For the second time in as many years, Chris Savage, Chair of the Washtenaw Democratic Party (WCDP), is breaking the rules to cover up his mistakes. In 2018, Savage broke the rules to re-run the vote for Ann Arbor school board endorsements, when he had no authority to reverse a vote and force the Party to re-vote. Fortunately, the membership understood the problem, and rather than re-vote, voted to affirm the original result. Now Savage has called a special membership meeting for Monday (9/21) – to again cover up his lawlessness. I say this without malice or ill-will. I don’t have any problem with Savage personally, only with his behavior as an elected representative. These are just facts we have to deal with. 

I know a lot of people will get their hair on fire about some of what follows. Let me say emphatically, my criticisms below have nothing to do with any particular nominee or nominees. They are entirely general, applicable to any nominee. Let me also make another thing clear. I have no interest in hurting Biden’s chances of winning. Trump is a white supremacist fascist with a movement building around him. The most important thing to me this election cycle is gut-punching Trump’s fascist movement and taking the wind out of their sails as much as possible. Biden/Harris are the only knuckle-dusters available. The only way to achieve my goal of blunting the Trump movement’s momentum as much as possible is for Biden to win, and preferably win really big. The bigger the win, the more of their momentum we shred. I know Savage has been making the rounds accusing me of being against Biden/Harris. Yes, I am against the vast majority of their policies. That doesn’t change the fact they’re the only weapon available to achieve my goals, and will therefore get my vote. This puts me in good company – nearly 2/3rds of voters who intend to vote Biden/Harris aren’t voting for Biden, they’re voting against Trump. Most likely, about 2/3rds of anyone who can still be brought to Biden’s side are going to be in this camp. If you want to bring those people along, perhaps it’s wise to listen to what one of those folks has to say.

The WCDP bylaws require two things for a candidate to be eligible for endorsement (WCDP Rules Article 9). First they must be MDP members, and second they must ask the WCDP for our endorsement. Savage made sure all local candidates were following the rules, getting their MDP membership straight, and formally asking for our endorsement. As Savage explained to the Saline Post, “I had to reach out to Mr. Marl to join the Michigan Democratic Party the day before the event because our bylaws require that” (emphasis added). He knew these rules were required, not optional. Savage did not call Joe Biden or Kamala Harris to make sure they were Michigan Democratic Party members, or get them to ask for our endorsement. When we held our endorsement meeting, Savage didn’t even bring Biden/Harris up for a vote, he didn’t even mention them at all. It never occurred to him that they were subject to the same rules as everyone else. It never occurred to him that the same rules that apply to everyone, also apply to the powerful. 

This is the mistake Savage wants to cover up and paper over. He should have insisted everyone follow the rules. No special dispensations for the powerful. No special privileges for the powerful is one of the key things Democrats are supposed to stand for. Democracy means rule by the people, not rule by the powerful. Savage behaves as if those already in power are entitled to more power. Are entitled to use the power delegated to them by the people, to remain in power – usurping the power of the people for their private special interest rather than using it for the purposes intended by the voters: the public good and the common interest. No (small-d) democrat thinks this way, much less acts this way. For a Democrat to think this way, much less behave this way, is shameful.

How does Savage plan to paper it over? There is another bylaw that says “Endorsements shall be made via vote of the general membership” (Article 9 Section 9.5). Since he never even brought them up at the regular endorsement meeting, now he’s called a special meeting tomorrow (9/21) for the membership to vote on endorsing Biden/Harris or not. As noted above, Biden and Harris aren’t eligible for our endorsement. To even take such a vote is a violation of the bylaws. Savage is deliberately breaking the rules to paper over his earlier rule-breaking.

Does Savage have any justification for allowing the vote in the first place? Yes, but it’s obviously total bunk. There’s a legal precedent that says, in effect, if an interpretation of law would lead to absurd results, that interpretation can be ignored. Savage’s position is that it would be absurd for the WCDP to not endorse the Democratic Party’s national candidates. That’s just another way of saying “Blue No Matter Who.” Savage wants the membership to accept “Blue No Matter Who” as the de facto policy of the WCDP, what the rules actually say be damned. 

It’s total bunk because there’s absolutely nothing “absurd” about a county party making the very rational decision to focus their limited resources on local candidates. There’s nothing absurd about a county party choosing to put that language in its rules – perhaps specifically to prevent the officers and board from spending the membership’s limited resources on non-local races. For example, we put out a voter guide every election cycle, where we showcase our endorsed candidates. That costs a lot of money and volunteer hours in design, printing, distributing, etc. Do we want those resources focused on our local candidates who don’t have much money? Or do we want to spend a good chunk of that money and resources promoting a national candidate who has hundreds of millions? Any national candidate is going to have a lot more money and other resources than any of our local candidates. Local candidates have the most direct impact on our lives. They are local judges and county prosecutors, school board members, city clerks and council members – these are the people that decide our police and criminal justice policies, local road construction and other infrastructure, social services, and so on. These races are critically important to our communities. What’s absurd is a county party Chair insisting on diverting resources from critical local races with few resources to well-heeled national campaigns, in violation of the rules. Savage can’t use the “absurd” argument because there is nothing absurd about a county party prioritizing local races.

