The State Convention Gambit: How Sanders Lost Delegates in Minnesota

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The rigged electoral system is overseen for the Democratic wing of the duopoly at the national level by the Democratic National Committee. But election theft is initially executed through the state parties. Ballot Bandits expert Greg Palast has explained how California rigged its primary election by preventing independents from voting. He calls the California elections a “crime scene.” Palast estimates the number of suppressed votes to be comparable to Clinton’s resulting margin of victory in California. A separate issue is the continued use in California of hackable Sequoia election machines. Palast says “vote suppression does not come cheap.” Like propaganda, lobbying and influence peddling it is also a function of money in politics.

Another tool of the state parties to maintain their plutocratic control behind democratic window-dressing is the State Convention. Use of the State Convention for democratic purposes requires organization, strategy, leadership which can be bought with money in politics. Minnesota’s June 4 State Convention illustrated the techniques by which the minority of Clinton supporters in control of an undemocratic Democratic party can defeat a majority while adding to Clinton’s delegate count.

Sanders won the Minnesota caucuses in March by over 61% of the vote. The landslide victory by Sanders’ delegates should have been sufficient to take control of the party at its State Convention, pass an agenda for the Convention, adopt state rules subjecting its Superdelegates’ to the will of the majority, and elect Sanders’ supporters as members of the DNC. None of this happened.

Minnesota Democrats are proud of the states’ national blue state status, having sent Democrats to the electoral college for a longer unbroken series of elections than any other state. Minnesota also takes pride in its progressive influence on the rest of the country, and in its clean, democratic brand of politics. Steve Simon, Minnesota’s popular Democrat Secretary of State expressed such views in his speech to the Convention.

If a strong reform message on behalf of the Sanders campaign was to come to Philadelphia from anywhere in the country, it would likely have come from a state like Minnesota. But no such message emerged from the DFL State Convention. It is worth telling why it did not, as an example of what is likely happening in other states. It is a story of how a soft form of rigging takes place in the state parties, even in a blue state with wide open caucuses. It also shows how the disorganization of the Sanders campaign played into that rigging.

DNC Superdelegates

The most important business transacted at the state convention having an impact on Sanders’ nomination was the election of Democratic National Committee (DNC) members. The State Convention elected only one announced Sanders supporter of four members that Minnesota is sending to the important DNC. The other three newly elected DNC members were endorsed by the state Party, which is controlled by Clinton supporters.

Since DNC members not only control the national party and its National Convention, but are also Superdelegates, Sanders, therefore, lost two Superdelegate votes that he should have been able to win had the Sanders forces been organized. They were not.

Democrats are proactive about diversity and urge delegates to vote for diversity.Of four clearly pro-Sanders candidates for the DNC there was one white and one highly qualified Hispanic among the women candidates, and two white men. One of the men was not particularly impressive, while the other man who supported Sanders narrowly lost to two men who were endorsed by the state party. The Hispanic woman who supported Sanders won. The highest vote went to an up and coming young African-American officer in the party. Without endorsing either Clinton or Sanders he spoke in support of making democratic reforms in the party, which was a message acceptable to the Sanders delegates who obviously did vote for him in preference to one of the candidates who expressly endorsed Sanders’. The winner has not endorsed Sanders, and is free both to vote as a Superdelegate for Clinton and otherwise work for her nomination on the DNC.

Each delegate had four votes to cast for the four DNC positions. Had the Sanders campaign focussed their support on just two women and two men candidates by running a qualified and diverse slate clearly vetted and endorsed by the Sanders’ campaign, preferably supported by a direct written request from Sanders, communicated in advance of the Convention to Sanders delegates, there is no reason that the large Sanders majority of delegates should not have been translated into winning all four seats.

As it happened, it was not even made clear that the Convention was voting for Superdelegates by electing the DNC members. No clearly identified spokesperson for the Sanders campaign encouraged unity at the Convention behind the two Sanders candidates of each gender As a result, Sanders sacrificed the opportunity to pick up three additional Superdelegates in Minnesota.

If this loss were extrapolated across the rest of the country it could represent maybe a 200 delegate spread between Clinton and Sanders, which would make up about half the difference between them in pledged delegates, before even considering the remainder of the Superdelegates who might have been subjected to state party rules.

Pledged Delegate Selection

Instead of focussing on these Superdelegates where important gains could have been made, the Sanders campaign made what appeared to be a poorly conceived and ultimately counterproductive effort to influence the selection of pledged delegates within the sub-caucus of Sanders delegates. This turned out to be the last order of business at the Convention as time ran out.

