Hunting the Hunt Commission
The private meetings that led to the creation of superdelegates have never been published or made public—until now.
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE | MAY 16, 2016
Despite holding a nationwide series of presidential primaries and caucuses in which millions of voters participate, the Democratic Party still maintains a system of 712 party insiders who often have the final say on who the nominee is. Why did the party choose to institute such a system? To answer that, you need to go back to the Hunt Commission, which in 1982 invented the “superdelegate.”
The proceedings of the Hunt Commission have never been published. In These Times gained access to documents housed in the National Archives, excerpts of which are reproduced below.
The pages here represent only a sample of the total material looked at by In These Times, which itself makes up a small percentage of the total proceedings of the Commission. Nevertheless, the documents presented here provide an exclusive window into the deliberation and motivations that led to the creation of superdelegates.
Read the June cover story: “The Secret History of Superdelegates”
Part One: The Problem of Primaries
In the Hunt Commission’s first session, participants discussed their concerns with the recent proliferation of presidential primaries, and spoke about the necessity of giving party elites a greater say in the nomination.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 8
And finally of course as the part of the charge to where we are now today, having come so far since indeed the process began in 1964, 1968 and beyond, is that important view that we will take as a Commission of strengthening [sic] the Party, strengthening the Party in the precinct, in the township [sic], in the county, in the State level …
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 10
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 15
I am proud of the affirmative action efforts that we have had in this Party, the only Party that really fully represents all Americans. I am proud of the things we have done, and all of us I think ought to be.
I do think, however, that there are some people in this Party that maybe still feel a little left out, and maybe some of them are the sort of middle income Americans. Maybe they haven’t worked too hard to get out there and be a part of the caucus and other things that they have a right to do and have the door open to them to do. I hope we can figure out some ways to get them more involved. I think we can do that.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 16
I want to say very clearly here tonight that as far as I’m concerned, this Party is not about to turn back on the good things we have done. We have learned a lot in the process.
Tonight after the panel is finished, I hope that you will have questions for them and that we can engage in a useful discussion about the concerns we have and some of the goals we want to try to reach.
But we have for some two decades now been opening this Party and making it a better servant of the people of this country. And I want to see us build on that progress.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 27-29
Rules may change that to some effect, but I don’t think in the long run it is going to make a difference until we at least limit the number of primaries.
The second thing about the Republicans’ nominations is that they have focused having no more strength in controlling the presidential nomination process than we have, they focused a lot of their nominating interests at the state level in federal elections, in local elections, and particularly in legislative elections. They have targeted districts. I’m sure you’re quire aware of that. They have recruited candidates, and they have intervened in primaries. When they intervene in a primary in a federal election, they intervene as any non-party committee does. They are limited to a contribution of $5000, but the impact of the Party intervening in a primary is I think quite powerful.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 30-31
They haven’t—this is another area—they haven’t really focused as much in building grass roots level activity and trying to rebuild the Party from the bottom up. Instead, they have rebuilt the Party from the top down. With the resources they are able to provide to the state level and the targeting they are able to do at congressional and lower level races, they have been able to focus a grass roots effort, but it really came from the top down and not the other way around. And they were able to do that because of the resources they were able to get.
Now, the problem with direct mail—oh, the other thing that direct mail does is it benefitted—the return on it may not be very great in the beginning, but the effect of it is to educate people, and that’s another function of a party. A party traditionally gives cues on how to vote and direct mail that the Party sends out has I think a long range influence.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 37-38
And so we were inspired to begin to participate. It’s no accident that in 1964 the black movement found itself at the Democratic National Convention supporting a Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party move for participation and not at the Republican Party Convention because by that time it had become very clear to us that the Republican Party structure was an elitist and exclusionary structure which did not offer us the option that Democrats did.
And it seems that only four years later we were joined by a great many young people born in this century, and their mothers concerned about participation in the Democratic Party, and—well, you know the rest of the story.
