Mark Miller is what my grandfather would have called a mensch.
He didn’t use the word often.
Long before I got here Mark was fighting for clarity, transparency, and democracy in the Michigan Democratic Party and beyond. He has served many years on his municipal board of trustees, where his duties included managing local elections. Last year, he was elected clerk of Kalamazoo Township.
I met Mark at the first Rules and Political Reform Committee meeting. The Committee was discussing our goals for the “line by line” review. I remember listening to him and thinking, “Awesome, this guy knows his stuff!”
We talked briefly after that meeting. He very kindly sent me a 51-page document, with charts and tables, statistical results from umpteen computer simulations he ran, modeling different voting systems to ensure he was getting it right. Years before I got here he was fighting to fix many of the very same problems I’ve been pointing out since I got involved a year ago.
He’s been doing this for 9 years.
I take my hat off to you, sir.
Everyone in the Party owes you a round, at least.
Several days ago, I asked Mark if he would write up his thoughts on the Rules Committee’s work over the past six months, and he generously agreed. Below is his first piece.
I’m Mark Miller, Chair of the MDP Sixth District and member of the MDP Rules and Political Reform Committee. I am happy to write as a guest at this venue, while not necessarily associating myself with everything that has appeared here.
On January 23rd the MDP Rules Committee held its last meeting in a series going back to May 30 last year, carrying out its charge from the State Central Committee to conduct a top-to-bottom review of our rules and recommendations for changes. I’ve trekked to Lansing five times, called in twice, for meetings which lasted in some cases from 6 pm to 11 pm. Tempers frayed on occasion, voices were raised, but in the end we have a set of proposed rules changes.
In a nutshell: this is a glass half full / glass half empty story. While I would have preferred more reforms could have been made, every change that is being proposed is in a positive direction. Therefore, I will be lobbying my State Central friends across Michigan to support the package of changes we are proposing.
First, a note on the composition of the Committee. I want to commend MDP Chair Dillon for putting together a group which is broadly representative of the various factions, interest groups, and constituencies that compose the MDP. In particular, the “new folks” in the MDP, those who have joined the Party within the last two years, are very generously represented on the Committee. When I think about my own initial experience, volunteering for the Party for several years before I even got to join the local County Executive Committee, the openness is pretty striking. I hope that those who are impatient for change (a group in which I include myself) will appreciate that fact.
Although I was not keeping exact count, I would guess that fewer than one out of three motions for a rules change passed the Committee. I voted for all the changes that did pass, and voted for about half of those that did not.
We can divide the motions made into two broad categories – those made for greater clarity, and those making a substantive change in the way we do things.
Increasing the clarity of our rules is important by itself. Ambiguous, poorly-worded or confusing rules can be a barrier to participation. A greater proportion of these changes were approved than of the more substantial changes. Nevertheless, there are still places we did not get to that make my fingers itch to do a re-write! After so many hours, there was still not enough time to get to everything.
We reorganized Article 2, Policy, which includes many short principles that don’t fit into a larger area or rules. We clarified the fact that Robert’s Rules are a foundation upon which we build the rest of our rules, and any rule we adopt will actually take precedence over Robert’s. We added definitions for the Unit Rule and Proportional voting, two terms which have been in our rules for a very long time.
We cut out Article 3 on precinct delegates, much of which was detail from Michigan election law on allocation of delegates, which really does not need to gunk up our rules. Several paragraphs describing what precinct delegates actually do were added back to Article 4 (now Art. 3) on Membership.
New members are often confused by the fact that we call the main decision-making body at the county and district levels the “Executive Committee”. Sometimes these groups have 90 or 100 members or more, not what an Executive Committee means in ordinary parlance. We will now call these groups the “County Committee” and “District Committee”, freeing up the term “Executive Committee” to be a smaller implementation committee of officers and committee chairs, should the local party desire.
Now turning to the more substantial changes, that affect how we do things. We added:
- A requirement that bylaws for all local MDP units be posted at the MDP website. This will be a big advantage in two ways:
1) New members will have immediate access to their local rules, and
2) we will be able to compare bylaws, and consider adopting rules that would not otherwise have occurred to us.
- A requirement that candidates for high-level party office file 30 days in advance. This will allow members to research the candidates and make a more educated vote at Convention.
- A requirement for sign language interpretation and braille for major events, and encourage it at the local level.
- A ‘grace period’ of 30 days after your membership expires during which you can still vote (if you renew at the event).
- A requirement that the Appeals Committee make opinions available to MDP members.
- A statement that previous decisions of the Appeals Committee are not binding precedent.
This leaves those proposals which did not pass the Committee. As I said, these were most of them. Many were in the direction of even greater transparency, democracy, and deference to the rights of individual members. I will leave discussion of many of these to others. I often found myself deliberating on these, with my thoughts in conflict between what was asserted as a principle, vs. what I could see as a legitimate pragmatic consideration, for instance, raising money from membership dues. As I also said, I came down on one side or another of these proposals about equally, which put me in the minority in a sense, in that most of the committee voted “yes” most of the time, or “no” most of the time.
One proposal that I particularly regret was not adopted was that alternates be given precedence over proxies in filling delegate vacancies at State Central. It seems to me that an alternate is elected to do that very thing, replace a missing delegate, that they have spent their time and money getting to the meeting, that they would add more diversity and an additional point of view, and that they are actually present to hear the debate and participate in deliberation. I guess that the majority just want to able to designate who will hold their proxy without any doubt – they want to pick someone who will vote their way on every issue. If you have ever been to a State Central meeting, it is not unusual to see several individuals holding a dozen or more proxies each.
This effort by the Rules Committee, as major as it was, is just a small part of an ongoing process of accommodating change and new perspectives into the broad, sometimes precarious, Democratic coalition. Both major parties today seem to be uncomfortable alliances of ever-shifting and not always compatible groups. The Republicans are worse off than we are in this respect. There is lots of talk of third parties in different directions. There is often a lack of respect that I have observed in both directions in our own party. Respect does not solve everything, but it does seem to be a necessary starting point. We are in a good strategic position for this fall, but time is short for us to come together. I certainly hope that what our committee has accomplished over the last eight months helps rather than hinders in this regard.