Issue 2: The Party Won’t Enforce the Rules (Unless They Serve the Establishment)

Recap from Issue #1
At MDP State Central meetings, alternates (elected by their CD to replace absent delegates) should be seated (given a vote) before proxies (personally appointed representatives of individual delegates).  

Suppose Congressional District 14 (CD14) elects Tony as a delegate and Steve as an alternate. Tony knows he’s not going to make a meeting, and he gives his proxy to Matt. No one in CD14 voted for Matt to represent them. CD14 voted for Steve, or another alternate, to represent CD14 when Tony, or another delegate, is absent. Matt doesn’t represent CD14. Matt only represents Tony

Tony doesn’t have a vote on State Central. No individual delegate has a vote on the SCC. CD14 has votes on the SCC. The vote doesn’t belong to Tony. Tony can’t give away things that don’t belong to him. The vote belongs to CD14. CD14 elected Steve, or another alternate, to represent them when Tony is absent.

This kind of corrupt behavior is a serious issue.
Seating proxies before alternates is a serious problem.

Congressional District 14

A few months ago, progressives in Congressional District 14 decided to do something about the proxy problem.

Under MPD rules, each CD gets to decide “the manner as to which an alternate shall replace an absent delegate” (1974, 1991, 2016 Rules 7.B.2; 2018 MDP Rule 6.2.2). Progressives proposed a change to the CD14 rules, requiring that CD14 alternates get seated before CD14 proxies.

The establishment fought it. The Chair of the 14th and some of his followers argued hard against it, but the logic was overwhelming. The vote required a two-thirds majority, but it wasn’t even close. In the end, only the Chair and a few of his die-hard supporters were opposed. The vote was nearly unanimous. The district won back their right to be represented by someone they actually voted for.

The Party won’t enforce it. They argue that the Party doesn’t have the legal authority to break the sacred bond between Tony, the delegate, and Matt, the proxy. I’m paraphrasing, but they sang the praises of that bond for 15 or 20 minutes, I kid you not. The Party can’t seat alternates before proxies, they told me, they’d end up “in court”. Apparently Tony would sue the Party, for letting Steve, a duly elected representative of his district, vote instead of Tony’s personally appointed proxy, Matt. They had all kinds of lawyers all over this, they said, and it was completely out of their hands, nothing they can do; “I’m a fucking lawyer!” a bigwig told me at one point.

The vote required a two-thirds majority, but it wasn’t even close.

You can’t be bound by a contract you didn’t sign. The MDP can’t be bound by a contract it didn’t sign. The only signature on the proxy is Tony’s, the delegate’s. Here’s the proxy form the MDP uses:

I can’t even count the number of times Party elders have lied to my face like that. For half an hour straight or more, on many occasions. Once for two and a half hours! No joke. They made an appointment so we’d have the time. Some of them I know are lawyers, and yet were willing to lie to me about the law, on multiple occasions, on multiple issues. I honestly don’t know if they’re just blindly defending “the way we’ve always done it” with the best they can come up with, or if they know which rules/interpretations favor the establishment at the expense of everyone else. Many of them only lie about the ones that favor the establishment. The rest they’re open to discussing honestly. They’re not open to discussing alternates and proxies honestly.

Michigan Election Law section 168.600a reads in relevant part, “No person shall vote or hold any office or position in any congressional district committee or organization unless he is at the same time a resident of that congressional district”. Under 2018 MDP Rule 6.7.1, “Proxy votes from District delegates shall be cast only in the District of the delegate who gave the proxy”. Under MDP rules, Matt must cast Tony’s vote “only in” Tony’s district. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to count each district separately so we can weight the vote by district population. I’m not a lawyer, but that seems to say, No person shall vote in any congressional district organization unless he is at that time a resident of that congressional district. Matt isn’t a resident of Tony’s district. I think that’s a misdemeanor of some kind, probably something that gets you 90 days in jail. I don’t want anyone going to jail, that’s just a theory, and I’m not a lawyer. I’m just using straightforward logic.

The democracy argument ought to be enough for anyone. The alternate, Steve, is a duly elected representative of the district. Matt is not. End of discussion.

The Way We’ve Always Done It

There are many more examples of rules being written or interpreted, well, ‘oddly’ is a charitable way of putting it – always in favor of those already in power, the establishment.

