Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

In Which Our Hero Becomes a Mundane Political Officer

Today was the Lyon County Democratic Party Convention. The delegates selected through the party caucuses earlier this year (a total of 168 total countywide delegates, including me) were called to gather at the high school in Silver Springs. (The site is more or less centrally located within Lyon County, meaning that the people from Dayton, Yerrington, and Fernley all had to travel, but we all had to travel approximately the same distance. Only the relatively few people from Sliver Springs had the short drive.) It was an interesting, if at times frustrating experience, and I can say that I am certain that we had better organization at the WSFS Business Meetings in Spokane last year.

The net result of the convention was that Lyon County will send a total of 55 delegates to the state convention in Las Vegas later this year: 34 pledged to Bernie Sanders and 21 to Hillary Clinton. But it took quite a while to get to that conclusion, and led to a lot of people sitting around frustrated waiting for things to get to a decision, as I'll explain below.

After getting a big breakfast at the Wigwam Restaurant/Casino (and failing to convert my $10 free casino play into any spending money), I headed down to Silver Springs, arriving shortly after 8 AM when registration opened.

Delegate Credentials

Lyon County is divided into 40 voting precincts, numbered south to north. I live in the 40th and northernmost precinct, North Fernley, and was one of six delegates selected at the caucus to represent my precinct. The registration queue was split not by name, but by precinct, with the 20 southern precincts in one line and the 20 northern in the other. When I was there, it appears to have been mostly North Lyon delegates trying to register, which caused a bottleneck. In my own case, registration was routine. I was on the list, I presented my Certificate of Election, and was issued my Convention Credential, which I put in my pocket, similar to a membership badge.

Lyon County Democratic convention

Although registration was open at 8, the convention was not called to order until after 10, and even then, the only business before a long recess was the reading of letters from candidates and other dignitaries, plus a speech from the Democratic candidate for the Nevada State Assembly. I'm so glad the Democrats are fielding a candidate this cycle. In the last cycle, they didn't even put up a candidate, with the result being that my choice was between an Republican and the party that thinks the Republicans are commie pinko socialist un-Muriken liburls. It will be a difficult slog — my assembly district is deeply conservative — but at least we'll have a choice this time!

After the opening speeches and letters, we received the initial report of the Credentials Committee, which reported that only 107 of the 168 elected delegates had registered. Delegates still had until Noon to actually register, so while the convention was quorate, they didn't want to proceed with the major business (selection of delegates for the state convention) until everyone had a chance to register and then alternates seated. With a quorum present, the convention elected the Temporary Chair as the Permanent officers, and then we went into a long recess for over an hour.

(Incidentally, one woman with some meeting experience of the wrong kind in my opinion kept trying to correct "recess" to "suspend," even though there is no motion to suspend. "Recess" is the correct term.)

The Chair (the man in the cap at the far left in the photo above) was in a tough spot. The actual Lyon County Democratic Party Chair had resigned, and the acting Chair (now convention Chair) had little or no experience running meetings, especially one with nearly 200 people attending plus a bunch of alternates and people who showed up just to watch. I spoke with him a few times trying to offer advice. I asked if the local party had a Parliamentarian, and he said no; nobody had ever volunteered. (Danger Time for Kevin.) After the speeches and before the long credentialing recess, I made a point of order that the convention hadn't elected the other officers as called for in the agenda. He looked a bit surprised, and proceeded (with a little prompting) to get through electing the woman who had been acting as Secretary elected as Convention Secretary, and then asked for Parliamentarian. I raised my hand and one of the people nominated me. Someone asked what the Parliamentarian's job is. I stood up and said, "It's to help the Chair make sure we run things by our rules, including pointing out that we hadn't actually elected our permanent officers."

"You're a shoo-in!" came a call from the audience, which got a laugh. Nobody else volunteered, and I found myself elected Parliamentarian of the 2016 Lyon County Democratic Committee Convention. We then elected a Sergeant-at-Arms and recessed. I did what I could during the recess to talk to people with procedural questions and to coach the convention Chair on some procedures. I was somewhat hampered in not having been provided with an Agenda. There were no paper copies available, and I apparently never did get one in the e-mail. Communications could have been better.

Before we reconvened, I persuaded the Secretary and SAA to take seats at the head table, and I put a chair next to the Chairman's lectern. I'd had the presence of mind to bring my PARLIAMENTARIAN tote bag from my days as a member of the National Association of Parliamentarians, which I left on my chair while standing in the area. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, I tried to feed procedures to the Chair without stepping on him. In retrospect, it would have helped if while the Credentials Committee was trying to seat alternates (it took a long time), I could have given some of my usual talk on how meeting procedure works, basic decorum, how to gain recognition and speak, and so forth. But I was loathe to push too hard, given my utter lack of knowledge of any institutional history here in Lyon County. In further retrospect, I don't think I should have worried, in it appeared that relatively few people attending had ever been through anything like this themselves.

