Tyrion Lannister

Winning and Losing Matters: Slating Edition

Filed By Tyrion Lannister | April 28, 2008 2:23 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics

If you want the County Party's support on the day of the primary, you have to win that support through the mechanism that the rules state: a vote of all precinct committee people and ward chairs at the slating convention.

Don't want to pass out the slate? Don't work for the County Party on primary day. Want the County Party to support your candidate instead of Andre Carson? Win the party's endorsement at the slating convention. Don't like slating? Change the rules.

But before people get too carried away with their slate-busting, I'd just like to remind everyone that there are many good slated democrats--not just Andre Carson--facing primary opposition who paid their slating fee with the expectation that precinct committee people would honor their word, do their damn job, and physically hand out that sheet of paper. Every time a precinct committee person fails to pass out the slate because of their commitment to someone in the congressional race, they are actively betraying those down-ballot democrats who are counting on County Party--who trusted precinct committee people to faithfully honor their words. People are entitled to their opinions and folks can have reasonable disagreements about who should be our Congressperson. But slate-busting will have innocent victims: people who paid out of their own pockets at the slating convention with the expectation that Democratic precinct committee people were honest and trustworthy.

More after the jump.

Remember: the superior court judicial slate is being challenged by Kim Brown. Mary Catherine Barton is challenging slated Debra Jenkins for County Surveyor. In both cases, the slated candidates are substantially more capable than their opponents. If Mary Catherine Barton, a disastrous incumbent, appears on the November ballot because of slate-busting in the primary, she will be targeted by Republicans to "cut" the ballot. In other words, Republicans will focus their attacks on Barton and, in the process, damage all county-wide Democrats who are below her on the ballot.

Regardless of Mike O'Conner's political preferences in the IN-07 primary, he's bound by the slating process to support slated candidates. Whether you like it or not, the County Party, according to its rules and bylaws, endorses its candidates through the slating convention. Those rules and bylaws stipulate that by virtue of being slated, candidates can expect to receive the full support of the County Party. That's what everyone agreed on at the beginning of this process. That's what the rules say. That's why people pay slating fees and try to get slated. Slating fees don't line Mike O'Conner's pocket: they provide the money to print and distribute the slate.

Candidates are free not to pay the slating fee and they're free not to participate in the slating process. They get to keep thousands of dollars to spend on signs or ads or whatever else they like if they opt out of slating. That's a benefit to them. The cost is, come primary day, they don't get to complain that the County Party is trying to prevent them from winning in the primary. If they wanted the County Party to support them, they needed to win that support at the slating convention.

Incidentally, David Orentlicher's supporters would be hard-pressed to argue that slating is a corrupt or anti-Democratic process. When pressed to explain why he did not seek to be slated in the May primary, Dr. Orentlicher did not express a principled objection to slating in general. Instead, he suggested that he didn't want to create an awkward situation in which the slated candidate in May was not the party's candidate in the special election. Fair enough. Indeed, Dr. Orentlicher would be an obvious hypocrite if he tried to claim slating was corrupt or anti-Democratic: he sought and received the County Party's endorsement at the slating convention in his prior state house runs and he voted in the February slating convention as a ward chair.

If people really believe that slating is corrupt or anti-democratic, they are free to argue that the rules should be changed. But until they do so, people should honor their words and play by the rules. The idea that people aren't bound to play by rules they find disadvantageous, is situational ethics at its worst. We started this election cycle with one set of rules. Candidates and precinct people don't get to invent new rules just because they happen to inconvenienced by the existing set. It is exactly that kind of mentality that has the Clinton campaign arguing that, even though Michigan and Florida blatantly and obviously violated rules that every other state played by, those states should be counted all the same. Hogwash. We play by the rules until we change them through the established democratic procedure.

The only thing Mike O'Conner is trying to do is make sure people honor their words. I'm pretty comfortable with that. How 'bout you?

Crossposted at BlueIndiana and Tyrion's Point

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I have to tell you I have conflicted feelings about this subject. However, I am not bound to the slate and think Bil makes excellent points in his earlier post.

I would point out that no one cares if you buck the slate and win. Example-Kim Brown's sister, who bucked the slate, won, and then the next go around became the top vote getter at slating. Even Julia Carson bucked the slate.

I would also point to recent shenanigans I have witnessed that give me no grief over bucking the slate. First, I must say to Bil that I would have denied you a ballot at the slating as well. I don't care about those who might buck the slate, but you can't work for the other party and expect to get a ballot only reserved for party loyalists. I understand why you supported Keller, but you can't have it both ways.

But the fact remains that others who were loyal Dems WERE denied ballots at the slating, and there were documented instances of candidates being given separate lists of committee persons.

Second, a few years ago, we had the former party chairman go to the back and "help" count the ballots in a judicial slating contests in which his wife was a candidate. This is the same candidate who was found to be unqualified by the members of the Indianapolis Bar Association and is the poster child for unqualified judges. There was a lot of disastifaction with her, but guess what, she just managed to scrape up enough votes to get on the ballot.

There are other instances to talk about, too numerous to mention (Ackles, anyone). Bil might add some himself. So when someone bucks the slate in Marion County, I can't hold a grudge. If the primary voters at large hold them to be better qualified, so be it.

Tyrion Lannister Tyrion Lannister | April 28, 2008 8:34 PM

Hi Chuck,

I don't have any problem with people running against the slate and I don't hold a grudge against candidates who do run against the slate. I also don't have any problem with anyone arguing that a given unslated candidate is better than a slated candidate. I certainly don't have any problem with anyone voting for whomever they like.

