Tuesday, February 10, 2009
No doubt you've been wondering, "What became of last weekend's great debate over the local Democratic Party's bylaws? Did anyone show up? How did they vote?"
Wonder no longer, my friends. For I have caught up with Jim Burn, chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, and some other commitee members, who have provided the following update.
First, the party did manage to reach quorum. Please settle your wagers accordingly.
In fact, 507 committee members showed up -- well above the 400 needed for quorum, although too many for me to win the office pool. Burn attributes the strong turnout to the delegates' passionate interest in the rules changes, and their committment to making their party stronger. At least one dissenter, however, tells me it might have had more to do with a flat-screen TV being raffled off that day.
And perhaps not surprisingly, those in attendance tabled action on the most controversial proposal.
As noted in the post linked above, the thorniest reform was a new provision outlining disciplinary procedures for committee members who violate party rules. Most of these infractions have to do with commitee members ignoring their own party's endorsements. Committee members are supposed to support the endorsed Democrat -- whether they want to or not. But it's an open secret that they often back whoever they please.
Burn sought to change that, proposing a process for investigating allegations of such behavior, and spelling out a range of sanctions that could be imposed as punishment.
(As Maria at the 2pjs noted, for example, one possible punishment would prevent wayward committee members from seeking the party endorsement if they ran for higher office.)
But the measure was tabled indefinitely, even though Burn says committee people have been pestering him to make these changes for years. In fact, he says, "Some of the people who made the most noise in favor of the rule [before the gathering] were shouting the loudest for it to be tabled." Why? Burn suspects its because the rule "prevents people from making allegations in secret, like daggers in the dark. In my opinion, that was the problem."
In any case, the measure probably won't be taken up again for at least two years. Burn says he'd like to have another bylaws convention in February of 2011. ("I think the February before the local and judicial races is a good time to discuss the changes," he says. That's the time of year, he points out, when endorsements are on everybody's mind.) As he told me last week, Burn hopes to canvass committee members about other proposed reforms later this year, and he says he'll incorporate their recommendations down the road. But most likely, commitee members won't vote on bylaw changes for another two years.
Other proposals did win committee approval at this year's gathering, however.For example, the party approved a new requirement for commitee members. As of now, newly elected committeefolk must -- brace yourself -- actually live in the ward they represent. Yes! I'm telling you!
It's a long-running, and sad, joke that numerous wards are represented by people who don't live within them. "This is a loophole that has been driving me nuts," Burn admits.
But the effort to close this loophole comes with a loophole of its own: Current committee members are grandfathered in. An active committee member who currently doesn't live in the ward they represent, in other words, won't be asked to move.
Probably the measure wouldn't have passed at all otherwise, and Burn has to take his victories where he can find them. But the result is that in the best democratic tradition, current committee members approved a change that would only affect other people.
The committee also ratified a few other "housekeeping" changes, Burn said. And he promised that the work had only just begun. "It's been 27 years since the last bylaws convention," he says. "It won't be another 27 years until the next one."
And the winner of the flat-screen TV? I'm told it was none other than Jean Milko, former jury commissioner and longtime party stalwart. No matter how many reforms you pass, it seems, some things never change.
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