Only 75% of Sanders' pledged elected delegates showed up by Noon, but only 52% of Clinton's. Under the rules, the Credentials committee tried to first fill missing seats by precinct with alternates from the same precinct and pledged affiliation, then with other alternates from the same precinct. Once all of the alternates were exhausted, there were still available seats, and that allowed "unelected alternates" (people who simply came to the convention to see if they could participate, not those elected through the caucuses) to be seated in a small number of remaining places. This is where showing up early helped, because the people who registered earliest got first shot at the remaining seats.

Serpentine Qualification

After all of the delegate credentials were issued, the Chair wanted to count to make sure every credentialed delegate per pledged candidate (there were zero unpledged delegates) was present, so he asked us to hold up our delegate cards. He started to count us individually, then said, "Oh, let's just count off." Aha, a "serpentine" vote! Fortunately, he started with me, where I'd run over to where I'd been sitting before being elected Parliamentarian, and I called off "One!" and let down my card. The woman next to me got the idea right away, calling off "two," and so forth, and the entire process went relatively smoothly, although it came up three delegates short, one of whom had been in the bathroom and two of whom had been sitting out in their car, but that eventually got sorted out.

A consequence of so many of the Clinton elected delegates and alternates not showing up for the convention (and thus being replaced by other alternates and unelected alternates who sided with Sanders) was that Sanders actually increased his total win in the county, with 61% (34 delegates) to Clinton's 39% (21 delegates). Incidentally, at both the county and state levels, while you are pledged for a candidate, you are not bound to vote for that candidate. You could switch sides.

So now came the process of actually determining who the delegates would be. Anyone who had expressed an interest in potentially becoming a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia had to turn in a form by 10 AM. However, the road to Philadelphia leads through Las Vegas. That is, you have to be elected to the State convention in order to have even a chance to be elected as a National delegate. When it was clear that there were at least 34 people from the Sanders side who were interested in going to State, I declined to stand for State. I don't think I could afford to go to National anyway, and I didn't want to stand in the way of anyone who was going to go out for one of the relatively few National delegate positions.

(In practice, I would be surprised to see more than one person from Lyon County making the trip to Philadelphia. Nevada only gets 43 delegates total, some of which are "superdelgates" reserved for party bigwigs, and because of Nevada's population distribution, I would expect nearly all of the delegates to be from Las Vegas or the Reno-Carson City area. My congressional district, which includes Reno-CC and most of the northern part of the state but actually cuts Lyon County in half, gets only 5 National delegates. The southern half of the county is part of a district that stretches clear down to North Las Vegas, and also gets only 5 National delegates.)

So we finally got all of the delegates to the county convention sorted out, and the delegates to State managed to agree to get it to where we didn't have to hold an election to fill 34 seats simultaneously. But business wasn't done yet; unfortunately, many people had to start leaving, and were not happy that they didn't get to participate in the platform process.

Sanders Delegates

This is the Sanders delegation. I took a picture of the Clinton delegation on the opposite side of the room, but it came out so blurry that I couldn't use it. 34 of these people were selected (along with some alternates) to go to Las Vegas in May.

Now came the part where things started getting contentious. The Chair of the County Platform Committee came up and read out the proposed County Platform. These are the things that the County Convention would like the State Convention to add to the State Platform. But because of poor pre-convention communication, most delegates didn't even know where to find the State platform (from the previous election cycle). The Convention Chair wasn't all that conversant with how to deal with a document like this, and I tried to coach him along; however, the people in the convention were jumping from subject to subject, making it difficult to keep things under control.

We finally got some of the debate focused into one of the several platform subjects, and after it got discussed for a while (and after I concluded that the debate was repeating itself), I got the chair's attention and moved the Previous Question, explaining that this was a motion to end the debate on the current plank only and bring it to a vote. I said, "Assuming someone seconds this [several people did right away], it takes a two-thirds vote to shut off the debate."

Someone with a little bit of "sandlot" knowledge said, "I so move."

I said, "You don't have to do so; I already did it."

Someone else said, "But you can't! You're the Parliamentarian!"

I said, "Sure I can; I'm a member like anyone else." Again, "sandlot" rules, including thinking that you have to record the names of who seconded motions (unnecessary) and you have to second nominations (not required). In any event, the motion to close debate passed handily and the plank passed as written, with some dissent.

