For the last four years I served as delegate to the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee. Thanks to a bad ballot position and lack of Party endorsement, I did not win re-election. No surprise that I did not get the Party endorsement, and in these very low profile races it is very difficult to win without it. I did very well in my ward, which strongly supported me, and nowhere else.
I decided to stay involved in the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus as an associate member. The caucus is open to all progressive Democrats, but only delegates to state committee have voting rights.
The Progressive Caucus has grown dramatically under the inspired leadership of former Chair Bruce Slater and former Vice Chair, currently Chair, Lani Frank. Unfortunately the Progressive Caucus has been viewed as a threat by some of the more backward elements in the Democratic Party. There was a concerted effort to defeat both Bruce and Lani. In Bruce’s case, the county Chair was so threatened she actually spent a lot of money to wage a campaign against him. Unfortunately, Bruce lost his election and is no longer Chair although he intends to stay involved. Fortunately, Lani did win and currently serves as chair.
The September Progressive Caucus meeting was the largest Progressive Caucus meeting I’ve attended. There was tremendous energy in the room with people eagerly signing up for a range of new committees. It seems as if the progressive caucus is becoming a much larger force within state committee.
The attendance at the state committee meeting was disappointingly low, apparently as result of the dispute between gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf and Party Chair Jim Burn. Historically, the Party tradition has been to allow the gubernatorial nominee to choose the Party Chair. This time there was resistance from grassroots delegates to what they saw as a top-down approach to decision making. I can certainly understand their feeling this way.
However, I was disappointed that Wolf‘s choice, Katie McGinty, did not become chair. Given that PA is a state with very few women elected officials, I had hoped that she would inspire women, particularly young women, to run for political office. For me, this was real conflict between my commitment to grassroots democracy and my commitment to electing more women political leaders.
But whoever is Party Chair, the Progressive Caucus is well-positioned to play a major role. The great strength of the caucus is its focus both on progressive issues and on transparent, democratic processes. Lani Frank signaled her commitment to continue this dual focus. She mentioned the caucus efforts to get consistent bylaws in all 67 PA counties to ensure that there is due process for committeepersons through out the state.
The caucus came very close to getting a bylaws amendment passed which would ensure fair, uniform procedures throughout the state, but failed to get the 2/3 majority necessary for passage. The caucus is planning to reintroduce this amendment and although we lost some progressives in the last election, we gained many new progressive members on state committee and thus may be closer to the numbers needed for passage of the bylaws amendment.
There is also a need for a fair process for choosing members to the Democratic National Committee, which in the past has been done through back-room deals rather than through an open, democratic process. The PA Democratic State Committee is somewhat election-averse. My first experience at State Committee was the meeting at which Jim Burn was elected as Party chair.
What we thought would be a contest for party chair and vice-chair was in Congressman Bob Brady’s memorable words “taken care of.” Before the members could vote, several candidates dropped out and a consensus team emerged.The Democratic National Committee delegate was chosen through the same kind of back room maneuvering. Although Burn had committed to developing an open process, he hadn’t yet established it, and when an unexpected vacancy occurred, he reverted to type. There was another candidate interested in running for the open slot, according to Lani Frank, but she/he was convinced to drop out of the race so that Nancy Mills could be elected by acclamation. Although Mills characterized herself as “very progressive”, her vote against the moratorium on fracking raised questions in my mind. If I were still a delegate and had a vote, I would have liked to have the opportunity to consider another candidate.
I would like to have heard their competing visions for future of the Democratic Party and their strategies for November, but it looks like that kind of debate doesn’t take place in open meetings.
There is now a Progressive Caucus subcommittee on internal party processes, which I joined. The PA Democratic Party sure needs some help in ensuring fair, transparent, democratic processes!