Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Howard Dean: Right on Rules, Wrong on History

Former Vermont governor, presidential candidate and DNC chair, Howard Dean has an interesting op/ed online at the Washington Post. Basically, he is making the same arguments FHQ has been making since 2009 and 2010: That the delegate selection rules and penalties put in place by the Republican National Committee for the 2012 cycle were not sufficient to prevent the type of calendar positioning used by states  in 2008.  Said Dean:
But states do not have the legal right to change the national party’s rules. If the national parties are willing to use their power to protect the integrity of the process, they can force states into compliance. The Republican Party seems unwilling to do so. Its first mistake happened months ago, when it decided that states that move their primaries would lose 50 percent, rather than 100 percent, of their delegates. Under the current system, for example, even if Florida violates the rules and loses half its 198 delegates, it would still have more than New Hampshire (23) and Iowa (28) combined. As a candidate, if you think you can win Florida, there is no reason not to encourage the state to move its date.
As the RNC considers its options, it should remember that while states are under no obligation to pay for the nominating contests set by the national parties, the parties are under no obligation to recognize the results from states that have violated the rules. To preserve the agreed-upon system in this cycle, the RNC must show it is prepared to enforce the rules, and to consider additional sanctions if necessary.
Dean's right. He is correct that the lack of changes to the RNC rules have led to the Arizona mess, the Florida problem and the Nevada-New Hampshire dispute. FHQ also agrees with the former governor that the best way to keep states in line is to remove the carrot that entices states into moving in the first place: candidate and media attention (and the benefits that go along with that). By crafting and enforcing tough rules and penalties on violating states and by punishing candidates who campaign in those states, a national party would be on firm footing to deal with the "rogue" problem. Again, this is something that FHQ has recently argued in favor of.

In all fairness, particularly to the RNC, though, Dean has partially revised history here. The Democratic Party did not have a rule to strip a state of 100% of its delegates for violation of the timing rules during the 2008 cycle. Rule 20.C.1.a from the delegate selection rules that bear the former party chairman's name says:

Violation of timing: In the event the Delegate Selection Plan of a state partyprovides or permits a meeting, caucus, convention or primary which constitutesthe first determining stage in the presidential nominating process to be held priorto or after the dates for the state as provided in Rule 11 of these rules, or in theevent a state holds such a meeting, caucus, convention or primary prior to or aftersuch dates, the number of pledged delegates elected in each category allocated to the state pursuant to the Call for the National Convention shall be reduced byfifty (50%) percent, and the number of alternates shall also be reduced by fifty(50%) percent. In addition, none of the members of the Democratic NationalCommittee and no other unpledged delegate allocated pursuant to Rule 8.A. fromthat state shall be permitted to vote as members of the state’s delegation. Indetermining the actual number of delegates or alternates by which the state’sdelegation is to be reduced, any fraction below .5 shall be rounded down to thenearest whole number, and any fraction of .5 or greater shall be rounded up to thenext nearest whole number.
Yes, the DNC rules called for the same 50% penalty for which both the RNC and DNC rules for 2012 call. The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee in the late summer of 2007 decided to make an example of Florida and increase the 50% penalty to 100%. That same penalty was imposed on Michigan when it did not heed the party's warning. 

Dean also forgets how all of this played out in 2008. The same Rules and Bylaws Committee later gave Florida and Michigan both half of their delegates back in a meeting the weekend prior to the last round of primaries in early June. And then the party seated the full delegations from both states at the Denver convention later in the summer. 

Howard Dean is absolutely right about the type of penalties and enforcement necessary to correct this quadrennial issue, but he in no way does his argument any service by claiming that the Democratic Party did not do in 2008 exactly what he claims the RNC is now doing. Both parties are guilty of caving into the states and it would benefit both to work together to craft a plan and enforcement mechanism that would help the two national parties present a unified front against any would-be rogue states in the future.

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1 comment:

astrojob said...

It's true that the initial 100% delegate penalty for Florida and Michigan was later reversed, but only after it was already clear that it wouldn't actually have an impact on the nomination. The FL/MI delegate advantage that accrued to Hillary Clinton when the initial penalty was rescinded was not big enough to give her the lead in pledged delegates, and everyone knew that at the time. It's like giving a losing team extra points after they've already lost. The points are irrelevant if you lost.

So, in that sense, the DNC successfully prevented Florida and Michigan from having meaningful primaries in 2008 on the Democratic side. The candidates boycotted both states, and the states only got their delegates back once it was clear that it wouldn't affect the outcome.

But the price was that the national party engaged in a messy public relations war with the two states. Do the parties really care enough about "fixing" the primary system that they're interested in engaging in this kind of public spat with these states every four years from now on? And do they want to risk the possibility that in a future election, the nomination will in fact hinge on whether disputed delegates are seated or not? Do they really care enough about later primaries that they want to risk that, or does the current system work well enough for them, that they're happy not to make the penalties too onerous?