Michigan and Florida reap what they sow

I don’t usually use comments on past posts as the seeds of new ones, but this one’s bugging me. This comment from “Jh” came in on the post I did yesterday listing Nancy Pelosi’s and others’ comments on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding Indiana’s voter identification law:

“The right to vote is a foundation of our democracy. American citizens who wish to vote must be able to do so.”…Nancy…tell that to the people in the states where YOUR party decided not to count their votes in YOUR primary

No. No, no, no. This meme of “Oh, how awful — look at the nasty Democrats disenfranchising their own voters!” is just too superficial, and can’t be allowed to pass without some dissection.

If Michigan and Florida Democrats want to blame someone for their delegates not being seated at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer, they need look no further than their own state capitols. National Democratic Party leaders warned both states repeatedly, for years, that bucking the party’s rules and setting primaries in January before some of the states the party chosen as bellwethers — first Iowa and New Hampshire, and now Nevada and South Carolina — meant their delegates would not be seated.

They were told plain and simple: If you break the rules, you will suffer the consequences. And they did it anyway.

In Florida, the Legislature passed a bill setting the early primary date with wide, bi-partisan margins; the same thing happened with Michigan’s bill in that state’s House, although the state Senate vote was split along party lines with the Republican majority prevailing.

And guess what? The Democratic National Committee did exactly what it warned it would do, refusing to seat the delegates.

If Michigan and Florida wanted to foment a national discussion on how the nation’s presidential primaries are run, they probably shouldn’t have mounted a kamikaze attack in an election year. A party sets rules for its own convention; you break ’em, you lose. And if a party would buckle and not deliver the consequences it promised for a violation of the rules, every other state in the nation would look to move its own primary earlier and earlier to reap the economic benefit, political sway and media spotlight that comes with being among the earliest. It would be a free-for-all.

levin.gifIn fact, y’know who threatened U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. — a driving force behind Michigan’s move to an early primary — against doing exactly this in 2004? Why, it was then-DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, who detailed the heated encounter in his 2007 memoir. mcauliffe.jpg(There’s a slightly longer exerpt here.) Now McAuliffe is Hillary Clinton‘s campaign chairman — and wants Michigan’s and Florida’s delegates seated despite their transgression of the same party rules for which he fought so heatedly a few years ago.

So — without opining on the motivations behind and effects of Indiana’s voter-identification law, and the Supreme Court ruling that has affirmed it — I don’t see how that situation is akin to this. Florida and Michigan lawmakers of both parties played chicken with the DNC and lost, at their own voters’ expense. The blame lies with them, and with them alone.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • jh

    Sorry it took awhile to get back to you but I have been dealing with a very ill family member.
    I stand by what I said concerning Nancy and all you came up with is garbage because you buy into this notion that political parties should have a say as to when tax payer funded elections are held…I do not think either party has that right and that is a very elitist mindset…When the GOP or the DNC start paying for their primaries they can dictate when they are held..Votes were still counted and this is punishment for not doing as they were told when they have no damn right to say it in the first place.You can spin it all you like but many will simply recall in November that during the primaries the GOP store was open for business.

  • Josh Richman

    I hope your relative is better.

    American history belies your argument, JH: Presidential primary elections are conducted by government on behalf of the parties, and are a relatively late development in our political system – Oregon was the first to hold one, in 1910. From 1832 until then, delegates to national conventions were selected at state conventions, and delegates to state conventions were chosen by district conventions – a process prone to cronyism and corruption. But even now that voters participate directly in selecting delegates, it’s still the parties’ right to set the rules. They’ve always had a say on who sits at their conventions, and they should continue to do so.

    And please note that the GOP has been serious about enforcing its rules too. Republican National Committee rules say no state may hold its primary before Feb. 5, yet five states — Wyoming, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida — moved their primaries ahead anyway. The RNC, with chairman Mike Duncan’s concurrence, voted 121-9 last Nov. 8 to strip one-half of the delegates from those five states.

  • rosalea

    By way of background on how it came about that “In Florida, the Legislature passed a bill setting the early primary date with wide, bi-partisan margins”, I suggest listening to the audio clip in the report I wrote of the Florida Democratic Party state convention in October, 2007. (No need to read the whole thing; it’s now unbearably quaint!)


    In the audio clip, Bill Faulkner, Florida’s state rep for VerifiedVoting.org, explains how the political machinations leading to Florida’s banning of DREs (touch screen voting machines) led to Democrats in the state legislature having to agree with the Republicans’ wish to move the primary date forward.

    Progressive Democrat activists in Florida are now opposing two bills that will allow mail-in only ballots–legislation that in effect would allow for a re-do of the Florida primary.