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Have you ever wondered about the delegates to the Democratic National Convention, how they got there, and what difference they make?  Well, you may see me during the television coverage of July 25-28 because I am one of them this year.  Over the last several months I have had a unique opportunity to learn how our electoral system works first-hand and I must confess that the process is byzantine and less than democratic.  I am documenting here how I became a delegate and what my experience at the California Democratic delegate convention was like. Later I intend to share with you about my experiences in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention.

At the age of 51, and as someone who has been actively involved in politics most of my life, it is surprising that I had no idea how delegates were selected. Now that I understand better I can see why I and most citizens have no clue: the process is nearly secret.

For me, the first step to Philadelphia was going to the California Democratic Party website and filling out a form and submitting it by fax by April 13.  Delegates are chosen by congressional district and in Congressional District 20, which includes Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, there were about 60 applications to be Bernie Sanders-pledged delegates and about 20 to be Hillary Clinton-pledged delegates. More on this in a moment, but what does “pledged” mean?

Haffa is a professor at Monterey Peninsula College and a member of the Monterey City Council. The Partisan will be following him on the road to the DNC in Philadelphia. Stay tuned for future installments.

As it turns out, there are four types of delegates: Pledged and elected delegates like myself, PLEOS (Party Leader Elected Officials who are pledged), at-large delegates who are pledged, and super delegates who are unpledged.  Each congressional district is assigned a number of delegates based on the population and how many people voted in the last election.  In CD20, which is Sam Farr’s district, we were allocated three male pledged, three female and one alternate.  At large, PLEO and super delegates are not allocated by district and I’ll talk about them in a subsequent post. Back to the pledged delegates.

So, you submit your paperwork: now what?  What I did was join a slate.  My slate included three nurses—you want some women and some men to balance your slate because the delegates are divided equally between men and women.  Each of us on our slate was supposed to turn out as many of our friends and supporters as possible to the Sanders’ caucus and there were other slates doing the same both at for Sanders and for Clinton.

Our slate looked like this:

Sanders slate card

I emailed friends and also contacted folks on Facebook. Honestly, I didn’t work as hard at it as I should have and didn’t expect to win, but I was looking forward to the caucus because I would see other people who shared my values and those of Sen. Sanders.  We didn’t know where the caucus would be and it could have been anywhere in the three-county area.  Ultimately the two campaigns decided on Salinas, and the Sanders’ caucus was at Hartnell College and the Clinton caucus was at the Laborer’s Local 270 Union headquarters.

Nurses Bernie DelegatesAs it happened, there were almost 300 people at the Sanders’ caucus and around 100 at the Clinton caucus.  Electioneering at these caucuses is not only permitted, it seems to be encouraged.  All the candidates and various slates moved up and down the line of people waiting to get inside, handing out printed materials and talking to voters.  Now, raise your hand if you knew about this vote?  Right. Most of us never hear about this and it is not usually advertised much in the media, if at all.  Almost everyone there was there because some candidate had asked them to be there along with party insiders who know about these caucuses from past elections.  Normally, party insiders are a large enough bloc that they can potentially sway these elections.  At the Sanders’ caucus, however, there were almost no insiders present.  It was a diverse group of people, younger more than older, wearing their Sanders T-shirts and buttons.  With other candidates, I walked the line and asked for people’s votes, greeted and hugged friends, and handed out my slate’s flyer.

Finally the door opened and people could enter and vote. They had to be registered Democrats and were asked if they would pledge to vote for Sanders although this pledge was not binding.  It was heart-warming to see so many friends there; maybe I had a chance. There were also many people there wearing red “National United Nurses” scrubs.

But would these people who didn’t know me vote for me because I am on the same slate as the nurses?  People could vote for four men and three women, and I think this was my advantage because I was on a slate with three women and no other men.  Some people voted and left but many stayed to hear the candidates.  Of the nearly 60 certified candidates, maybe 20 were there to speak and we each had exactly 30 seconds.  It is hard to be persuasive in 30 seconds but as we stood in line I tried my best to arrange three key ideas. Who am I and why am I worthy of representing hundreds of thousands of voters on the Central Coast at the convention. Why I support Bernie?  What kind of delegate I will be.  After everyone spoke, I felt like we would be well represented no matter what because there were so many well spoken and passionate people.

