Washington Democrats for a Presidential Primary
Washington Democrats for a Presidential Primary

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.

For exam­ple, take this screed from Jason Rantz:

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.

Elected Officials

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.

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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