Thursday, February 07, 2008

The more I learn, the more my head aches

Maggie says:
I've spent some time going through the great writing on NM blogs (see DFNM, HH, and FBIHOP) about the Super Tuesday disaster, and have some new questions/comments/concerns about the whole mess. My caveat is that I'm not a party person, don't know the internal politics of the NM Dems, and also, am not even a NM resident anymore. But bear with me as we all try to get our heads around what happened on Tuesday. Here's what's troubling me:

1. Bill Richardson's Role. Richardson's chastising letter to the state Democratic Party is arrogant to the core. He kicks Colรณn and the State Dems around in ways that you know I think they deserve, but he shouldn't come away clean on this one, either. Here's the thing: changing around the primary this year - turning it into a "caucus," moving up the date to Super Tuesday, etc. - was Richardson's pet idea. So to absolve all responsibility for how it turned out is outrageous.

Says Big Bill: "In 2004 Governor Richardson--through his personal efforts and those of his organization--ensured a successful first caucus--well organized, well funded, well-executed. This year, his political organization was devoted to his Presidential run and his personal time is now devoted to the Legislature. The New Mexico Democratic Party and New Mexico Democrats were wholly responsible for this caucus in the absence of the Governor's time and his organization."

Remember yesterday when I wrote that I feel badly for the Dem volunteers because they were expected to operate in a "framework set up for failure"? Well, the arrogance of Richardson's letter makes me wonder about some framework failure for the upper party folks, too. That Richardson demanded changes the party might not have been able to execute doesn't take away their egregious errors with low turnout projections and faulty Primary Day logistics, but it does make me wonder if there was any way Super Tuesday could have ever succeeded, mostly because of...

2. The Money. The funding aspect of the primary is very troubling to me, and I'd love more answers. First, how common is it for a state party to pay for its own primary? I did some really basic Googling on how primaries are paid for, and it appears that many primaries in other states are paid for by the state itself or by the county, and they do it in various ways. In Maryland, for example, it looks like the counties foot the bill and the state reimburses them. In Missouri, the cost of the primary is covered up front by an Election Fund earmark from the state legislature. I'm wondering why the New Mexico Democratic Party paid for the "caucus," whose decision that was, how much money was raised, etc.

What's troubling to me about this funding method is that what should be the realm of the public - an election - takes on tones of privatization. This is especially problematic in a contested election year like this one. I can hear a protest that a primary election is not in the public realm, but I'm going to disagree with that because to me, the spirit of an election should always embody civic trust and the public good. Again, I'm sure many will disagree. Going forward with the privatization line of thinking, though... we've seen commenters on several blogs suggest that we should be giving money to the State Democratic Party if we want a better outcome, and this is hugely troubling to me. What happens, say, if Candidate A gives huge amounts of money to the state party paying for the primary? What happens in my view is that New Mexico's delegates are up for sale. Already, the outcry about the missing Rio Arriba County ballot boxes centers around the fact that the folks responsible are involved with the Clinton campaign. An election fund controlled by the state would help protect the integrity of primary elections and ensure that basic tenets of a fair voting process - reasonable waiting times, a convenient voting location, fair distribution of voting locations, votes that are counted accurately and timely - are the rule instead of the exception.

Tawdry internal party politics is exactly what keeps many people away from politics, and many only register with the party in order to have their voice heard during the primary. These voters should be respected, too. Everyone deserves a fair voting process, even folks who want nothing to do with internal party machinations and have no idea how their Super Tuesday Caucus is paid for. That goes back to the public trust... something, I'd hope, the New Mexico Democratic Party cares a lot about.

And as for the figurehead of that party? Richardson should have known better than to call for speedy electoral changes in a state that, let's face it, doesn't have a good track record of running elections. Given the funding/execution framework of how Super Tuesday would be run, he should have ensured that the party had the appropriate funding and manpower to pull it off. Instead, the entire country is still wondering what's going on in New Mexico. So am I.

Suddenly I'm not sure what's worse: state party mismanagement of Super Tuesday, Richardson's arrogance in creating changes that he should have known couldn't be executed properly, or a private entity entrusted with something as important to the public realm as an election like this one.

Help me out here with some answers.