Then we waited around for about two more hours as volunteers counted the ballots. It is an understatement to say I was surprised when it was announced that I was the highest vote-getter. I never expected to win.  So, there were four men and three women, but how many would actually go to Philadelphia and the convention? That would depend on the percentage of the vote that Sen. Sanders got on June 7 in Congressional District 20, during the state primary.  At this moment, we still don’t know the final count. Election night it appeared Secretary Clinton won CD20 with 54% to 46%.  That meant there would be three Clinton delegates plus one Clinton alternate and three Sanders’ delegates.  A week later, the vote flipped as Sanders moved ahead in our district, so then three Sanders delegates plus one Sanders alternate and three Clinton delegates would represent our district.  The votes are still coming in and Sanders’ lead is growing somewhat; if he were to get more than 57% the delegate distribution would be four Sanders and two Clinton and I don’t know what would happen to the alternate!  If this sounds confusing, it is.

Here are my takeaways from this process.  A very small number of people select the actual delegates, basically a few hundred. Most of those people are there because someone who was running asked them to show up and vote. Is this the most democratic process? Do I even need to ask?  I won and I am grateful, but the process is so secret and so few people participate that it seems less than democratic. This year the Sanders’ campaign brought many people into the process who don’t normally participate, and our caucus was larger than most, but even so, 300 people picked the delegates for a district that includes some 700,000 voters.  People either voted for people they knew, voted because the person they knew was on a slate and voted for the other people running with their friend, or voted based on a 30-second elevator speech. This seems less than a thorough and in-depth way to choose delegates.  The whole process seems a bit elitist, to be honest.

I am honored that I won, but was it really me or the quality of my fellow slate-mates and perhaps the recognition I enjoy being an elected official?  I do think our district is well represented. In addition to myself, we have two nurses, Jennifer Holm and Sandra Martinez, plus the alternate is land-use activist Gary Patton, the attorney and former Santa Cruz County supervisor.  I can’t speak to what happened at the Clinton caucus but they also have fine delegates: Tony Russomanno, Carole English, and David Kong.

In a subsequent post, I will tell you what happened at the state delegate convention where the elected “delegates” and our super delegates picked the PLEOs and at-large delegates and also chose delegates from our state caucus to serve on committees.  If you think this will be a simple and transparent process, you may be surprised: I know I was.

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My focus in Tuesday’s state primary election, I confess, is on the presidential race.

It’s been captivating in the same way that a car crash, five-alarm fire or circus high-wire act is. You can’t avert your eyes, despite the underlying grotesquerie and potential for disaster unfolding before you.

Obviously, many people in Monterey County share my attentiveness to the races at the top of the tickets. Thousands turned out in the past two weeks in Salinas and Monterey to see Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders make campaign stops in their hard-fought race for the Democratic nomination.

I’m sure thousands — supporters and protesters alike — would have turned out if presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump had graced any our hometowns with one of his freestyle stump appearances.

But the federal office that will be solely decided by voters on the Central Coast will be the 20th District Seat in Congress being contested by leading candidates Democrat Jimmy Panetta and Republican Casey Lucius. The winner won’t be decided until November with a general election runoff between Panetta and Lucius.

Because of my interest in the presidential race, I wondered which of the candidates Panetta and Lucius voted for in Tuesday’s primary. It would seem a very important election for them, since it goes toward determining who will be in the White House should they enter the next Congress.

I put the question to Panetta and Lucius — via their campaign Twitter accounts — mid-morning Tuesday and wondered whether they would respond.

Lucius answered within 18 minutes. She said she voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of the last candidates standing before Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee. Former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said this week he, too, voted for Kasich in the California primary.

Lucius, in a tweet, cited, “experience, moderate, real policy positions” as reasons she went for Kasich and not Trump or Ted Cruz.

