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Democrat bashes "undemocratic" Democratic Party

Michael E. Arth, the other Democrat seeking the governor's mansion, sent out an email saying he's filing a grievance against the Florida Democratic Party for being "undemocratic." Here's the whole thing:

Tallahassee, FL: August 25, 2009: Democrat gubernatorial candidate Michael E. Arth filed a set of grievances and proposals to the Rules Committee and Judiciary Council of the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) today. The four page list of grievances, titled “The Democratic Party is Not Being Democratic,” include complaints regarding Arth being frozen out by the party leadership, the party’s breaking of neutrality in violation of democratic principles, and the PDP’s blatant support of another candidate long before the primary election, even while enforcing non-endorsement laws on their Democratic Executive Committees. The grievance also lists various proposed changes that would make the Democratic Party democratic. Contact information follows the attached, original grievance and proposals:....

Petitioner: Michael E. Arth, Democratic gubernatorial candidate

Grievance: The Florida Democratic Party is not being Democratic

List of Grievances:

I. Communication blackout: I am being consistently ignored by the party officials/leaders Karen Thurman, Scott Arceneaux, Eric Jotkoff, and others. Despite over a dozen emails, letters, a certified letter, calls, and other communications, my attempts to have a conversation with or get information about what services might be available to me have been systematically ignored.  These services—whether paid or not—include such things as mailing or calling lists, ads, the “featured Democrat” post, banners that link to candidate’s websites, and “event center” links to articles on the FDP home page. Refusal to discuss these services appears to be a deliberate effort to freeze out my campaign and to deny me the most basic courtesy.

II. Undemocratic practices:

1. Violation of Neutrality: May 2009: Chairperson Karen Thurman endorsed Alex Sink within minutes of Sink’s announcement that she was running for the office of governor. This was followed by three months of fundraising ads, website banners, speeches, and other efforts (to the exclusion of any other gubernatorial candidates) “authorized and paid for the Florida Democratic Party.” The advertisements were paid for with money raised from Florida Democrats to support Democratic candidates. To spend these funds to support one candidate over another more than a year before the Primary Election is to deny these Democrats any say in how their money is spent and to dilute their choice in the primary. The primary should exist for the purpose of allowing the democratic process to work. Viable candidates within the parties have the right to reach the electorate, and these endorsements and fundraising have soaked up millions in campaign cash for one candidate and made it seem that there is only one serious choice. The primary should be an election, not a coronation.

2. Vote-Buying: On 5 June 2009, a week after I filed for office, I called the Florida Democratic Party. By chance, communication director Eric Jotkoff picked up the phone. In the only conversation that I have been able to have with any top FDP official or leader, Jotkoff told me not to run for governor unless I had $3 million to start and $1.3 million a week to win. As Jotkoff told me, “It’s not about the issues, it’s about the money.” To make the elections about the money, and not about the issues, robs the electorate of their constitutional right for fair and democratic representation. Vote-buying and pay-for-play have become institutionalized in our two-party system, and perpetuated by the leadership in Tallahassee led by Karen Thurman. The Democratic Party should seek the high road and fight for electoral reform instead of affirming that it is about the money. Candidates should be discussing serious issues and learning how to be better leaders instead of learning how to be better fundraisers. Jotkoff also said that our money-grubbing electoral process was why he did not work in fundraising. “It would shred every last bit of idealism that I have left,” he said. If the Democratic Party has any last bit of idealism left, it should be striving to improve our democracy rather than seeking to exploit every legal advantage in the pursuit of raw power.

3. FDP Bylaws and the Florida Constitution: Florida is a democratic constitutional republic. Section 1, Article 1 of the Florida State Constitution states that “All political power is inherent in the people.” In keeping with the intent of the Constitution, the Democratic Bylaws have this provision:

Section 3. Endorsement 3.1 Definition: Endorsement shall be defined as endorsing, certifying, screening, or recommending, in any manner, candidates in primary elections.
3.4 Candidate Qualifying: No endorsement shall be made prior to the close of the period of candidate qualifying.
The Florida Democratic Party Bylaws require neutrality for the Democratic Executive Committees during the period before the close of the qualifying period, and it is commonly assumed that this applies to party leadership as well. It does not. According to the FDP’s attorney, Mark Herron, neutrality applies to the DECs but not to the FDP leaders, even though they may be members of DECs themselves. In fact, the rule of non-endorsements is tightened further and made even more hypocritical by a “statement of non-endorsement” required of the DEC chairpersons.

