The results of the St Paul DFL City Convention this weekend begs a specific question. If the only result is an endorsement for school board candidates, can the DFL survive in the era of Ranked Choice Voting? The failure to achieve an endorsement in the race for mayor evolved from a series of factors: 1) The existence of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV); 2) The lack of incentive for any aspiring candidates to leave the field; 3) The egotism of each self-anointed candidate; and 4) The fact that no specific person exists to broker a deal and cull the field.
The fact that Melvin Carter III led on each ballot; First: 47.26%, Second: 50.57%, Third: 51.71%, Fourth: 52,20% and finally the Fifth: 54.72%, but failed to achieve the required 60%. This was due to a 7:00 p.m. time certain adjournment of the convention, in respect for the fast-ending Iftar meal of the Muslim delegates, who principally supported third place candidate Pat Harris on each ballot. Had the delegates continued to vote past the self-imposed time limit, the convention could have been accused of being culturally insensitive to the Islamic community but may have reached an endorsement on subsequent ballots. One of the realities of an endorsement process is the factor of attrition, and that is why alternates are selected as a part of the process. The results of the convention by ballot are reflected in a previous article here on C&B.
There was not a great deal of attrition during the five ballots. Initially, there were 529 delegates voting, then 524 on the 2nd, 526 on the 3rd, 520 on the 4th, and lastly 508 or 92.63% of the total available in the end. The reality is Carter only needed 26 votes to achieve the endorsement. There were 93 people who voted No Endorsement on the 5th ballot, largely Harris supporters because he was dropped after the fourth ballot.
The set-up to the endorsement balloting was staged from the fight at the start of the convention over the proposed Rules and the Agenda. As we had communicated C&B Publisher Shawn Towle was a delegate to the convention and played a significant role in starting the Rules committee debate. Upon the presentation of the Rules Committee report by Rick Varco. Towle challenged the validity of the meeting first called on the 25th of May, and then changed to May 30th, due to Varco’s personal conflict as a lobbyist with the original meeting date and the call of a Special Session at the legislature.
The significance of the meeting date change meant a delegate to the Rules Committee who supported Carter, John Sherman, was replaced by a delegate supporting Harris, Darren Tobolt. This single change shifted the balance of power from a 7-7 tie to an 8-6 advantage for the Harris and Dai Thao coalition. At the convention, Tom Goldstein joined the Harris/Thao side, and that is why the forthcoming Rules Committee vote became such a nail biter.
During the debate, the chairs of the convention ruled in direct conflict with the DFL Party’s Constitution, which is the document that is supposed to supersede all other documents. Varco’s use of an email notification as a valid form of contact to Rules Committee members also violated the 10-day requirement as required by the Constitution. After being ruled out of order, Towle challenged the chairs Sue Moravec and Tim O’Brien, based on their lack of adherence to the Constitution, and their overall inconsistency. Upon a vote of the delegates, Towle’s challenge prevailed. This then provided an opportunity for the Minority Report of Rules Committee member Eric T. Nelson to be presented and it was approved on a vote of 228 to 224. The new Majority Report was a staggering change because in DFL history this is likely the first Minority Report to fully replace a Majority Report.
The new Majority Report was then amended to include a time certain end of 7:00 p.m. This was a structural compromise, reached after a lengthy debate extending he original drop-dead time of 5:00 PM by two hours. Effectively, because of the length of the two-hour debate, things were a wash.
In another move to challenge the DFL to be consistent, Towle moved to amend the new Rules and apply Instant Run-off Voting (IRV) as the drop rule. This failed resoundingly and proves the DFL is hypocritical. because they expect the General Election voters to use a preferential voting system when they refuse to do so themselves. Ironically, had they used the IRV, they would have started with four candidates on the first ballot and had two candidates on the 2nd, and then with a head-to-head contest, they might have achieved an endorsement.
Now that the convention has ended, the air has gone out of the balloon and the effect on the campaign this summer will be an arduous process. The candidates will seek organizational endorsements, attempt to self-define for the voters, who are not likely to pay attention until October, or if they are lucky, in September. It shifts the dynamic away from a viable political organization (St Paul DFL) supporting a candidate to forcing a candidate to seek financial support from outside groups. The DFL endorsement is the big Kahuna and lacking such, means the various combination of labor unions, associations, and advocacy organizations are seeking to create a unique tapestry or matrix of support.
If a Primary/General Election system were in place, past opponents would normally lick their wounds and massage their bruised egos and either endorse one of the two Primary winners. They need time to say, “Initially I was a Harris supporter at the convention, but I am okay with voting for Carter because he has the endorsement” or “I voted for Thao in the Primary, but can support Carter or Harris in the General.” Because this healing ritual will not occur between the convention in June up to August or from August onto November, it will need to take place after the election, but before the inauguration. This will be a significant issue. Because during the 2017 campaign as candidates are trying to differentiate themselves from one another the public may not even participate.
Since we heard Thao pound the podium, the one he had constructed to provide better optics, we are hearing a series of rants from an angry Asian man. He was joined in doing so by a friend of Philando Castile and the shrill nature of the message is not one welcoming to general St Paul voters. One of the points of his vexed anger was directed at the Carter campaign, because of the investigation by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and the issues of illegal campaign solicitation. We are wondering if Thao will be vindictive and act out against Carter.
We know Carter has some wind in his sails despite not achieving the endorsement. There is already speculation Thao or some other entity like the Police Federation, which supports Harris, will be drawing attention to matters about Carter intended to embarrass or create a negative impression. Now, it might not be Thao who broaches the issue, because RCV is supposed to reduce negative campaigning, but it does not prevent third-party organizations from doing so. Since the normal therapeutic ritual will not occur, especially for the four DFL candidates, the post-election time will be a unique time.
Since the normal therapeutic ritual will not occur, especially for the four DFL candidates, the post-election time will be a unique time.
There still is the possibility that additional candidates will enter the field, including other DFLers, especially, a female candidate, who could provide a viable alternative. The filing deadline is August 15, 2017. In addition to the four DFLers, there are two other announced candidates, Elizabeth Dickinson (Gr) and Tim Holden (I).
The irony of ironies will be if one of the DFLers emerges victorious, and then four years from now, he and his supporters come to the DFL convention and seek the endorsement. This after they, except for the Carter campaign, were instrumental in undermining or better yet sabotaging the entire St Paul DFL endorsement process. The ripples of the repercussions will be felt for years. This simple fact may bring about the demise of the St Paul DFL unless Ranked Choice Voting is eliminated.