Sunday, June 27, 2010

Texas Democratic Convention: Education and Two-Stepping

Yes I attended the recently completed Texas Democratic Party state convention in Corpus Christi this weekend. As a delegate, not as a blogger. So I was away from my desktop PC since Thursday afternoon. A lot of people have their own takes on the convention, and I will be putting up some of my own takes, admittedly belated but there it is.

From this delegate’s point of view, the recently concluded Texas Democratic Party state convention was about two things: education and the Texas Two-Step.

And oh yes, electing a slate of Democrats in the fall.

Now it could just be me and my myopic point of view, or maybe it was simply my choice of caucuses to attend before and between convention sessions, but given the fact that there was not an unoccupied chair nor an empty space along the back and side walls of the meeting rooms, and that one meeting had to temporarily adjourn to find a bigger meeting room, I think I am not too far off base here.

Three very full caucuses just dealt with education and the State Board of Education. The SBOE was the target of two caucuses on two days. The largest and most well-attended was led by the Texas Freedom Network, chaired by its president Kathy Miller, and featured a clip from Jon Stewart’s public barbecue of the Texas SBOE on “The Daily Show” as well as short speeches by State Rep Mike Villarreal and freshman State Senator Wendy Davis. The TFN, being non-partisan did not advocate any political actions but their message was clear: with three challenges in SBOE races this fall, the solution would be to elect the Democratic candidates.

The message was made clearer in a caucus entitled “What Can You Do to Take Back Our State Board of Education?” A brief chronology of events was presented, essentially tying the establishment of the Christian Coalition back in the 80’s with a concerted, yet very obscure effort to replace SBOE members with evangelical conservatives. Then the clear message was to elect Michael Soto in the 3rd District, Rebecca Bell-Metereau in the 5th SBOE District, and Judy Jennings in the 10th District.

State Rep Villarreal along with State Senator Davis and other state lawmakers presided over another education caucus – a very well-attended one in which audience members were mainly practicing and retired educators – to gather “Big Ideas” to “build a bold new direction for education in Texas.”

The legislators shared their views of what their main concerns in education were, and then handed it to the audience to break in to groups to brainstorm “big ideas.” They reported their results in the remaining half hour.

Unfortunately there appeared to be nothing new among these “big ideas.” In these days when teaching jobs are as rare as hen’s teeth and step raises are being frozen at current levels, demanding (over and over again) that teachers receive giant increases in salaries to bring them in line with their necessary function in society is a bit of a pipe dream.

And then there was the Two-Step.

A caucus being held by promoters of reforming the uniquely Texas Primacaucus was just about nearly as well-attended as the education caucuses. In it I became reacquainted with the dark days following the Texas primary of 2008 when Hillary Clinton won a majority of primary votes, but Barack Obama’s well-honed campaign machine turned things around in the precinct conventions held later after the polls closed, and attended by a million voters statewide.

Obama, having narrowly lost the primary, ended up with a majority of delegates in Texas with 99 delegates to Clinton’s 94.

Setting off Texas Clinton Democrats like nothing else could, something that put the long-standing and uniquely Texas hybrid primary/caucus system squarely in the crosshairs.

“One man, one vote” was the mantra. Rewarding and promoting activism took a back seat, with defenders of the primacaucus treated soothingly by a group of condescending Hillarycrats.

I learned the strategy, change the process to a pure primary system in the Rules Committee meeting to be held on the following day, or file a minority report if they failed to stack the Rules Committee with enough of their number. Then bring the whole thing to the floor of the convention during presentation of the Rules Committee on the last day of the convention.

Indeed, the rule changed failed by a vote of 25 to 8 in the Rules Committee, so the minority report was filed.

When both majority and minority reports were presented to the convention delegates and two motions to adopt were voted on there was no clear majority in a voice vote, and a roll call vote was all but assured. In the roll call, a “Yea” vote would be a vote to adopt the minority report, and end the Primacaucus, and a “Nay” vote would be a vote to adopt the majority report, and retain the Primacaucus.

An hour of speeches, floor wrangling and counting ensued. An hour where I sat and stewed, knowing what the result would be. During that time the realization hit me that we were engaged in exquisite irony. The convention, you see, with a total of 7,532 delegates allocated over 31 senate districts, was nowhere near that well-attended. But votes were counted and tallied as if it was 100% attended. My one “Nay” vote translated actually to 1.8 votes, as were “Yea” votes similarly allocated. So when 1,930 votes were entered to change the rule to “one man one vote” I knew that it actually represented the actual votes of something around 730 air-breathing souls.

So yeah, a majority of 5,602 votes were cast to adopt the majority report, and a minority of 1,730 votes were cast to adopt the minority report.

What a concept.

Maybe now Hillary Democrats will officially move on and get over the fact that Obama two-stepped right around now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2008. Really, by virtue of the fact that Clinton accepted a very high-profile position in the Obama Administration, and is doing a really good job by the way, she seems to have gotten over her defeat in Texas.

Hillarycrats should now do likewise.

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