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Fight over delegate rules for '88.

This spring the Democratic Party will select yet another commission to review the way it nominates Presidential candidates. The latest model, the Fairness Commission, is the party's fifth effort to review its rules in the past sixteen years.

The first of the five, the McGovern-Fraser Commission of 1969, made what Byron Shafer, author of Quiet Revolution, called "the most extensive planned change in the process of delegate selection--and hence presidential nomination--in all of American history." It issued rules requiring state parties to codify and publicize their delegate selection rules, encouraged the participation of all those who called themselves Democrats and reduced the influence of elected officials and other members of the party establishment on the nominating process.

Although the magnitude of the reforms was not appreciated at the time, they soon had important consequences. In the 1972 primaries, candidates who failed to understand the new system, notably Edmund Muskie, lost to George McGovern, who understood that the rules favored a strategy of mobilizing voters at the grass roots. Four years later, Jimmy Carter, who also recognized the importance of early tests of popular strength, beat candidates like Senator Henry Jackson, who entered the race too late. While the rules did not guarantee that any candidate who concentrated on winning popular support would win the nomination, they weeded out those who could not run that sort of campaign.

The McGovern-Fraser Commission was an effort by reformers to democratize party procedures and to involve people who had been left out of the party decision-making process. Subsequent commissions have been dominated by Presidential hopefuls, trying to shape the next nomination centest to their advantage; the Fairness Commission will be no exception.

The resolution that created the Fairness Commission was passed by the Rules Committee of the Democratic Convention during a meeting in Washington last June. The resolution reflects the separate but overlapping demands of supporters of Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart, who believe that the 1984 system was rigged against their man. The Jackson staff's grievances, real and imagined, are embodied in Resolution 7 of the Rules Committee Report, and Hart's are in Resolution 8. Both focus on the same set of rules, but the approach them in different ways.

The first question they address is whether the caucus system, used in some states to choose convention delegates, should be preserved. Jackson's followers want to examine the possibility of eliminating caucuses altogether. Under the current system, delegates to a caucus are elected from each precinct or other political subunit. In some heavily black districts, Jackson drew an unprecedentedly high number of votes. In Fort Worth, for example, he garnered 418 votes compared with Mondale's 29 and Hart's 3. He had 248 more votes than he needed to win every delegate from that district, but that margin did not show up in his total number of delegates statewide. The same thing happened in other caucus states such as Virginia and Mississippi: the number of caucus delegates pledged to Jackson failed to reflect his percentage of the popular vote.

The Hart section of the report proposes that caucuses be open to all Democrats, rather than only to those who were registered as party members prior to the caucus vote, and that they be held in the smallest convenient voting units. Some Hart supporters believe that he would have done better had some form of preregistration not been required for caucus voters in Texas and Kentucky and had voters in Michigan been able to cast their ballots at the usual polling places.

This proposal would help candidates who lack an organization but who attract nonaligned, Civic-minded voters. Hart did well in caucus states like Maine, where dhundreds of yuppies who had never voted as Democrats walked into caucuses and supported him. Presumably in 1988 he will be able to afford the kind of campaign needed to win in caucus states. The Hart camp's proposal will serve its leader's interests if he does not become the candidate of the Democratic establishment and if no other candidate captures his independent constituency.

Hart and Jackson followers also raise the question of when the first primaries and caucuses should be held. The Jackson proposal calls for the Fairness Commission to examine whether the large number of early primaries and caucuses held within a few weeks' time work to the advantage of well-financed front-running candidates. Even though Hart, with hardly any organization and little money, competed in twenty contests in one week and almost ended Walter Mondale's candidacy, the Jackson people contend that the bunching together of a number of contests early in the game cut short the nominating process. The Hart campaign wants to preserve the early pollings in Iowa and New Hampshire, although some people think those states have a disproportionate say in choosing Presidential candidates. Front-runners fall and little-known candidates emerge there--Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire in 1968, McGovern in New Hampshire in 1972, Carter in Iowa in 1976 and Hart in New Hampshire in 1984.

It is not surprising that Hart feels kindly toward those states, but that affection could backfire in 1988. Hart could well be the favorite that year. If so, he would find himself playing Mondale to a new Hart in those contests.

Both Hart and Jackson supporters also want the commission Presidential candidates. The previous rules commission permitted a bonus system and the direct election of delegates in some states, rather than proportional representation. Both systems reward the candidate who wins the most popular votes in a Congressional district; the bonus system, by awarding dan extra delegate to the winner. A related issue is the threshold, or lowest percentage of the vote, a candidate must obtain in order to win any convention delegates.

Members of the Jackson campaign were particularly angered by high thresholds--sometimes 20 or 25 percent--needed to win delegates in some states and by the use of bonus and direct-election systems which, they contended, deprived Jackson of delegates he should have had. In a letter to Democratic Party chair Charles Manatt last May 19, Jackson complained that he had won 21 percent of the popular vote but only 9 percent of the delegates. Jackson recommends doing away with thresholds and eliminating the bonus system and direct election of delegates.