The fact is that as we reflect upon the question of what we do with the reforms that we have fashioned over the past 10 to 15 years, we ought to be mindful first, in my view, that it was not the reforms alone which dictated our fate as a party. One has to reflect honestly upon the fact that issues played a great role in determining the outcome of our Party’s quests in those years. In 1964, obviously the civil rights movement had shaped and catalyzed a number of interests and concerns which were moving to fruition. In 1968, our country’s failure to deal with the war in Vietnam was clearly a major determinant of the outcome of the election. In ’72 we had a very popular President, and many of us felt that we could—it would have been difficult to displace him in the first instance. And in 1976, of course, the elections were primarily the outcome of the Watergate debacle. In 1980 the economic changes which are sweeping the world, which have caused a significant shift in our economic and geopolitical relationships in the world had major roles in determining the outcome of the elections.
That is not to say that our Party in my view is not in trouble, because we do have very difficult days ahead. But it does suggest that with respect to the situation that confronts us today, that we avoid extremes in seeking to prepare ourselves for the future. There are those who feel on the one hand that the fate of the Party has been what it has been because of the reforms, and that had the Party regulars and the Party structure remained in control of nominations and in control of resources and the like, that our fate would have been much better…
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 50-51
And this in a way gets to the problem that Austin raises, the reforms that were adopted from ’68 on tended to go to what I call the legitimacy issue, was the process one which appeared to be legitimate from the point of view of those who wanted to participate, those who were being asked to accept the outcome.
One of the things clear to me, that whether you have 100,000 or 10,000 or 10 million people participate has no bearing whatsoever on the quality of the outcome. And we all know that. Every one of us here knows that. Numbers alone don’t give you any assurance that you’ve made a better decision, and in attempting to deal with large numbers what you often lose and which I think we have lost in the primaries is the opportunity for the one to one evaluation. We talk about the lessening of the influence of public officials. Well, once upon a time a public official could be in the brokering business by running favorite sons. We were talking about that tonight. How many favorite sons were there this last time? They’ve disappeared as a phenomenon, not because of our rules because look at the Republican Party. I don’t think they had a favorite son in 1980. It is the changing times. People won’t stand for it anymore. There are too many issue-oriented people out there.
So I like to think of a political party as kind of the nominating committee for the nation as it does its business. A political party is the nominating committee to which the citizens refer the question of who the candidate should be, and I think the political parties have got to take that and accept that responsibility and not give it back to the people until they have at least made a recommendation.
I mean, I think a political party—and I am talking now of the organized party that can not make a recommendation about a candidate—and I happen to feel this way across the board, Governor, Congressman, city councilman—who can’t recommend to the voters who the best candidate is ought to go out of business, because I don’t see any other purpose for a political party. I know that the endorsement which we follow religiously in Minnesota is not adhered to very much.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 54-55
And whereas that system, too, is not by any means always guaranteed to produce a great candidate or a great leader, it at least has this one advantage that I would like to see us reintroduce as much as we can—and how much we can is a different question—into our system, and that is what David Broder calls peer review, that is to say, people who know the potential candidates personally, who have seen them operate under fire, under conditions of stress, have seen them when they’ve had to display judgment, when they’ve had to decide when to stand firm and when to compromise and with whom, have certainly developed a kind of knowledge about them as to whether they would be good Presidents or not, that those of us who know the candidates only as voices and faces on the television tube cannot possibly know.
And so I guess all I could say would be this, Governor, that although no system is guaranteed to produce good candidates and good Presidents, or good leaders of any kind, I do think that the chances, the odds are improved of getting such candidates and such Presidents and such leaders if we give a much greater role that then now enjoy to people who because of their position in life have a chance to know the potential candidates personally and to observe them operating under such conditions that at least bear a strong similarity to those that they will have to operate under if they become President.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 57-58
I would like to know if the panel has anything to say in that direction.
Xandra Kayden: Let me just comment on that.
One of the problems about linking the parties with the candidates in that instance is that since the parties have no control -- one of the original functions of the parties in the two-party system is accountability. If you don’t like what the incumbent is doing, you have the option of throwing him out and bringing in the other guy, and I think that’s exactly what happened in 1976. And I think in that respect it was a mandate by the American people that they didn’t like 12 percent inflation and they didn’t like Jimmy Carter as President. Beyond that, I don’t think it was a mandate, I agree with you, for Ronald Reagan or any of his policies.
