Report from the April 4 DCDSC

Last week, the DC Democratic State Committee (DCDSC) held its April meeting, which turned out to be far less eventful than expected.

For those who like the play-by-play, you can read my Twitter live thread here. For official minutes, head over to dcdemocraticparty.org.

April was our first business meeting of the new quarterly cycle (explained here), and the big draw for a lot of non-members was a resolution calling for National Committeeman Jack Evans to resign from that position, given a recent Council reprimand for his misuse of public office and a recently-launched federal investigation.

Before I jump into that, here’s a look at the main items on the official agenda for the night:

  • DNC Delegate Selection Plan review and vote
  • Returning Citizens Caucus vote
  • National Committeeman resolution vote

DNC Delegate Selection Plan

As part of the absolutely bewildering way that the Democratic Party organizes its national convention, each state party has to submit in advance a comprehensive delegate selection plan. Based on a series of complex calculations, DC is expected to get 37 delegates plus 2 alternates at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in 2020.

DC Democratic State Committee’s plan runs forty-four pages (!!!) long, and you can read it in full here. I will not pretend for a second to be an expert yet on this document or the process, but it’s important for Democratic voters to have some idea of how this works.

We will elect through a public pre-primary caucus (date TBD) thirteen “District-level Delegates” and 1 alternate. My understanding is that participation in that caucus is open to registered DC Democratic voter who appear at the caucus site and also register to participate in the caucus. These District-level delegates are pledged delegates, whose votes for a Presidential nominee at the convention are bound to to the results of the DC Democratic primary.

Since DC is not officially a state, we don’t actually have Congressional Districts. But for the purposes of this process, DC is considered to have two Congressional districts, #1 encompassing Wards 1, 2, 6, and 8, and #2 including Wards 3, 4, 5, and 7. Imaginary district #1 will elect 7 delegates (3 men, 4 women), while imaginary district #2 will elect 6 (3 men, 3 women). Some have argued that we should operate two caucus sites, one for each district, but the selection plan proposes one central location.

Anyway. In addition to these District-level pledged delegates, DC gets two Pledged Party Leader and Elected Official Delegates (PLEOs), whose votes at Convention are also bound to the primary results.

Then, we have a cast of Unpledged Delegates,  who can vote however they choose and come from five categories: members of the DNC who reside in the District, any sitting Democratic President or Vice President (none, right now), all of DC’s congressional delegation (Delegate + 2 shadow senators + 1 Shadow Rep), the Mayor of DC, and any “Distinguished Party Leaders” (ex-Presidents, ex-party chairs, etc.).

And finally, we have a to-be-determined number of At-Large Delegates, elected by the DCDSC.

All delegates are elected on a gender-parity system, meaning half the delegation will be men and half will be women, and according to the DCDSC’s affirmative action plan.

Eyes crossed yet? Here’s the bottom line: I don’t recall us actually voting to approve the DCDSC’s selection plan. Since DC hasn’t actually finalized the 2020 Democratic primary date, despite the DCDSC urging it to be June 2nd, the document isn’t technically complete. There is a public review period, so you, a Democratic voter, can weigh in, prior to the DCDSC submitting this to the DNC. Head over to dcdemocraticparty.org for that.

Returning Citizens Caucus Vote

Last month, Ward 8’s Stuart Anderson proposed a change to the DCDSC constitution that would establish a Returning Citizens Caucus, intended to ensure formerly-incarcerated Washington residents have two seats on the state committee. These caucus groups are usually a way for existing outside organizations that represent an underrepresented community to get a seat at the table. Anderson is organizing this returning citizens committee as the Nelson Mandela Caucus.

Because it’s a constitutional change, the proposal required a 30 day review period. The DCDSC voted to advance that proposal in March, and this month voted to approve the Caucus almost unanimously, with one abstention from Ward 1’s Stanley Mayes on procedural grounds.

