Four years ago, I attended the state Democratic convention, held in Hampton, with one thought in mind: to get elected as a Hillary Clinton delegate to the national convention. For this year’s convention, held this past weekend in Fairfax, I had a single focus as well: to help my friend, Del. Lionell Spruill, Sr., to get re-elected as a representative to the Democratic National Committee.
My odds in 2008 were a whole lot better than were Spruill’s, but I still thought it possible. Never did I expect that someone would be elected to represent Virginia Democrats who never asked the convention attendees for their vote.
Let’s back up. Two things require a little explanation.
First, there is the use of slates. Slates are a group of people who run as a team. Voters can check the box for the slate or vote for individual members. As was explained to me in 2008, when I was on the slate, getting your name there is tantamount to getting elected. I didn’t trust that to be the case, so I campaigned hard at the convention then, the result being that I was the top female vote-getter.
There was only one slate for the four-member DNC delegation. The two females ran unopposed but there were six contenders for the two male slots. One of the men dropped out before the balloting began. Even though he has served on the DNC for 7 years, Spruill was not a member of this year’s slate.
Four years ago, it was DNC member Susan Swecker who was removed from the slate, ostensibly so that labor, a key Democratic constituency, could have a seat. But the removal of Spruill was purely a vindictive one.
It all goes back to the House vote earlier this year on Congressional redistricting.
As the record shows, Spruill voted against the bill in committee but for the bill when it hit the floor. What happened in the interim was the release of a memo from Legislative Black Caucus chair Sen. Mamie Locke, which wound up in the hands of AP writer Bob Lewis. As I said at the time, such things should never be committed to writing.
Spruill was charged as the one who disseminated the memo. Well, I’m here to tell you that the copy I received did not come from him – and yes, I had it before Lewis wrote about it.
Everything that was put out there about Spruill, nearly all of it untrue, stemmed from this. His removal from the slate came from this.
Again, I still thought he might be able to pull it out.
Unlike 2008, when those seeking to be elected to the DNC were not allowed to speak at the convention (see this post and the comments), time was allotted for them to speak. Shawn O’Donnell spoke first and did a wonderful job. Ben Tribbett spoke last, garnering some admiration from those seated around me. It was what happened in the middle that was the ridiculous part.
My memory is a little hazy as to when Spruill gave his speech but the rest is crystal clear. Frank Leone deferred his time to George Wallace, the replacement for Spruill on the slate. Wallace then deferred his time to Locke, who proceeded to lecture about party purity – as if that ever happens. Leone gave his speech.
But Wallace never spoke. Locke had apparently used all of the time allotted for him.
So the convention goers never got to hear from Wallace. That wasn’t enough, though, to keep him from being elected.
As a member of the slate, Wallace didn’t win outright but did receive enough votes for a runoff with the second-highest vote getter, Spruill. In the interest of party unity – and because the convention had, by this time, run over and we had to leave the building – Spruill withdrew from contention. That left Tribbett, who ended up withdrawing as well.
A couple of points here.
First, I’m surely not the only person who knew going in that this was going to be a contentious election. The fact that we did not have the opportunity to hold a second ballot of voting is beyond ludicrous. The choice of location for the convention, the seating arrangements, and the shortened time was unacceptable. Speeches by electeds – and would-be electeds – are great, but somebody should have cut them off. Doing the business of the convention was WAY more important than hearing stump speeches; after all, it’s not as if we haven’t heard all of this before. “Be brief, be bright, be gone” should have been the mantra of the day.
Second, it’s time to do away with slate voting. It’s undemocratic. I understand the pushback on this, especially from the folks who had a slate for the national convention delegates. Their problem was that the delegates elected at the congressional level weren’t diverse enough. Seems to me that points to a larger problem within the structure of the party, but that’s a post for another day. Without slate voting, I question whether it was possible for someone to be elected without asking the voters for their vote.
About the only positive thing I can say about this is that the party was lucky enough to have virtually no press coverage of this mess.