Thursday, March 06, 2008

Councilor-At-Large Yoon Named to DNC Convention's Rules Committee Which May Impact Democratic Presidential Nomination

The Boston Bulletin and Allston-Brighton TAB carried a story in January that was probably passed over by everyone except political junkies: Boston City Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon was appointed by Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean to sit on the DNC's National Convention Rules and Bylaws Committee.

Councilor Yoon's appointment means that a local elected official may have a key role in influencing the Democratic Party's nomination for president. The Rules Committee may have to rule on two related issues: (1) whether Florida or Michigan can hold "make-up" primary or caucus contests before June 7th; and (2) whether or not those two states' delegates can be seated at the DNC's national convention this summer, should they not hold the "make-up" primaries.

Upon his appointment in January, Councilor Yoon foresaw what might happen:
Yoon said there could be a lot for the Rules Committee to look into this year.

Because they scheduled their primary early, Democratic leaders stripped Michigan of all its delegates to the national convention.

"We’ll have to consider whether to allow the delegates," Yoon said.
The Rules Committee might normally be considered an obscure and relatively unimportant body within the Democratic Party, but this year it could play a crucial role in determining whether Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama wins the party's nomination for president. The reason is that the DNC stripped two states, Michigan and Florida, of their delegates -- both pledged (elected) and super-delegates -- prior to the two states' primaries, because both states scheduled their primaries earlier than February 5th, which was against party rules adopted in 2007.

Governor Charlie Crist of Florida has recently proposed that the state hold a "make-up" Democratic primary election before June 7th, and that proposal appears to be headed for a public hearing this Spring in front of the DNC's Rules Committee, according to this morning's broadcast on WBUR. (I missed the interviewee's name on the broadcast, but he identified himself as a co-chair of the DNC's Rules Committee, so it may have been David Walters.)

The TAB and Bulletin stories both include the same incorrect statement: "Only 25 party leaders and elected officials from across the country are chosen to serve on the Rules Committee." (Identical wording that was probably taken from the same press release.) Actually, Dean only appoints 25 committee members; the remaining members, the vast majority of the overall composition of the committee, are selected by the presidential candidates in a proportional formula based on the results of the various states' primaries and caucuses. New England Ethnic News pretty much got it right: "An additional 161 members elected by each of the states' and territories' convention delegations will join the committee later this spring." [161 is close enough to the correct answer of 162, four of which share a single vote.]

Should the Rules Committee have to address any divisive issue between the two leading Democratic candidates, Councilor Yoon's appointment by Dean can be considered a win for Senator Obama. Yoon noted that he has campaigned for Obama.

Rules Committee vs. Credentials Committee

There is some confusion among political commentators about which DNC body will determine whether or not the delegates from Michigan or Florida are seated. Many commentators have mentioned the Credentials Committee, not the Rules Committee, as the body that will decide whether or not those two states' delegates will be seated.

According to a document on the DNC's website, the Credentials Committee has a role:
The Credentials Committee is responsible for resolving any questions regarding the seating of delegates and alternates to the Convention.
The Rules Committee, on the other hand, "is responsible for recommending the rules for the convention, rules of the Party, and other convention business," which includes "resolutions on any matter not addressed by other standing committees."

On a February 2008 broadcast of "On Point" on WBUR, Elaine Kamarck, lecturer at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, said that she was on the Rules Committee when it decided to strip Michigan and Florida of their delegates. She confirmed in an email that it is the Rules Committee that will likely have to decide whether or not to seat those two states' delegates.

I interpret the DNC document and Dr. Kamarck's statement together to indicate that the Credentials Committee would rule on seating particular delegates and alternates within the rules laid out by the Rules Committee.

UPDATE: A member of Councilor Yoon's staff has contacted the DNC to inquire if the Rules Committee's work includes potentially deciding on whether or not to seat the Florida and/or Michigan delegates. The DNC responded to Yoon's office that the issue of seating delegates is for the Credentials Committee, not the Rules Committee, in contradiction with the statements [above] by both former (Kamarck) and current (Walters?) members of the Rules Committee. Obviously there appears to be some degree of confusion on the issue, so stay tuned for more.

UPDATE: A member of the Rules Committee last year is quoted anonymously at The New Republic blog both that it was the Rules Committee stripped the delegates and that Michigan is leaning heavily towards running a "make-up" caucus before June 7th.

UPDATE: DNC Chairman Howard Dean on ABC Thursday:
We would love to have them [Michigan and Florida] seated, but they would have to be seated within the rules. A year-and-a-half ago, we set a primary schedule which Florida and Michigan both voted for. What you cannot do is change the rules in the middle of a contest. I think every American understands that.

There's been a lot of talk about things they can do; we've been very clear what they can do. One, they can resubmit to the Democratic National Committee Rules Committee a set of rules to pick delegates that are within the rules that they agreed to. Or two, if they don't want to do that, they can appeal to the Credentials Committee and hope for the best in July.

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