National Committeeman Resolution Vote

This is what you came for. Ward 4 Committeewoman Renee Bowser submitted a lengthy resolution that, at its core, called on National Committeeman Jack Evans to resign from that position given his violation of the Council’s ethics code, his admissions of wrongdoing, and an ongoing federal investigation.

You’ll recall that, in March, 24 DCDSC members signed on to a letter initiated by At-Large Committeewoman Chioma Iwuoha and authored by me. That letter asked Evans to resign from his DCDSC position. You can read it here.

Bowser ultimately pulled her resolution from the floor and plans to re-submit a shortened version in May. But what exactly happened here?

Prior to this meeting, Bowser submitted to the Executive Committee a draft resolution that ran about two pages and included three “therefore, be it resolved” statements:

  1. Acknowledging and agreeing with the Council reprimand of Evans,
  2. Asking Evans to resign as National Committeeman, and
  3. Asking Evans to publicly release information related to his under-investigation business practices and relationships

This version of the resolution was circulated by the Executive Committee to the DCDSC membership by email several days prior to the April meeting. Some members claim to have not received it, which suggests DCDSC leadership doesn’t have a complete and accurate list of member emails. At the April meeting, copies of this version of the resolution were printed and available alongside the agendas.

However, earlier in the same day, Bowser had submitted an amended version of the resolution to the Executive Committee for distribution. This amended version was substantively similar, but both the “whereas” and “therefore” statements had been abbreviated and simplified. This version was never sent to the general membership of the DCDSC prior to the meeting, nor was it on the table for members to collect when they arrived.

When Bowser took the floor, she announced the changes and began distributing copies of the new version of the resolution. Mass confusion followed, with many supporters surprised to learn of the changes and many opponents of the resolution jumping on the the confusion to call for the resolution to be taken off the table permanently.

Chair Charles Wilson attempted and failed to keep order. Seconds, objections, points of order, arguments in favor and against, and so on were lobbed from all corners of the room. A recommendation was made by Ward 6’s Chuck Burger to withdraw the resolution and resubmit it at the next meeting to ensure absolute clarity prior to the vote. Bowser agreed to do this, and in doing so saved the resolution from the fate Evans loyalists had wished for.

After the withdrawal, with the resolution no longer up for discussion, Chair Wilson  decided to recognize Ward 2’s Susana Baranano and Vice-Chair Linda Gray, of Ward 4, both of whom used their time to speak out against the resolution and discourage its consideration in the future. No speakers in favor were recognized thereafter.

There was a lot of post-meeting chatter in person and online about the “disorganization” of Bowser’s effort here, but I want to applaud her for standing in front of the longest-serving Councilmember in DC history and stating plainly why he’s not deserving of the role he occupies in the party.

It’s very difficult to have a controversial debate in the DCDSC, as Robert’s Rules are only minimally followed and leadership has proven incapable on several occasions of maintaining order. Better organization would have helped, but I’m not sure the result would have been noticeably different.

I’m planning to work with Bowser and others to ensure the resolution gets a fair hearing in May. Evans has been trying to kill the resolution with personal calls and by turning out absentee committee members who haven’t shown up to a meeting in months. The machine at work! While there is a sizeable minority of members who stand strong on issues of ethics, they seem slightly outnumbered by proud loyalists or people whose private careers make it difficult to vote against a Councilmember publicly.

Nonetheless, there is incredible value in submitting this resolution once again. Chair Wilson ruled this resolution in order in April and committed to conducting this vote by roll call, which means we will actually know who voted in favor of party ethics and who voted in favor of protecting Evans. I expect that he’ll uphold that ruling and that commitment in May. That’s important information for Democratic voters to have as they caucus for DNC delegates and vote for DCDSC members again in future primaries. It’s also important for DCDSC members as we strategize around future resolutions.

Moreover, we could still be surprised. Results will be shaped by turnout, and with ~90 committee members, a few absences or abstentions can swing things drastically. Just as Wilson’s election as Chair over longer-serving members stunned many, perhaps May’s vote on the Evans resolution will show that there’s more hunger for a renewed party than cynics expect.

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