Democrats Reassess the Nominating Process After one of the longest and most contentious primary seasons in years, some Democrats are taking a new look at their nomination process. Mark Siegel, former executive director of the Democratic National Committee, says that's nothing new.
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Democrats Reassess the Nominating Process

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Democrats Reassess the Nominating Process

Democrats Reassess the Nominating Process

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MIKE PESCA, host:

Well Democrats are trying to fall stall the possibility of elephants stampeding through the streets in up coming elections. It's call a segue, yeah, it didn't really work. It's one of the longest - we have just been through one of the longest, most contentious primary season in years and now that it's over Democrats are saying well I think we put on a fine show there. I guess some of them are saying, OK that was actually kind of a nightmare. Proportional voting, caucuses, primaries, superdelegates waiting in the wings. The question is was that any way to run an election? Or was it a secret plan to make Chris Matthews actually explode and shower America with sandy hair and Irish cheer? Mark Siegel is a former executive director of the Democratic National Committee. He served on three delegate's selection commissions and currently works as a partner of Locke Lord Strategies. Hello, Mark Siegel.

Mr. MARK SIEGEL (Former Executive Director, Democratic National Committee): Good morning.

PESCA: Good morning, so that primary process we just saw could be depending on your point of view, crazy and onerous, could be exactly what the party needed to get a great candidate. Could you just take us through some of the history. How do we get that process in the first place?

Mr. SIEGEL: Well, since 1964 the Democratic Party has been reviewing its delegate selection procedures. Up until '64 states were basically on their own to select delegates any way they wanted to. Starting in '64, the Democratic Party adopted rules guaranteeing non discrimination to the process. In '68 a commission was established - the McGovern commission to really codify the rules, and in '72 for the first time, we had a national set of rules that were enforced on the state parties.

Every four years since 1972, the party reviews and sometimes amends its delegate selection rules. This is not unusual. It's expected. I expect it will happen this time looking forward to 2012. There were five issues in 2008 that were raised that I expect will be reviewed very very carefully. The first one was the timing issue. We have a delegate selection calendar that is supposed to begin on the first Tuesday in February and go through to the first Tuesday in June with four exceptions, and the exceptions this year were Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada with South Carolina and Nevada added.

They didn't exist before those exemptions to that calendar. That's one of the issues that is going to be reviewed. The ex officio delegate rule, you called it the superdelegate rule. These are delegates who serve by virtue of their office. Twice I was a superdelegate by virtue of being member of Democratic National Committee. I...

PESCA: Let me just stop you there for a second because I do want to concentrate on the superdelegates because I think that what a lot for people were seeing with this process, and there were many things to talk about, but because the superdelegates were waiting in the wings, there was never really an end date to this election. I mean there was until all the primaries had voted. Was this an unintended consequence or when - could you talk a little bit about was the thinking behind creating superdelegates and was the thinking that well we know that this will draw out the primary process until the superdelegates make a decision?

Mr. SIEGEL: It wasn't meant to draw out the process. It was meant to give the party some flexibility in that process. I was on the Hunt Commission in 1982. I, with Congressman David Price actually wrote the rule with respect to ex officio delegates. It's Rule 9A. It was meant - it really addressed the problem we saw at the '72 convention were many, many elected and party officials were not present and that weakened the fall campaign. It also addressed the potential problem of a candidate being selected very early on in the process and something emerging later on in that delegate selection calendar, which made it clear that that candidate couldn't successfully lead the party in the fall.

PESCA: The Hunt Commission is named after Jim Hunt.

Mr. SIEGEL: Yes

PESCA: And he recently wrote - is he a former governor of North Carolina?

Mr. SIEGEL: Governor of North Carolina, yes.

PESCA: Right so he recently wrote in the Washington Post explaining why the superdelegates work. He said they're experts at winning, they know the issues, they're in a unique position to evaluate a presidential candidate. They have a well honed instinct for how candidates will be received in their own states and districts. In short, it can help the Democratic Party pick a winner. Is that still true today, given what we saw?

Mr. SIEGEL: That is still true and I think they've performed their function this year. First, let's talk about who they are. They're governors, senators, congressmen, big city mayors and members of the Democratic National Committee including the state chairs and vice chairs who would actually run the fall campaign. So these are the elected and party officials who, the party believes, should be at the national convention of the party which is the constitutional convention of the party and they should be there by virtue of the offices they hold.

And I wrote a piece in Roll Call Magazine several months ago in the middle of this process saying that these superdelegates, I expected, would do the appropriate thing and would follow through on the national mandate of the people unless that person clearly could not lead the party to victory in the fall. Clearly. Now in this case, Senator Obama crossed the finish line. He won the most primaries. He won the most delegates. Many people - and I believe he won the most popular votes and at the very end of the process on Tuesday, the superdelegates almost on mass, on bloc, ratified the choice of the people. They did exactly what they were supposed to do and when they were supposed to do.

PESCA: Well, I guess that is my question. The timing of it made it a drawn out process and so what? So some people in the media didn't get to sleep for - or on the campaigns didn't get to sleep for a month longer than they thought. That has nothing to do with democracy or what's best for the Democratic Party. I guess what people were worrying about is that Hillary Clinton's argument is that perhaps the superdelegates can rethink the will of the voters. It seems like the superdelegates, as set up, the only time they will ever become a factor is when they do the un-Democratic thing and supersede the will of the voters, as set up now. Isn't that a problem, especially with a party that always wants more voter participation and greater democracy?

Mr. SIEGEL Well, I think it's not a problem if you look at the context of how we established the rule and how I just articulated the rule. If we basically nominate a candidate, let's say early in May and that candidate has enough delegates to win and then we find out in the middle of May or at the end of May this person has committed a crime, or has a substantial, something very substantial that would not allow - him or her to be elected in the fall, this gives the party some flexibility. Now that certainly wasn't the case. Senator Obama is highly electable, and I certainly hope that he will be elected, but that wasn't the case in this year, and the superdelegates did not check the will of the people, and they won't check the will of the people unless there's some extraordinary reason to do so.

PESCA: From the circles travel in very tight powerful Democratic Party circles, is there a lot of talk about we have to rethink this system or is it more like tweak around the edges?

Mr. SIEGEL: I think there are five issues that we are going to have to look at. One is the timing of the calendar, when we start, when we finish, whether we have national primary, regional primaries, time zone primaries, the role of the parties enforcing their own timing or the intervention of the federal government through legislation. I think that's one issue. The issue of ex officios or what you call superdelegates I think will be revisited, not whether we will have them, but who they are and how many of them exist. I think that will be revisited. The question of proportional representation, which you referred to, we have a 15 percent threshold which we maintain from the beginning to the end of the process. Some people believe that that doesn't provide for closure. That we should begin with this 15 threshold, but move in May possibly to winner take all by Congressional district...

PESCA: Can you do the last two a sentence each. We only have 12 seconds.

Mr. SIEGEL: Sure. Whether there are caucuses in primaries, Mrs. Clinton objected to the caucuses, I don't think that's going to go anywhere, and five the punitive action, the Michigan and Florida situation. States that don't actually implement the rules, what does the party do in that case?

PESCA: What do you do with them? Mark Siegel the master of the five point plan. A former superdelegate, a former executive of the DNC. Thank you very much Mr. Siegel.

Mr. SIEGEL: My pleasure.

PESCA: And coming up, the band Subtle, an alt/rap band will take us into their crazy world. This is the BPP from NPR News.

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