Democrats Reform Some Reforms
In two weeks, officials from the Democratic and Republican National Committees will meet at Harvard to discuss how each group selects its presidential nominee. At the three-day conference beginning December 4 at the Institute of Politics (IOP), party leaders, professors and pollsters will trade ideas on how best to pick the nation's leader.
Following the panel discussions at "The Parties and the Nominating Process," the two parties may meet in private sessions to draft a common statement. Whether two organizations antagonistic towards each other on budget cuts, tax cuts, defense spending and the Soviet threat can reach any sort of agreement on primary dates and delegate selection remains to be seen. Republicans, who currently occupy the White House, probably see far fewer faults in the process than their vanquished counterparts.
And traditionally, the two parties have varied as much procedurally as they have substantively. While Republicans have never conducted more than an informal review of their procedures. Democrats have gone through several thorough revisions. In the past 12 years, Democratic Party reform commissions have rewritten their delegate selection rules following each election--the McGovern-Fraser Commission met from 1969 to 1972, the Mikulski Commission in 1973 and the Winograd Commission in 1973 and the Winograd Commission from 1975 to 1978.
"The Republicans are a much more decentralized party." H. Douglass Price, professor of Government, explains, adding, "their activists tend to be more conservative, happy with the way it is."
Gary R. Orren, associate professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, describes the difference more sharply. "They are not the home of democratic party reforms. They are antagonistic to this kind of thing. They've been forced willy-nilly to adopt Democratic reforms."
Mark Siegel, a Washington lawyer, offers a similar assessment; "The Republican Party is basically one of white males over 50. They don't have the same concerns we do."
Orren and Siegel should know about Democratic Party reforms. Both serve on the 20-member Technical Advisory Committee which reports directly to the latest reform commission, chaired by Gov, James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina. The Hunt Commission began meeting in August and will make its recommendations to the DNC in February.
Though the decision to have another rules commission was made before President Reagan's mandate of November," the body's mission has been altered by the humiliating defeat. "When you've just taken a shellacking, you tend towards soul searching," says Orren, who worked as a pollster for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54 (D-Mass.) last year.
At the first panel discussion, Hunt said, "The real truth is that we have problems." Changes are "essential," he added, to send a signal to "disaffected Democrats."
The Hunt Commission's predecessors drafted several rules which "opened up" the party. Since 1968, the number of states expressing preferences through direct primaries rather than closed caucuses has increased from 17 to 37. Rules have been adopted to reduce the role of power-brokers and to increase the representation of women and minorities. The current group, charged with undertaking "a complete review of the presidential nomination process," will focus its attention on reforming the reforms. Six issues have been targeted:
* I The length of the primary season. Many have argued that a delegate selection process beginning in January with the lowa caucus and ending in June with the California primary is too long. They cite exhaustion of candidates, boredom of the public, the expense and divisiveness of a prolonged campaign, and a bias in favor of candidates who can devote themselves to campaigning full-time for an extended period.
* I "Open" vs. "closed" primaries. The Democratic National Committee in 1980 tried to prevent states from allowing non-party members to vote in the presidential primaries. Crossover voting, officials said, encouraged raiding by Republican and Independent voters. Last February, the Supreme Court ruled in Democratic Party v. LaFolette [Wis.] that the Democratic Party had the authority to impose such regulations on state parties. The main question is whether it is worth antagonizing state party leaders to enforce the rules.
* I Proportional representation of presidential preference. Many feel that the current method of allocating to each candidate a number of delegates proportional to his share of the popular vote rather than some sort of "winner-take-all" system is disadvantageous, leading to a proliferation of candidates, preventing late, come-from-being efforts, and playing down the importance of big primary states.
* I The relationship between candidates and delegates. The commission is re-examining three main questions here: whether delegates should commit themselves to a candidate before the national convention: whether candidates should have the right of approval over their specific delegates; whether delegates' votes should be bound on the convention floor, with candidates granted the right to replace delegates who violate this rule. (The last question deals with the infamous "Rule 11H," the center of the rules battle between Kennedy and former President Carter in the 1980 Democratic Convention.)
* I Affirmative action, minority representation. Every commission has handled the question of increasing the representation of women and minorities. While direct quotas have been rejected, the Democratic National Committee, in the adoption of the Preliminary Call to the convention, provided for equal livision between delegate men and women.
* I The role of elected and party officials. Many maintain that previous reforms have discouraged party leaders from participating in the nominating process, resulting in a decline in experienced judgment, weakening ties between the nominee and the party and between the party and its constituencies. Critics point to Democratic President Jimmy Carter's inability to deal with a Democratically controlled Congress as an example. To stem the decline of the participation of elected officials, the DNC adopted the Winograd Commission's recommendation to increase state delegations by 10 percent and reserve those spots for elected officials.
Though it has yet to vote officially on anything, the commission reached a consensus on two issues at its last meeting, held November 7 in Washington. Rule 11H, the "faithless delegate" rule, was scrapped without debate. Continuation of the equal division between men and women was also accepted without question.
But no agreement was even approached on what has turned into the most controversial topic--what to do about the role of party and elected officials in the primary and convention process. Since 1968, the percentage of Democratic United States Senators serving as delegates has declined from 68 percent to 14 percent. For U.S. Representatives, the comparable statistics are 39 percent and 15 per cent.
Most have agreed they need to play a greater role once again; Eugene Eidenberg, executive director of the DNC--who was an IOP fellow last spring--says one of the main goals of the commission is to determine "how we can best get together elected officials in the process of party decision-making. I am reasonably confident we will produce changes that will crease their role."