Since the delegates selected by the Sanders sub-caucus, whoever they may be, were already pledged to vote for Sanders, a time-saving lottery could have been used for this purpose. Selection by lottery would make any difference to Sanders’ delegate strength. However, at a messy National Convention that Sanders has promised, where there may well be important floor fights that will require solidarity among Sanders’ pledged delegates, it would be useful to have delegates who are informed and fully prepared to take on those floor fights in accordance with strategies originating from the campaign. Certainly the Sanders campaign had the resources for more effective vetting than was possible in the 30 seconds allowed for vetting by delegates at the Convention.

For this reason, a slate of pledged delegates competently organized and reliably vetted by the campaign in advance of the Convention could have had some value at the National Convention, depending upon Sanders intention to engage in a floor fight. Had there been some evidence of competent vetting by the campaign for this purpose, according to transparent and convincing criteria, such a slate might have been accepted by the convention delegates, even though over a third of the Sanders’ delegates had hopes of playing the odds of becoming national delegates themselves. Advance organizing among these nearly 200 delegates who formally expressed ambitions to be elected as National Convention delegates during the month prior to the state convention should not have been a difficult task for an organized campaign.

The group of candidates for the national delegate positions who did stand as a slate showed no evidence of such vetting. They claimed to be supported by Sanders and his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver. They had sent out a mailing a few days in advance of the Convention. But they presented no letter from the campaign to evidence their claim of support from the campaign. The group claiming this support was neither representative of the state (most coming from Minneapolis), nor did they demonstrate that they had been vetted seriously by the campaign according to transparent and convincing criteria demonstrating that they were deserving of the honor of attending the National Convention.

Coming as the last order of business, this proffered slate had not evidenced any leadership role in the convention up to that point, though such a leadership role had been noticeably missing in the DNC member selection, and other matters. The Sanders campaign had a far more legitimate interest in the DNC members than it had with respect to the precise identity of the pledged delegates.  It would have been easier to make the case that Sanders had sought out unpledged DNC members he could trust.  Neither the slate of National Convention delegates, nor the campaign it supposedly represented, had weighed in on such important matters as the approval of the Agenda, adoption of the Rules, the single “sense of the Convention” resolution discussed below, the DNC, or maintaining a quorum necessary for electing key party officials that had been deliberately scheduled at the end of the agenda.

Since there had apparently been no prior outreach to others of the nearly 200 delegates who also wanted to be considered for the 20 pledged delegate and alternate positions, the slate gave the appearance of a cabal with no credible claim of endorsement by the campaign. It took a motion from the floor to even get the slate to introduce themselves, let alone give an explanation why they should jump the queue to become national convention delegates in preference to others eager for the honor. At no time did the slate even argue that the campaign needed them as loyal soldiers in an anticipated floor fight.

Many of the Sanders’ delegates attended the convention mainly for the very purpose of trying to become a national delegate. No doubt the slate cabal was viewed as trying to deny them that opportunity without any prior consultation with them. Without convincing explanation, the attempt at preempting a democratic process of individual election smacked of cronyism. The slate justified themselves solely by identity politics, but all the delegates represented pretty much the same diversity. As a consequence of the campaign’s poor advance organization and its poor presentation at the convention, the slate was overwhelmingly rejected by the same Sanders delegates who had been passionately shouting for Bernie throughout the day. Thus, a good idea of taking an organized approach to the convention by the Bernie majority was rejected by Sanders delegates when it manifested in a disorganized and poorly justified manner.

It should be mentioned that in the Clinton breakout sub-caucus the effort to coordinate the delegate selection was even more inept, with the effort of a person who asserted authority from the Clinton campaign to appoint the Clinton delegates himself, rather than elect them, was challenged as inauthentic and rejected out of hand.

Running Out the Clock

A good slate of pledged national delegates competently presented to the Bernie sub-caucus would have saved a great deal of time at the Convention, as time was running out in the evening. Without such prior organization, it was necessary to listen to the short speeches of the candidates before voting. The effect of the slate effort, instead of saving time, ended up consuming, even more, time, while it was presented, debated and rejected, at the same time that people were anxious to get to dinner.

The value of this lost time became clear when the state party took over the podium from the Sanders sub-caucus before the votes for the Sanders delegates were even counted and the results announced. The party establishment got a black woman to announce that there was no quorum, without apparently taking or reporting an announced quorum count. She was a minor party official who had earlier broken out with the Clinton sub-caucus, seen serving there as a vote-counter. She peremptorily, without any apparent authority, gaveled the Convention adjourned at 8:25PM, before important matters had been decided. In a manner reminiscent of Nevada, the State Convention was thus adjourned without a motion or second, as normally required by the rules.

