Political And Other Miscellany From A Stout Democrat In Dallas Texas.
"Politics is the only game for adults." --from Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


A filibuster is a parliamentary tactic used to prevent the majority from getting its way. The method itself is neutral; it can be used by the good folk or the bad ones. It is always employed by the side which would otherwise lose. Usually this is done by a minority which once had control but has lost it, and so has resorted to this desperate tactic to prevent change.

The best known example was the segregationist Southern Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate. Those battlers for the status quo prevented Congress from passing civil rights bills for generations. Most of the country was changing its views. Most of the U.S. House was willing to pass such bills. The Senate racists still kept them bottled up. At the time, liberals kept denouncing this obstructionism as anti-democratic.

More recently the filibuster has been used by non-Southern and non-racist Democrats in the U.S. Senate. They have employed it to block a tiny few of the more extreme theocratic reactionary judicial appointments of George Bush. They have to resort to this because the Republican majority of the Senate would lay down willingly before the juggernaut. It is a holding action, done in hope that future elections will change the President or the Senate majority.

When the rules of a legislative body, like the U.S. House, do not allow filibusters to continue against the will of the majority, those who are desperate to stop action resort to another tactic. Perhaps the most famous early use of this method was by the man who became the first President from Bush's party:
As a leading member of the Illinois legislature, Lincoln repeatedly opposed proposals by Democratic legislators to audit the Illinois state bank. In December 1840 the Democrats in the legislature wanted to require the bank to make payments in specie (that is, gold) instead of paper. ... Lincoln wanted desperately to avoid this move ... he and his fellow Whigs headed for the door, which was locked and guarded. Their objective was to leave the room so that there would be no quorum ... Blocked from the door, Lincoln jumped out of the first-story window and was followed by his Whig compatriots; after this event, the Democrats began referring to "Lincoln and his flying brethren."
--The Real Lincoln
More recently, the Democrats in the Texas legislature have felt forced to resort to this by leaving the state in an effort to stop Delay's "Perrymandering" of Congressional districts to benefit the Republicans. In both cases the "vanishing quorum" was an attempt by those who were out of power to prevent the will of the majority.

This is not just done in legislative bodies. Those of us who have attended several state Democratic Conventions in Texas have seen this more than once. A state Chair does not want certain resolutions considered, because they would pass on the floor and "embarrass" some candidates. (Repealing motorcycle helmet laws was a famous instance a few years back.) The Chair simply "runs out the clock" until so many bored and frustrated delegates leave the hall in disgust that fewer than a quorum remain. Once that happens, some shill of the Chair makes the point that there is no quorum and the Convention adjourns without taking up those bothersome matters the Chair opposes. It has become a quorum-breaking filibuster by delay.

All of these are just variations on the same theme: a few people using procedure to prevent losing, when the majority opposes them. This is just what happened at the meeting of the Dallas County Democratic Executive Committee on February 28.
Well, I don' know why you people seem to think this is magic. It's just this little chromium switch here ... My, you people are so superstitious....
--The Firesign Theatre
The embattled County Chair didn't even want to have the meeting, but it was forced upon her by an unprecedented petition from the Precinct Chairs. She planned to preserve her unquestioned control by preparing an agenda loaded at the front with chances for her and officials supporting her to stuff propaganda down the throats of the members. They were having none of that, and came with their own agenda, which pushed speeches to the end, after considering the actions they wanted to take to reel in the out-of-control Chair. She cleverly started her "running out the clock" by beginning her orations about how great her administration was before calling the meeting to order, thus preventing the adoption of the people's own agenda that would have moved stright into business instead. (The two alternative agendas can be seen on the web HERE.) After over an hour of this, with the frustration of the members about to boil over on the stove, she finally opened the meeting.

