Carl Levin doesn't heart New Hampshire: The Swamp
The Swamp
Posted May 31, 2008 1:21 PM
The Swamp

by Jill Zuckman

An unrepentant and defiant Sen. Carl Levin had no apologies today for putting the Democratic Party in the mess it finds itself in.

Levin called the primary process an "irrational system" as he spoke to the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee this afternoon. But it was Levin's irrational hatred of New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary status that led to Michigan jumping ahead of the DNC's calendar schedule for primaries and caucuses.

"No state should have the right to go first and second every election, no state," Levin heatedly said, criticizing New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner in particular.

Here's the rub: If Michigan had stayed where it was, it might have had a greater impact on the long-running battle between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination this year.

What follows is a transcript of Levin's remarks:

SENATOR CARL LEVIN (D-MI): Thank you so much for those comments,
to both our co-chairs, Herman and Roosevelt. Members of the Rules and
Bylaws Committee, thank you so much for the opportunity to help
present Michigan's case.

I'm accompanied by other members of the -- what we call the
"working group of four." This is a group of four that were appointed
by our governor to try to figure out the solution to the issue which
you're already grappling with.

And the four are Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, who is a
congresswoman, as you all know, who is sitting behind me, Debbie
Dingell, the Democratic National Committeewoman from Michigan, Ron
Gettelfinger, who's represented here today by Darius Sivin, Ron
Gettelfinger is the president of the UAW, and myself.

I also want to say that part of the working group -- two in my
family -- my wife, Barbara is also here today.

That our party's nominating system is flawed is illustrated by
the sequence of events that brought us to this point. But before
recounting those events, let me get to the bottom line. The
Democratic Party needs unity in the middle of this contentious battle
between two strong candidates. The people want us to strive for unity
and they want us to achieve it.

The Michigan Democratic Party has achieved unity. We're asking
you to preserve it. (Applause.) The Michigan Democratic Party's
Executive Committee which includes large numbers of Clinton and Obama
supporters overwhelmingly recommended the proposal before you to do
two things. First, to seat all of our delegates with full voting
rights. That is where there is an agreement overwhelmingly, not just
in the Michigan Democratic Party, but I believe you're going to hear
from the two candidates' representatives, representatives of Senators
Clinton and Obama, that they support -- they support -- full seating
of Michigan's delegates with full voting rights.

Now, that's something which has critically been missing, which is unity between
our candidates on critical issues. The Michigan Democratic Party has
overwhelmingly supported that position, and the two candidates'
representatives, I believe you'll hear directly, support that

Now, where is there disagreement? The Michigan Democratic Party
has reached a compromised proposal on the allocation of those 120
delegates. And as you've all pointed out, it is imperfect. There is
no scientific way to have reached the conclusion that we reached, but
there's a fair way, there's a reasonable way, a way based on the
evidence, for instance, which Mark Brewer just laid out for you. It
is a path forward, which has produced unity in Michigan. We're asking
you do not override that unity.

What you'll hear are two other paths, a path of Senator Obama,
which is to divide the 128 votes, we believe he'll argue, 64-64
because the primary was flawed. You'll hear from Senator Clinton's
representative, we believe, that the delegates, 128, should be divided
73-55, representing the vote apportioning all of the 73 to Clinton
because her name was on the ballot and assuming, as Senator Clinton
does, that all the other delegates, all the uncommitted, should go to
Senator Obama, even though, obviously, some of them would have been
for Senator Edwards.

So you're going to have three proposals in terms of allocation.
You have one proposal in terms of seating all of our delegates with
the full voting rights. One proposal -- Michigan's, Obama's and

Now, on the allocation issue, we think we've reached a reasonable
allocation based on all of the evidence that we have. It was a flawed
primary, folks. Believe me, we know it. We tried to get the
legislature to re-run that primary, as, by the way, the DNC or this
Rules committee has recommended. We supported that. The working
group (of four ?) uncommitted.

We've got no ax to grind for either of the candidates. That's
not our point. Our point is we want the Michigan delegation seated in
full because if you don't do that, you're going to interject an
element of disunity into an area where we have unity, in that key
principle, seating our delegates in full with full voting rights.

Now, if you folks could come up with a better allocation than 69-
59, if you're able to reach a better conclusion than that, so be it.
You're going to hear an argument for 73-55, and I think you're going
to hear an argument for 64-64. And if there's a fourth way to do it,
that's going to be in your hands. But what we have given you is the
best that we can do. We have united the Michigan Democratic Party on
this allocation formula. If you can come up with a unified allocation
formula, we will congratulate you.

