The Democratic Party of California called for the elimination of superdelegates after it’s convention Sunday. Behind the effort was Christine Pelosi, daughter of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and a superdelegate herself.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Pelosi is a supporter of Hillary Clinton, but she has long opposed the use of superdelegates in the Democratic party’s primary. It aligned her with many of what she calls her “new friends the young Bernie Sanders’ supporters,” who have been against adding the superdelegates to the final count as each state’s primary and caucuses are called.
“I think there are a lot of people who are saying, ‘why do we have to think about these things in the same way?'” Pelosi said via phone Sunday evening. “Why can’t we get a white piece of paper and conceptualize what we want politics to be, what we want policy to be? Why are we stuck?”
Pelosi said that many people at the California Democratic Convention didn’t know the history of superdelegates. They make up the 712-person block of voters, who are allowed to support the candidate of their choice, regardless of the candidate their state supports. It goes back to a secret meeting, the 1982 Hunt Commission. The party was so eager to win in the 1984 election, that they built the system to give party insiders the power to choose the nominee that could win, rather than one that activists chose.
Pelosi not only doesn’t support it, she said that her mother Nancy Pelosi, just an activist in 1982, didn’t support when they tried to push it through.
“My mother opposed them 30 years ago, ran for national chair and lost, in part because people told her, ‘I’m not voting for you because you want to get rid of my status as a superdelegate and I want to remain one.’ Plot twist: She got elected to Congress and became Speaker of the House, which was better for the country, the way it turned out. But she’s been opposed for 30 years. Eight years ago she and I had something the activists dubbed ‘The Pelosi Club’ that was superdelegates who pledged to give our superdelegate vote to the winner of the pledged delegate count.”
As Pelosi recalled, establishment people don’t like getting their power taken away, and resist handing it over as new people come into the fold. “Also, people who are not thinking very creatively about something big and bold and different, because they’re just trying to compare us to what we know now and the way we do things now,” she said.
While she has always supported Clinton and hated the superdelegate plan, Pelosi met with Sanders’ supporters and reiterated the testimony she gave in Idaho seven years ago, when the issue of superdelegates came up in the 2008 election.
“It was amazing to me how many people didn’t know how the superdelegate process worked,” she said. “There was tremendous frustration because Bernie had won in early states, whose superdelegates were and remain for Hillary, even though they ultimately said they were going to vote at the convention, and those votes were counted. Instead of not counting them until July 28th. And the whole thing is over before somebody drops out because there’s a winner.”
She got the sense that there was a lot of anger and frustration because people “went to bed and your person won and you got up the next day and see it’s a tie and say, ‘wait a second!'”
She posed this question about a stadium of 20,000 people who want to be a delegate: Why not? “Why do you have to have a system where voters can have their power taken away?”
Even though superdelegates have only been used a few times to break ties since they were created in 1982, Pelosi thinks there is a fear among many that if superdelegates are taken away that it will remain that way permanently. “Why does it, all of the sudden, have to be that this is the way it’s forever going to be?” she asked, remarking that the party should grow and evolve over time.
Her second recommendation the California Democratic party passed to the national DNC, is that caucuses should go, or at the very least, they should allow vote-by-mail ballots, so that every person who wants to participate can participate. Caucuses held at a specific time and place force people constrained by work or even disability out of the process at a time Pelosi believes the Democratic party should be encouraging more people to be included.
“There was a natural cognitive dissonance, again, the caucus-goer who says, ‘oh, well, my person won the caucus by 7,000 votes’ and the governor who says, ‘well, that’s nice, but I got elected by a million votes,'” Pelosi explained. “So, our voices don’t necessarily have to be the same. That’s why you eliminate caucuses because I think people would be sympathetic to the fact that there are elected officials that get hundreds of thousands of votes vs. caucuses that get a few thousand.”
The lack of a “trusted referee” who could explain to voters what was happening lead to problems. “It’s a big reason you’ve seen the turn-off,” she said.
“Every time new people come into a process there is always, always, a tension between a presidential candidate and everybody else,” Pelosi explained. In many state parties, there are activists who have been involved for decades, but during presidential years new people, often times young people, get involved for the first time. “As a party person you can either say, ‘ug, you people don’t know anything about the rules. They don’t know about the process. They don’t respect those who’ve been around.’ Or they can say, ‘thank God you’re here! We’ve been waiting for the fresh recruits!'”
She quoted her mom who often uses the saying “you can’t add by subtraction,” as a philosophy, explains perfectly why the party should be more eager and willing to include those new people who come in from the presidential races. “You can always make room for other people,” she said, citing an instance in 2008 when several young people in one district wanted to be Assembly-level delegates and the party expanded the roster to accommodate them.
One of the greatest challenges, Pelosi explains, is for any person (candidate or activist) to fight back against the status quo. “Self-doubt or ‘the way we do things’ that has always been the most punishing and difficult and challenging for people to get past.” But that’s exactly what she and many young people and Sanders supporters are hoping to do.
Her overall goal, however, is to maximize political participation while taking on “systemic racism, voter depression, voter suppression and the inherent unfairness of the undemocratic electoral college.” But, she recognizes that to do so means cleaning the Democratic house first and making it more democratic. That begins with superdelegates.