What happened in Iowa March 10th: Democratic County Conventions: My report:
Democracy is like sausage: Very good in the end but a hell of a mess while being made. Yesterday, we Iowa Dems made some especially messy sausage. We held our county-level conventions.
Media report the Iowa Caucus results from all 1,681 precincts in Iowa, tell the world who “won,” and leave on red-eye flights for the next presidential contest.
Back home in Iowa, we know those caucuses are only the first of four steps to winning delegates at the national party convention. And in a close race, every level is another contest. Yesterday I was a delegate to the Polk County Democrats’ Convention and it was, well, rowdy would be a polite term.
For both Clinton and Sanders, delegate turn-out was not as solid as we hoped. Iowa is enjoying an early spring and so were many delegates who in February were sure they’d love to stand for their candidates at the convention. In March, they were sure lots of other people would probably go so they wouldn’t be missed. (Note to you skippers: We missed you.)
At neighborhood caucuses, there are two “counts”: First alignment count, and after a persuasion interlude when neighbors jump on friends backing “nonviable” candidates like ducks on a Junebug, a second alignment count. But often a third count is made, as tired elders and parents with new babies slip out the back doors.
At county conventions, three counts are always made. Yesterday, nearly all of us forgot that.
As we registered for the convention and picked up our programs, we filled out “1st alignment” cards. And the counts at starting time (9 am) were: 1,061 delegates, with 519 for Hillary Clinton, 532 for Bernie Sanders, and 8 for Martin O’Malley. However, out in the hallways, alternate delegates were still being seated as those already in the auditorium (at Valley High School) began inching their way through approval of the Polk County Democratic Party platform. Picture 1,061 people with ardently held beliefs, editing a document. Yes, it took all morning to get perhaps a third of the way through—and that was pulled off because we had limits on times and numbers of people who could speak for or against each proposal before a vote.
The vote on whether we agreed to call for outlawing corporate high-density farms required several “stand and be counted” rounds before our adder-uppers even agreed on the number of Ayes and Nays.
After breaking for lunch (thank you, Hy-Vee, for somehow serving up fat, juicy grilled burgers and brats to 1,000-some people so quickly!), Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley delegates met up again, but this time in “preference groups”.
Now we were REALLY making sausages!
Each group had two tasks: Achieve an accurate count of the people now in your group, and elect delegates and alternates to the next two levels. (Fortunately, delegates elected to “district” conventions also go to the state convention, so that narrowed the impossible task a little.)
The “accurate count” wasn’t difficult on the Clinton side. Blue-tinted “second alignment” cards were part of all the registration packets. We filled them out, counted them up, and rejoiced when our new number was 536. (I later learned by talking with several Bernie delegates that their group leader hadn’t known about these cards and achieved their count by many trial-and-error count-up-by-bodies type attempts. Their second count was a low 511.)
We Hillary delegates guesstimated we’d have 115 to 120 delegate slots. We had over 200 wanna-be’s, based on how many people filled out little grey “I Wanna Be a Delegate” cards. But after many appeals to speed up the process and not put us to the time-consuming task of voting one by one on each person, we had roughly 150 delegates and 50 alternates. With strong agreement, we used random selection to pull 39 more people from the delegate packet and moved them to the alternate packet. (Truth is, alternates nearly always get seated, what with district conventions being 1] not local and 2] held on a lovely Saturday in late April.)
Now, into our camp came a lovely parade of realigning delegates. Amid ceiling lifting cheers, Hillary Clinton picked up 6 of the 8 O’Malley delegates—AND a number of former Sanders delegates. (We would later see why these Sanders delegates became so utterly disaffected, when we rejoined the full convention...so many hours later.)
The Sanders contingent was flabbergasted at the jump in Hillary Clinton’s numbers. They simply couldn’t believe it. So they demanded a recount. By themselves.
And we obliged.
Dear Lord, we counted and we counted again. All 500-some of us filed out one by painfully slow one, as Bernie delegates oversaw the test of whether we were actually delegates at all (and not some sort of “ringers” who’d slipped in by the side door, I suppose).