We moved to another plank, somewhat randomly, and that got discussed. Again, the debate was going in circles. There were a couple of people the Chair was declining to call upon, and while technically he was in the right, they probably didn't understand that just holding up their hands while another person was speaking didn't give them the right to be called upon next. Most people don't understand this. This is why I put it into my Business Meeting Orientation video. (I wish I could have shown it to people here; it would have helped.) With the day already having run long and with people not having eaten, people were getting edgy. A member moved to call the question. Before the Chairman proceeded, I asked, "Do you mean on just this one plank, or on the entire platform?"

"On the entire platform!"

The meeting voted nearly everyone to a handful, including the young man who had been trying to be recognized earlier. He stood up and came forward and said, "Don't we get a minority opinion?"

I explained, "No, once the motion to end debate passes, nobody else gets to debate, even if they had been trying to do so before the motion passed." The SAA escorted him back to his seat. This did not please a number of the people.

The party platform did pass, nearly unanimously, and after some announcements, including when the county committee meets (third Saturday of the month) and how to get more involved, the convention adjourned.

The convention was now adjourned, but I had a few people who wanted to complain at me about how not everyone who wanted to speak did so. One older gentleman in particular complained that as Parliamentarian I should have done something to get the Chair to recognize that young man who so much wanted to speak.

I sympathized with him, but said that no rules had been broken. If someone keeps holding up his hand trying to obtain preference in recognition, the Chair is justified in ignoring that person and recognizing people who wait until earlier speakers have yielded the floor. When multiple people want to speak, the Chair has the right to pick who speaks. When the motion for the Previous Question passes, debate is over, even if people still want to talk and even if they feel they were being ignored.

"That's not fair!" said the man (not the younger fellow who had been ignored).

"It's all within the rules." I said, "I sympathize, but a super-majority of two-thirds or more has the right to shut off debate even if people still want to speak."

He said, "Why didn't you do something! You're the Parliamentarian!"

I replied, "I can only advise the Chair. He is the one who makes the decisions. He's the one the Convention elected to make those decisions. If you think he was making the wrong decision on who to recognize, you should have raised a point of order. You can interrupt speakers to do that."

(Several people looking on said, "But you can't do that!" I said, "Until the motion to Close Debate was made, he could have done so. Once it was made, and after it passed, it was too late.")

"Why didn't you do that?" [that is, raise the point of order]

I said, "Because while I sympathize with your frustration, I don't think any rules were being broken."

He got snooty with me and put on a pseudo-German accent and told me that's now it worked in Germany before the war. That made me angry. I don't like being called a Nazi, even indirectly, particularly when I'm sympathetic to the person who was overlooked and hadn't had a chance to speak at all. After another delegate got me to calm down, we tried again.

I said, "If you thought a rule was being broken, you should have raised a point of order. Why didn't you?"

By now he sort of was getting the idea, and said, "Well, I suppose I should have done so, but would it have done any good?"

My reply was, "If you had done so, the meeting could have decided whether or not this young man should have been assigned the floor."

I don't think he went away happy.

Now, despite some of the bad feelings (for which my low blood sugar could not have helped), I did get a number of people coming up to me thanking me for my explanations, and one woman said, "After you explained it, I realized that even I could speak."

Thinking about it, I should have tried to get the Chairman to do the following:

1. Establish a debate time limit of not more than ten minutes per Platform plank and not more than one minute per speech. (At this point I could have reiterated how you gain the floor and how you can't speak a second time after having spoken once on a given subject.)
2. Go through the Platform one plank at a time, asking, "Does anyone wish to debate this plank?" and if not, try to get a unanimous-consent vote on the plank. (This probably would have done for all but about three of the planks.)
3. If there was debate on a plank, deal with it and vote yes/no on the plank, then move on, letting people know that there would be one more chance to debate the entire platform at the end.
4. At the end, ask if there was debate on whether to adopt the platform as a whole, then put the platform as a whole to a vote after any debate.

In fact, it's even more complicated than that. Most people probably hadn't read the State platform, and the level of parliamentary knowledge was lower than we have at a WSFS meeting. And everyone was tired and hungry and a bit fed up with the delays in actually seating everyone, so they might not have been in the most receptive mood. But these things would have probably kept it better organized and reduced the perception of unfairness. The fact that we actually did follow the rules (more or less) does not matter if people who were attending in good faith went away feeling hard done by. That's my biggest disappointment, because they were people who had invested their time to try and participate, albeit in the minority, and they felt that they had been steamrolled.

And that was my day as a Democratic Convention Parliamentarian. I could have done better. But we could have done worse as well. And if I do decide to get more involved in local county politics, maybe by the next time this rolls around we'll be able to conduct a meeting of this size with a bit better organization so that there's less waiting and more time spent on substantive debate.
Tags: parliamentary procedure, politics
Subscribe
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 17 comments