She first sought to yield the gavel to one of her supporters so that she could speak against the grass roots agenda. With her usual lack of adherence to the Rules, she tried to hand it to an elected official. When the members correctly objected that he could not preside, since he was not a Precinct Chair, she tried to give it to a former Precinct Chair that she had named Sergeant-at-arms for the meeting. (That office had not been needed since the bitter, often physical, liberal-conservative battles of the one-party sixties. This time there was no ideological split with the Chair, a noted proponent of choice, but a vast methodological and procedural divide.) When the members continued to stand up to her, she finally had to give the gavel to an actual Precinct Chair, David Griggs (who quickly gave it back once that matter was resolved).

The Precinct Chairs voted overwhelmingly first to close debate, then to adopt the alternative agenda. This meant real business would come before any more of her put-up program to a captive audience. The small group backing the Chair then tried to suspend the agenda to let one of her supporters, the newly-elected Sheriff, to speak out of order. This was voted down by almost two-to-one by people who wanted to get on with the real business of the already needlessly prolonged meeting.

They promptly passed by large margins two motions. One required regular meetings of the entire Executive Committee, which she had refused to call. The other established an oversight committee to develop coordinated campaign strategy, and to watch operations of the local party. Both of these are assigned by the party Rules to control of the Executive Committee. The Chair was accused of grossly neglecting or mishandling both of these herself, while keeping the Precinct Chairs in the dark. Passing those two resolutions dealt positively with two of the three actionable complaints about her administration, not by means of heaping blame for what had gone wrong before, but by requiring better communication and conduct in the future.

By this time the members had made it blindingly clear that they wanted serious changes. After the routine swearing in of new Precinct Chairs to fill vacancies, the next item on their agenda would take up the third actionable complaint against her, namely her letter, on party stationery, signed by her as County Chair, supporting a reactionary theocratic Republican Bush appointee for federal judge. Texas Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn had spoken to Congress and entered this letter in the record as a sign of "bipartisan support". At this meeting she expressed regret only for using the letterhead, but declined to apologize for, much less promise not to repeat, the endorsement of a legal dinosaur she still gigglingly defended. The meeting agenda item intended to deal with this was "direction to correct Congressional record".

This was definitely not anything the County Chair wanted the meeting to take official action on. The writing was clearly on the wall that this group was out of her control and would do just that. It was time for the next stage of her quorum-breaking filibuster by delay.
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
--Upton Sinclair
I have known several people who claim to practice witchcraft. They all assured me that the literary cliche of a fortune teller asking someone to cross her hand with silver is only a Christian canard. Real magic, they say, has to be done for love, not lucre. Taking pay poisons the potions. This confirmed what most of us had already learned from Mark 8:36.

For several years now the Democratic Party has been infected with a deadly cancer, the so-called political iron triangle of consultants, pollsters, and fundraisers. Losing touch with the grass roots, its leadership has often sold out the real interests of the ordinary working people of this state and country to chase corporate contributions. They have settled for token victories in gerrymandered districts, whose minority voters they take for granted. Meanwhile they run mealy-mouthed mass-media watered-down Lowest Common Denominator national and statewide campaigns that avoid issues and concentrate on personalities and private scandals instead of serious debate.

Continuing this suicidal machinery of futility requires an organization, not of local voters, but of willing cogs in the gears grinding away our future. Some of us hope that Howard Dean's internet ties will help him flush out some of this clog in the pipes. Time will tell. There are a lot of mercenary bricks in that human wall. One of the lesser contributors to that political constipation proved to be the perfect person to play here the role we have seen others perform on the floor of several state conventions.

A self-appointed minion of the status quo claimed that there was no longer a quorum sufficient to elect replacement Precinct Chairs. I quote from Byron LaMasters's more detailed report:
... supporters of the chair, seeing the lopsided margins of victory on procedural votes for the petitioners, engaged in further stalling tactics. This time, the tactics meant preventing a quorum....