The convention had earlier been drawn out primarily with speeches by politicians, along with a few pointless procedural contests of importance to a single individual. The main poison pill was in an Agenda item described in its entirety, “Guest Speakers – TBD (throughout day).” The Agenda was approved without objections.

Many of the political speakers were Clinton supporters. One Sanders’ delegate did object from the floor to the delays for party leadership speeches, which largely consisted of attacks on Donald Trump and calls for party unity. Repeated calls were made by the likes of Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken for unity to defeat Trump. This refrain was so repetitive that the Minneapolis daily paper would headline, “DFL leaders target Trump at state convention.” Trump served to divert attention from the main business of the day, which was keeping the party out of the hands of the Sanders majority.

After the state’s leading Democrats spent much of the day taking up time focused largely on Donald Trump, this anti-Trump obsession seemed to gradually wear thin among many delegates. It received a decreasing response until the state’s Democratic Deputy Minority Leader in the Republican House,Erin Murphy, finally made the point that was becoming obvious: if the Democrats “spend this election” just complaining about Donald Trump, then the Democrats are going to lose in November.

After the popular Governor and Superdelegate Mark Dayton was booed when he said “I support Secretary Hillary Clinton for president” the overt Clinton endorsements were kept to a minimum. When he later said “I know that many people are supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders,” he got a raucous applause, of the kind that followed throughout the convention whenever Sanders was mentioned, or even alluded to. But that demonstration of support was not converted into anything of much significant value to the Sanders campaign.

Superdelegate Sensibility

Sanders and his surrogates have made it clear that his hopes for the nomination depend primarily upon Superdelegates abandoning Clinton and voting for him to make up his deficit of pledged delegates. Sanders insists that Superdelegates can only vote at the National Convention. But mass media lies intended to suppress his primary support asserted, as Moira Liasson did on NPR the morning of the last set of primaries, that Sanders’ hope is “preposterous” because Clinton has a lead of “3 million votes.”

This popular vote” rationale is a propagandistic comparison of apples and oranges, comparable to the media malpractice that unpledged Superdelegates votes can be “counted” by the mass media before they are voted at the National Convention on July 25. Caucus results, which Sanders has tended to win, often by landslides as in Minnesota, cannot be compared with primaries, which have been closer, aside from being too often closed to Sanders supporters.

Sanders outlined a path to victory in a proposal by which landslide states like Minnesota should require their Superdelegates to vote solely for him. In advance of the Minnesota Convention a grass roots effort, without the support of the Sanders campaign, was made for a “Bernie Petition.” The petition would presumably have changed the state party’s Rules to “demand that MN DFL ‘Super Delegates’ to the 2016 Democratic National Convention support and vote for US Senator Bernie Sanders.” But at the convention, a different version was presented by prior agreement with the party leadership that was more similar to the Alaska and Maine initiatives on Superdelegates. Apparently the organizers were informed that the Rules could not be changed at the State Convention, and that the deadline for submitting rules changes expired prior to the Convention. The Party leadership agreed the proposal about Superdelegates could be made as a non-binding “sense of the Convention.” This watered down approach also took a watered down form.

The resolution on Superdelegates that was approved by 53 percent to 46 percent, (552 to 480), contradicted Sanders’ strategy, and hurt his cause. This Minnesota resolution first endorsed a future “elimination or reform” of Superdelegates for the 2020 presidential election. It only recorded a “request” — not even a binding party rule or a platform measure — that proportional representation be used in casting Minnesota’s Superdelegate votes. Pollster Nate Silver says proportional allocation of Superdelegates gets Sanders “Nowhere. In fact, I’d argue it would set him back.”

Absent any guidance from the campaign, Minnesota Democrats voted for this watered down version of a Superdelegate request that directly opposes Sanders’ strategy of having Superdelegates from states he won in a landslide support him, while he tries to convince other Superdelegates to do their original job by overruling Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates in order to support the candidate most likely to defeat Trump. According to every poll from the beginning that person is Sanders.

Unfinished Business

Because the State Convention was summarily gaveled to a halt before the agenda was complete, the Clinton leaders of the party can continue in power. Its Central Committee which governs between conventions will appoint both the electoral college electors, which unlike most years could be of conceivable importance in 2016. Similarly, they will perpetuate their own power that existed prior to Sanders landslide victory by electing state directors of the party that would otherwise required to be elected by the state Convention. By dragging out the proceedings the Clinton forces avoided a vote that might have turned the party over to Sanders; directors.

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