But we are very close to the ground in Michigan. We have an
advantage that most of you do not have. I say most of you because,
obviously, Mark is from Michigan.

Now, how did we get here? And just a note of the background here
is important because it can affect your attitude and the attitude of
the public about how did we get here. And as our co-chair knows
because she was co-chair of the committee which made the
recommendations on rule changes, Michigan decided long ago that we've
got a totally irrational system of nominating our president. We've
got different rules, different states trying to go first. But what
has happened consistently is that Iowa and New Hampshire have taken a
privileged position which has had a dominating effect on this process.
And Michigan decided years ago that no state should have the right to
go first and second every election -- no state! (Applause.)

So we fought to open up the process. In 2004, Michigan said,
we're going to hold a primary or a caucus the same day as New
Hampshire. We know the rules don't allow it. We know why they don't
allow it and what New Hampshire's power has been. We understand that,
but we'll take our case to the convention. That's what we said in
2004. And many of you know this firsthand.

The chairman of the party, Terry McAuliffe, said don't do that,
please. We'll appoint a commission. And many of you were on it, and
our distinguished co-chair was co-chair of that commission. That
commission had hearings and debate for a year. It was heated. We
studied -- and I was a member of the commission as was Debbie Dingell
-- we studied the history, the precedents. And we came up with a
recommendation which created history. It was a very minor change but
very major in terms of the direction of this party to open up this
system so that other states beside Iowa and New Hampshire could go
early. It was an historic, significant recommendation.

And what was that recommendation? The recommendation was that
the first caucus be in Iowa and the first primary be held in New
Hampshire, but here's the key words -- that there be an additional
first-tier -- excuse me -- there be an additional one or two first-
tier caucuses between the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire.

New Hampshire hated it. They voted no. They were the only one
on our commission that voted no. They wanted to be not just the first
primary. They wanted to maintain their privileged status and be right
after Iowa. They had been able to maintain that over the decades, and
some of us deeply object to it. We don't believe we're a party of
privilege. No state should have that perpetual privilege that Iowa
and New Hampshire claim.

So what did this commission do? They said, "Insert one or two
caucuses between Iowa and New Hampshire." And what did Michigan do?
We accepted it. We praised it. And then we applied, and then there
were going to be four early primaries or caucuses. Our co-chair has
gone over that. That was part of it too. We said fine. We applied
to be one of the four. We didn't succeed. What did we do? We said,
"We accept that. Got it? We accept that. We're not one of the four
pre-window states, providing New Hampshire accepts it."

New Hampshire didn't accept it. Their secretary of state
unilaterally announced they were going to jump ahead of the rules.
And we tried over and over again to get the answer from the Democratic
National Committee. "Will you enforce the new rule against New
Hampshire?" We couldn't even get an answer to that question. We
could not get an answer as to whether or not a rule so significant
that finally, finally, a state, at least one, would have an
opportunity to go that early, with all of the huge impact that going
early has -- and the commission recognized that impact.

The commission's findings were that -- if I can get my right page
here -- take my time? Thank you. I think I'm running out of time.
But the commission concluded, "There are serious" -- this is --
remember, this commission was appointed by a national convention in
2004, by the way. You can't get higher than a national convention.

The convention decided to appoint this commission, and here's
what the commission found -- serious concerns that Iowa and New
Hampshire are not fully reflective of the Democratic electorate or the
national electorate generally, and therefore do not place Democratic
candidates before a representative range of voters in the critical early weeks of the process. And you were right -- not you -- the
commission was right. And then they made that decision. New
Hampshire was going to go third.

New Hampshire's secretary of state, who's got the power to
unilaterally pick a date, made a public announcement: No, they're
not. We go through -- we have a chronology here, like yours -- press
conference, October -- excuse me -- August 9th, 2007; New Hampshire
Secretary of State Bill Gardner stated he's going to jump his state
forward to the number two position before Nevada and before the date
specified for New Hampshire.

So there we are, back at square one, if this committee would give
the rule -- would give New Hampshire a waiver so they could do exactly
what they've been doing for decades. They asked you for a waiver. We
said, "Hey, wait a minute. Give New Hampshire a waiver after all this
so they can jump to number two again, back to the status quo, back to
the privileged position, after this committee issued a rule that they
go third?"