... the chair ignored points of order, and insisted upon a roll call of the 300+ precinct chairs. She began the roll call vote and halfway through the A’s she got to the name of the aforementioned deceased precinct chair that was still on the list of precinct chairs. At that point, a respected precinct chair, and longtime activist notified Chair Hays that the member was deceased, and if the chair would bother to pay any attention to her executive committee, she would be aware of that fact. The comments received a strong ovation.
As this seemingly interminable delay continued, a former legislative candidate got to a microphone and started denouncing the Chair's conduct. Instead of simply declaring her out of order, the Chair's enforcer-at-arms announced that this meeting had become unruly, and on behalf of the union whose hall this was, he was ordering everyone out of the building. His portfolio to do so was in doubt, but an SDEC member contacted the actual head of the local CWA who agreed with the unprecedented eviction, and so the meeting broke up.

When I was a youngster in east Texas, the clique in control would do things like bar the doors to the place Precinct Conventions were being held in, once they had all their people inside. If you can't even get your way by driving folks away for a rigged quorum call, you can always resort to old fashioned bullying. It is sad to see such means employed again by the threatened powers that be.

People then caucused outdoors by Senate districts to elect members of the new overseeing Advisory Committee. One of those new local party overseers from the 23rd Senate District (which contains the bulk of the Democrats in the county), was Precinct Chair Elaine Wiant. She wrote:
If the chair had allowed the meeting to proceed – from the very beginning -- none of the disruptions would have occurred. The meeting was called by petition, not by the Chair. This should have been a clue to the Chair. She took every step possible to delay and obstruct the meeting.

From the viewpoint of the petitioners, the request for Sheriff Valdez to speak early was clearly a delaying tactic. We would have all liked to hear from her after the business was conducted. It could have been so easy – if only the chair had allowed it to be so. The meeting did NOT have to be a marathon session, and I, one of the petitioners, didn’t expect to be one.

Interestingly, the 23rd Senate District caucused on the street corner after the meeting was recessed and elected its representatives to the advisory committee.

Also, interestingly, I talked to a least one precinct chair who was prepared to support the chair when he arrived and changed his mind after observing her obstructionist tactics.

Kudus to David Griggs, who probably should have chaired the entire meeting!
Precinct Chair and long-time Platform Committee member Tom Blackwell reports that at the conclusion of the meeting, former Dallas County Chair Ken Molberg said:
I am not a member of the Committee, therefore I could not speak tonight. Being your SDEC person - - Let me go on record as saying how disgusted I was with our Party Chair who could not control the meeting, and who did everything to deliberately thwart your voice, regardless of which side you were on. I think this is testimony to the fact that this party needs to get itself together and move on, and she is not part of the plan.
What will the future hold? The next meeting of the Executive Committee seems set for April 2, and some Precinct Chairs are saying that should be a continuation of this one which was involuntarily terminated. Byron sums up this way:
... Susan Hays does not have the confidence of the vast majority of the grassroots and precinct chairs in Dallas County. Hays refused - just as she has refused for the past ten months - to accept a forum for grievances against her. Furthermore, she used continuous stalling tactics to prevent business from being accomplished. I offer this summary as evidence that Dallas County needs new leadership, and if Chair Hays will not step down, it is critical that Dallas Democrats work to elect a chair next March that will lead a united Dallas Democratic Party to victory in November 2006.
It is inconceivable that this person who has consistently refused to seek or accept advice from the party activists (thus following the lamentable model of the first campaign she was active in here, that of Victor "no, you can't use me on your party slate card" Morales), would even consider resigning. We have had County Chairs before who hoped to use the job to bolster their resume or name ID for a political future. For that to have any chance of working one needs to spend the time in the position making friends in the party and building favorable contacts. Ignoring and offending the party loyalists is downright counterproductive to any future aims. It has been reported that she previously said she does not intend to run for another term next year anyway. If true, that will spare us a very divisive primary. People should start recruiting good candidates now, and make sure they are the kind of folk that genuinely respect and want to work with other Democrats.

