Well, hot damn. The remarkably amicable and friction-free Texas Democratic Convention—a hellish state of affairs for reporters looking for stories, however pleasant for the delegates—temporarily gave way on Saturday to a raucous debate over exactly the kind of fraught and complicated issue that ignites progressive hearts and souls.
The issue: whether to retain the Democrats’ one-of-a-kind “two-step” process for electing delegates in presidential primaries. The arrangement, adopted by the party in 1985, apportions 65 percent of delegates through popular votes in a primary and the other 35 percent through caucuses.
The system has been credited by supporters with stimulating party activism—especially among supporters of Jesse Jackson in 1988 and Barack Obama in 2008—through attending the caucuses and becoming involved in the party’s workings. But the 2008 caucuses became a chaotic mess in many places because of the huge, unprecedented level of interest stimulated by the Obama-Hillary Clinton showdown. The two-step became another national curiosity courtesy of Texas. And after Clinton won the primary but lost the caucuses—and ended up with fewer delegates then Obama—her supporters saw an unfair system at work.
So did those who’ve complained about the inherent inequities built into the caucus system. During this afternoon’s emotional floor debate, which followed a lengthy give-and-take on the Rules Committee, delegate Jason Smith of summed up the opposition to two-step—and support for apportioning delegates purely on the basis of primary votes.
“We have a process now that if you aren’t able-bodied, if you’re older and can’t make it, if you work a late shift, you don’t have a vote” at the caucuses, Smith said. “Democrats believe in equal votes. Willie Valasquez registered Texans across this state so they could have a voice… Do not reject the disabled, do not reject working people, do not reject seniors, do not reject minorities.”
But on the other side of the aisle, lined up to support the continuation of two-step (with some modifications to fix the 2008 problems) were a lot more “minority” delegates than were on Smith’s side. And with both sides claiming to represent the interests of the disenfranchised, things got hot in the half-hour floor debate.
“I don’t think we can build this party on the backs of the disadvantaged,” said Scott Cobb of Austin, who proposed the change in the Rules Committee.
“Let me speak as a minority,” an African-American delegate said. “Some people like to say they speak for us; they don’t speak shit for us.”
Another delegate called the proposal to scrap the two-step “as divisive as George Wallace-style politics.”
“This doesn’t have anything to do with President Obama,” a Rules Committee member responded.
Some two-step supporters revived concerns from 2008 that crossover voting in the primaries—Republicans voting for Hillary Clinton, at the behest of Rush Limbaugh—had skewed the primary results, only to be rectified by the Obama-friendly caucuses. “We should not have other people deciding who should be our candidates,” said delegate Raymond Stone.
In the end, after the sparks flew, it wasn’t close. The wacky (but apparently lovable) two-step survived, by a three-to-one vote.
And with that, we were back to watching a parade of sure-to-lose statewide candidates address the dwindling crowd of Dems. Hey, it was fun while it lasted.