The hubris and privilege involved in such a worldview is truly staggering. There are a lot of Democrats who think it’s absurd for a county party to endorse national or statewide candidates. Some believe a local party should focus their resources on local issues and races. Some believe we should have a choice about endorsing national and statewide candidates, and there’s nothing absurd about either endorsing or not endorsing as the people choose. Some are concerned we could end up with a truly awful candidate in some future cycle, and be forced to endorse them under such a policy. Some have other reasons for rejecting the idea. They all believe we should follow the rules, and not make up excuses for breaking them. The Chair should certainly not be calling special meetings to paper over his rule-breaking by breaking more rules.

Worse, Savage has also, separately, introduced a proposed rules change that would force the WCDP to endorse national and statewide nominees automatically. This isn’t up for a vote on the tomorrow, but Savage has proposed it to the board and sent it to the rules committee. Consider what that says about Savage and his trust in the people of the WCDP. It means Savage doesn’t trust the people of the WCDP to make their own decisions about who to endorse or not to endorse. Savage wants no discussion about the candidates or their issues, no vote of the membership. Savage wants to take the choice away from the people, so “his” WCDP doesn’t make the “wrong” decisions – according to his personal judgment. Savage doesn’t just want “Blue No Matter Who” to be the de facto policy of the WCDP, he wants “Blue No Matter Who” written into Party rules. That isn’t fixing the problem, it makes the problem much worse. It’s exactly the kind of behavior that drives people away from the Democratic Party.

All of this is deeply damaging to the Democratic Party generally, and to the WCDP in particular. The WCDP is doing a lot of good work organizing people to call, text, and knock doors, distribute signs, holding debates and town halls, fundraising, and more. The team they have this year has done a great job with what they have. The WCDP has about a thousand members, which is minuscule in a county of 367,000. The board members and regular volunteers are overworked, and none of them get paid. This is the high season for campaigning so they’re getting a good number of seasonal volunteers now, but not nearly the number you’d expect to find in one of the most heavily Democratic counties, in one of the most hotly contested swing states, if we had a healthy Party. That’s probably good, for the moment. We aren’t set up to handle the kinds of numbers we’d have if we lived in a well-functioning democracy with well-functioning political parties. If we want to grow the Party – DNC, MDP, or WCDP – there has to be a widespread trust among the people that they’ll be treated fairly in the Party, and that the Democratic Party will be run (small-d) democratically. No one can have such trust when Savage breaks the rules whenever he wants – sometimes just to paper over his other rule-breaking.

The Party is in deep trouble in precisely this area. The Party has demonstrated, repeatedly, consistently, and persistently, that it can’t be trusted to follow its own rules. It’s important that you get a real sense of how pervasive, divisive, and egregious this kind of behavior is in the Party, but this is just a small sample. There are county parties that don’t bother holding elections for elected positions, the chair just appoints people. There are congressional districts that gerrymander their elections and keep the maps secret, so those not already in power can’t effectively recruit candidates to run for State Central Committee (SCC). The establishment packs the SCC with about 90 extra voting members, who are not elected by the people, they’re appointed by the State Party Chair – despite the fact the rules specifically require they be “elected” (MDP Rules 7.1.1). The State Party allows SCC delegates to cast votes for people who never elected them, literally usurping their voice, while the representatives those people actually elected are present, but barred from voting. The Chair of the MDP Appeals Committee – the committee charged with enforcing the rules – is on tape asserting that “it’s not the role of the party” to enforce its own rules. The national Party has argued in open court that they don’t have to follow their own rules. No one outside the establishment trusts the Party to follow the rules at any level. Sometimes they follow the rules, and sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, it’s always to the benefit of those already in power and the detriment of everyone else – which is a pretty good definition of corruption.

That’s exactly the kind of thing progressives and leftists came into politics to fight against. The Democratic Party – national, state, or county – can’t grow if we’re using the tactics our allies specifically joined us to fight. They’ll leave. They won’t ally themselves with us anymore, because they can’t trust us to even follow our own rules. We aren’t fair, inclusive, transparent, or democratic. As we blast Trump for demolishing norms and trampling laws, how does it look when the Chair of the WCDP does the same inside our own Party? And for the same reason – privileging the powerful. If we want progressives to show up in our Party and stay around, we have to stop breaking the rules, and we definitely have to stop rewriting the rules to serve the powerful and silence the people. That’s exactly what the proposed endorsement would do implicitly, and the proposed rules change would do explicitly.

Savage wants to institutionalize “Blue No Matter Who,” taking away the power of the people to choose. As President Obama says in an ad against Trump and Republicans, “don’t let them take away your power.” Savage is trying to take away your power – to vote on endorsements and to make the Party welcoming to new people.

Don’t let him take your power.

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