Breakdown: 10/2/17 State Committee Meeting
By popular demand, a Real Politics: The TV Show on the State Committee Meeting
If you're interested in my play-by-play take, I live tweeted the meeting. However, I don’t think my tweets adequately capture the level of disappointment I had in our Party leadership.
The main issue going into the State Committee meeting on October 2, was three rules changes which had been postponed at the last meeting in September. Their purpose was to limit the size and composition of the Executive Board, as well as give the full State Committee a say in who serves as the Party’s Executive Director.
At this point, the question of whether or not the amendments were good isn’t even the issue. I accept many of the points raised by critics and would have been interested to hear amendments to the proposed changes. Rather, the problem is the hollow process used to distract and waste the time of elected State Committee members.
The Last Meeting
After the last meeting in September (my full report can be found here), much ado was made about convening a subcommittee to review the proposed changes for consideration at this last meeting. While the subcommittee was established as promised, it contained members who are NOT elected to the State Committee and offered no changes or feedback on the amendments. While this seemed odd, it did at least seem to demonstrate follow through on the promises Party leadership had given the full Committee.
With no feedback, from the subcommittee, the reforms were placed on the agenda for last Monday’s meeting and State Committee members were given notice we would be considering them. This turned out to be a half-truth.
At every State Committee meeting, before the full Committee meets, the Executive Board convenes. And, on every proposed resolution, it votes on how it thinks the State Committee should vote. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with the Executive Committee voting to give a recommendation to the State Committee. However, the State Committee has generally proven a rubber stamp for the Executive Committee’s recommendation. Given that face, and given the rigamarole that had gone into preparing the State Committee for consideration of the resolutions, I was blindsided when the Executive Committee moved to kill all three and forgo any discussion.
Now, it is important to note the manner in which the Executive Committee kills things because, for those unfamiliar with Parliamentary procedure, it can be a confusing, unbeatable whirlwind. It also sets the tone for how the State Committee conducts its business. Because the Executive Committee can only issue recommendations to the State Committee, its prefered method for killing things is not to recommend “No” vote, but rather to “Table” topics.
A Motion to Table is a very specific action - it takes a motion (like considering resolutions) and it moves it lower down the agenda. Because of the innocuousness of Tabling, there is NO debate; either on the motion to table or on the items being tabled. Consequently, as a means to bury motions, it comes with one giant pitfall. At anytime, someone with the floor may motion to “Take From The Table” and resume work on the tabled motion. As a result, in order to kill a vote entirely, it is critical that the Chair never cede the floor to any person who may recall the matter before the meeting is adjourned.
This lead to an extremely stifled meeting of the full State Committee. One in which Points of Information - that is, questions from the audience - were completely ignored. Points of Information are SUPPOSED to receive precedence over all other matters; as the rules of Parliamentary Procedure value informed participants. However, even though no motions can be made from a Point of Information, the fear to cede the floor was so great that I, personally, had to shout “Point of Information” for several minutes just to force an answer to my mundane question.
Due to my persistence, I was the only Point of Information that was heard, even though there were plenty others who attempted to make them. Instead, State Committee members were asked to wait until everyone on the dais had finished speaking to pose their questions (even though in Parliamentary settings, questions are meant to be made when the matter under inquiry is on the floor).
In the end, it was clear why waiting was so important. When the agenda items were exhausted, people rose to make announcements. People also rose to ask questions. And, when it became clear that Zephyr Teachout was walking to the front of the room to take the floor and make a motion, the dais called for adjournment.
Another parliamentary factoid - A Motion To Adjourn is always in order and takes precedence over everything else. No matter what else is happening, a motion to adjourn must have a vote.
As a result, as soon as it appeared there was a moment of space for State Committee members to have their voice heard, the meeting was summarily, and unceremoniously, ended.
Perhaps it should have been evident when the circulated agenda anticipated the meeting lasting from 10am to 1pm; including all agenda items, an hour for Caucus meetings and the Executive Board meeting. Afterall, how can proper consideration of Rules changes be done within a single hour?
In the end, there was one beneficial side effect of the meeting’s ham-fisted running. I met several State Committee members who had a bad taste left in their mouth. Democracy is based on consent of the governed, every time leaders keep voters out they lose a piece of their legitimacy. While my report may be disheartening, I promise that if we continue to show up it will be a temporary situation. Politics often revolves around whoever is left standing. I urge everyone reading - State Committee members, Democratic Primary voters, or concerned citizens - to stay involved.
And, if you can, please chip in a donation to help fund my efforts to reform the State Party.
The Executive Board of the NY State Democratic State Committee