Monday, January 28, 2008

Superdelegates Are People Too - Jenny Greenleaf (OR)

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Over the last two months we have looked at the dark and mysterious world of the superdelegates. Some people have called their power tyrannical and others think their very existence is undemocratic. Last week I entered this dark world and spoke to one of these "undemocratic tyrants".

Jenny Greenleaf is one of us. She's not a demon bent on the end of our democracy. She has no intention of denying American citizens of their right to choose their preferred candidate.

And as one of Oregon's 13 superdelegates, Greenleaf will be able to choose who she wants to be nominated as the next President of the United States.

After seeing the following comment on MyDD, I had to talk to her:

I'm a DNC committeeperson from Oregon, which makes me a superdelegate.

I get a call from two or three media organizations every week. I politely explain that I am not endorsing any of our great candidates yet. They then ask if I am leaning toward anyone, and I say no. (Because I'm an officer of the state party, and we don't want the state party to be seen as providing more or better services to one candidate or another, I plan to stay neutral until Oregon's late primary in May.

So, ABC, NBC, CNN, CBS/New York Times call the superdelegates constantly. I suspect that when the reporters count up the superdelegates, they are using slightly different ways of deciding if someone is a supporter or not. It depends on whether they count the leaners. And how many people they managed to reach for that particular poll.

Greenleaf isn't a life-long party member. Like many people she became politically active in 2002. After being laid off from a tech job she wanted to work on something that would make a difference. Her goal was to make the Democratic Party less mysterious and more efficient.

She started out doing fundraisers and moved on to help the Dean and Kerry campaigns in 2004. Jenny was selected as a delegate and attended the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. At the time she was a regular blogger on American Street. She told me that the delegates were really just extras on the convention floor and that she spent a lot of time hanging out in the nose-bleed seats with the other bloggers. Greenleaf won her DNC seat in Dec. '04, and thus became a superdelegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

The media calls her at least once a week asking for her preference. The Oregon Democratic Party has decided not to make endorsements yet, so she remains Uncommitted. The Clinton, Edwards and Obama campaigns call to ask for an endorsement about every other week. Greenleaf mentioned that the Clinton campaign has made the most calls.

We will continue to follow our Oregon superdelegate through the convention and bring you more proof that superdelegates are people too.

Update: Jenny Greenleaf left a comment to this story on MyDD

I am not undemocratic. I work really hard to make sure the Party is transparent. I got involved because I thought the Party needed to change. I personally find the processes we use to elect our leaders to be Byzantine, to say the least. I'm not going to defend it, but I do believe you have to understand how it works to try to change it. I've been on a mission to do that since I got started in 2002.

Let me see if I can clear up some misconceptions about the superdelegates. For the most part, they are elected in one fashion or another. The congress members and governors were elected by the people in their states. Most of the DNC members are elected by their parties. Others are elected by organizations, such as the Democratic Secretaries of State. A few were appointed by Governor Dean.

I worked my tail off in the 2002 and 2004 campaigns. That's how I got on the DNC....it certainly wasn't decided in a smoke-filled room. The people who elected me to the DNC were elected to the state party from their county parties. Our county parties contain the most progressive activists in our state, and it's those folks who elect the DNC members.

While campaigns do call us with requests for endorsement, nobody has tried to twist my arm or offer me an ambassadorship to New Zealand. Nobody has been anything but polite. I have received no calls from any dark, shadowy bodies informing me that they've chosen the candidate. It's all quite above board.

Some of you have said that a superdelegate vote counts more than yours. Again, not defending the status quo, it is true that the superdelegates could make a difference if they vote in a monolithic bloc. I don't know the congresspeople real well, but I do know that DNC members have a widely varied set of backgrounds, allegiances, and preferences. I expect their votes will be as varied. by Jenny Greenleaf on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:13:42 PM MST

18 comments:

Chuck Butcher said...

I consider Jenny not only a colleague, but also a friend. She is exactly what she represented herself as in her comment.

TomCat said...

I'm an Oregonian and a B-list blogger who believes that there should ne mo delegates at the Democratic convention, except those committed to follow the will of voters.

I'm not saying super delegates are evil people, and I respect Jenny's restraint in not endorsing a candidate prior to our primary, unlike so many other super delegates. My problem is that Jenny has no obligation to represent the will of Oregon's voters. I would love to see her represent Oregon at the convention, but as a pledged delegate for the candidate of her choice, provided that candidate garners sufficient votes in our primary to earn her representation.

Jenny said...

Tomcat: There's only one way to change that and it's to get involved. Now, getting an institution like the DNC to vote itself less power undoubtedly a hard task. But that's where the change has to come from.

Anonymous said...

It is absolutely absurd by any measure in a democratic society to even attempt to justify that the basic premise behind one man/women one vote can be supplanted simply because one has worked hard in the 2002 and 2004 elections. I can understand elected political officials who are represented by the general populous, but a single individual with no transparency of intentions is simply undemocratic.

tlcleary said...

