Full disclosure: I am a supporter of Betsy Hodges for Mayor of Minneapolis. These are the views of someone who was at Saturday’s Minneapolis Convention as a supporter and who worked as part of the campaign floor team. But I am also someone who has attended many a DFL Convention, has worked for DFL endorsed candidates and has never worked for someone running against a DFL endorsement. I am a party officer, representing the party on the Democratic National Committee. I became involved in the party working on campaigns and feel the integrity of the processes we follow is essential to encouraging those not involved to become involved.
There is, as one would expect, a lot of chatter in the political class about Saturday’s Minneapolis DFL Convention. The convention adjourned after fourteen hours with no endorsement after a quorum call made before the fifth ballot showed that there were not enough delegates left at the convention to make one. Given that the mayoral campaigns had been gearing up for the convention for months, it is understandable that delegates and candidates alike left disappointed that the ultimate prize—the DFL endorsement—was not won by any of the DFL candidates at Saturday’s convention.
But what became clear as the convention wore on, was that two strong frontrunners emerged and that the delegate support was so close that neither would be able to persuade enough supporters of the other candidate to reach the 60% necessary for the party to endorse.
While candidates and campaigns have had the opportunity to express their opinions about the end result and how it came about, so far we haven’t heard much about the problems of process with the convention itself. That is my focus here.
Conventions should be transparent, without unnecessary delays, unifying and, above all, without even a hint of bias. On this, Saturday’s convention failed.
Party process must be inclusive and trusted
The party and its conventions should demonstrate inclusiveness and unity. If a delegate goes into a convention supporting a candidate and that candidate drops or withdraws, it cannot feel inclusive to see a minority of the convention then insult that candidate. That is exactly what happened on Saturday to the candidate who had a strong third place finish on the first ballot, City Council Member Gary Schiff. Frankly, I’ve never seen a competitive DFL candidate, intending to withdraw from the process, be denied the right to briefly address the Convention to make that announcement. Although some press reports say that Schiff had not reached the 20% threshold to stay on the third ballot, that is incorrect. Schiff was voluntarily withdrawing from the third ballot, and allowing a candidate in that circumstance to address the convention is done routinely at conventions as a matter of course.
But on Saturday, this noncontroversial request devolved into an hour and a half fight over suspension of the rules to allow council member Gary Schiff to speak. Although the vast majority of convention delegates (including many Andrew supporters) voted to allow Schiff to speak, the third hand-counted vote showed the motion fall just shy of the 2/3 needed for a suspension of the rules. Again – neither I nor anyone I know who has attended DFL conventions has ever seen anything like this. And it took an hour and a half, delaying a third ballot into the early evening. All this just to silence a three-times DFL-endorsed sitting city Minneapolis council member.
An inclusive party cannot afford even the appearance of bias
It is detrimental to the DFL when any candidate or campaign can reasonably question whether a person making extremely important decisions at a convention is truly impartial. It was inappropriate that two of the four convention chairs were public supporters of Mark Andrew. In fact, it is standard practice for most DFL conventions to be chaired by disinterested party leaders from different jurisdictions. Before the convention, reasonable requests were made that convention chairs be publicly neutral on their opinion in the mayor race. These requests were ignored. This one is particularly hard for me because Convention Co-Chair Rick Stafford is a friend. I’ve known him for years and, while I do not question his integrity, I’ve seen him wield a convention gavel strongly and sometimes controversially. All that is fine, but when you combine that with the fact that he is a public supporter of one of the candidates, Mark Andrew, common sense says he should not have been asked to chair and he should not accepted. The Hodges campaign formally requested that chairs be neutral, and I personally appealed to him well before the convention, as a friend, to do the right thing – to step down so that there wouldn’t even be the appearance of bias. He refused. He committed to the Hodges campaign manager that he would only chair non-mayoral parts of the convention—a commitment he broke as soon as the convention began.