But if the Party doesn’t have influence over getting the nomination—and we have been kept out of that—then the accountability issue is a little lax. We were talking about individual men in that case, and that’s I think what we are talking about when we are talking about Jimmy Carter as President.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 60-61
One of the threads that seemed to run through several of the panelists, particularly two, is that we have hurt ourselves through the primary system, through greater use of the primary system.
I have somewhat felt this way myself, but as I listened to the panelists, I asked myself, the other team was using the same system and the same process. What was the difference? Is it really the primary system and the greater use of the primary system that caused us to lose control of the national administration? What was different about the Republican primary system? They used it to their advantage.
Austin Ranney: Let me repeat my basic truth, that no system is guaranteed to produce either a winning candidate or a good candidate or a bad candidate and a losing candidate. That is the first thing.
I think I would have to say in the second place, however, that one instance where we can say the rules, the primary system and all of the rules of the presidential nominating game did make a very substantial difference was in the 1976 nomination, and in some sense the fight for the nomination in our Party in 1980 was really determined to a considerable degree by what happened in 1976.
And I think it fair to say, without evaluating President Carter as an excellent candidate or an excellent President or an excellent anything else, that he was more of an outsider, more of an unknown than any candidate who has ever received the nomination of either major party, and that his nomination at least would not have been possible under the old rules.
I doubt that it would have been possible under the kind of rules that Don Fraser is talking about, if for no other reason than the fact that nowhere near enough people would have seen Jimmy Carter in action as a Governor, as a legislator, and under all of those other circumstances that we would like to know something about.
And with all of his strengths and weaknesses, Jimmy Carter as the incumbent President was a very heavy favorite, particularly after the seizure of the hostages, to become renominated. It is a very unusual thing not to renominate a President…
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 63-64
I would like to ask these experts what specific rules we might start considering very early that could hopefully stop, and even roll back the proliferation of presidential primaries.
Hunt: Okay, Don.
Don Fraser: Now, obviously one thing the Party could do would be to simply say it won’t seat anybody who is selected through a presidential primary system. That may be too abrupt and a little too abrasive.
But what you could say is that no more than a third or more than half of a delegation shall be picked in that fashion, and that the organized party has to pick the other half.
You can take steps to discourage the use of the primary. For example, one of the suggestions that Mo Udall made, I think in part from his own experience as a candidate seeking the Party’s nomination is to pick certain dates, maybe have four dates, and tell the states they either, if they are going to have a primary, they settle on that date or we won’t accept the outcome. The theory here would be you get a randomization, and we would get away from this idea that states get out ahead. This would, of course, address the New Hampshire problem, it would attempt to.
So there are those kinds of ideas, and what might happen, then, as you see states pile up on each other on a given date, they may lose interest in it, and if you added to that that not more than half the delegates could be selected through that process, maybe there would be some discouragement.
Part Two: Unrepresentative Democarcy
Participants argue that grassroots participation in the nominating process is actually unrepresentative, giving too much power to “special interests” and “activists.”
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 69-70
I seem to hear two trends. One of them was the strengthening and the building up of the structure and the authority of the Democratic Party. The other one was to try to be a party of the people, to appeal to the broad masses.
Are these two conflicting goals, or can we, do you think, panelists, achieve both of them?
Hunt: Austin, how about taking a crack at that?
Austin Ranney: There’s no logical reason why you couldn’t accomplish both of those goals, why we couldn’t accomplish both of those goals. There are, however, I think as those general phrases that you have given, and all of us here I think would say, gee, that would be great to do both of those things, but when it gets to be a question of the actual rules and the practicalities, then sometimes I think those things are in conflict. Sometimes I think that the Democratic Party in its present version comes across to a great many people as not so much a single party working for a common goal as a bunch of its single interest groups, special interests groups itself. There is the Women’s Lobby and there is the—I mean Caucus, and there is the Black Caucus, and there is the Right to Life Caucus, and there is this caucus and there is that caucus, and they get a good deal of attention now, and a good deal—we haven’t said anything about the media, but they are now not just observers of the process, they are participants in it as we all know. And a good deal of what comes across the tube in a Democratic Convention now, and Republican Convention, too, for that matter but particularly the Democratic Convention, is that really what the game is all about is conflict among these caucuses about who gets the right share of the platform phrases, for example, and the membership on the committees and the rules for picking the delegates all that…
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 20, 1981 | PAGE 74
But perhaps, skirting that issue, it does seem to me that there’s a great opportunity, and we in fact could take advantage of our disadvantages right now to pursue that opportunity to rebuild the state parties, and I think you have to do it from the national level. But beyond that, I don’t have an answer.
