Thursday, March 8, 2007

58. Precinct Conventions, LD Elections, and Democratic Executive Committees

It is seventy-five days until Democratic Primary voters determine who the next governor will be. On that same day, Republicans will determine the name of this fall's second place finisher in the race. I can't see any of the Democrats losing this fall with the possible exception of Otis Hensley, who no one seems to know. I've stated my support for Jonathan Miller, the incumbent State Treasurer, as his running mate Irv Maze is a long time friend, employer, and good Democrat. Irv and I first met in 1980, the year we each sought seats on the local Democratic Executive Committee. He was running for Chair of the 46th and I was running for Vice Chair of the 45th. The 46th, represented since 1984 in Frankfort by the current Speaker Pro-Tem, Larry Clark, is largely unchanged since that time, while the 45th, then represented by former Democratic State Representative Dottie Priddy, has been redistricted away from the conservative south end of Jefferson County to the conservative south end of Fayette County, where it is presently represented by Republican Stan Lee.

Elections for Chair and Vice Chair of a Legislative District, treated as the equivalent of the Chair and Vice Chair of a County elsewhere in the state, are the second part of the beginning steps of a quadrennial rebuilding of the entire Democratic Party, starting at the precinct level, moving up through the district (or county) level, then to the congressional district level, then to the state level, and culminating in a national convention which ultimately and technically nominates the Democratic Party's candidate for president in that fall's election. The process usually starts in April of a presidential year, which means we are just over a year away from commencing our reorganization.

In the past, the local Party has not done enough to publicise this series of events, and as such, many Democrats never understand or get involved in the process. But, it should be noted that all registered Democrats are eligible to participate at the first and most basic level of this reorganization, the precinct convention. The rules of the National, State, and local Democratic parties open the process up to any and all registered Democrats. When new blood does get involved, it has been my experience that the "Old Guard" throws up every available barricade in order to protect their revered seats on the committee. They have changed the rules mid-course, not properly held precinct conventions, or in some cases, not properly counted the votes from precinct conventions where the outsiders prevailed. As someone who has been involved in every precinct, legislative, county, congressional, and state convention since I was first eligible in 1980, I have seen it all.

Back then, when legislative district chairs and vice chairs still had some patronage power, holding onto the seats was understandable. It may not be popular these days, but I am still one of those who believe that good politics and good government make for good bed-fellows. They can and should feed off each other. There were times when the precinct captain in a given area was the person people went to when they needed help from city hall. Sometimes it might have been for a job, or to right a wrong, or to wrong a right - that would be when they got a ticket for speeding but wanted to get it set aside. A friendly precinct captain could go to a district judge, or one of the green jackets, and find some help in most cases, thus eliminating some paperwork down the line. Jobs, especially works and sanitation jobs, were the jackpot of political patronage. And one must ask, what is really wrong with such an operation? Providing jobs puts spending money in the pockets of the employees, some of which comes back as taxes in the coffers of the employers.

Since the mid-1980s, at least in Jefferson County, the patronage part of being on the Executive Committee has more or less fallen aside. But, people are still interested in the position, at least in theory. They want to know how the elections are held, who is in change, and what are the rewards. Even without the role of finding jobs and fixing tickets, chairs still protect their seats. In order to run in Jefferson County, a person must file for the office. In the 2004 cycle, the folks in charge changed the rules several times during the course of the elections, at one point only having the filing period open for a span of four hours on November 1st. That decision and several others they made during the course of the election were challenged at the State Party level, and were overturned. But, it was logistically too late for most of those candidates to mount any successful campaign at that point.

The process starts with the local (incumbent) County Executive Committee determining the nomination process, whether it will be necessary to file or declare, whether one can seek more than office (one of the rules that changed, then changed again in the 2004 process), and whether one must run on a slate. I've been involved in tinkering with these rules in both the 2000 and the 2004 elections, and I am not sure which process best serves the Party and the parties involved, namely the registered Democrats of Kentucky. Once those decisions are made, candidates need to start lining up support for the Precinct Convention day.

Precinct conventions are usually held the first or second Saturday in April at 10:00 am. Voters gather at the entrance to their polling place from the previous November and conduct an election. Since most of these polling places are closed, the elections should be held at the main door where voters would normally enter to vote. The convention is called to order by a Temporary Chair, someone who has been appointed by the incumbent, and thus is probably there to ensure that incumbent's reelection. Any Democrat in the precinct is eligible to participate, as long as they had already registered to vote. Usually the cut-off date is 30 days prior.

The first order of business is to elect a permanent chair to replace the temporary chair. Then an election is held to elect a secretary to record the business. Then a committeeman is elected. Then a committeewoman is elected. Then a committeeyouth, someone aged 35 or less, is elected. These three people form the Precinct committee. Their election concludes this convention. It is only at this level, the precinct level, where any and all Democrats are allowed to participate in the election of the executive committees members. There is a later Congressional convention which is also open to all Democrats, but the purposes there are related to the state and national conventions, and not the local level executive committees. If you do not participate at this level on this day, then you have voluntarily shut yourself out until the next cycle four years later.

