Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Prosecutorial Pile-up: Bowes To Detour Around Slating-Part 1 of 2

As we begin this two part series on Greg Bowes decision to detour around the established slating process and "go rogue" on the Marion County Democratic Party, I'm reminded of Coach Norm Dale's first run-in with George in the movie Hoosiers. I don't think this quote in the context of the movie fits here, but I do think that, minus that context, the quote fits the situation.

"Look, mister, there's... two kinds of dumb, uh... guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and, uh, guy who does the same thing in my living room. First one don't matter, the second one you're kinda forced to deal with."

Am I saying that Greg Bowes is dumb? Absolutely not. Greg's a friend of mine, and I hope that after this blog post he still will be a friend of mine. If not...well...I can take it. Greg's very intelligent, and he's betting that there will be a groundswell of support for what he's proposing. I just don't know if I see that happening. What's he proposing? Oh yeah...on to the debate!

Greg Bowes wants to be the next Prosecuting Attorney of Marion County. There are two other candidates that also wish to be your next Prosecutor: David Orentlicher and Terry Curry. Those two candidates have consistently said that they would abide by the Marion County Democratic Party Candidate slating agreement, pay the slating fee, and go through the process. Bowes has been non-committal and, in an e-mail sent to me the other day, he confirmed that he will not be going through slating. He also attached the copy of the letter he sent to elected Precinct Committeepersons, the Marion County Democratic Central Committee, Chairman Ed Treacy, Democratic elected officials in the county, and his two competitors for the Prosecutor's job.

In the letter, Bowes details his impressive credentials for the Prosecutor's job. He touts his list of accomplishments as Marion County Assessor and City-County Councillor as well as his long history of helping clients win cases. He also talks about his time as a Deputy Prosecutor under the last Democrat to serve in the Marion County Prosecutor's Office, Jeff Modisett. That takes about a half page.

The rest of the three plus pages is an explanation of the slating process and why he will not be going through that process. If you have a few minutes, please read what Bowes has to say. The letter picks up quoting from the document at the bottom of the first page after Bowes has stated his qualifications.

The Slating Convention
The Marion County Democratic Party (MCDP) has traditionally held a slating convention in advance of the primary election for the purpose of selecting those candidates the MCDP wishes to endorse. The endorsement was given to only one candidate for each office. Candidates seeking the endorsement were asked to pay a slating fee equal to 10% of the salary of the office they seek. That money was used to pay MCDP staff and to fund printing of literature used in the primary and general elections to support the endorsed candidates.

The idea behind slating is to give precinct committeepersons (PCs) and vice precinct committeepersons (VPCs) the opportunity to select the best Democrats to serve. PCs and VPCs, who are the people most in touch with the voters in their neighborhoods, have the best idea of who the voters would want to elect. PCs and VPCs, the ground troops in the election process, having voted for the best candidate, would then join behind that candidate and help ensure he or she is elected.

The Role of the County Chair
One might think that our party respects the wishes of the PCs and VPCs. You do the hard work of registering voters, filling precinct election boards, and promoting Democratic candidates and should have the most say about who we endorse. In fact, the Indiana Democratic Party rules give the power over all county party issues directly to the PCs and VPCs. Those rules are available at http://www.indems.org/page/‐/IDP%20Rules%20revised%203‐23‐09.pdf. One might also think that the MCDP county chair might want to wait until PCs and VPCs have made their decision before he takes any action in support of one candidate or another.

The county chair, however, has the power to ignore the will of the PCs and VPCs. He can fill PC and VPC positions that are vacant. While this power is authorized by state party rules, and is necessary when a PC or VPC resigns, dies, or moves out of the precinct, it is a power that might be used to subvert a fair slating process. The state party rules also allow the county chair to remove appointed PCs and VPCs at any time for any reason or no reason at all. In fact, the current county chair and his predecessor have removed all appointed PCs and VPCs at times to purge the ranks and replace those positions with people more likely to follow the wishes of the county chair.

In 2006, Marion County Democrats elected only 260 PCs. The county chair has the power to fill the remaining 920 PC and VPC positions, and can require those who are appointed to endorse only those candidates the county chair has pre‐selected. Many times, vacancies are filled with people who are asked only to attend the slating convention, and who have no intention of helping the party on Election Day. All PCs and VPCs, who work diligently year after year to register voters, fill precinct election boards, and work hard to elect good Democrats, should be concerned that the county chair is diluting their vote by abusing his power to fill vacancies. The

Role of the PC and VPC
State party rules say that a county party consists of its PCs and VPCs. Those rules allow the PCs and VPCs to establish the rules of the county party, so long as those rules do not conflict with state or national party rules. This means the PCs and VPCs have the power to decide whether and how the county party will endorse candidates. The county chair and the county central committee have no power over this process, unless the PCs and VPCs give that power to them.

