Thursday, March 27, 2008

The LDP's Congressional District Caucus Elections Were Not Valid

The Louisiana Democratic Party (LDP) held elections for Congressional District Caucus chairs when the Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC) met in Baton Rouge on March 15 to elect the officers for the party Executive Committee.

Those Congressional District Caucus elections were not carried out in accordance with the party by-laws governing elections for those positions. The results of those votes, then, are not valid.

The party by-laws (PDF) provide specific guidance for how these 14 seats (two for each of the state's congressional districts) are to be filled. That can be found in Section 17 — Congressional District Caucuses, which reads in full:
A. Congressional District Caucuses shall be held in each of the State's Congressional Districts. These Caucuses shall be held for the purpose of electing representatives from each Congressional District to serve as members of the Executive Committee of the Democratic State Central Committee. A Congressional District Caucus shall be subordinate to the Democratic State Central Committee and shall not endorse candidates for public office.

B. A Congressional District Caucus shall be comprised of members of the Democratic State Central Committee who reside in and are registered to vote in the Congressional District. In addition, a Chairperson or First Vice-Chairperson of a Democratic Parish Executive Committee shall be a member of the Caucus in the Congressional District in which he/she resides and is registered to vote. All Caucus members shall be eligible for election as officers of the Caucus or as a Congressional District Representative to the Executive Committee of the Democratic State Central Committee.

C. The Chairperson of the Democratic State Central Committee shall call a meeting of each Congressional District Caucus no later than sixty (60) days following the organizational meeting of the Democratic State Central Committee on a date and at a place to be designated by the Chairperson. Members of the Caucuses shall be given at least ten (10) days advance notice of the date, time, and place of the meeting and shall be provided with the name, address, and to the extent possible, the telephone number of each Caucus member in his/her respective District when notice of the meeting is given. Caucus members present at the time of the meeting shall constitute a quorum.

D. Officers of each Congressional District Caucus shall be a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson, who shall be of the opposite sex of the Chairperson, and a Secretary. Each Caucus shall be represented on the Executive Committee of the Democratic State Central Committee by two members, one male and one female. The Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, and Secretary of a Caucus may also be elected to serve as a Caucus Representative to the Executive Committee of the Democratic State Central Committee. (Emphasis added.)
The "shall's" that are highlighted here are crucial.

As those of us who attended the March 15 DSCC meeting learned, "shall" is a powerful word. It is, according to the party chairman (Chris Whittington), the party legal counsel (Kenny Hooks), and the party parliamentarian (Sen. Derrick Shepherd), immutable. There is, they each said at various times that day, no way around "shall."

It is not a suggestion; it is a commandment.

So, Section 17 of the by-laws directs the party to hold these caucuses and the elections in the respective congressional districts and it lays out how this is to take place.

That section directs that these caucus meetings shall be held within 60 days after the creation of the new executive committee. That is, the person who served as chairman prior to March 15 could not convene these caucuses. The could be convened only by the new chairman and after each potential participant in the caucuses had been notified of the time and place of the various caucus meetings which are to be held in their respective congressional districts. There is also a 10-day advanced notice provision that could not be exercised until after the results of the election for chairman were determined.

It's right there in the by-laws. And there are a lot of "shall's" directing how this is to be done.

Having these elections in Baton Rouge around the meeting where the executive committee elections were held does not comply with the state party by-laws.

It does not matter how the party has done it in the past. The by-laws say "shall." There is no wiggle room.

There was an admission of procedural problems with the caucus elections in the 7th Congressional District, at the Tuesday, March 25, meeting of the Lafayette Parish Democratic Executive Committee. At that meeting, DSCC members Stephen Handwerk and Mary Werner told our committee (I'm a member of that committee), that they would hold a new election at a district-wide caucus that would be held sometime in April.

It was a magnanimous gesture that speaks well for them and their commitment to fair election processes in the party.

The other good Democrats who erroneously believe they were elected to similar positions
in Baton Rouge at the DSCC meeting should follow Stephen and Mary's lead and agree to step down and re-open the process so that the elections can be held in compliance with the party by-laws.

Newly re-elected party chairman Chris Whittington should act pro-actively to hold elections that will comply with the by-laws by first notifying those who mistakenly believed they were elected to these caucus chair positions on the 15th about the procedural error that allowed these caucuses to occur and those elections to take place. Then, he should work to call and convene the Congressional District Caucuses in the manner prescribed in the by-laws and call for these legitimate elections to be held at the appropriate time and place and in the way directed by the by-laws.

These are not trivial elections. They are for 14 seats on the LDP Executive Committee. Mr. Whittington says he has no agenda, that he does the bidding of the executive committee. These elections, then, are for control of the party.

Breaking a Disturbing Pattern

The casual, off-handed manner in which these Congressional District Caucuses were convened and these votes held is part of a disturbing pattern of disregard by Mr. Whittington and others on the executive committee for the sanctity and importance of elections as vehicles for conveying legitimacy.

While power, prestige and other assets accrue to the victors of elections, the victors do not win the right to pass judgment on the legitimacy of the process. That right is retained by the vanquished. It is a principle well established in international law (thus, opposition parties frequently call in international monitors to observe election processes for their transparency and fairness).

We've also seen a stark demonstration of this fact in our own country in recent years. In the eyes of the American public, Al Gore's decision in December 2000 to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision handing the presidency to George Bush cast more legitimacy on that decision and Bush's ascendancy was absolutely essential to the acceptance of that decision and that outcome.

Since February, Louisiana Democrats have engaged in three elections — the February 9th party primary; the March 1 party convention delegate elections; and, the March 15 state party executive committee elections.

It is both ironic and disturbing that the election in which there was the most confidence in both the process and the result was the February 9th election that was run by the Louisiana Secretary of State's office, which happens to be held by a Republican.

The delegate selection election was a farce. One of three polling places in Lafayette never opened. There were stories from across the state of un-tended ballot boxes, of delegate candidates campaigning at the ballot boxes, and people shuttling ballots between cities.

The party executive committee elections reeked of manipulation due to the fact that 27 people were appointed to the DSCC and allowed to vote for officers even though candidates other than the incumbent chairman and his cronies knew who these appointees were. To top that off, some of the appointees were allowed to vote by proxy without ever having seen or heard from any candidates other than those aligned with the chairman's ticket.

The failure of the party leadership to provide transparent and fair processes to govern party elections undermines confidence in the results of those elections and, thus, the party itself.

Democrats believe in fair elections. The way to ensure that the party is unified is for the party to conduct its business and its elections in a fair and transparent way. That approach will build confidence in the party and its leadership.

The Congressional District Caucus elections held on March 15 do not comply with the party by-laws. The results, therefore, are not valid. The Congressional District Caucus elections need to be carried out in a manner that complies with the by-laws. Doing this is an essential step toward building new confidence in the party's leadership that recent elections have done so much to undermine.

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