Editor's Notes

The Democratic County Central Committee's trouble with proxy votes


Everybody knows the Democratic Party's superdelegate problem: if Barack Obama wins the popular vote, as he probably will, and wins the highest number of elected delegates, as he almost certainly will, and the party leaders turn to Hillary Clinton instead, there will be a revolution in the rank and file that could damage the party for years to come.

But in San Francisco, that happens all the time.

The local Democratic Party is run by the Democratic County Central Committee, and 24 of the members are elected, democratically. But every Democrat who holds an elected office representing San Francisco, and every Democratic nominee for office, automatically gets a seat on the committee, too — so you've got another eight or so (it varies) people on the panel who are the local equivalent of superdelegates. US Sen. Dianne Feinstein is on the county committee. So is Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and state senator Leland Yee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a seat. Rep. Tom Lantos was on the committee until he died; his replacement, almost certainly Jackie Speier, will take over his slot this week.

Of course, none of those high-powered types ever show up for committee meetings. They send proxies, either trusted advisors or staffers from their local offices. And often — all too often — those superdelegate proxies are the deciding votes on local issues.

See, the committee may not be the highest profile office in the land, but it has a fair amount of local clout. The central committee decides what position the Democratic Party takes on local issues — and that means both influence and money. The party endorsement on ballot measures can be influential, particularly when it comes with a place on the official party slate card.

These days the committee has a majority of elected progressives. But it's not an overwhelming majority — since half the seats are apportioned by Assembly districts, half the grassroots members are from the west side of town and tend to be more moderate. And not all of the eastsiders are progressives.

So on key endorsements this year — for San Francisco supervisor, for example — the majority of the elected delegates will probably vote for the progressives. But a minority will support the slate backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom — and the superdelegates will mostly go along.

So the Newsom slate at the very least will block the progressives from getting the endorsements. In fact, for a progressive candidate or ballot measure to get the party nod in a contested race requires an almost impossible majority of the elected members.

It can be infuriating.

Supervisors Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin, who often don't get along, are working together to get a solid progressive slate elected to the DCCC this June. It's a good idea, and there's a good chance many of the 24 slate members will win. But the will of the voters won't matter if the superdelegates can still weigh in and screw up any real reform.

I suppose it's possible to change to rules to kick the superdelegates off the committee, but that would be a brutal battle. And there's a much easier solution:

The committee needs to eliminate proxy votes.

Feinstein can't use a proxy to vote on the Senate floor. Pelosi can't send a proxy to vote in the House of Representatives. Proxies aren't allowed in the state Legislature. Why should the DCCC be any different?

If Dianne Feinstein really cares about Gavin Newsom's slate of supervisorial candidates this fall, then she can show up at the committee meeting and vote. Otherwise the grassroots, elected delegates get to decide. Seems fair to me.