We stood in line and stepped out of the Valley High cafeteria as people with lists of real delegates checked our ID tags and marked us off a list of delegates. We waited in the lobby. We waited some more. We colonized the stairs because there were no seats. Hillary helpers brought us springwater. Then snacks. Then more springwater. At last everyone was checked for legitimacy—and that should have provided a number. Add up the checkmarks. (Yeesh.)
But no. Bernie’s representatives blockaded re-entry to the cafeteria with tables, left a little slot like a cattle chute, and we filed back again, one by one, as four of them (FOUR!) counted us up.
And we totaled—546!
I would later learn from our delegate Tabatha that she had participated in a similar count of the Bernie people. They totaled—512.
Both groups (with O’Malley’s people now redistributed, we were down to two groups) agreed to certify these counts.
Then suddenly a RULES Committee person strode in to our space and announced that his committee and only his committee would make a third and final count. We objected. Strenuously. We’d been counted six ways from Sunday—and in ways guaranteed to be accurate, like countable checkmarks on delegate registration pages, countable blue cards, the Sanders’ people’s count.
Oh no, it seemed the Sanders camp had objected to THEIR OWN COUNT and now, his committee’s count would be the only real count, and it would magically be accurate, even though we were crammed into that cafeteria like sardines and many tables with attached seats were jammed together with no aisles, and people were propped against walls and clustered randomly standing.
He and his helpers counted and came up with 513. Simply put, they counted WRONG.
Our leader announced that the Clinton campaign would be protesting this erroneous “third” count (which was actually and in real life, a fifth count, done by a far less accurate method).
And it was 5:30 pm. We had started registering at 7:00 am.
After a fair amount of microphone swapping for hollering "for" the new count (by Rules) and "against" (by every other person in the venue), we were done with the break-out portion of the Convention and moved en masse back to the main Convention space to ratify the results and delegates to go forward.
We arrived in the lobby outside the venue, only to find that the Sanders folks were encamped and entrenched in the auditorium. They were “down to” 69 extra people on their delegates list and were voting one by one (!) with speeches and whatnot, as to who would be a delegate and who would be an alternate. In their space, youth dominated, and it was youth with a cause, youth with that ardent, hard-held, hard-headed belief in their saint. I did recognize some of the far-left folks from around town who would typically vote third party, but youth dominated and youth were clueless.
They didn’t know and wouldn’t let us tell them that alternates get seated at conventions. Nearly always.
Two hours later, they were still dicking around picking delegates. We were outside singing. What can I tell you, we coulda put on a play or something. We sure had the time. A fave Democratic leader, Ako, answered questions and led songs from an open landing on some stairs leading to the upper decks of the auditorium, providing a kind of mini-stage above the lobby crowd.
A Bernie supporter suddenly erupted from the auditorium and joined Ako and Sean Bagniewski, our caucus leader, on the landing. We thought he had NEWS. Turned out he had BOOZE.
He reeled, grabbed the rail, and yelled “Hillary is a cheater!”
He was ushered out more politely than he should have been, which is to say, no one drop-kicked him.
At long f’ing last, the Sanders contingent allowed as how they were done picking delegates. We joined them. We were peeved beyond belief and they were apparently livid. A more uncomfortable space could only be...a Trump rally.
Let’s just say the Sanders camp didn’t take losing well. Even though it was us Hillary folks who got robbed on the supposed “count” by Rules Committee. The Berners had imagined “taking Iowa” at the county conventions and they hadn’t quite managed it. They yelled loudly, angrily, and randomly from all over the auditorium, mostly invective. I started thinking we needed bailiffs or sergeants at arms. They threatened to refuse to ratify the delegate lists—for BOTH candidates! Only when pacified repeatedly with the promise that district convention was the place for protesting counts and delegate numbers did we finally get them to ratify the slates of delegates. And honestly, we Hillary Clinton supporters are the ones who got screwed. We were allotted only two more delegates than Sanders, 115 to 113, NOT reflecting our huge advantage in the more careful third and fourth counts, of 546 to 512 representatives present.
I console myself with two things:
1. We are actively protesting the false fifth count and insisting the Party rely on the careful, checkmarks-based-on-delegate-tags count (third) and Sanders group counting as we filed past count (fourth).
2. I remember something my high school government teacher once said: "If you want efficient government, there’s nothing more efficient than a dictatorship." Or, to put it my own way, democracy-in-the-rough requires a lotta sausage-making.