Will the Massachusetts Democratic Party Experience Democracy?

Probably not. With Governor Deval Patrick leaving office at the end of this term, Democrats are jockeying to replace him. What’s unfortunate is the selection process for the Democratic nominee (boldface mine):

Any statewide candidate who wants to be listed on the Democratic ballot first must win support from 15 percent of some 5,000 delegates who are expected to gather at the state convention in June. In other words, party insiders will decide who “wins” the convention endorsement by garnering the most votes, who loses it, and who is barred completely from the ballot.

The way it looks now, as delegates are being chosen through local party caucuses, Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steven Grossman will be vying for the most support in Worcester. Lesser-known candidates such as Joseph Avellone, Donald Berwick, and Juliette Kayyem may or may not meet the 15 percent threshold. If they don’t, they’re done.

This is an unusual nominating process and a bad one. It puts too much power in the hands of activists and takes power away from the people, who never get a chance to vote for candidates deemed unacceptable by Democratic activists.

While Vennochi argues that it might prevent a more conservative Democrat from being listed on the ballot, I think the problem is more subtle than that. The delegates live in a political bubble, where things like ‘electability’ become important. I’ve learned over the years that Democratic insiders are the last people to figure out who is electable. I’m very concerned that someone like Donald Berwick, who is really strong on healthcare and education (and many other issues), but could be perceived as too liberal, won’t get the fifteen percent. Instead, high-profile candidates like Grossman and Coakley, both of whom are duds (and not very…’electable‘), will be shoo-ins for the ballot.

Just have a normal primary, with a run-off between the top two candidates if no one reaches fifty percent.

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3 Responses to Will the Massachusetts Democratic Party Experience Democracy?

  1. Newcastle says:

    I’m no fan of caucuses but who will act as the gate keeper for the primary? What happens when every tinfoil hatted nutcase in town files for your primary?

  2. Rob says:

    Completely disagree for what it’s worth. Your take on “party insiders” is off IMO. My wife and I moved back to Mass. in 2010. Volunteered for some campaigns, joined our DTC. This year I was elected as a delegate. It’s not that hard – we elected delegates who literally joined the DTC last week and others who aren’t involved at all. I’m about as liberal as it comes and, in my experience, delegates (elected, plus added youth and minority delegates, at least) actually trend more liberal than the primary electorate. At our caucus Berwick did very, very well.

    It seems to me that, if a person can’t organize well enough to get supporters elected to 15% of delegate spots or convince delegates he/she is worthy of support, that candidate is unlikely to win. I don’t have any problem with the current system, especially with the new rule requiring 15% on the first ballot, which eliminates much strategic horsetrading. Just my 2 cents.

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