This permission usually takes the form of a voice vote at the beginning of the slating convention. The parliamentarian will state that the rules have been established, and ask for a voice vote to adopt them. The problem is that those rules have never been reduced to writing and circulated to the PCs and VPCs before they vote on them. At a recent meeting with the county chair presiding, I asked if those rules would be made available, and was told they would not.

As a PC, you have the right not only to see what the rules are before you vote on them, but to create those rules yourselves. I ask you to challenge this process for the good of our party. Please help establish rules that ensure fairness, transparency and accountability in our party’s processes.

The Proposed Slating Process is neither Representative nor Democratic
Only the 260 elected PCs and the VPCs selected by the PCs must live in the precinct they serve. They cast slating votes that truly represent the neighborhoods they serve. State party rules allow the county chair to fill vacancy with people who do not live in the precinct. If the appointments are filled by people from other parts of town, those precincts are not truly represented.

As many as 920 PCs and VPCs could be controlled by the county chair. By allowing this process to continue, we effectively allow one person’s vote to be more powerful than 260 votes. This is not democratic.

All of you, who represent your precincts well, and who have worked so hard to support our party over the years, should be offended at any attempt to take away your voice on important party decisions.

The Proposed Slating Agreement Is Not Fair to any Candidate
As an elected official, I was given a copy of the proposed slating agreement. The basic agreement is to pay 10% of the elected official’s annual salary for the right to be considered for endorsement. The Central Committee would then give the candidate a list of the elected and appointed PCs and VPCs, and elected Democrats from Marion County. The MCDP makes no other promise.

The candidate, however, must promise to abide by the decision at the slating convention and not run against the endorsed candidate, no matter how unfair the process might have been, and no matter how little it reflects the will of Democratic primary voters. The candidate must agree to abide by the rules of the slating convention, but he has no opportunity to see those rules, either in advance of making payment, or at any time.

The slating endorsement implies the MCDP would support the candidate, but the nature of that support is never spelled out. There is an example of how this might be a really bad bargain. Suppose there are several contested races, either in the primary or the general election. The Central Committee has the sole discretion to devote its scarce resources to only one of those contested races. For example, it could be more concerned about state legislative races than any county race. Because none of this is spelled out in the agreement, the candidate seeking endorsement may pay a great deal of money, and get nothing in return.

I Will Not Sign the Proposed Slating Agreement

This agreement is not fair. I will not sign it, even if that means I am prohibited from asking for your support in the slating convention.

Many respected local Democrats have run against the slate. They include Julia Carson, Rozelle Boyd, Bill Crawford, and Billie Breaux. I suspect one of the reasons they chose to go against the slate was the unfairness of the process. I will not agree to abide by the results of the slating convention until I know the process has been fair.

Some might ask why I have participated in slating in the past. In 2003, I was endorsed as a candidate for City‐County Council. In 2006, I was endorsed as a candidate for Marion County Assessor. In 2003, I was willing to take any chance to become a public servant. 2006 was much different.

In 2005, I let party leaders know I wanted to be a candidate for Marion County Prosecutor. I met with Melina Kennedy and discussed her wish to be the candidate. She convinced me that she would have a better opportunity than I would to beat Carl Brizzi, so I offered her my full support. After that, I expected to serve out the rest of my Council term, and just help other Democrats win in 2006, especially Melina.

After that decision, party leaders approached me and asked me to run for County Assessor. My initial reaction was a definite “no.” I enjoyed my work on the Council, and I had a thriving law practice. I knew there were other possible candidates with more assessor experience, such as Joe O’Connor, and I said so. It was only after a special request from Bart Peterson that I agreed to serve my party and my community by running for that position.

The Central Committee Should Stay Neutral until after Slating
The slating convention should be an accurate prediction of who is the strongest candidate to represent the party. The best way to predict that strength is to rely on the PCs and VPCs who have worked hard to get to know their neighbors. When the county chair is allowed to stack the slating convention, we lose confidence that we are endorsing the best candidate.

The slating convention also serves to motivate party workers to rally around the endorsed candidate and provide the effort needed to elect that candidate in May and November. If PC and VPC vacancies are filled only for the purpose of supporting the candidate pre‐selected by the county chair, and there is no expectation that those appointed PCs and VPCs do the hard work on Election Day, we cannot expect the slated candidate to be strong enough to win.

