The South Dakota Democratic Convention considered 31 resolutions from delegates Saturday… or was it 33?
Delegates to the state convention were able to submit resolutions until 3 p.m. Friday. South Dakota Democratic Party staff compiled the documents and e-mailed them to all delegates just a few minutes before midnight. We took up the resolutions for debate during the final open session Saturday morning, which began at 9 a.m. with the hotly contested national committeeman election (Bill Walsh beat Tom Cool), the uncontested national committeewoman election (Deb Knecht replaces Sharon Stroschein), the nomination of Henry Red Cloud for PUC, and our elector election. With those elections out of the way, we had until noon to tackle those 31 (or 33) resolutions.
These resolutions were not platform planks; those were handled in a committee review process Friday morning and full session review and approval Friday afternoon. These resolutions were simply expressions of the party’s sense on a variety of issues.
Each resolution was displayed on the two big screens at the front of the hall while members of the resolutions committee read the Resolved clauses aloud. The chair then opened the floor to brief discussion and motions.
Eventually we reached Resolution #22… which turned out to be Resolutions 22.1, 22.2, and 22.3, all on one sheet:
Resolutions Regarding Superdelegates
RESOLUTION # 1
Whereas; presidential primary superdelegates publically declaring their voting intentions results in some media reporting of the superdelegate’s stated intentions as of that was a pledged vote,
Whereas; superdelegates may publically declare their voting intentions before all candidates in primary have declared or have advanced campaigns very much,
Whereas; inappropriate and not properly reported media coverage of super delegate’s intentions, influences public belief about who is “winning” and may influence public voting
Be it resolved; that the SD Democratic party supports a national rule change that prohibits superdelegates publically declaring how they will cast a super delegate
vote, before the primary or caucus is held in their own state.
RESOLUTION # 2
Whereas ; 15% of the vote in presidential primary is cast by “insider” super delegates, a non-insider candidate may need to get 66% of the popular vote to override insider vote and this makes the Democratic party too much like an oligarchy
Be it resolved; that the SD Democratic party supports a national rule change, that the superdelegate system is revoked
RESOLUTION # 3
Whereas; 15% of the vote in presidential primary is cast by “insider” super delegates, a non-insider candidate may need to get 66% of the popular vote to override insider vote and this makes the Democratic party too much like an oligarchy
Be it resolved; that the SD Democratic party supports a national rule change, that the superdelegate system is limited to 5% of the vote in deciding the winner of the presidential primary [Nancy Hilding, resolutions submitted to South Dakota Democratic Convention, 2016.06.24].
The resolutions committee was going to read all three of these items as one resolution and have us vote on them as a package. The author pointed out that Resolution 22.2 excluded 22.1 and 22.3. The author indicated she was open to changes but did not make an explicit motion. Amidst that muddle, a motion to table won quick support, and the resolution(s) disappeared in the dust of Robert’s Rules.
I did not poll the entire convention, but delegates I chatted with after the convention felt this year’s resolutions process ill served the interests of the delegates, the party, and open debate. Resolutions came to the floor without any prior review and deliberation. Sorting out a muddle like Resolution #22.1–3 should take place in committee, not on the convention floor, with a committee that works with the author to refine the resolution to best express her intent.
To improve out resolutions process, I look to our Lutheran friends in the ELCA. Their annual South Dakota Synod Assembly addresses resolutions from member congregations. Congregations around the state bring resolutions to their church conferences, associations of multiple congregations. Each conference discusses the proposed resolutions and decides whether or not to propose those resolutions for discussion at Assembly. Assembly delegates can access resolutions and all other Assembly documents before the meeting on the Synod website; online documents are updated throughout Assembly. ELCA members can bring resolutions on the Assembly floor—and one member did essentially that this year, offering a substitute motion to defang an ultimately successful resolution condemning payday lending and supporting Initiated Measure 21’s 36% rate cap—but writing and vetting happen largely before the convention.
The South Dakota Democratic Party could easily adopt a similar process. Delegates could bring their resolutions to their county parties before convention. The county parties could meet to review, discuss, recommend changes to, and ultimately vote to advance proposed resolutions to convention or block them. Resolutions would bear the names of the approving county parties, not an individual author.
The SDDP could also create Resolutions Wiki (forum, Facebook group, whatever technology trips your trigger) where all resolutions could be submitted for review by all delegates and party officials. An online Resolutions Wiki would allow delegates, county parties, and convention planners to check for duplicate or overlapping resolutions and recommend combining resolutions and sharing sponsorship.
Whatever method is used for pre-convention review, discussion, and submission, the SDDP could require that to be considered on the floor of the convention, any resolution must be available for delegate review at least 48 hours before floor debate. If some pressing issue arises that seems to demand the Party’s attention (but remember, we’re only talking about resolutions here, not actual legislation that’s going to fix anything), convention delegates would still have the option of offering germane amendments to existing resolutions or suspending the rules (requiring a two-thirds vote!) to introduce a new amendment.
I do not suggest these changes to limit debate. I suggest these changes to add useful deliberation pre-convention to catch small problems in wording, clarify intent, and inform more substantive debate at convention. No resolution should come to the floor without many eyes having reviewed it. Many eyes mean fewer messes like Resolution #22.1–3. The process I suggest would improve resolutions, discussion, and statewide participation in the party convention process.