As I See It 7-3
Sunday, March 2, 2008

By KB Stallworth

It's no secret that the Michigan Primary has created a quandary for Democratic Party Leaders. The challenge of enfranchising voters whom support Senator Obama without disenfranchising voters whom support Senator Clinton is daunting. However, with the clock ticking, Party leadership should either attempt to hold a Caucus vote, agree to a rational compromise formula for delegate distribution, equally divide the delegation between Senators Clinton and Obama, or send an entire “uncommitted delegation” to the National Convention in an effort to unify the State Party and assure the Democratic National Committee permits a meaningful role in the Presidential nomination process.

At a time of historic national enthusiasm, mass mobilization and exuberance over the possibility of a Presidency which could result in an end to America's horrid cultural chapters of sexism and racism, Michigan Democrats find themselves seated on the sidelines not because they are standing up for a non-negotiable Democratic principle; but absurdly enough, because of a retraction from a core liberal principle.

Who would believe that Michigan Democrats supporting the first potential female President of the United States would be opposed to a core value of women? … “Choice”.

Even though there is  agreement that the Michigan Primary's failure to afford voters the ability to “directly” cast a vote for the Democratic nominee of their choice has created mass confusion and discontent within the electorate; it is ironically the supporters of a female candidate for President that are the most vocal in their opposition to holding a “real election” which would provide Michigan voters with the right to choose their nominee.

If that weren't bizarre enough, who would believe in 2008, during Black History Month, we would be explaining to our grandparents and children why the Democratic Party will not afford Michigan Americans the opportunity to cast a vote for nomination in support of the first African American with broad enough electoral appeal and financial strength to actually win the Presidency?
How do you explain “inside politics” like this to seniors whom have seen relatives and friends arrested, beaten and lynched for merely learning to read and write? How do you explain to people who cried for Medgar, Martin, Malcolm, John and Robert that the dreams associated with their lives and assassinations are celebrated, but still not fully honored in Michigan?

How do you explain to your child why African Americans overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party when the Party is doing all the things you have taught them the “bad guys” do; discourage free elections, voter choice and expanded voter participation?

The Democratic National Committee's (DNC) decision to penalize States via denial of a representative delegation at the National Convention was a terrible error. No national party which intends to be a voice of the people should ever enact a rule which could disenfranchise citizens. However, it was the leadership of the Michigan Democratic Party that made the stubborn decision to move up the Primary election date over the objection of the DNC. With the same boldness in which they made that decision, rather than now trying to leave resolution at the feet of Howard Dean and the DNC, State Party leadership needs to step up with a sense of urgency and take the lead in implementing a rational compromise to resolve this mess. Silence certainly is not the answer; and quite frankly its not real clear what the problem is in holding a closed Caucus election. All Party dues have to be paid prior to the end of March, and all Congressional District organizations will convene prior to the end of March as well. Given everything that has occurred, there can be little doubt whether most Democrats know whom they prefer as a nominee. So what's the big deal? Why not hold a closed Caucus in March and have a true primary nomination vote?

Now I don't want to pretend this is a simplistic process with no logistical challenges. But even if the timeline is different, if there is indeed any way to organize a Caucus election where both Senator Clinton and Obama can compete and have enough time to make their respective cases; Senator Levin and Chairman Brewer should be leading the way to make it happen.

Everyone understands that at the core of this impasse is the fact that most of Michigan's institutional Democratic Party leadership lined up behind Senator Clinton long ago. Under normal circumstances, this kind of loyalty and refusal to consider any compromise would probably be accepted without retort. But the undeniable “assumptions” which fostered the kind of confidence to make such a destructive decision to move the Democratic Primary without fear of consequence creates some soul searching questions about the “blind spots” of those leaders at the helm. 

The effects of institutional racism are an uncomfortable subject, but an important one to this subject none the less. One does not have to be a racist to be affected. It affects Blacks, Whites and every ethnicity equally. The affects create a baseline of assumptions within an individual which make it difficult to see through unbiased lenses the true potential of minorities whom are matched against a majority or institutional competitor. The affects are more prevalent than we like to admit.  But as uncomfortable as it may be to acknowledge; we have all heard people say, “The country is not ready for a Black President”.

This takes us to why the Michigan Democratic Party leadership needs to do a little soul searching. Is it possible that the powers that be simply couldn't fathom a Barack Obama lasting beyond Super Tuesday against a political institution like the Clintons? Is that why they were so cavalier and unwavering in their decision to move the Primary? Or, was it that they were simply committed to making sure that under whatever political scenario was acted out, Senator Clinton was the winner?