I figure Panetta voted for Clinton since he warmly introduced her to the crowd a couple weeks ago at her Salinas rally at Hartnell College. And his father, Leon Panetta, served in Bill Clinton’s administration and with Hillary in President Obama’s cabinet. Those are nice potential allies for a would-be freshman congressman.

An hour later, I was still awaiting Panetta’s response on what I assumed would be his obvious choice. Perhaps he’s too busy Election Day to respond. Or doesn’t want to unnecessarily alienate any of those 7,000-plus Sanders supporters who turned out last week in Monterey.

I only hope he does what everyone should do today — vote for the candidates of your choice.

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The word VOTE written in wooden letterpress typeWatching Chris Christie stand behind Donald Trump tonight, looking a little like a bodyguard, I was reminded of the lovely Jesse Winchester song “No Pride At All.”

But who cares what I think? This space is being created so you, the Partisan reader, the thoughtful people of the Peninsula and beyond, can share your thoughts on this cockeyed contest.

So start sharing already. Can Trump be stopped? Should he be stopped? Can Bernie win this thing? Is Ted Cruz actually the son of Mr. Haney from “Green Acres”? Whaddya think?

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Close up of a laughing clown at the fairgroundSuper Bowl 50 was boring. The commercials were so-so, the halftime music OK, though I didn’t catch all the words to Beyoncé’s new political song. Consequently all the yammer about a Beyoncé backlash is over my head. I’m happy about that. But not as happy as I am about the freaking circus the 2016 presidential race is turning out to be.

I admit there have been nervous moments when I’ve considered exploring how difficult it would be to emigrate to Australia, Canada or New Zealand should any number of the candidates somehow win enough Electoral College votes to be our next president.

This gloom passes quickly. I realize the loony primary contests being waged by both parties are simply the latest iterations of what’s always a messy, cantankerous and thoroughly democratic slog through a farrago of lies, vainglory and snake oil toward the final November winnowing.

The nation has survived 44 presidents, and we will survive the 45th.

That said, I can’t help but sympathize with many of my fellow citizens who seem scared out of their wits by what passes for presidential decorum in the second decade of the 21st century. The low level of intellect and inspiration in much of the cheap patter in the primary races and debates is chilling.

Sorry, Democrats, it’s not just the off-the-cuff rantings of Donald Trump or glitches in Marco Rubio’s memory card that is dragging down the ideas and visions offered by the candidates. Hillary Clinton’s “artful smear” brigade and Bernie Sanders’ incessant call for revolution — as if a majority of Americans are ready to take to the barricades over campaign finance reform — has the party of grown-ups bickering like a vast left-wing conspiracy against a cabal of warmongering neo-liberals.

The delightful infighting, after the snow settled in New Hampshire, will go on for many more weeks. Most likely without Chris Christie, soon to be forgotten as the Jersey Boy who froze Rubio’s brain. That’s the only clarity achieved in this week’s primary. On to the very different states of Nevada and South Carolina on Feb. 20. There’s plenty of drama to come.

— Who will be the last Republican establishment candidate  — Jeb Bush or John Kasich — left standing to be insulted as a weakling and walked over by Trump?

— Who will be the last Cuban-American authentic conservative — Ted Cruz or Rubio — left standing to be insulted as a weakling and walked over by Trump?

— What will be the next vulgarity Trump employs on the stump, having already freed shit, fuck and pussy from the shackles of political correctness? Who, in the self-proclaimed party of family values and biblical rectitude, will give a shit?

—  Will Michael Bloomberg run as an independent and restore the field to its rightful level of having two Manhattan billionaires?

— Will Sanders, millennial heartthrob, go on making history and become the first Jew to win multiple presidential primaries? Will his average campaign contribution rise from $27 to real money like $28?

— Will Clinton, the woman who would be president, suffer the indignity of having that last glass ceiling be made impregnable again by a change candidate from her party’s left wing?

The answers to these and many more questions will play out over the next few months in a spirited presidential contest that is proving America has never stopped being great.

And while he’s promising the moon, stars, great walls, mass deportations, guillotines and so much winning we’ll grow weary of ceaseless victory, maybe Trump can promise to make Super Bowls great again. Could help him in North Carolina.

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