I would expect my vote to carry the same weight as any other legal voter in state, whether it be in the primary election or the general election. Any other way (such as superdelegates) may not be in smoke-filled rooms, but it is still a back-door selection process that flies in the face of democracy and opens a very large gateway for corrupt deal-making to subvert our democratic process.
Jenny's character may very well be impeccable, but that is wholly irrelevent.

jenny said...

I'm not defending the process or the concept of superdelegates. I find it as weird as you do.

However, we elect people to represent us all the time. You don't expect to go to congress with your congressman/woman and have a vote. We have a representative democracy, which means that we don't always agree with our representatives.

I was elected by my neighbors to represent them at the county level. I was elected at the county level to represent my county at the state level of the party. And I was elected at the state level to represent my state at the DNC.

It's a hard question for me. Do I represent the people who elected me (i.e., the state Democrats)? Or do I represent the will of all Democratic voters in the state? Since we apportion delegates from our primary, we don't really have clear winners/losers; we simply have amounts of delegates won. So, if Clinton wins 49.9% and Obama wins 50.1%, what does that mean?

And, my question to you is, "If you don't like the system, what are you doing to change it?"

tlcleary said...

We both find it weird.

It is my understanding that the DNC changed the rules following the landslide against McGovern when the primary voters elected him.

I say that an embarrassment might be ok when it is the will of the voters.

I believe that the most fair method is for each state to vote on the first ballot for the candidates in proportion to their primary election results.

What am I doing about it? Well the DNC changed it to what it now is. Maybe if I voice my opinion to my representative on the DNC, it will be considered. If that method were adopted, you would have no dilemma determining who you represent on the first ballot, would you? Then on subsequent ballots, we would simply trust your judgment as the person elected for that purpose.

By the way... thank you for all your hard work.

Anonymous said...

The name of the party is the "Democratic Party", not the "Oligarchic Party". That's more the province of the Republicans. If we wanted to be ruled by a few powerful people, we would vote for the other party. So if the superdelegates deny the popular winner a victory, that's what I'm going to do, since the Republicans would then be more democratic than the "Democrats". Me and I'm sure a lot of other people.

Gerik said...

Jenny,

Will you follow the lead of Maine's Democratic Party Chairman John Knutson and pledge your superdelegate vote for the winner of Oregon's primary election?

Jenny said...

I am absolutely remaining uncommitted until Oregon votes.

I've talked with some of the other delegates about what an odd process we have for electing a party standard bearer. As our former Governor Barbara Roberts said, "Making things fair makes things complicated."

Those who have more history than I do tell me that most ideas for simplifying the process will make it less fair. Certainly the way we award delegates proportionally in the congressional districts is odd, but that's because it really tries to be fair to the voters and reflect differences around the state. Winner take all is a lot simpler, but I'm not sure we'd like the result.

I'd love to see regional primaries, but we'd have to federalize the process, and the states who do caucuses would have to give them up. That might not go over so well in a lot of states.

As far as superdelegates...as I understand it, before the superdelegates existed, the party leaders and elected officials would run for the delegate slots (and win), leaving few for the regular folks who want to go to the convention. So that wasn't fair either.

I also think many of you are doing some of the superdelegates a disservice by making assumptions about them. Sure, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are superdelegates, but most of the DNC members are people like me who came out of the grassroots. I'm about as far from a "party elite" as you can get.

Dave said...

Jenny,

I just wanted to commend you for taking such a rational approach to this situation. It must be bizarre to suddenly have so much power (I'm guessing it didn't hit you when you got the DNC position that you'd have a vote that's equivalent to that of thousands of individual voters).

I wish more of the super's were waiting to see how their constituents voted. Good for you.

johnmpls said...

Superdelegates are typical of the basic believe of the DNC, and that belief is the reason I left the party after 35 years and joined the Republicans. The Democratic Party has lost it's way, and MUST turn around. Please read on before you dismiss me.

The basic premise of superdelegates is that "we know better than you do what is right for you". I got tired of seeing this in every aspect of the Democratic Party.

-Listen to Hillary and most of the Democrats in the way they talk to blacks. "Don't you go worrying yourselves about tough things like that....us (white) folks up here in the big house will take care of you.". They make all kinds of promises, EXCEPT we will consider you equals. Bill's comments the past two weeks have also made this clear.

-The Democratic Party wants to mandate health insurance for kids. Great initial concept, but shouldn't that be the parents choice? No, because we know better than you.

-The Democratic Party wants to mandate health insurance for everyone. Again, I am an adult. Shouldn't I be able to decide? And if I am stupid enough not to, shouldn't I be responsible for that?

-The Democratic Party continually stresses equal results, not equal opportunities. Until they understand the difference, they will continue to lose elections.

I am not a fan of the Republicans, especially Bush. But let's all face reality: The Democrats should be able to be led by elementary school kids and beat the Republicans this year. Yet all they can put up are three candidates with a total relevant experience of <10 years in congress. Obama is their national hero, strictly because he has ZERO record that can be attacked. This is a sad state.