An establishment – as opposed to a legitimate government – is a collection of elected representatives using the power of their office to bend, break, or re-write the rules to their advantage, especially to keep themselves in power or select their successors; or some descendant successors using systems created by their predecessors – knowingly or not. They may know how the rules have been re-written to increase their power, or how “the way we’ve always done it” gives them some advantage, or they may not know. The particular people and organizations in an establishment come and go, while the establishment continues – because the re-written rules remain the rules, and the way we do things becomes “the way we’ve always done it”. So long as there are enough people doing things the way they’ve always done them, the establishment continues.

After a while, most people – even most people in leadership – are doing things the way we’ve always done it. It’s been passed down from one office holder to their successor, and theirs, and so on, often without even a cursory look at the rules. Why would they look at the rules? Their predecessor told them how to do it, or they watched their predecessor do it that way many times, or someone higher up in the Party told them to do it that way. That’s perfectly reasonable. Their predecessors are trusted people telling them things they expect leaders in the Party to know. Why wouldn’t the new leaders believe their predecessors, or people higher up in the Party? It’s not like they come right out and say, “do it this way, because stealing votes is a good way to remain in power”. I expect most people in the establishment have no idea they’re stealing votes. This is just they way we’ve always done it.

I’ve got nothing but respect for the hard work folks in all kinds of leadership roles do every day. Most folks in leadership are great people who have too much on their plate already. The damage the establishment does to their work and the Party is immense. The establishment drives people from the Party, reducing the number of volunteers, putting even more of a burden on people in leadership roles. Part of the establishment strategy to maintain their power is to keep membership numbers low – fewer people are easier to control. As a result, everyone in the Party is over worked. I’m not saying everyone in the establishment knows that’s the strategy, though some of them might. I’m saying the system the establishment maintains has this effect. It may be an emergent property of the establishment system. Either way, it’s hurting the Party.

Often, “the way we’ve always done it” has been passed down through so many hands, the person handing it off doesn’t know what they’re handing off is against the rules, or was deliberately re-written to undermine the principles of representative democracy. When they’re questioned about some practice, they respond “this is the way the Party says to do it”. Ask higher up in the Party, and you get rationalizations and tortured interpretations that don’t stand up to the least bit of scrutiny –  like the “fucking lawyer” arguing for the inviolable sacred bond between Tony and Matt that miraculously binds the Party – to the benefit of the establishment.

Everyone knows where “just following the rules” leads. We must also follow the principles.

I get it, we have an election to win, there’s no time to look at the rules. Stop bothering me with the rules! is a sentiment I often hear from Party leadership and members alike.

There’s always an election coming up.

As leaders of our Party, we have an obligation to hold ourselves and each other accountable to the rules, and the principles of representative democracy. As members of our Party, we have an obligation to hold our leadership accountable to the principles of representative democracy, and Party rules.

If we want to bring large numbers of new people into the Party, we have to stop doing things this way. We have to show new folks the Party is run honestly. We need a Party infrastructure that functions democratically, and not just in the narrow sense of “following the rules”. We need a Party infrastructure that functions democratically in the broad sense of serving the principles of democracy – ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to participate fully in all political and governmental processes. Everyone knows where “just following the rules” leads. We must also follow the principles. We must write and interpret our rules accordingly.

The most basic principle of representative democracy is that you get to vote on who is allowed to speak for you. You didn’t vote for Matt. No one in your district voted for Matt. Matt doesn’t represent you.

The Michigan Democratic Party engages in this kind of underhanded behavior on a massive scale. They’ve been doing this for many years, possibly decades. They lie about Party rules and civil law to cover it up. They lie about it because some of them know how the establishment goes about controlling the Party. Some of them know exactly what they’re doing. People who behave this way on purpose, with knowledge of what they do, have no business in Democratic Party leadership. They’re not small-d democrats. They don’t believe in one-person one-vote democracy, or anything close to it. They believe in and practice oligarchy – the rule of the powerful few over everyone else.

The Democratic Party has to do better.

The Party line?
We didn’t get caught by anyone powerful enough to hold us accountable, so who cares? 

In the next issue of The Party Line:
Fixing the Problem, and Leadership

Liano Sharon is a member of the Michigan Democratic Party State Central Committee (CD12), the MDP SCC Rules and Political Reform Committee, the Washtenaw County Democratic Party Executive Board, and serves as Co-Chair of the WCDP Rules Committee.