Veni, vidi, very weary

June 13, 2006 by barbara

I'm a DFL convention survivor. That means I have completed my stint as a voting delegate at the MN Dem party's annual endorsing convention. And let me tell you, it was really something.

Where else would you see hundreds of adults parading around an auditorium with brightly-colored signs held high, shouting out names and slogans like kids on a sugar-buzz? Where else but on "The Sopranos" would you hear a whole cadre of people referred to sotto voce as "persuaders"? Where else would freezing the floor mean something other than bringing in the Zamboni crew?

Obviously (?) there was more to it than that. Here's the short form. We arrived. They speechified. We shouted our approval. We voted. We waited. We voted and waited some more. We ate mounds of stuff that passed for food, hoisted a toddy or two, and slept little. We came back each new morning for more. We endorsed some candidates and broke the hearts of others. And then we went home.

The state convention is the culmination of what I've come to view as an arcane process that officially begins with precinct caucuses in March. In truth, most of the candidates had been hard at work for months (and in some cases, years) before then.

Generally speaking, it works like this. What starts with a sizeable number of citizens at those spring caucuses is reduced significantly as diehards and a few newcomers move on to district conventions. After that come Congressional district conventions and finally the state convention.

By June, the thousands who attended caucuses have been winnowed down to some 1,300 delegates who trek to the state convention to choose Minnesota's candidates for state and national office. Those choices are written in stone, except when they're not. Sometimes candidates decide to bypass or refuse to abide by the party endorsement and do their own thing by running in the September primaries. Think Bell and Lourey.

Now then, full disclosure: All but one of my preferred candidates were endorsed at the state convention, so I am not speaking from a vantage point overlooking a platterful of sour grapes.

That said, I think the endorsement process may have outlived its useful life. It's a total insider's game. I know this because I teeter on the brink of insiderness. The endorsement process is a powerbroker's playground. It's rough and definitely not for the faint of heart. Ultimately, a small number of people makes the candidate choices. (By the way, this is not unique to Democrats. Our Republican brethren and sistern go forth and do likewise.) I know it was ever thus, but that doesn't necessarily make it right.

I've heard it argued that the population at large just doesn't care and can't be entrusted with choosing good candidates, given their ignorance about Things Political. Isn't it possible that ambivalence may be due at least in part to the fact that it's not a user-friendly process? In an era of stressed-out, time-crunched people, it might behoove us to make some accommodations that will make it easier to get involved and stay that way.

Since we generally end up with primaries anyway, why not jettison the costly and time-consuming endorsement process, go straight to primaries, incorporate Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and let the greatest possible number of people choose our standard-bearers?

The savings in both human and financial resources would be immense. Assuming 10 hour days on average, the state convention takes up 30,000 person-hours and many thousands of dollars. Those resources could be channeled to individual candidates and to party activities that promote successful election outcomes.

Some people live and breathe the fun of conventions and the endorsing chaos. It was interesting. But in the interest of environmental protection (gasoline consumption, mountains of trash generated, etc.), greater inclusion in the process, and the fact that the future of the planet is at stake, it seems to me that fun should not be the main consideration.

Two primary messages emerged from this convention: the DFL will be powerfully united moving forward (and) the DFL is the party of real, meaningful change. Can we live out those principles? Strike up the band and hand me a sign: "Yes, we can!"

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