Sunday, January 15, 2012

Report on January 2012 PA Democratic State Committee meeting

I spent the weekend at State College at the PA Democratic State Committee meeting. My husband and most of my friends can’t believe I enjoy this, but yes this is my idea of a good time and one of the reasons I retired—more time for politics.

First, some good news: the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus is up and running; bylaws have been passed and officers elected. Bruce Slater, the chair of the caucus, wants to address the issue of Tracey Gordon, a duly elected committeeperson the party refuses to seat, as a state-wide issue. Apparently Philly is not the only place where the Democratic Party violates basic democratic principles. So the remedy for Tracey Gordon is being pursued on two tracks—in court and in Democratic State Committee.

Also, thanks to the efforts of Brad Kirsch, the Senior Caucus is up and running. Brad made a powerful case for the importance of the Senior Caucus. Seniors used to be a reliably Democratic voting bloc, but as Brad put it, the Republicans “have stolen them.” He plans an aggressive campaign around the state to get the Democratic message out to seniors.

In the bad news category, at the Progressive Caucus meeting, Daniel McCaffrey, a candidate for Attorney General, referred to one of his opponents, Kathleen Kane, as “a sweetheart.” Philadelphia Party Chair Bob Brady, when discussing the candidates with the Philadelphia Caucus, referred to her as "somebody named Kane—can’t remember her name.” Considering that signs for Kathleen Kane were plastered all over the convention hotel, it’s hard to believe he couldn’t remember her first name. When she arrived to address the group, Brady did manage to remember her first name but introduced her as “the young lady.” Maybe I’m being overly sensitive but those "sweetheart" and “young lady” references rankled.

The real action at the State Committee meeting was the Attorney General’s race. There are three strong candidates for Attorney General. I was torn between two candidates, Patrick Murphy and Kathleen Kane. I thought Murphy gave the most powerful presentation on the issues, and made a good argument about his electability and willingness to take tough stands for which he might pay a political price. Murphy was the first Congressperson outside of Illinois to endorse Barack Obama. He spoke very movingly about the impact of having lost 19 persons in his division in Iraq, and added that his very early endorsement of Obama was based largely on Obama’s stand against the Iraq war. My husband, who is a Murphy supporter, made a very good point: an Attorney General needs guts and Murphy has demonstrated that he has the courage to stand up for what he believes is right. Murphy is an impressive candidate.

But having written articles and made presentations about the importance of electing women, and having invested time and money in organizations which encourage women to run for office, when a very well-qualified woman runs, how can I not support her?

So I went back and forth, unable to decide what to do. However, from a source least expected, a solution arose. At the Philadelphia Caucus meeting, Chair Brady was giving out proxy votes—perhaps because he was concerned there would not be a quorum. He asked the group if any delegates had driven to State College with anyone who was not a delegate and would like a proxy vote. I raised my hand and said, "My husband was good enough to drive me here and he would like a proxy vote." So my dilemma was more or less resolved. In a sense I had 2 votes; Rick would vote for Patrick Murphy and I would vote for Kathleen Kane.

Daniel McCaffrey was number 3 on my list. At the Philadelphia Caucus meeting, Chair Brady introduced him as someone who wanted to run before “but we told him to wait—now it’s his turn.” This is the way the Philadelphia Democratic Party machine works: a potential candidate does pro bono work for the party, demonstrates the requisite loyalty and then waits for his/her turn. I’m very happy there are stellar candidates like Murphy and Kane who are willing to step forward and not wait until the Party machine decides it’s their turn.

McCaffrey stressed his extensive experience and told the Philadelphia Caucus “Don’t vote for Kathleen Kane because she’s a woman; don’t vote for Patrick Murphy because of his stand on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Base your decision on which candidate has the best chance of beating the Republican in November.” McCaffrey reckons that because of his experience as a prosecutor he is that candidate. Yes, experience matters, but so do energy, enthusiasm, and a fresh perspective.

Brady’s impassioned plea for McCaffrey ended with the argument that McCaffrey was from Philadelphia and Philadelphians had to stick together. Not a convincing argument, from my point of view. Rick thought that Brady did a good job of making the case for McCaffrey. I didn’t, but I was the minority in that room. The Philadelphia delegation was clearly receptive to McCaffrey.

Brady ended the Philadelphia Caucus meeting by stating he would not retaliate against anyone who did not vote for McCaffrey: “I do look at the names on the ballots but I won’t hold it against anyone if you don’t vote for McCaffrey.” (Delegates must sign their names to the ballots.) Reassurance or veiled threat? You decide.

The actual balloting took a while, as there is a roll call vote, with each delegation stating how its members would vote. This was quite interesting because you could tell where each candidate’s base of support was if you were familiar with the location of the counties. Next time I’ll bring a map of PA counties with me. Fortunately, Rick somehow knew where most of these counties were located and so we could piece together a pattern. Kane’s support appeared to be primarily in her home base of Northeastern PA, McCaffrey’s primarily in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas, and Murphy’s spread throughout the state. Of course this doesn’t necessarily reflect the voters in the Philadelphia area. With support from Mayor Nutter, Congressman Chaka Fattah and other Philadelphia elected officials, Murphy could very well win in Philadelphia in April.

The results of the first ballot were:

Philadelphia CountyKane: 1(my vote!); McCaffrey: 40; Murphy: 8
All counties: Kane: 58; McCaffrey: 99; Murphy: 161

Endorsement requires a 2/3 majority for endorsement. If no candidate gets a majority, the two highest vote getters go on to the second ballot. The results were:

Philadelphia County: McCaffrey: 40; Murphy: 9
All counties: McCaffrey: 125; Murphy: 191

No candidate received the 2/3 majority necessary for endorsement (211 votes were required), and so there was no endorsement. As a result, there will probably be a 3-way primary in April. The good news is that all three candidates are well qualified and all three have positions consistent with Democratic values on social issues. Unifying the party around the eventual winner should not be difficult.

The bad news (for me) is that I will have to make a tough choice between two strong candidates. I won’t get to vote for both Murphy and Kane in April. At this point, my bet is on Murphy as the eventual winner—-both because of his broad-based support and because he is such a hard worker. One revealing incident: while the second round ballots were being handed out, Murphy was going around asking people for their vote on the second ballot, not letting a minute go to waste. McCaffrey was standing around chatting with Brady. Kane was not in my line of vision, so I have no idea how she was spending this time. She was no longer a candidate but the rumor (and I have no direct knowledge of this) was she was encouraging her supporters to vote for McCaffrey so that neither candidate could get 2/3 of the vote, thus ensuring an open primary.

Although all the attention was on the Attorney General’s race, there were other votes for candidates unopposed in the primary: Bob Casey, U.S. Senate; Eugene DiPasquale, Auditor General; Rob Mc Cord, Treasurer. To me, the most impressive was Rob McCord who is smart, funny, a natural politician. We Democrats have some seriously good candidates—-a real contrast to the ideologically confused, ethically challenged candidates the Republican Party puts up.

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