This year, for the first time in its history, the Washington State Democratic Party will use a presidential primary to allocate all of its national convention delegates, a decision that has earned the party a lot of goodwill from the public and the mass media… and deservedly so. In previous cycles, the party had used caucuses for both delegate allocation and selection, but this year, the primary will determine the allocation, while the caucuses will determine selection.
(If you’re wondering what the difference is between the two terms, just remember this: Allocation is how many delegates each candidate gets. Selection pertains to who is chosen to actually represent the state at the national convention on behalf of each candidate. There are also unpledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention who cannot vote on the first ballot.)
Ballots for the presidential primary were put in the mail this week by county elections officials and have now begun arriving in mailboxes all over the state.
The decision about which allocation method to use was made last spring by the Washington State Democratic Central Committee (WSDCC), on which I sit as a voting member, representing the 45th Legislative District.
The WSDCC’s historic decision to switch to a presidential primary instead of continuing to rely on caucuses for allocation as well as selection generated plenty of press in the immediate aftermath of the vote, and understandably so.
More recently, the debacle of the Iowa Democratic caucuses prompted a fresh set of stories discussing and lauding the WSDCC’s decision, which is looking rather excellent in hindsight, as those of us who championed a primary knew it would.
Mixed in with those well-reported stories, however, have been some commentaries that inappropriately assign the credit for the Washington State Democratic Party’s switch to a presidential primary to Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
The state’s primary was moved to March 10 after much campaigning by Secretary of State Kim Wyman. Now, thanks in large part to Wyman, our votes actually matter.
The first excerpted sentence is misleading. Pretty much everybody supported moving up the default date of the presidential primary to the second Tuesday in March to roughly correspond with the timeframe when the Washington State Democratic Party has traditionally held its presidential precinct caucuses.
The second (my emphasis) falsely awards Wyman credit she doesn’t deserve.
Wyman had nothing to do with Washington State’s switch to a meaningful presidential primary for 2020. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that she was one of the biggest obstacles to our state making the switch.
Wyman proposed legislation loaded with poison pills that would have prevented the Washington State Democratic Party from using a presidential primary at all in 2020 because it would not have complied with national party rules. She stubbornly persisted in trying to get this legislation adopted, even though it would have essentially forced the party to once again use caucuses in 2020 by default.
Had Wyman prevailed, there would have been no historic vote in Pasco last spring to move to a primary. Fortunately, Wyman’s legislation was rejected.
Instead of passing her bill, the Legislature developed and passed its own presidential primary modernization legislation that respected the First Amendment rights of the state’s major political parties. That gave the WSDCC the freedom to select a presidential primary as its national delegate allocation method.
Securing a presidential primary for 2020 required a lot of determined advocacy and groundwork. Having been involved in those efforts, I’m going to take the opportunity to recognize the people who actually deserve the credit for the accomplishment. If you see any of the people mentioned below, feel free to thank them for their role in making Washington a presidential primary state in 2020.
State Senator Sam Hunt (D‑22nd District; Olympia): The prime sponsor of the legislation that reformed Washington State’s presidential primary statute, putting the parties in control of their own ballot lists instead of Secretary Wyman. Sam, the Chair of the Senate State Government Committee, had the good sense to put together a critical work session during the interim between the 2018 and 2019 sessions that allowed the committee to properly understand the Washington State Democratic Party’s needs and develop legislation that would be fully compliant with national party rules.
State Representative Javier Valdez (D‑46th District: Seattle): The prime sponsor of the companion to Hunt’s bill in the Washington State House of Representatives. Javier, a longtime member of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, was recently chosen to serve on the Democratic National Committee representing the Evergreen State. Javier served as the steward of the presidential primary reform legislation in the House, ensuring that it received the support it needed to leave the Legislature.