Hunt: Anybody else want to take a crack at that one?
Fauntroy: Yes. Just let me say that I am not going to answer the question directly, but I can’t get beyond the Senator’s question with respect to the primaries. Both the Democrats and the Republicans went through the same primary process and why the difference, and I keep coming to the answer that in large measure some of these rules and regulations are irrelevant. The thing that Jimmy Carter had going for him was Watergate, and the thing that Ronald Reagan had going for him was a crumbling economy…
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 21, 1981 | PAGE 5
But I think in the process—and I would urge you to think about this and bear this in mind as we go through all of this—I think in the process of conducting the work of this Commission we must and will be sending a signal to many disaffected Democrats—and there are many of them throughout this country—that this Party is open to them, that we will hear every voice in it, and that we will choose a presidential candidate that represents the hopes and aspirations of the majority of all Democrats in this country.
The sending of that signal, what we are doing in this Commission is I think in a sense is going to be looked at as the beginning of the come-back of the Democratic Party, with perhaps a symbolism far beyond the real importance of what we do.
Now, I think it is sort of tempting when you get together in a Commission of this kind and everybody is polite to everybody and all of that, as we of course should be, I think it is sort of easy to begin to let some of the problems fade away. I hope that that will not happen. The real truth is that we have problems in our nominating process, but they are problems that we can change, that we can do something about.
I believe very strongly—and all of us come to this work with some ideas, with some feelings, with some commitments within our hearts and minds—I believe, for example, that too many Democratic elected officials have been left out of our system and have been left out of our convention. Over 20 years, the percentage of Democratic United States Senators who were delegates to the convention dropped from 90 percent to 18 percent, and the percentage of Democratic United States Representatives and Governors dropped by one half.
I think it is essential that we include those elected officials again, that we building to our process their broad-based understanding and their appeal and their constituencies—and they all have them. And I would submit to you if you put all those constituencies together, you do have a majority of the voters in this country.
I would say to you—and we certainly are not about to prejudge what we should do or how we should go about it, but I just sort of have a dream within my heart that the 1984 convention would have something that I suspect no other national political party convention has ever had, and that is sitting within it, active within it, every…
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | AUGUST 21, 1981 | PAGE 52-53
The third major defect of the system is that it allows the presidential nomination process to be played by a group of self-selected candidate activists who constitute only a portion of the Party that is needed to win in November. The involvement by U.S. Governors, Senators, Reps and other elected officials has decreased dramatically over the past 12 years. The inclusion of these people—and I’m not going to talk too much about this because this really falls into the other task force, but let me make clear that the inclusion of these people is not likely to affect the outcome of an election, of a nomination. They are likely to not have to commit their preference until they get to the convention. At that point, I suspect that they will vote for whoever is winning and create the kind of consensus behind that. That is Congressmen and Senators, we know don’t like to take risks. That’s obvious. And there’s no reason for them to have to take a risk until they get to the convention.
In the event that you have a very, very close convention where in fact 300 or some uncommitted Congressmen, Senators and Governors do have a deciding role, then I say fine. If we are going to have that kind of very close election, very close nomination, there is no better group of people in the United States than the elected Democrats, elected by the people, to in fact cast the deciding vote and make the decision. Like them or not, our U.S. House of Representatives is representative of Democrats who vote out there, and the Democrats are representative of somebody, and they should in fact be given that pivotal power.