This is relevant given the role Stafford played in one of the longest delays of the convention: the counting of the third ballot. The long time it took to count the third ballot, and the reasons behind the delay, are the best example of why many left feeling that the process was inappropriately biased. As results were being tallied, the Hodges campaign noticed significant discrepancies between the precinct ballot counts and how they were being recorded to be reported out. These were immediately brought to the attention of the teller room; subsequently the Convention Chair, Rick Stafford, became involved. Although there was very clear evidence that significant errors had occurred in counting, it took over an hour to get the Chair to even agree to recanvass the precinct totals, a relatively common request.
There was a subsequent discussion with Stafford, who wanted to release the unconfirmed (and ultimately proven to be incorrect ) totals to the Convention. Those initial numbers (which began circulating through rumours on the floor) showed a 54-44 lead for Andrew. Once the recount was actually done, it was clear to everyone there was indeed a problem—a very big one. 142 votes were being dramatically misreported because vote totals in over thirty instances were being transposed, with Andrew being attributed Hodges votes and vice versa. The real result of that third ballot: 48-47. Amazingly, over 90% of errors found were in Andrew’s favor. That final number, however, does not even include one entire precinct that had overwhelming support for Hodges; its numbers were thrown out entirely because somehow the ballots were lost between the first count and the recount. Lost. Rather than delay the convention further by having that precinct re-vote, they decided instead simply to throw out the entire precinct.
Put yourselves in the Hodges’ campaigns shoes for a second at this point. The convention chair had been insisting on releasing numbers showing a 54-44 Andrew lead when in reality the confirmed result was 48-47. Even after a problem was pointed out, he wanted to release numbers that were wrong, numbers that no one could deny would have had a dramatic impact on the mood of the convention.
Although that was the reason for the delay, instead of being transparent about the problem, Stafford chose instead to express exasperation from the podium, framing the delay as being the fault of one campaign questioning the process. An impartial chair might have said “we want to get the count right and that is what we are doing.” Instead, as MinnPost reports, Stafford said from the podium, “Where I get angry is when the campaigns make charges that have no basis in fact or evidence” He seemed to be purposely inflaming the crowd against the Hodges campaign (everyone knew who he was talking about) despite the fact that, having been in the teller room, he was 100% aware that there was evidence of a problem – he had been presented with the evidence. And, in the end, facts were on the side of those insisting on a thorough count.
Errors in counting happen. But the integrity of the process demands that we be rigorous, and it should be unquestioned that, if a problem is suspected, that problem will be researched and verified.
These flaws led to a long-drawn out debate and recount caused many delegates to leave as the convention dragged on and people felt increasingly jaded about the process.
A Mayor’s race should not be determined by a torturous war of attrition.
The problems for delegates began before the first ballot. No one should be expected to register for a convention at 10am and only see a first ballot at 2:45pm. No one should have to commit to being away from their family and personal obligations for twelve hours to participate in the process of choosing a DFL endorsed candidate. And it is simply not realistic to expect people to sit for hours on end, past the point when the convention center even stopped serving food. Delegates are there because they believe in the party and often to support a specific candidate. It is the party’s job to make them feel like their time and their energy matters, and that it is an inclusive process. A majority of the convention’s delegates voted with their feet, deciding that there was no way the convention could arrive to an endorsement, or an untainted one.
Looking Ahead: RCV, here we come.
And where does this leave us? First, looking forward to future conventions, we must demand a fair, impartial and efficient process that leaves the choice of whether and who to endorse to delegates and delegates alone. Second, DFLers must come together after a convention that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. While the DFL delegates did not decide to endorse, they did clearly voice support for two strong frontrunners as we head into this next phase of the election. Moving forward, these candidates will need to get out there and expand that support to include people from all across the city, in every neighborhood.
While Saturday’s convention was no way to determine an endorsement, now DFL delegates and the city as a whole will have the next five months to hear from the candidates. Come November, everyone will have an opportunity, through Ranked Choice Voting, to express support for one or more of the candidates who competed last Saturday and probably a good number more. May the best vision win.