Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Whittington proves he is unfit to serve

Chris Whittington has resorted to subterfuge in a desperate attempt to hold on to his job as chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party (LDP).

He must be stopped.

Whittington's subterfuge became apparent only on Tuesday of this week, four days before the election for party officers. On that day, the Louisiana Democratic Party released a list of appointments made by Whittington to fill 27 of the 41 vacancies on the DSCC.

Whittington's defenders say that he did not try to "pack" those slots with people favorable only to him.

I don't believe that. One person personally told me that she was offered a seat on the DSCC if she would support Whittington's re-election. The offer came from a sitting member of the LDP executive committee who lives in the same House district as this woman. I don't believe this offer has been the exception; I believe it has been the rule.

The "not packing" argument also misses the point by a mile.

The point is that for the past four months, as Whittington has been assembling this list of hand-picked potential DSCC members, he and his camp have been the only parties to the LDP election that have access to the names on that list. Other candidates for chair (as well as other offices) were denied access to that pool of voters.

These are not the acts of a person interested in conducting a fair election. These are the acts of a person determined to use any means necessary -- legitimate or otherwise -- in order to hold power. One can only wish he'd used as much imagination and creativity against Republicans last year that he's using against fellow Democrats in this race.

This goes to the heart of the ability of the LDP to conduct an open and fair election. The 27 people Whittington wants to appoint constitute a captive constituency who have not been exposed to or heard from the other candidates for chairman in the race. Those people constitute almost 16 percent of the total of the DSCC and, if allowed to vote, would constitute almost 14 percent of all votes cast.

This is more than enough votes to change the outcome of this closely contested election.

BACKGROUND

To understand what Whittington is attempting, one must go back to December of 2007 when Democrats across the state filed to run for seats on the Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC). Theoretically, the DSCC is governing body of the LDP. It has 210 seats (two for every House district in the Louisiana Legislature; one seat for a male, one seat for a female).

When qualifying ended in December, there were 41 seats for which no one had submitted qualifying papers and fees.

With the party coming off a disastrous round of state elections in which we lost the governor's office, the secretary of state, the commissioner of insurance, and the commissioner of agriculture and forestry, dissatisfaction with Whittington's performance was running high (and still does).

The race for chairman has turned into a hotly contested six-candidate field, with Whittington trying to fend off challenges from Paul Aucoin (running with the support of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, Congressman Charles Melancon, and Lt. Gov. Mitchell Landrieu), Opelousas Mayor Donald Cravins Sr., Larry Ferdinand, William Sumlin, and Dr. Steve Kirkikis. I've endorsed Mayor Cravins.

It is widely believed within the party that Aucoin and Cravins have the votes to force a run-off that might not include Whittington. That belief, though, is based on the idea that there are 169 eligible voters who will cast their ballots when the DSCC meets this Saturday in Baton Rouge.

Questions arose about how those 41 vacancies would be filled shortly after the end of the December qualifying period. One party officer assured me personally and others publicly that, according to the state party by-laws, the vacancies could not be filled until after the election of the new slate of officers.

That view is based on Article I, Section 9 of the Party By-laws, which reads:

Section 9 - Election of Officers

At the first meeting following the election of new members of the Democratic State Central Committee, the newly-elected members shall elect officers for the Party in accordance with the Louisiana Election Code and the Louisiana Democratic Party Constitution. (Emphasis added.)

Under this rule, only the DSCC members who qualified for office but were unopposed or who won election to the DSCC in the February 9 election could vote on the new slate of officers, including the chairman.

But, Whittington and his coterie of lawyers cite Article I, Section 4 of the by-laws that call for the chairman to fill vacancies as soon as possible after they occur. That section reads:
Section 4 - Vacancies

A. A vacancy occurs in the membership of the Democratic State Central Committee when a member dies, resigns, no longer meets the qualifications for membership on the Committee, or no one qualifies and is elected to succeed a member whose four-year term has expired.