Governor Jay Inslee: The final step in almost every bill’s journey from introduction to law is a bill signing ceremony in the governor’s office or another location. Governor Inslee’s signature transformed ESB 5273 from a bill into a law. Technically speaking, the legislation Inslee signed amended RCW 29A.56.020, 29A.56.040, 29A.56.050, 29A.60.190, 29A.08.161, and 29A.04.206; added a new section to chapter 29A.56 RCW; decodified RCW 29A.56.010; and repealed RCW 29A.56.030. The effect of all of these changes was to create a presidential primary statute fully compliant with the rules adopted by the Democratic National Committee for the 2020 nominating cycle.
Party Leaders and Activists
Rules Committee Co-Chair Bryan Kesterson: An ardent and longtime supporter of switching to a presidential primary, Bryan Kesterson stepped up to chair a group of state committeemembers tasked with studying DNC rules and preparing the state party for a possible switch to a presidential primary, a group that initially included Kate Kruller, Becky Lewis, Alec Stephens, and myself. Bryan put in a significant number of hours pulling together materials that would be useful for the group in its research, deliberations, and eventual presentation.
Together with Rules Co-Chair Sophia Danenberg, Byran also presided over the development of the final Delegate Selection and Affirmative Action Plan proposals that were recommended by the Rules Committee to the full WSDCC.
Affirmative Action Co-Chairs Chris Porter and Yvette Joseph: The party’s Delegate Selection and Affirmative Action Plan is so named because the Democratic Party believes in diversity and equity. The party aims to practice what it preaches, which is why every plan has affirmative action goals. Led by Chris and Yvette, the WSDCC’s Affirmative Action Committee invested hours upon hours of work in helping the Rules Committee come up with a DSAAP that the party could be proud of.
Jonathan Brebner: The organizing force behind Washington Democrats For a Presidential Primary, a grassroots group of Democratic activists committed to an inclusive nominating process, Jonathan worked tirelessly to marshal support for a presidential primary among local party chairs and WSDCC members. He skillfully created WADPP’s logo and developed most of our materials.
WADPP’s other primary organizers, in addition to myself, were Robert Cruickshank, a former President and current Advisory Councilmember of the Northwest Progressive Institute who serves on the WSDCC from the 36th District, and Scott Alspach, the Chair of the 43rd District Democrats. WADPP met its objective of winning a supermajority vote in favor of a primary in Pasco.
Julie Ann Kempf: A former superintendent at King County Elections and election administration subject matter expert, Julie Ann Kempf assisted both the caucus-only task force (known as the Caucus Improvement Committee, or CIC) and the pro-primary task force in their efforts to develop Delegate Selection Plan drafts for the full WSDCC to consider. Julie Ann’s knowledge and expertise were vital in drawing up cost estimates and proper comparative analyses.
State Party Chair Tina Podlodowski: Although neutral ahead of the WSDCC’s big vote in Pasco, Tina and the staff of the Washington State Democratic Party (especially Taemin Um and Drew Estep) created the infrastructure to allow the public to weigh in and oversaw the execution of the communications plan to ensure that Washingtonians would know about the public comment period. Following the vote, Tina and the state party staff (especially Will Casey), worked to carry out the WSDCC’s decision and promote the primary. They’re still at it.
DNC Member David McDonald: Although also neutral ahead of the WSDCC’s big vote in Pasco, David was instrumental in ensuring that both legislative committees and the WSDCC understood the DNC’s rules for 2020. This ultimately resulted in the creation of a presidential primary statute that the state party could use and a Delegate Selection and Affirmative Action Plan that passed DNC muster. David’s expertise as a member of the Rules & Bylaws Committee of the DNC was invaluable. David was reelected to the DNC for a four year term beginning in July 2020 at the state party’s recent winter meeting in Vancouver.
Finally, credit also belongs to the one hundred and twenty-one WSDCC members (myself, Bryan, Sophia, Chris, Yvette, and Robert included) who voted for a presidential primary in Pasco, and the eighty-three legislators who voted to adopt ESB 5273 and send it to Governor Inslee — Sam Hunt and Javier Valdez included.
Without those actions, Washington State would not have made the switch to a meaningful presidential primary for 2020.
Congratulations to all the people named above who made it possible for Washingtonians to vote in a real presidential primary in 2020. We got it done.