The Constitution says that the county central committees must send 3 names to the county councils so that a choice may be made on who should have the appointment. As much as we would wish it, the vote of the PCOs is not the final say. Over the last few decades, we have had the understanding that the person who ranks #1 according to the PCOs should get the appointment. So we have arranged our voting procedures to reflect that understanding. The PCOs vote, and the person who gets the most votes gets the nod, then two other names are identified, sometimes from the vote count, sometimes from the executive board, sometimes just a name from the audience. And that’s the list submitted to the county central committee, and on to the county council. Easy.
Maybe too easy.
Here’s what we might have been missing, and the lesson when it finally hit me came not from the 33rd, but from my experience in the 46th. When Scott died, his seat in the Senate became a vacancy that we needed to fill. Everyone believed that David Frockt should get the appointment. So we knew that he would get the highest number of votes. But we had to show a fair process, so we required that David and everyone else for both the Senate and the (likely) House appointment fill out the KCDCC Candidate Questionnaire. David Miller volunteered to fill one out, and I filled one out myself. Because we needed three names, not because either of us wanted the appointment.
Then came the surprise. To make sure the process was fair, we posted the requirements on the website of the 46th and King County. And someone saw it. Tony Provine, a local union member and someone with a LOT more experience and potential than I ever expected grabbed a copy of the blank questionnaire and filled it out. He wasn’t expecting to win the vote of the PCOs, nor was he expecting to get the appointment from the County Council. But he wanted to step forward, and he wanted to be heard. And I still get tears in my eyes when I remember how the audience of the special caucus reacted when I stood up to nominate him and tell this story. He got a standing ovation. He earned a lot of respect, and it was and is an encouragement for him as he now explores the idea of running for Seattle City Council in District 4.
See, he didn’t get the ovation because people were going to vote for him, they were applauding the fact that he stood up. That’s what the party, both parties really, need to do. We need to engage, educate and empower people within the grassroots to stand up and declare that they are willing to serve their communities by running for elected office. It might not be our job to choose “the winner” of an appointment, but it certainly is our responsibility to make sure that everyone on that list of names we submit are fantastic people that we can support if they DO get the appointment.
So here’s a proposal for how to handle the voting, and it’s a bit different. The goal is to find the best people, not just the best person. So open it up. The more people that stand up, the better. And when the ballots are provided to the PCOs, they don’t just choose one name, they choose three. The top three of a larger group of engaged, empowered advocates for the values and issues that the PCOs care the most about. When the votes are counted, the goal is not to identify The One, but to build a list of three names where all three have the strong support of the district’s PCOs and the grassroots that will stand at their backs when the next election comes. What happens when only one person gets a clear majority? Take THAT name off the top and run the ballots again, until you have three names with all three having majority support.
A procedure built like this would help us build our farm team. Because people who are encouraged and applauded to stand up and face the PCOs are people that we want to continue supporting as they move on and up towards higher offices, or to take leadership positions within our communities so their names are known for future opportunities to serve.
I don’t think this would change the fact that we rank the candidates, because that would still happen. And it also wouldn’t change the fact that the most obvious choice (like David Frockt replacing Scott) would also MOST likely get the nod from the county councils. But it might help us manage our expectations a bit for the off chance occasion when we lose sight of the fact that the final choice doesn’t belong to us, it’s really up to the voters in the next election, and that what we’re really talking about is an Interim appointment to fill the seat until that election takes place.
Holding elected officials accountable for the decisions they make that we disagree with is important, but it is also hard. Building a grassroots organization from the ground up that is strong enough to win elections is just as hard, if not harder, and in my opinion is more important. I think our procedures, and most especially our understanding of the reasons behind those procedures, need to be developed and presented in a way that helps us build our grassroots party. The 33rd LD appointment hurt us, not just because the King County Council made a different choice, but because we were not prepared to deal with the choice they made. I think our resources are better spent building us up than having unfair expectations that result in us tearing ourselves down.
This is a big change, but it takes into account our responsibilities, both to the Washington State Constitution and to the grassroots and voters. As a grassroots party, we have to be representative of their voices, responsible to our shared values, and responsive to their needs. Those three words capture the essence of what an elected official needs to be. We can’t hold ourselves accountable for anything less.