We used to have petty tyrants as County Chairs, who would ignore and try to circumvent the Executive Committee. That was more than three decades ago, before reform rules gave the grass roots a recourse to challenge their power. All of those bullies were conservatives who later became Republicans before they died or retired to rocking chairs. Good riddance. Democracy must be not just an abstract concept, but a vital means of dealing with others with respect to make a better world together.

UPDATE ON THIS: This came later today in a letter from longtime Democratic activist Ann Hubener, who is the mother of the former legislative candidate whose own outburst the Sergeant -at-arms used as an excuse to finally throw everyone out. It looks like they would have been happy to have done so earlier. The last paragraph quoted is disgusting, but the next-to-last one is downright scary. "First they came for...."
I do think that "I" got out of hand talking to the chair from the sidelines. However, if you are truly a party chair who cares about democracy, the democratic party, you really want to work with people, you care about your constituency, winning elections, and you want to have a civil discourse you do not chair a meeting that you "THINK" may not be civil without all of your ammunition. Our party chair appointed a Sargent at arms, but did not appoint a PARLIAMENTARIAN? We have had a parliamentarian at every county party meeting since this party chair was elected, but we had no parliamentarian last evening? And, our party chair, by her own admission does not know all of the proper procedures and "rules" (very few people do..). So, this could lead one to believe that perhaps following the rules and conducting a meeting was not a priority.

The quorum, according to the list of precinct chairs provided by the county party office, was reached at about 6:55 p.m. The meeting was not called to order until almost 8:00 p.m. Now, was this respectful, civil, or in the spirit of democracy? So, this could lead one to believe that perhaps respect, civility, democracy or having a meeting was not a priority either.

The whole meeting got off to a bad start when Democratic Party Staff called the police on Democratic Party Chairs to attempt to have them evicted from the property prior to the beginning of the meeting. This could not be accomplished because the Democratic Party Chairs were the ones who reserved the building for the meeting. So, this could lead one to believe that the intent was to have the meeting canceled. ...

Then, to add insult to injury, our newly elected Sheriff, Lupe Valdez, was encouraging members of the executive committee to leave their meeting-- that was disappointing.


  • At 9:45 AM, Blogger gmichele said…

    I have been involved in Dallas County Democratic party politics since 1972. In those 30+ years, I have never felt more ignored, disrespected and patronized than I did at the executive meeting on Monday night. This is saying a lot, since I have felt, ignored, disrespected and patronized since Chair Hays' began her reign.
    I am not going to rehash what other people have said, I would just like to make a couple of points.
    First, to the critics who have said that the petitioners only wanted to trash Chair Hays and bitch and did not bring anything positive to the meeting, I strongly disagree. There were two resolutions presented and passed, which can only help the party. Those were positive actions on the part of the petitioners.
    Also, how dare anyone accuse our party secretary, David Wilkins of being the "ring leader" of this attempt to take back control of our party. I had numerous complaints regarding the current leadership, before any of the current issues were brought to light. David was doing his job, and a damn fine job at that. He devoted a great deal of time and energy in getting the petitions signed, so that the executive committee could have a much overdue meeting. I've even heard accusations that David, "broke into the party office". Excuse me, but isn't our elected party secretary allowed to go into the party office and obtain a list of current precinct chairs? That accusation is nothing short of slander. And, the people making that accusation should be ashamed of themselves.
    Finally, it pains me greatly to see this internal conflict within my beloved party. However, I will not "sit down and shut up" (as our chair told us to do numerous times on Monday night). I will not go along simply for the sake of party unity when I believe the current chair is doing harm to the party I have worked so hard for during all of my adult life.
    I believe with all my heart that we can get past these current problems and become a strong, unified and viable county party. I do not believe we can do that with the current Chairs' leadership. But, I for one am promising to work long and hard to help bring about resolution.
    G. Michele
    precinct chair 2324
    and proud to be a member of the newly formed advisory committee from SD 2


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