Archive for July 16th, 2007

by Pete Talbot

Some ruminations on last week’s Democratic Central Committee meeting here in Missoula. I’m posting a little past deadline. I’m blaming my lethargy on the heat.

First of all, there was unanimous consent for supporting the troop withdrawal resolution that will be on November’s ballot.

(Granted, there were only about twenty people at the meeting, which is usually the case for mid-summer Democratic Party meetings held on a hot July evening. I was still surprised, though, that there was nary a nay to be heard in opposition to the resolution.)

Second, the Dems will hold a forum, sometime in early August, for all the city council candidates.

Here’s the zinger: after the forum, the central committee will actually endorse candidates! This has been a controversial issue ever since the city adopted nonpartisan elections about a dozen years ago. Over the past twelve years or so, the central committee endorsements have ranged from none at all, to endorsing some candidates, to endorsing any candidate who claims to be a Democrat.

The details have yet to be worked out on the exact endorsement process but apparently forum questions will come from the Montana Democratic Party platform, and Missoula’s platform (which local Democrats crafted last spring).

In a city that votes mostly Democratic, an endorsement from the party means something to the candidates – especially in nonpartisan elections when there isn’t a ‘D’ or ‘R’ (or ‘I’ or ‘C’ or ‘G,’ etc.) after a candidate’s name.

Which is why there’s such a controversy around endorsing. Turnout in city primaries can be hideously low, so a Democratic Party endorsement can tilt the tide, especially in those Democratic leaning wards – which are most of them.

Those opposed to endorsements say it’s divisive to pit one Democrat against another. These “big tent” Democrats question whether there’s really a litmus test as to who’s more Democrat. They say it’s important to stay “one big, happy family.”

Those advocating for the endorsement process say it’s important to let the voters know which candidate really supports the Democratic Party platform. They add that it’s important to winnow out candidates who may call themselves Democrats because there’s no way in the world they’d get elected in certain wards as a Republican.

I’ve vacillated on the subject of endorsements. The state party insists on not endorsing in primary elections that are partisan – that is elections where a Democrat is running against another Democrat to see who’s going to be on the general election ballot. Individuals can and do endorse, and work and raise money for the candidate of their choice, but the local central committee is supposed to stay out of it. I guess this makes sense. I believe this rule holds true for the Republican Party as well.

But what to do in nonpartisan elections, especially primaries? Take Ward 4, for example, where there are five candidates vying for two slots on the November ballot. Do we trust the local media to give us the information we need to make an informed decision? I think not.

As to the divisiveness claim that it shows party favoritism to one Democratic candidate over another – well I suppose that’s true. It’s called accountability. And as long as the process is transparent, that strict guidelines are followed, that the questions asked are based on established party platforms and issues, I say go for it.

I like to think that Missoula Democrats are mature enough to look beyond some of the controversial, parochial issues and support the best candidate for the job. And if for some reason their candidate doesn’t get endorsed that they don’t flee the party or refuse to get involved in other Democratic campaigns – say Senate, House, governor or even presidential campaigns. Lord knows that over the years not all the Democratic candidates I’ve supported have received a helping hand from the party, but I keep plugging away.

And who knows, in some wards, a Democratic endorsement might be the kiss of death. We’ll see who shows up for the forum and what they have to say.

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