B. In the case of a vacancy on the Democratic State Central Committee, the Chairperson of the Democratic State Central Committee shall appoint a member to serve for the remainder of the unexpired term subject to the approval of a majority of the membership of the Democratic State Central Committee in attendance at a legally constituted meeting. The person(s) appointed must meet the guidelines provided in the Louisiana Democratic Party Constitution for membership on the Democratic State Central Committee and shall be required to pay a filing fee equal to the Party fee assessed by the Parish Clerk of Court as set forth in La. Rev. Stat. Title 18:464. Such filing fee shall be shared equally between the Democratic State Central Committee and the Parish Executive Committee from where the appointed member resides. All persons appointed may serve as temporary members until ratified at the first order of business by a majority vote of the Democratic State Central Committee.
These two sections provide some ambiguity as to the proper course for seating new members, but for Whittington to act unilaterally and with such stealth are what call his motives into question and raise questions about his suitability for office.

FAIRNESS & TRANSPARENCY DENIED

The issue is that Whittington has concealed the list of appointments and, thus, denied his competitors access to voters who will decide his own fate as party chair. He has denied his competitors — and the party — the benefit of a fairly contested election.

The official response of Whittington and his backers is that "everyone who's been on the committee for a while knows that this is how we handle these matters." Whittington's supporters like to portray him as something of a reformer in the party. But, replacing one club with the members of another club is not reform. It is a coup.

What this party needs is open and transparent processes, which generate trust and confidence among its members. Whittington's attempt to manipulate this election ignore that need and, in fact, will do great damage to the members' confidence in the party and its leaders.

His acts fail the test of transparency and fairness necessary to bestow legitimacy on the results of any election.

If these heretofore-secret DSCC members are allowed to vote, the outcome will be tainted because of the way Whittington restricted access to this pool of potential voters. Imagine being a candidate for a district office and finding out four days before the election that the district boundaries have been expanded by your opponent to increase the size of the district by 16 percent.

This tactic would not pass the standards that international election observers use in second and third world countries where they certify the fairness of elections there. It should not be good enough for the LDP.

By this brazen attempt to steal the election of LDP offices, Chris Whittington has proven that he is not worthy to hold the seat he so desperately wants to keep. It is a clear demonstration that he does not care about the fate of the party; that his sole concern is his own grip on power.

Does he really believe he would have a chairmanship worth having -- one considered legitimate in the eyes of party members -- if he goes through with his plan to manipulate this election?

CONTEMPTIBLE

Whittington's ploy demonstrates wide-ranging contempt for the our party, its members and its traditions.

Whittington shows contempt for Democratic National Committee, which in every national election deploys a phalanx of attorneys as part of its election integrity project to ensure that elections are carried out in a fair and transparent manner across the country.

Whittington's brazen attempt to manipulate this election would not pass the DNC's basic test for fairness. To hear him talk about his commitment to "seeing through to completion" projects started by the DNC and then to try to subvert this election is nauseating.

Chris Whittington has demonstrated contempt for the state party at multiple levels. He has demonstrated contempt for:
  • the state party election process by denying a level playing field for all candidates;
  • the members of the DSCC by not providing them a clear set of rules as to how those vacancies will be filled and how this election will be conducted; and
  • all Democrats who took part in the party elections in February in the belief that they were taking part in a meaningful process that could produce a more vibrant party.
Chris Whittington has demonstrated his contempt for, of all things, democratic processes in the Democratic Party.

ETHICALLY UNFIT TO SERVE

On an earlier occasion, I said that my opposition to Whittington was not personal, that it was based on the quality of leadership he had not provided the party during his tenure. This changes that.

It is personal now.

Chris Whittington's attempt to steal this election provides conclusive proof that he is not ethically fit to serve as chairman of this party.

1 comment:

Daniel Z. said...

"It is widely believed within the party that Aucoin and Cravins have the votes to force a run-off that might not include Whittington....

... All persons appointed may serve as temporary members until ratified at the first order of business by a majority vote of the Democratic State Central Committee."

If Aucoin and Cravins had the votes to make a runoff, why would those DSCC members vote for Whittingtons appointees? Such a vote should have taken place before the election for DSCC chair (according to the wording of the official rules of the party) and those voters could have simply said "no" to the appointments and the membership would have stayed at 169.

And then if the Chair would have ruled that they could have voted, the body could have challenged the ruling of the chair and again, if there really existed enough votes for the other two to make a runoff with 169, the ruling of the chair would have been overturned.

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