ty of poll­sters capa­ble of research­ing who Wash­ing­to­ni­ans sup­port for pres­i­dent at pri­vate expense, includ­ing firms based right here in our state, like Elway, Moore Infor­ma­tion, and EMC Research.

We at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute agree that if tax­pay­ers are going to spend mil­lions of dol­lars financ­ing a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, then it should mean some­thing.

But SB 5978 does not guar­an­tee that. It is a gam­bit… a ploy to cajole the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty into choos­ing a pri­ma­ry over a cau­cus by threat­en­ing to hold a Top Two style straw poll instead of a pri­ma­ry. And it won’t work.

If the lan­guage in SB 5978 that requires the state to hold an expen­sive straw poll were scrapped, the bill would be a fair­ly sim­ple piece of leg­is­la­tion that just moves up the date of the pri­ma­ry to March… and we would not be opposed to that.

I want to empha­size, again, that we already have a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry law on our books. The elec­tion does­n’t need to be autho­rized to be held, just fund­ed. Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee did not request fund­ing for a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry in his bud­get, but the House or Sen­ate could add it in to their bud­get pro­pos­als.

This brings me to the floor debate on SB 5978. I watched on TVW as the bill was con­sid­ered, dis­cussed, and vot­ed on. Only a few sen­a­tors spoke: Pam Roach, Marko Liias, Joe Fain, Mar­a­lyn Chase, and David Frockt. The first three (who are the bil­l’s spon­sors) spoke for it and the lat­ter two sen­a­tors spoke against it.

Bizarrely, the pro­vi­sion in the bill that would auto­mat­i­cal­ly set up an extreme­ly expen­sive, mean­ing­less straw poll if the par­ties did not agree to use the pri­ma­ry for del­e­gate allo­ca­tion did not get dis­cussed or debat­ed.

Pam Roach opened the debate and ini­tial­ly focused her com­ments on the pro­vi­sion of SB 5978 that moves up the date of the elec­tion from May to March.

She then made the fol­low­ing state­ment:

Sec­ond thing it does is it autho­rizes that if by dec­la­ra­tion of both par­ties — both major par­ties — that the results of the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry will be used to at least elect one del­e­gate from the results of the pri­ma­ry, that they can in fact have those lists that are gen­er­at­ed.

So right now, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty — I believe that it’s true — has decid­ed that no del­e­gates will be allo­cat­ed based on the results of the pri­ma­ry. This would say that they would at least need to have one of the ten. Repub­li­can Par­ty tra­di­tion­al­ly will have half and half.

So it gives access to the lists, puts a lit­tle cri­te­ria involved… because there’s mon­ey involved, tax­pay­er mon­ey involved, in putting these pri­maries togeth­er. Makes some sense that if you’re going to be allo­cat­ing… uh… that if you’re going to have one of these, uh, pri­maries, that you should in fact use it for selec­tion of del­e­gates.

This is a bill that’s been request­ed by our Sec­re­tary of State, and well-vet­ted in the Com­mit­tee, and I hope that you will vote yes.

Roach then relin­quished the floor with­out both­er­ing to explain that Sec­tion 4 of SB 5978 replaces the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry with a mean­ing­less straw poll in the event both par­ties don’t use it for del­e­gate allo­ca­tion.

I kept hop­ing that some Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tor would stand up and cor­rect what Pam said, but unfor­tu­nate­ly none did. Sen­a­tor Chase stood up to speak against the bill, but she spoke from the per­spec­tive of a par­ty leader who believes that cau­cus­es are bet­ter for grass­roots pol­i­tics than pri­maries.

Some­one from the Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus should have respond­ed to Roach’s speech, because much of what she said was either mis­lead­ing or wrong.

Let’s go through it piece by piece.

Sec­ond thing it does is it autho­rizes that if by dec­la­ra­tion of both par­ties — both major par­ties — that the results of the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry will be used to at least elect one del­e­gate from the results of the pri­ma­ry, that they can in fact have those lists that are gen­er­at­ed.

This is a mis­lead­ing state­ment. The par­ties already have access to the list of vot­ers who have par­tic­i­pat­ed in any giv­en elec­tion. These lists are gen­er­at­ed by the coun­ties and the state dur­ing and after every elec­tion, whether it’s a spe­cial elec­tion, Top Two elec­tion, gen­er­al elec­tion, or pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry elec­tion.

The pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry is unique because it is the only elec­tion we have left that requires vot­ers to pick a par­ty and attest that they belong to (or asso­ciate with) that par­ty. The lists gen­er­at­ed as a result of that elec­tion are there­fore rich­er: they con­sist of a set of vot­ers who iden­ti­fied as Democ­rats and vot­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic, and a set of vot­ers who iden­ti­fied as Repub­li­cans and vot­ed Repub­li­can.

Under exist­ing state law, the par­ties are giv­en a list of who par­tic­i­pates regard­less of whether they use the pri­ma­ry to allo­cate del­e­gates or not.