McCain will win in November. This is sad, but it is primarily because the Democratic Party has lost all notion of believing in being a democratic country.

But that's good.....because the DNC and Pelosi and Clinton and Kennedy know what's better for me than I do.

Gerik said...

Jenny,

Thanks for the reply, I understand you will remain uncommitted to a candidate and I respect that. My question is will you mirror the democratic process and vote for the popular vote winner? Democracy is direct election by the people.

Superdelegates are an intermediary between the people and the election. Will you be a democratic vessel, passing along the popular vote in a direct election, or will you follow the republican ideal and try to "represent" us even though you are not accountable to us any way?

You may have relationships within the party that will hold you accountable, but what about the general Democratic electorate? We have never really heard of you, we never elected you. I personally deeply respect your commitment to the party and take this opportunity to thank you for your service, but in the case of a 50.1% and 49.9% vote, there is a clear democratically elected winner.

Will you vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote, or not?

Anonymous said...

Super Delegates? Are you kidding me? This is a Democracy we live in, not an Autocracy, and it should be treated like a Democracy, where the canidates get elected by the people. Not by some absurd version of the kings men. Give the votes back to the people, immediately, or you will all loose your jobs. Do not mess with America and our Democracy!!!!

Anonymous said...

I don't know why people are vilifying superdelegates as undemocratic. This is the primary, not the general election. It's an internal process where the parties select a candidate however to represent them. They can do it however they want. It doesn't have to be any more democratic than the party wants it to be.

Not convinced? Please note a few other glaring discrepancies:
- entire states are not represented
- many caucuses and primaries exclude citizens not registered with the party.
- some states allow 17 year-olds to vote

That being said, giving extra weight to people who know first-hand what it takes to run in and win elections makes a lot of sense. Combining it with some dry runs in actual states? Brilliant!

It all makes sense to me.

Robbie said...

The whole idea of party-politics is undemocratic. In the context of party-politics, this process makes perfect sense. But why does a "party," whether Republican or Democrat choose a presidential nominee? Shouldn't the people choose other people based on their merits? Of course the answer is yes, but unfortunately we have to work within these parameters for right now. The good thing is that a lot of people are waking up to these realities (seemingly for the first time?); I know I am.
The way things have been, we are LUCKY to have the candidates we do have, but we should also keep a sharp eye on the future of our democracy, and how we can help mold it later to better represent the people rather than political machines.

Jim Brunberg said...

Jenny,
I appreciate the intellectual rigor with which you approach your role as superdelegate in the comments below. As another commented, you have no obligation to vote with the majority of the popular vote (whatever that means). I ask that you vote for the candidate who will run the most honest, straightforward campaign, one based on issues and not smears.

I ask you to examine the tactics used by Senators Clinton and Obama and choose a candidate who you believe can bring about change not only to the system (as you've suggested) but also change to how we all participate in society (particularly politics, the law, and justice). To me, the choice is clearly Barack Obama. Senator Clinton's rhetoric and fact-shifting seems divisive (even if it is not meant to be) and based on archaic paradigms of race, gender, and politics. Specifically shocking to me have been her claim to the popular vote, her "elitist" accusation, and her juxtaposition of images of Osama Bin Laden and Obama in a smear campaign in North Carolina.
This is a global age. Senator Obama and the cabinet he assembles (which may include Senator Clinton's expertise) will be a great step forward out of a dark age, in which people have felt disenfranchised here, and offended throughout the world, by a blind, arrogant government (Bush administration).
While I think that Clinton represents a healthy return to the prosperity of the 1990's, I am not convinced that the changes she champions are surmountable or wise. While I agree with her politics in many ways, I question her integrity and ability to build consensus in government.
No one has asked me to appeal to you, I have taken it upon myself to write to all of Oregon's undecided superdelegates because I find Senator Obama's unifying politics and inspiring message of hope are backed up by concrete plans to embark on some much needed changes, and I hope that he has your vote on May 20th (or before!).

Thanks,
Jim Brunberg
Owner, Mississippi Studios
Portland OR

Portland said...

I am so disappointed that Jenny Greenleaf supported Barack Obama. There is no way he can beat John McCain if Obama is our nominee. I am so concerned that the Oregon Democratic power structure is using such poor judgement. When she talks of Obama's inspiring ways, what has he done on the national level that amounts to anything? Senator Obama was in the Illinois state senate for 8 years. So where are all the significant changes that he made there? What did his inpiring words do for Illinois? I would expect that these accomplishments would be mentioned over and over again in his campaign and by his supporters. I have not heard of any yet so please keep me informed and tell me. So far, I cannot find any examples. Jenny Greenleaf is supporting a superficial candidate with a well paid PR image that appeals to Americans who are hurting. I am afraid if Obama is the nominee, Americans are going to be hurting a lot more as there is no way Obama will be able to win. Not once the Republicans get ahold of him1