When I was a teenage volunteer for Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign in 1968, one of the aspects of the national Democratic Party power structure that bothered me the most — apart from its support for the horrendous Vietnam War — was its internal barriers to democracy. Those barriers turned out to be major stumbling blocks for peace advocates as they lost the party’s presidential nomination to then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
During the 1970s, reforms inside the party had the effect of giving voters a much more genuine role in selecting the party’s presidential nominees. But today, a big vestige of undemocratic processes remains within the Democratic Party — “superdelegates.”
It will take 2,383 delegates to win the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in late July. State by state, the primaries and caucuses now underway are involving millions — ultimately tens of millions — of voters.
But there are big flies in the democratic ointment. Actually, 712 of them. That’s the number of superdelegates who will have votes at the national convention.
Superdelegates already have power inside the party. They’re members of the Democratic National Committee as well as members of Congress, state officials, party chairs and so forth. In short, they are pillars of the Democratic Party establishment, and they’re hotwired into having a very large say in selecting the presidential nominee.
Hillary Clinton now has the support of hundreds of superdelegates (461 at last count), while Bernie Sanders has few superdelegates in his corner (25).
Why the extreme disparity in superdelegate leanings? After all, the voters in Democratic primaries and caucuses haven’t been far from evenly split between the two candidates, while the superdelegates are lopsided for Clinton.
The main answers are related to the kind of power politics that prevails in Washington. Few Democrats in Congress have been willing to buck the power of centralized big bucks to the extent of not throwing their superpower weight behind Clinton.
And so it was that, sadly and predictably, many months ago the politician representing Marin in the House of Representatives publicly declared that his superdelegate vote at the convention will go to Hillary Clinton.
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Congressman Jared Huffman knows about the power in the upper reaches of the Democratic Party hierarchy.
Yet, as an environmentalist, Huffman must know that Sanders has a much stronger record on climate change — and the environment overall — than does Clinton.
As someone who has expressed concerns about catastrophic U.S. military interventions abroad, Huffman must know that Clinton has actively supported many deadly exercises in imperial hubris and regime change.
And Huffman claims to be opposed to the inordinate political power of Wall Street, which has shoveled massive amounts of money into the Clinton campaign.
As a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Huffman could learn from its co-chairs, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who were willing to virtually stand alone on Capitol Hill as early endorsers of Bernie Sanders for president.
These are not just faraway issues. The Democratic presidential campaign is coming to California soon.
Marin residents and others who live in the 2nd Congressional District will see the names Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on our primary ballots in early June.
As a representative of this district, Congressman Huffman should announce that he will defer to the decision that its Democratic voters make and — as a superdelegate — vote accordingly at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.