Every chair of every DEC has to sign this statement if they want to receive their portion of the filing fees from the FDP. I propose that the bylaws be amended so it is clear that neutrality applies to the FDP in the same manner that it applies to the Democratic Executive Committees. I also propose that the period of neutrality extend to the primary.

This attempt to freeze out a legitimate candidate and endorse a person chosen by a few party leaders is undemocratic and makes an oxymoron out of the term “Democratic Party.”  It’s like the old Soviet Union where candidates under the control of a few party leaders are hand-picked for the millions of voters. I agree with the statement sent to me by Hilliary A. Martin, secretary of the Northwest Volusia Democratic Club:

The Florida Democratic Party bylaws tell me that our Democratic Executive Committee has to remain neutral while a few party leaders select, promote, and fund-raise for a candidate who is far less suitable than Mr. Arth. It’s outrageously undemocratic, both for us and for the voters. The party bylaws need to be rewritten so it that it is clear that both the DECs and the FDP stay neutral before the primary. In compensation, Mr. Arth should immediately receive the same number of ads that were already given to the other candidate. Anything less would be a disgrace.
III. Proposed Electoral Reform: Neutrality within the party organizations for their own candidates is especially important under our notoriously unfair plurality system. I am aware that the practice of anointing candidates takes place within both the Republican and Democratic Parties in violation of democratic principles. Like other abuses of power that have been common in the era of dirty politics, this should be exposed to the light of day in this age of increasing transparency. This attack on our constitutionally protected right for representation is further compromised by certain blatantly undemocratic practices. The Democratic Party should stand for these additional reforms in order to live up to their name:

1. Majority Voting: We should replace the winner-take-all scheme to elect leaders in single-member elections with instant runoff voting. With IRV, voters rank their candidates in order of preference. Only a majority can win, so if there is not a majority the one with the least votes is automatically dropped with the votes re-tabulated until there is a majority. This instantaneous, automatic process opens elections to new ideas and prevents third party challengers from turning into potential “spoilers.” If Ralph Nader had not run in the 2000 presidential race, Al Gore would have won instead of George Bush, for example.

2. Public Campaign Finance: Special interests, or rich candidates, should not be allowed to compromise the public interest through private campaign financing.

3. Direct Voting: Replace the Electoral College with direct voting.

4. Proportional Representation: We should abolish single member districts for representatives elected by plurality voting. This allows for redistricting fights every 10 years and excludes the majority of people from being properly represented. We should have proportional representation in newly created multi-member districts for truly fair redistricting, and fair representation.

 5. Restore Ex-Felon’s Right to Vote: About 1 million ex-felons are denied the right to vote in Florida. In Florida, we incarcerate people at a rate that is 8 times higher than Canada yet we still have a higher rate of violence. While addressing the systemic reasons why we have the world’s highest incarceration rate, we should also restore the vote and other rights for those who have done their time and who are struggling to reenter society.

 


Voters often complain about not being properly represented, but they usually do not blame the real culprit—our electoral system. Instead they tend to blame the politicians who they see as venal, superficial, power-hungry, mendacious, and preoccupied with non-stop fundraising. Only by reforming the electoral system can we get the leaders we both need and deserve. Electoral reform, both inside and outside the party, would bring dignity to politics. It would also stop the vote-buying, help keep good people honest; eliminate spoilers and vote strategizing; make gerrymanders extinct, and bring out the best candidates.

VI. Conclusion: As an example of the proper and reasonable respect for neutrality, here is what state committeeman Ed Matson wrote me:

We are the Democrat Party of Martin County with the objective of electing Democrats and we try not to charge fellow Democrats for any type of advertising on our website. We have a limited budget, but do what we can. Alex Sink was the only gubernatorial candidate I was aware of until your announcement and that is why we had the big splash for her. We try not to “endorse” any particular Democratic candidate until after the primaries and we will try to give equal space and time to all of our viable people….I was looking at your website and I must say, I like and agree with almost all of your issue positions. There needs to be more enlightenment like that in this state.
 My grievances are as universal as they are personal. It is reflected in the reaction of others within the party—many of whom are outraged but reluctant to speak up out of fear of retribution. I have voted Democratic for over 35 years because I believe this to be both a party of principle and of responsible change. Everything I have seen on the local level within the Democratic Executive Committees and Democratic Clubs reinforces this belief. The Democrats I meet have generally welcomed my attempts to discuss important issues in this race, to give 4 million party voters more than one choice, and to stay neutral until after the primary. I ask for the same treatment by the Florida Democratic Party.

 Sincerely,

 

Michael E. Arth (386) 626-4884

http://www.michaelearth.org


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