But 83 percent of elected officials and parties are white, and 72 percent are males. The problem of preserving equal division between the sexes and proportional representation of minorities while increasing the voice of the office-holders has divided the commission.
In a paper she prepared last September, Susan Estrich, assistant professor of Law and a member of the advisory committee to the commission, wrote, "I know of no one who has suggested that the Democratic Party should turn its back on our historic commitments to equal division and affirmative action in delegate selection. And yet, that will be the 'unintended consequence' of any rule which automatically involves all Governors, Senators and members of Congress as ex officio, un-committed delegates to the 1984 convention."
"You would be giving the process over to white males." Estrich says, arguing that a specific revision of the present system is unnecessary. "The 1980 convention was not nearly so exclusive [of party officials] as one might think." she added, alluding to a CBS convention floor poll which indicated that 64 percent of the delegates were elected officials.
Indeed. Richard E. Neustadt, Littauer Professor of Public Administration, says that changes aimed at increasing the role of officials will occur only when women and minorities hold a greater proportion of those positions.
The other big question is whether elected officials should be allowed to come as uncommitted delegates. The Association of Democratic State Chairs recommended at the last meeting that 30 percent of the slots be held open for such delegates. They argue that elected officials will only come if they do not have to declare a preference before the convention and risk alienating one faction or another in their districts.
But several members of the commission see such a move as a repudiation of the past 12 years of reforms, a removal of power from the "grassroots," returning it to the "smoke-filled rooms" of the past. Patrick H. Caddell '72, a member of the advisory committee and the chief pollster for the Democratic nominee in the last three elections wrote last September: "I believe we must hold fast to the principle of the sovereignty of our party's rank and file. As Democrats we must be willing to trust the people. The ultimate real power ought to be theirs."
The length of the whole nominating process is another issue that has dominated debate. Eidenberg, noting that Republicans outspent Democrats two-to-one in 1980, says the lengthy primary season is "trying up millions of dollars which have no effect on the selection of delegates." The current system's "circus-like atmosphere" tests the credibility of the party, he argues, and all primaries should be held within the "window"--the buzzword for the three-month period from March 1 to June 1.
But can the DNC really change the process? Estrich notes that "you can't stop New Hampshire from having a straw vote early on. You can't stop candidates from going there. And you can't stop CBS from covering it."
Others question whether the issue is really that crucial. Cleta Deatherage, a state representative from Oklahoma, a member of the commission and an IOP fellow, says the issue was created by members of the media who are bored with covering the current long process. Noting that the window closes off only six weeks before the convention, she calls it a "silly idea. We're just wasting our time."
With 25 months left before the 1984 lowa caucus, the DNC has hopes of conducting an objective reform without all the politicking which comes naturally to such a review. But political considerations have inevitably snuck into the proceedings. Kennedy and former Vice President Walter F. Mondale were each allowed two members on the 69-member commission. Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) has a personal aide on the advisory committee, and Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) are both on the mailing list.
It is difficult to say at this point which rules will help which candidates, so few observers publicly read political motives into the actions of the representatives. David S. Broder, who has been covering the commission for the Washington Post, says, "Those of us sitting there watching the proceedings were stupefied to see how little maneuvering" went on.
But some of the actual participants interpret things differently. In August, two Mondale supporters, one of whom serves on the commission, wrote an op-ed piece in the Post calling for, among other things, a rule guaranteeing uncommitted positions to a large number of elected officials. Scott Lang, one of Kennedy's representatives on the panel, says bluntly. "They believe that would help Mondale. Their motivation should be what's better for the party, not what's better for a candidate. That's the way we're approaching it," he adds.
But whether or not candidates have representatives working for their own interests, it is clear that specific groups are already doing so. Most everyone points to labor--the AFL-CIO alone has 14 members on the commission, and Douglas Fraser, head of the United Auto Workers, is a co-chair. Testifying at the November hearing, representatives of the AFL-CIO backed the call for a large block of uncommitteds.
John Perkins, associate director of the labor federation's research branch, says the AFL-CIO "feels that the elected officials would represent those Democrats who do not participate in caucuses [or] primaries."
A non-labor member of the advisory committee says. "They cut a deal with Hunt. They feel that they can have greater influence among elected officials and may even get some of the uncommitted slots themselves," the member, who asked not to be named, said, adding, "They are paying for it."
If the Democrats take the rule changes seriously--and the reams of paper and the hours of testimony indicate that they do--they are unclear about what exactly it is they hope to accomplish. Preliminary position papers from advisory committee members range from the view that "the primary business of the Democratic Party should be nominating a presidential candidate and winning the presidency," to one advocating a presidential nominating process which would "exclude no important party constituency and maximize popular participation by Democrats in the selection of their party's nominee."
Deatherage argues, "I don't think rules make that much difference, given the limitations of parties in America today." Understanding those restrictions, she believes the best the Hunt commission can do is "keep the rules open and simple."
Lang, too, discusses the limitations of the commission's work. "The nominating process has to have a melding of ideas. We have to have a reason to win," he argues, saying the focus should be on developing a presentable program.
The proper perspective. Orren says, is what the rules can do for the party. "One of the least important things is whether this type of candidate or that type of candidate wins. The old rules gave you Millard Fillmores as well as Lincolns."
The key, Orren stresses, "is what impact rules changes have on life between elections." The rules should increase the strength of the party and the responsiveness of the party because "political parties allow both good and bad candidates to be better presidents."