The Central Committee and the county chair should remain neutral until after the slating convention. Their influence does not always represent the wishes of all Democrats voting in the primary. Simply put, if a candidate cannot win the slating convention without improper influence from the Central Committee, without having the county chair appoint only favorable people in the vacancies, and without showing everyone the fairness of the rules of the slating convention, how strong is that candidate?

There are Better Ways to Endorse Candidates
One alternative to the current slating process is to have no slating convention. In many states and many counties, the local Democratic parties do not endorse candidates before the primary election. This leaves the choice with all Democratic primary voters, rather than just with a few. The only possible drawback of this choice is that the money and time spent fighting among Democratic candidates is drawn away from the effort to win in the November election. Some people, however, believe a good primary fight makes the winning candidate stronger for the general election.

Another option would be to allow the slating convention to endorse more than one candidate for any single position. For example, although only one Prosecutor can be elected in November, the slating convention could endorse all qualified candidates, and exclude only the least acceptable, much like the bar associations do for judicial candidates. This option would recognize that there can be equally qualified candidates, any of whom would serve the community well. It would also increase the amount of money the county party would be able to retain from the slating fees, and that money could be used to support the eventual nominee in the general election.

The last option I will suggest is to ensure that any slating process is fair, transparent and accountable. This process should at least be based on the wishes of the PCs and VPCs, rather than just on the whims of the county chair. The rules should be voted on in advance of the slating convention after the proposed rules have been written down and circulated to those voting on them.

This process should include a restriction on the county chair’s ability to influence the slating process through abuse of his power to fill vacancies. That can be done by requiring him to appoint only those who live in the precinct, and to require gender diversity between PCs and VPCs. It can also be done by allowing meaningful oversight of the appointment process by candidates.

Please Demand a Fair, Transparent, and Accountable Slating Process
The current slating process is not fair. It is not democratic. It does not give our party the best chance to elect the strongest candidates. You, as a PC, have the power to change the process, because all local party rules come from you. I ask you to demand that our party live by the values it professes. I ask you to consider the alternatives I have suggested that make this process fair. Please let the county chair and the Central Committee know that you do not approve of an unfair slating process. Do this even if you do not support me as a candidate for Prosecutor. A better process makes our party stronger.

Please Support Greg Bowes for Marion County Prosecutor
I ask for your support to be the next Marion County Prosecutor. I ask for your support even if I am not the slated candidate. If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact me...Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.

Greg Bowes
Elected Precinct Committeeperson, Pike 39

He had a lot to say! Some of it is no doubt interesting and it's almost all controversial. Too much to analyze in this one measly blog post. Analysis and reaction from the Marion County Democratic Party tomorrow on Indy Democrat. Hey...it's sweeps month!


Anonymous said...

Bowes like the slating process when it benefitted him. He received it and was elected to the council and the County Assessor job. It was ok with him then. Now that there is little support for him for prosecutor, he attacks the system that has brought success to him. What an insult to the hard working PCs and VPCs.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Bowes is absolutely correct on his analysis of slating pitfalls. It's all about the county chairman and his lieutenants controlling the endorsement and thus the ultimate nomination. Anyone who thinks it is about the hard-working PCs getting a say in who they work for on primary day is not paying attention or being facetious.

Unfortunately Bowes' message is so long he's not going to keep the attention of his audience long enough for them to grasp what he's saying.

Mayor McCheese said...

Talk about silly....

Beyond all this nonsense about slating....is Greg qualified to run against Carl? Could he win? Is this the best the party can do?

Uh, nope. x 100000000000000.....

Let the party get behind Terry.

Anonymous said...

All of that is his way of saying he can't raise the money. If you think that Ed Treacy controls the votes of all the assigned PC's you are flat nuts. As much as any county chair would like to contro these poeple, they all have their own minds and make them up individually. They are generally filled in by the county chair because no one ran for the spot.

How he thinks he can be successful when he can't even raise enough money for slating is beyond me

Wilson46201 said...

The myth of the "stiffs" is often invoked by those who can't get slated. It's true the County Chair can appoint a few voting PCs and VPCs but the number is not limitless as a practical matter. "Stiffing" by the County Chair can be done for a small subset of the County (such as a City Council seat or a Indiana Senate district) but the entire County? No way!

Although personally a nice guy and he means well, Greg Bowes has "burnt himself out" with most Democrats by now. He's been described as a "dead man walking" when it comes to elective politics. Sad...

Anonymous said...

The County Chair is thrilled when Ward Chairs fill the PC and VPC slots in their wards. That means a stronger team for election day. Never have I had an appointment rejected or interfered with by the county party. Some of my PCs are with Ed and some are not. The bottom line is that this manufactured story line of Bowes not going to slating is just a face saving technique because he can't raise money or gather enough support to work within the system. It does him no good to attack the system in this manner.