While Iower or no thresholds would have given Jackson more delegates in some places, his delegate count could never have reflected precisely his share of the total vote. In about half the nation's Congressional districts, blacks account for less than 9 percent of the population. Whatever the threshold in those districts, Jackson could not have won any delegates unless he had attracted a substantial number of nonblack voters.

the Hart proposal on allocating delegates is slightly different. It recommends reducing the threshold to 15 percent and permitting bonus and direct-election systems in the second half of the primary season. A related proposal would change the deadlines for filing a slate of delegates.

Those proposals, too, grew out of Hart's 1984 experience. In late 1983 and early 1984 his campaign failed to file complete slates of delegates in three important states where delegates are elected directly: Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania. As a result, there were few Hart delegates on the ballot. Although he won the popularity contest in Florida, voters could choose only delegates pledged to Mondale or Reubin Askew. Thus Mondale took the most delegates. In Pennsylvania and Illinois, Mondale won the "beauty contest" and a majority of the delegates. Had there been more Hart delegates on the ballot, however, Mondale's count would have been considerably Iower.

The Hart campaign is already gearing up for 1988, under the leadership of Bill Dixon, former Wisconsin banking commissioner and a well-known political operative, and is sure to file a full slate of delegates in every state. The Hart campaign should not be opposed, therefore, to early filing deadlines, since next time around they could hamper one of his rivals, just as they curbed his momentum in 1984.

it is hard to understand Hart's and Jackson's objections to the bonus system. Jackson did somewhat better in bonus states than in other states because his overwhelming support in Congressional districts with large numbers of blacks increased his number of victories. He won 14 percent of the delegates from bonus states and 10 percent from nonbonus stares. Hart carried some important bonus states, ohio for one, although his victories came mostly in the second half of the campaign.

Finally, both Jackson and Hart supporters attack the rules change of 1982 that allocated a number of delegate slots to elected officials, who were free to cast votes at the convention for whomever they chose, regardless of the outcome of their state's primary or caucus. In 1984 this group overwhelmingly favored Mondale. The Jackson forces want to abolish those unpledged ex officio delegates. Hart's group advocates reducing their number to 5 percent of the total. (In 1984 they made up nearly 15 percent.) The Hart people aldo propose that such delegates be selected during the second half of the primary season. That proposal was prompted by memories of the boost mondale received in January 1984, when the House Democratic Caucus selected its 164 delegates and chose a large number of his sympathizers.

Looking ahead, Jackson is probably politically astute to call for the elimination of this category of delegates. He is not likely to draw much support from them. Fort Hart, the situation is not so clear. If he becomes the front-runner, he will attract some early support from the elected officials and party leaders who constitute the party establishment. But as Mondale showed, that status is a mixed blessing. In addition, none of the likely 1988 contenders have the sizable support in Congress and the state governments that Mondale enjoyed in 1984.

a powerful coalition has already formed to insure the survival of the unpledged ex officio delegates. On February 1, the Democratic National passed a resolution calling for continuance. It was backed by the House Democratic Caucus, the state party chairs and labor leaders.

The fate of the other Jackson-Hart proposals is more difficult to predict. The Fairness Commission itself will more controlled by party regulars and less open to influence by Presidential candidates than past bodies. Of its fifty members, ten will be selected by each of the four regional caucuses of the national committee; the remaining ten will be nominated by Paul Kirk, the new party chair, and then approved by the D.N.C.

By and large, the party establishment is content with the nomination system as it stands. During the Rules Committee deliberations in June, important D.N.C. leaders such as Kathy Vick, former president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, and John Perkins of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. chastised Mondale campaign representatives for agreeing to some of the language that appears in the Rules Committee report. The party establishment, and organized labor in particular, ignored the reform efforts of the McGovern-Fraser years and were unpleasantly surprised by the results. They saw the Hunt Commission revisions of 1982 as the first step toward reassuming direction of the nomination process. They will not allow themselves to be surprised again.

Kirk's stand on many of these issues is not known. As treasurer of the party, he helped preserve the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire in 1984. His first job will be to prove that he is not the captive of Senator Edward Kennedy, whom he served as a top aide for six years, or organized labor, which vigorously supported his candidacy. His actions with regard to the commission will either reinforce or alleviate people's fears about his tenure.

Jesse Jackson will probably continue to argue his side of a question that has been debated for years within the Democratic Party: How many delegates should go to candidates who win a relatively small share of the vote in the interests of representing all constituent groups? His rhetoric will evoke that of earlier reformers who were more concerned with democratic procedure than with political power. Gary Harths stance is harder to predict, since he is now in a different position than he was a year ago.

Party rules can make it hard for candidates to get into the nomination race. The need to file early, field slates of delegates in every district and court constituency groups to register and turn out at caucuses can work against a candidate with little organization, money and national recognition. The Jackson and Hart proposals would benefit the politically unknown candidate, which is why they may no longer be in Hart's or even Jackson's interest. They would also make it easier for a candidate to win delegates with a relatively small percentage of the vote. That could encourage candidates who do not expect to win the nomination but who want blocs of delegates to insure convention clout.

Only one outcome of the Fairness Commission is already clear. Just as its mandate shows us where the Presidential candidates of 1984 think they have been, its decisions, and the party's response to them, will show us where they think it is going.
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Title Annotation:Democrats' Fairness Commission
Author:Kamarck, Elaine Ciulla
Publication:The Nation
Date:Mar 2, 1985
Previous Article:Lee Krasner: a retrospective.
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