Several members of the Dane County Democratic Party want to rein in party chair Wayne Bigelow's power.
Austin King, who leaves the Madison Common Council next week, has written one resolution that would prohibit the party chair from using his or her title when making endorsements in races. King's resolution also asks candidates to sign a pledge that they will not "mislead voters by listing the executive board as an endorsing organization."
King says the resolution is necessary given the "gross violations" by Bigelow that occurred during this spring's city council races. Bigelow sent out a letter to voters in District 11, urging their support for Chris Schmidt, who was challenging Ald. Tim Gruber.
The Democratic Party did not formally endorse either candidate, but Bigelow signed the letter using his title as party chair. In the letter, Bigelow asserted that Gruber only recently joined the Democratic Party.
"It was idiocy," says King. "It was a lie." He says Gruber has been a member of the party for years. Gruber ultimately defeated Schmidt.
King also complains that candidates who weren't endorsed by the full party listed the executive board's endorsement on their literature instead. King says this made it appear as though they had Democratic Party support, when in fact "many of the executive board's recommendations were overwhelmingly rejected."
Russell Wallace, a member of the executive board, is drafting a similar resolution and is also proposing changes to the party's by-laws, to prevent such maneuvers in the future.
Bigelow says none of his actions during the election were inappropriate. "I really don't feel like I abused my position."
Asked whether some voters might misinterpret his letter in support of Chris Schmidt as an endorsement from the Democratic Party, Bigelow disagrees. 'I think Democrats are pretty intelligent.'
He calls King's resolution "nonsense" and "silly," and adds, "It's Austin getting even on the way out."
King is a member of Progressive Dane, which Bigelow accuses of trying to co-opt the Democratic Party. He says Progressive Dane's members showed up in force at the party's January meeting to derail the endorsements of more mainstream candidates.
"Progressive Dane brings 100 people to our meeting, and we never see them again until our next endorsement cycle," Bigelow complains.
King is offended by Bigelow's accusations: "I go to every one of those meetings, and they still pretend I'm not a member of the party." And he doesn't understand why Bigelow would get upset at new members -- even Progressive Dane members -- joining the Democratic Party. "Theoretically, they should want more members."
King's proposed resolution follows:
WHEREAS the Democratic Party of Dane County's Executive Board does not make endorsements, but only makes recommendations to the general membership which has the ultimate say as to whether to endorse a candidate; and
WHEREAS in 2007 many aldermanic candidates whose endorsements were rejected by the Democratic Party of Dane County's membership, some by enormous margins, misled voters by listing the DPDC Executive Board as an endorsing organization to imply endorsement of the Democratic Party where none existed; and
WHEREAS the Chair of the Democratic Party of Dane County did make endorsements not in his private capacity but in his official capacity as Chair of the Party for candidates rejected by the Party's membership;
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that in order to prevent the will of the membership from being subverted by rejected candidates in the future, any candidate seeking the endorsement of the Democratic Party of Dane County shall pledge in writing prior to interviewing with the Executive Board that he or she will not mislead voters by listing the Executive Board as an endorsing organization; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Chair of the Democratic Party of Dane County not use his or her title in endorsing candidates that were not endorsed by the general membership of the Party.
Wallace's proposed resolution follows:
WHEREAS the Democratic Party of Dane County has a formal endorsement process beginning with recommendations by the DPDC campaign committee and finalized by a vote of DPDC members; and
WHEREAS this endorsement process only has significant value if it determines the distribution of party resources, both tangible and intangible, in support of candidates; and
WHEREAS there were incidents during the 2007 spring election season that gave the impression that other party units or individuals acting on behalf of the party supported candidates who were not endorsed by the DPDC; therefore be it
RESOLVED that the DPDC adopt and formalize in the DPDC bylaws the following rules regulating party support for candidates for elected office:
1. The Democratic Party of Dane County shall take all possible steps to support endorsed candidates.
2.Except in extraordinary cases, as approved by a two-thirds vote of the Executive Board and reported to the membership at the next general membership meeting, no DPDC resources, neither tangible nor intangible, shall be used to support a non-endorsed candidate.
3.The DPDC shall not offer or allow candidates to use the names of DPDC committees or that of the DPDC Executive Board as endorsements, nor shall those entities offer or allow their titles to be used as endorsements.
4. DPDC officers shall not offer or allow their party titles to be used in support of non-endorsed candidates, nor shall they offer or allow any other group to use their titles in support of a non-endorsed candidate.
5. The DPDC shall take all possible measures to ensure that other party units respect and coordinate with DPDC endorsements in local elections.
And be it further
RESOLVED that the DPDC shall create and adopt a process for prioritizing support for endorsed candidates, said process to require approval by the DPDC membership before party resources are committed. An exception to membership approval shall be included for extraordinary cases, although if such an exception is invoked it must reported to the membership at the next general membership meeting.