What I have a problem with is very specific: Democratic precinct committee people refusing to physically pass out the slate because they happen to disagree with one of the candidates on that piece of paper.

When you sign up to be a precinct committee person, one of the things you agree to do is to hand out the slate on the day of the primary. It's one of your basic responsibilities. Furthermore, when candidates pay their slating fee they assume that what they are getting in return is the opportunity to be on that slate with the assumption that precinct committee people will hand it out on the day of the primary.

It seems pretty basic that when individual precinct committee people refuse to pass out the slate then, they are betraying the trust of people who, in good faith, paid money under the belief that the precinct committee person in question would actually hand it out.

I think it's absolutely absurd to suggest that the County Chairman is in the wrong for trying to get people to live up to their promises (to physically pass out the slate) or that he's threatening anyone when he suggests he'll remove committee people who don't actually live up to their responsibilities. Mike O'Conner would be negligent if he didn't do both of those things. The solution for people who don't want to hand out the slate is simple and clear: don't sign up to be a precinct committee person.

I also think that there are a number of valid criticisms of the slating process (many of which both you and Bil have, at various times, mentioned), but those criticisms don't justify people breaking their words. If slating should be reformed, that's one thing, but until then you should play by the rules everyone agreed on.

Chris Douglas Chris Douglas | April 28, 2008 9:33 PM

A great many precinct committee people respond to a call of duty by the party searching for help. Signing up to be a precinct committee person is a service to democracy, often acting at the request of the party. That doesn't make committee people mindless cogs. In some instances, a slated candidate can be utterly unsupportable. It would only strengthen what could be an unconscionable philosophy simply to surrender a committee position in order to back the unconscionable. This isn't Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. In my opinion, a committee person should do as their conscience dictates. If a candidate can't command the loyalty of the apparatus, that is the candidate's challenge.

I don't know about the Democratic side, but on the Republican side, if the precinct committee person is elected, the County chair cannot remove that person. If the precinct feels the committee person isn't doing his or her job, they can vote that person out.... if they don't and if the precinct sympathizes with another candidate, then in a democratic system the committee person is indeed doing his or her job to represent the desires of the Precinct over the desires of the Chair. That's the nature of grass roots democracy, surely.


I was actually posting my personal experiences with slating rather than directly addressing your post, but that is my fault for not making myself more clear. Regardless, slating is the way we do things now for better or worse.

I will point out that I don't think I would go as far as Chris does, but I would say that even in a larger city like Indy, it is hard to ignore the ties and relationships one has built over the years. I can't begrudge any committeeman for passing out David O lit if they lived in his district and back him. I couldn't begrude any of Andre's CCC constituents for the same reason. It is just natural to support them. I wouldn't feel comfortable with having party people who turn their backs on those kinds of relationships. I can tell you that those relationships win more elections than totalitarian party loyalty.

I don't mind a gentle reminder to back the slate, but don't care for the portion of the letter where O'Connor encouraged the reporting of lower level volunteers. That is going to backfire, in a big way, if that is the atmosphere you encourage.

BTW, Chris, elected PC can't be removed by the Dems either. That is the problem Bil ran into, he was appointed, not elected.

Tyrion Lannister Tyrion Lannister | April 28, 2008 11:00 PM

Hi Chris,

You are correct that if the precinct committee person is elected they cannot be removed. Many aren't elected, but appointed and my understanding is that they can be removed. Regardless, it's pretty understandable that the chair of the county party would wish to be appraised of committee people who weren't honoring their word.

I would be much more sympathetic to your argument about doing as conscience dictates if there weren't innocent third party victims in the scenario.

The slate doesn't represent a single candidate, it represents the collective endorsement of a congress of committee people and ward chairs(the slating convention can refuse to endorse anyone and does sometimes). It seems obviously pernicious to punish Debra Jenkins--who invested thousands of dollars in the slating process with the understanding that her name would be circulated on the slate if she won at the slating endorsement--because you don't like some other slated candidate.

But the larger point is clear: if you can't or won't fulfill the responsibilities of a precinct committee person you shouldn't sign on.

I should also point out that lost in my original comment was the fact that numerous PCs were alarmed by the way the slating for the special election was handled. Several were denied ballots erroneously. Different PC lists were given to different candidates, if you could obtain one at all. I don't think any of these facts are in dispute.

Should we tell them to STFU and support the slate despite thier clear misgivings? I would hope not. Again, if this is the goal of the party is to ignore these criticisms, and then attempt to silence the critics for not campaigning for someone you think was slated under less than appropriate means with the admonition "It's your job", you are going to have morale problems in your rank and file.

Tyrion Lannister Tyrion Lannister | April 28, 2008 11:07 PM

Hi Chuck,

I don't begrudge those personal loyalties either. I think in those cases, a precinct committee person should hand out the slate and say, "These are the slated candidates in the Democratic primary. I personally support X candidate for this office. Would you like some of his/her literature as well?" I think that fulfills the ethical responsibility owed to the slated candidates while permitting a person to follow their conscience in a given race.

You may well be right about the "backfire," but I have a difficult time faulting the County Chair for trying to make sure that the slate is passed out. That's really his most important job at the end of the day.

Marycatherine Barton | January 2, 2011 10:48 AM

I do not agree with the author, Tyron Lannister, that I was a disastrous incumbent, and think that Marion County would today be better off, if the Democratic Party had renominated me instead of my challenger. Happy New Year.