In the remarks excerpt­ed above, Roach made it sound as though the par­ties would only get the valu­able lists of they agreed to use a pri­ma­ry for del­e­gate allo­ca­tion. But what SB 5978 actu­al­ly does is can­cel the pri­ma­ry alto­geth­er if the par­ties don’t agree to use it. From Sec­tion 4 of SB 5978:

(2) If by the first Tues­day in Octo­ber of the year before the year in which a pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee is select­ed, both of the major polit­i­cal par­ties pro­vide doc­u­men­ta­tion of state and nation­al par­ty rules to the sec­re­tary of state that the results of the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry will be used in allo­ca­tion of del­e­gates, and if request­ed by a major polit­i­cal par­ty, the sec­re­tary of state shall adopt rules under RCW 29A.04.620 to pro­vide for any dec­la­ra­tion required by that par­ty. In the absence of such par­ty doc­u­men­ta­tion, the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry bal­lot must use a sin­gle bal­lot list and no par­ty dec­la­ra­tion or oath is required of the vot­er or record­ed by elec­tion offi­cers.

Note that under­lined text is text being added to the Revised Code of Wash­ing­ton. This is the lan­guage that sets up that straw poll.

Mov­ing on:

So right now, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty — I believe that it’s true — has decid­ed that no del­e­gates will be allo­cat­ed based on the results of the pri­ma­ry. This would say that they would at least need to have one of the ten.

This is erro­neous.

The Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cen­tral Com­mit­tee has not yet decid­ed what method to use for del­e­gate allo­ca­tion in 2016. Under the rules adopt­ed by the DNC, it may choose a cau­cus or pri­ma­ry to allo­cate del­e­gates, but not both.

The state par­ty’s Rules and Affir­ma­tive Action Com­mit­tees are cur­rent­ly work­ing on its Del­e­gate Selec­tion and Affir­ma­tive Action Plan (DSAAP). The plan will be made avail­able for pub­lic com­ment lat­er this month, and will go before the full WSDCC for its con­sid­er­a­tion in mid-April in Pas­co.

I have absolute­ly no idea what Roach meant when she said, “This would say that they would at least need to have one of the ten.”

One of the ten what? Del­e­gates? The Wash­ing­ton State del­e­ga­tion to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion has his­tor­i­cal­ly been over a hun­dred peo­ple and will prob­a­bly be over a hun­dred peo­ple again in 2016. (We don’t yet know exact­ly how many del­e­gates Wash­ing­ton will get for 2016).

Maybe Roach meant one out of ten. But that would also be incor­rect.

Kim Wyman’s own press release says, “[B]oth major par­ties must demon­strate by Oct. 1 [2015] their inten­tion to use the pri­ma­ry results in allo­ca­tion of del­e­gates. No par­tic­u­lar per­cent­age is includ­ed in the Secretary‘s bill.

Back to Roach:

Makes some sense that if you’re going to be allo­cat­ing… uh… that if you’re going to have one of these, uh, pri­maries, that you should in fact use it for selec­tion of del­e­gates.

Here, she means allo­ca­tion of del­e­gates, not selec­tion. The actu­al selec­tion of del­e­gates (in oth­er words, who goes to Philadel­phia, or in the Repub­li­cans’ case, Cleve­land) will still be done by cau­cus no mat­ter what.

Roach again:

This is a bill that’s been request­ed by our Sec­re­tary of State, and well-vet­ted in the Com­mit­tee, and I hope that you will vote yes.

SB 5978 is cer­tain­ly leg­is­la­tion request­ed by Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman.

I dis­agree with Roach’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of it as well-vet­ted, how­ev­er. The hear­ing on SB 5978 was sched­uled on short notice — iron­i­cal­ly, in con­flict with a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee meet­ing in the Dis­trict of Colum­bia — and the only per­son who tes­ti­fied was Wyman her­self. No one else spoke to the bill besides Roach (who uses her perch as com­mit­tee chair to monop­o­lize the floor), and it got moved out of com­mit­tee the same day it was heard with lit­tle dis­cus­sion and no dis­sen­sion.

I thought about going down to speak against SB 5978 and pro­vide an oppo­si­tion view­point myself, but I did­n’t make the trip, because the last time I set aside half a day to go to Olympia to speak on a bill being heard in Pam Roach’s com­mit­tee, Roach refused to allow me to tes­ti­fy. I left won­der­ing why I had­n’t just watched The Pam Roach Show on TVW instead. I would have seen and heard the same thing.

SB 5978 now heads to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

If the House takes up the bill, it should amend it so that the only thing it does is move up the date of the pri­ma­ry to March 8th. That would remove the irre­spon­si­ble pro­vi­sions and pre­serve our exist­ing pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry.

Wyman should get on board with such an amend­ment and begin a dia­logue with Jax­on Ravens and the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. If she wants a pri­ma­ry that both par­ties use for del­e­gate allo­ca­tion, then she needs to go talk to the peo­ple who are going to be mak­ing that deci­sion. Because it’s not the one hun­dred and forty-sev­en mem­bers of the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture who get to make the call.

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One Comment

  1. It is always in the best inter­est of the rul­ing class to silence the mass­es. Thank you for sup­port­ing those who are against the work­ing class. Vot­ing should always be dis­cour­aged.

    # by Bubba Smedley :: March 21st, 2015 at 4:07 PM