You talk about integrity of the rules. Yeah, we're for that.
And we ask you, we ask you -- (applause) -- we ask the Rules Committee
to enforce the new rule. But if you're not going to enforce it, if
you're going to give New Hampshire a waiver, then give us a waiver.
Well, you gave New Hampshire a waiver and you denied us a waiver;
put us right back to square one, where we were put in a position of
taking on that perpetual privilege which no state should have. And
folks, that's why we're where we're at. And so many of you know this
history. This is complicated history; I know that. And it's hard for
this to get through, because the issue now is, did Michigan follow the
rules? Did Michigan follow the rules?

We offered -- we said we would accept the rule, providing every
other state accepted it. But the Rules Committee let that one state
off the hook, and we decided we're not going to sit by and do nothing
for another decade or two while one or two states insist that they got
a God-given privilege to go first. (Applause.)

And I emphasize -- and I'm going to close here -- sequence was
the key. It wasn't that there be four states in the pre-window. That
wasn't the fight. The fight was sequence within that pre-window
period. And that's where we decided to wage this battle. Don't
punish us for that. We're united. Don't disunify us.

Our candidates support the position that we've taken on that key
issue that all of our delegates be seated for the full vote. Where
they're going to differ with our solution is on the proportionment
(sic/means apportionment). We understand that. But if you can't
accept -- if you cannot accept the Michigan Democratic Party's
compromise on allocation, or if you cannot reach an agreement on the
allocation of Michigan's delegates between the candidates, and if you
therefore decide to leave that -- if you decide to leave that
allocation up to the Credentials Committee, if the matter is not
effectively resolved before then, then, at a minimum, we urge you to
do what both candidates, we believe, will urge you to do -- seat a
full Michigan delegation with full voting rights.

That's our conclusion. That's our plea. We think that's
justice. And we think you not only have the power but that history --
if you're going to have an open system here, a little bit of an
opening so it's not always Iowa and New Hampshire, Iowa and New
Hampshire, if you're going to move in that direction, the way you
promised to move, and you set a rule to move, then seat this
delegation with full voting rights.

Thank you. (Cheers, applause.)

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The Democrats complain that Bush lacked foresight in Iraq. Well, as Jill points out, the Democrats clearly lacked foresight about the impact a state might have on the primaries.

Bottom line: No one knows what tomorrow brings. So be humble and let grace come to you; don't go chasing glory.

Duh, how about a Democratic National Primary Day ?!! It's a good thing I'm a rocket scientist or I would never have come up with such a difficult solution !!
Could it be that the political organizations do not want a single day primary ?!! Would they still make all that money, would they still be able to rely on the possibility of more fodder for negative campaigning !!? God only knows, what the answer is that has allowed this extremely flawed system from happening !! If fairness is not perceived by all parties, than we will have a hard time claiming our White House, back !! Oh, please don't give me that tired old platitude of, every vote must be counted. I don't hear those carryiing that banner complaining, at all, about the denial of the vote for convicted felons. They are denied the right, even though they paid their debt !! Do I see a double standard here !!??

You should also mention that moving the Democratic primary dates up in both MI and FL were pushed by a gang of Republicans--Dems foolishly fell for it.
That said--the process DOES need changing--a one day winner take all mail in vote of registered dems.
Why couldn't the DNC raise money and do a mail in vote for Fl and MI?--because it's an internecine battle for who will control the party the next 4 years.
Sure wish they'd worry more about the white house and congress.

I know it is all the Republicans fault.
The Republicans made up the rules for the Democ"rat"ic party. The Republicans voted to strip Florida and Michigan. The Republicans are to blame. It was all the fault of the Republicans.

VJ Machiavelli

Rules need to change within the DNC - no argument there but you cannot do it "change as you go.' Meet after this is over and revamp and get rid of the supers!!

Excuse me, Jill, but, exactly why is Carl Levin's criticism of the indefensible primary system that inevitably gives such clearly demographically unrepresentative states as New Hampshire and Iowa such a loud and early voice in presidential politics "irrational hatred"?

Sounds to this observer more like Levin's venting is frustration matured into contempt. I'm particularly sympathetic because,

1. Michigan is far more representative of America than either New Hampshire or Iowa,

2. I've felt for years now that we're overdue for a more equitable presidential primary system that involves either a lottery system for states, or a rotating schedule.

A NATIONAL primary day....

why can't these peass brains figure it out!

Embarassed yourself very badly Levin!

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