Let me point out here that participation has, for the last twenty or so years, been minimal at best. In 2004, I was the only person present for the election in my precicnt, M-144, which voted at the AmVets Post on S. Shelby Street. I elected myself permanent chair, recording secretary, and committeeman. I elected my friend Tootsie Privett committeewoman. I did not elect a committeeyouth, as I did not know anyone 35 or under to nominate. Not all precinct elections are that easy, but many are. In 1996, my precinct election was held amidst a big storm. H-121 voted at the old Camp Taylor Fire House on Lincoln Avenue. During the five minutes I was there, the tornado sirens went off. I had picked up Beverly Wright and driven her there with me for the election. It was conducted in the front seat of my truck. We elected me as committeeman, her as committeewoman, and Mike McDermott as committeeyouth, although he wasn't there at the time. Mike was and is a big boy and would not quite have fit in the truck with Beverly and me. But, in that first election, back in 1980, where I was elected committeeyouth in precinct P-128 at Blue Lick Elementary School, approximately 40 people were present. Jim "Bud" Priddy was elected committeeman, Carolyn Beauchamp committeewoman, and me as youth. I wasn't there though. I knew that in order for us to win the entire district, our team must carry the vote in P-102, which voted at Okolona Elementary School, and was the home to our team's opponent Ed Louden, and Ed's strongest supporter, then-State Senator Bill "Fibber" McGee. Fibber has enough children in his own family to carry most precincts. But P-102 had the largest number of Democrats of any precinct in the 45th and I wasn't going to let Ed have it without a fight. Working through my little league baseball friends, as well as Mimi Beauchamp's friends from Southern High School, where she had gone but I didn't, we loaded the place with a whole bunch of 17, 18, and 19 year olds that Ed didn't know existed. So I gave up my vote in P-128 and went up to P-102 as an observer - and to keep Louden honest. And we won by beating him in his own precinct. The important thing here is that one must understand and participate in the process to be a part of the process. Rules are laid out, allegedly publicised, though admittedly not very well, and elections follow. Process is important.

I mentioned above that we had to carry P-102 because it had the most Democrats. This is informative. Precincts conventions produce weighted votes. Each committemember's vote is worth one/third of its precinct's ratio of Democrats against the total number of Democrats in a legislative district. Let me make this as simple as I can. Lets say that an LD (legislative district) has 3 precincts and a total of 2000 Democratic voters. Precinct #1 has 1200 Democrats. Precinct #2 has 600 Democrats. And, precinct #3 has 200 Democrats, for a total of 2000 Democrats in the LD. A committeeman, committeewoman, and committeeyouth are elected in each of the three precincts, so you have a total of nine committeemembers voting. However, each one does not have 1/9 of the vote. Again, they have 1/3 of their precinct's ration against the whole district. Thus the committeeman in Precinct #1 has a total of 1/3 of 1200/2000 or 20%. If you controlled the vote of the three committee members of Precinct #1 you control the election, as you would have 60% of the total. This is where that 12th grade calculus class comes in handy. You end up doing lots of figuring if you are in a contested race.

Either that same day, or a week later, at 2:00 pm, all the committeemembers elected from each precincts attend an LD convention. The location of this convention is controlled by the incumbent, so hereto, the system is designed to counter any outsiders. In my race in 1980, Ed Louden, the incumbent we were trying to defeat, decided to hold the convention at Fibber McGee's Tavern, a watering hole on Preston Highway at Pinecroft Drive. It is still there, although Fibber himself passed away several years ago. Many of my delegates were members of either Gethsemane or Thixton Lane Baptist Church, including a number of temperance women in the 60s and 70s. Further, I was only 19 years old and thus not legally supposed to be in a licensed drinking establishment. The belief was some of our folks wouldn't darken the doors of a tavern. They were wrong. I remember Mrs. Stallard, who was one of the Baptist Womens Union people on our side, a 78 year old committeewoman in the Mount Washington Road precinct which at the time voted at St. Elizabeth Seton Church. Not only did she attend the convention, she wandered up to the bar and ordered a Sterling Beer in a longneck bottle. Fibber confided in me at that point that we would likely win the race. And, I'll point out, we did. (By the way, Irv won his race as well, although only by a mere thousandth of a vote, and only after five challenges. He has won very race where votes have been counted and his name has appeared on the ballot since that time).

Again, it is all process. We'll go over all of this again at a later date - maybe several times. The reorganization is a great time to get involved in the Party. The only prerequisite is being a registered Democrat. As 2006 was a good year for us, and we are all woriking to make 2007 similarly so, the reorganization also works as a catalyst in those most important of years, presidential elections.

Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your support of Irv and Jonathan. You have been a good friend of mine for over twenty years too. Thanks Jeff!

Peggy Maze

Anonymous said...


The more I read about Miller?Maze the more I like. Stuart had mentioned to me I should find a candidate I want to support and show them my "resume", especially the videos. My only concern is time, I stressed myself wicked thin working full-time, carrying five classes and volunteering.

What do you think?
Matt Jablow

Anonymous said...

Matt -

Send me an email to


The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.