If the objective of moving up the Primary was truly an altruistic attempt to place Michigan's economic woes before the American people in an attempt to make them a national priority; news coverage of the debate over the rationale to move the Primary accomplished that. The objective was achieved. So if the candidates were not going to come to Michigan, why go any further? Why was it so important to move the date in advance of February 5th? Well, if one was willing to give the decision makers the benefit of the doubt, you could assume Party leadership merely believed the Clinton juggernaut was so formidable that unless Michigan was somehow able to play a role in the inevitable coronation of Senator Clinton prior to Super Tuesday, the overwhelming number of delegates she would accumulate before Michigan would have its Primary would make our delegate contribution insignificant. Given that the majority of institutional leadership was behind Mrs. Clinton, a Primary rather than a Caucus would all but assure a Clinton victory in Michigan.

Well, there's nothing wrong with that. After all, this is politics and the objective is to support someone whom will win and provide you with access, influence and resources for the things you deem to be important. However, for that same reason, the individuals who thought Senator Clinton's nomination was a “sure thing”, now find themselves faced with the unthinkable prospect of not only losing the nomination, but fighting with a relentless group of Obama supporters over the right to seat a delegation at the National Convention.

But for those more cynical and unwilling to give State Party decision makers the benefit of the doubt, the true basis for changing the Primary date was revealed by the unfortunate comments made by President Clinton while discussing anticipated results of the South Carolina Primary. For those individuals, Michigan was conceded by the Clinton's just like South Carolina was because of the strength of its African American electorate. Knowing that the candidate field would likely opt to stay off the ballot for fear of disrupting any momentum they had in Iowa or New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton would stay on the ballot giving her an easy win in Michigan, and more importantly preventing an Obama victory. If something went amiss and Obama managed to win anyway, the Clinton Campaign could merely ask that the DNC rules be enforced. However, if things went as planned, at best Senator Clinton would have a plurality of Michigan delegates, and at worst stopped the seating of 65 plus Obama delegates.

But whether either speculative scenario or another like it was the basis for the decision, the real problem that the people have is “the unilateral decision of a few to remove the electoral choice rights of the many”. At this point people simply want some acknowledgement that the process was flawed, and an earnest effort by Party leadership to take corrective action. African American seniors in particular are frustrated about their inability to cast a vote for Senator Obama. They're not only proud of and inspired by Barack; they're also proud of the vast numbers across the country in which our people are voting. In spite of the historical claims of political ignorance and apathy in our community, in their view we have decided to stand up when it truly counts in numbers which defy conventional wisdom…..and they deeply resent not being able to play their part.  

Without corrective action, Michigan's denial of “choice” will be a shameful stain on its political history which will not easily be forgotten. Intended or not, in the written and verbal annals of Black History it will assume its rightful place among the contemptible efforts to deny voter access, participation, and to instill apathy and hopelessness in the Black Community. But even now, this is all avoidable. Forgiveness and understanding is always available for unintended mistakes which are owned and corrected. Party leadership needs merely to grasp that African Americans in Michigan have been denied an opportunity to make a legacy contribution their ancestors lived, endured, struggled and died for. That is what the opportunity to cast a nominating vote for Senator Obama means to my family and tens of thousands like ours. This burning desire has nothing to do with issues of support or lack there of for Senator Clinton.

As Michigan seeks to transform itself from an industrial giant to a cradle for innovative thought, the Michigan Democratic Party has a significant opportunity to jump start our national perception by supporting the nations call for “change” from the ole institutional chicanery associated with smoke filled rooms. What better way to move away from the politics of division than by making a statement for unity and inclusiveness by resolving this issue before the National Convention.  Michigan Democrats deserve a Party that is leading the nation in efforts to transform the failed politics of fear and division; to policies of unity, hope and innovation. A Caucus vote will repair our relationship with the DNC and allow a truly representative delegation to play their rightful role at the National Convention. If time and logistical constraints make a Caucus impossible, then Party leadership needs to huddle post hast to develop a compromise approach which publicly acknowledges the error, and  earnestly attempts to explain how disenfranchisement issues have been addressed.

Dr. KB Stallworth is Chairman of Utility Services of America and Public Policy Advisor to the Black Caucus Foundation of Michigan. He also is a former Member of the Michigan House of Representatives (1992-2002)


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