Their participation, however, is more important not for what they might do to the outcome of the process, and not, frankly, for the resources they bring, but for what they can tell the candidate and not what the candidate can tell them. There is nobody who can better tell a candidate how to win the State of California than a Senator or a Governor of California who has in fact won that state several times. Their participation is usually very, very hard. It is a difficult process.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | NOVEMBER 6, 1981 | PAGE 103-104
Another feeling is that we need to have a system that allows us to react to changing conditions. The world changes. It doesn’t sit tight over a period of months, and it is very unfortunate if we are so bound into a choice that we can’t change.
If the ultimate objective is to nominate a winning candidate in November, then perhaps we ought to find some ways and means of allowing the system to adjust, to react, to make possible or to make it a greater likelihood that we can pick the right candidate to win.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | NOVEMBER 6, 1981 | PAGE 105-106
Well, there are concerns to this as well, If we have a block of 10 percent or 20 percent or 30 percent or 50 percent of unbound delegates, does it question the legitimacy of the process, another point appropriately brought out in Pat Caddell’s paper.
The question is what makes for legitimacy of a presidential nominating system? Does it all flow from the sort of the basic individual vote and participation of the Democratic rank and file? If so, is it possible that we could be in a situation where a closely contested nomination process leads to a position where a block of unbound delegates makes the ultimate decision, perhaps selecting the candidate who was running slightly behind another candidate, and then the question becomes, have we harmed the legitimacy of the process.
Part Three: The Wisdom of Elites
The Hunt Commission discusses the positives of including elected officials in the nominating process, in order to take advantage of their “political acumen” and to gain their buy-in.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | NOVEMBER 7, 1981 | PAGE 134-135
So I think that when we consider the issue of adding elected officials or more elected and party officials at all levels, at the state level as well as the national level, while I know we want to separate the question, I think that if ultimately we require all of those elected officials and party officials to be committed to a candidate, we negate the purpose of this whole exercise.
Hunt: Doug Fraser.
Doug Fraser: Mr. Chairman, although the words haven’t been uttered here, I know there are some private thoughts among people in this room who think making Congresspeople automatic delegates is some sort of special privilege or giving them a higher station, and I don’t think that’s the argument at all. The problem in the Democratic Party is that there’s too many in Congress that like to stand above the battle and don’t want to become involved. They don’t want to take risks like all of the rest of us have to take risks, and we have got to make them take risks. And I think that's [sic] the argument. We have [sic] to get them into the process even if it is screaming and kicking and scratching all the way, we have to get them in, and we have to involve them in the process.
So it is not a privilege that we are giving them, it is a responsibility that we are giving them, a responsibility that they should have and should have been exercising all the time.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | NOVEMBER 7, 1981 | PAGE 136-137
How it is done I will speak later to committed or none committed. How it is done, whether it is by caucus selection or by designation by the state committee, that is a separate issue.
Whether or not they should be involved, I certainly think it is a positive thing for the national organization to involve Members of Congress.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | NOVEMBER 7, 1981 | PAGE 140-141
I supported 3C because I like the 25 percent number of a slightly enlarged convention, and I have to tell you that 3750 is no less deliberative than 3300 or the 3333 we had last time, or the 3331, whatever it was. We have passed the point where we will be small groups talking around a table like this one.
I think a 25 percent set-aside, which gives us a full 25 percent for elected and party officials, provides enough space for us to include those people at al levels, both the congressional level and the local and state levels, Party officials and elected officials, each of whom is responsive to a constituency considerably larger than that constituency which votes only for delegates to the national convention, and each of whom is answerable when they go home for their actions to that very much larger constituency of the electorate as a whole.
I am concerned that a smaller number would cause us to eliminate some of those people who should be there, and I am terribly disturbed by the 10 percent plus 10 percent add-on proposal which had come before us in 3A, because I see that as the first 10 percent being all male, virtually all male…
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | NOVEMBER 7, 1981 | PAGE 145-146
Secondly I am for it because it is the only way, it seems to me, to give the Democratic Party on a national level some strength, that is, in terms of disciplining those Members of Congress who vote Republican.
I don’t really see the state parties being able in some states to not select a Congressman who is a Boll Weevil. I see the national caucus being able to do that, and that is terribly important, it seems to me.
And finally, I think we have all agreed that one of the problems we had in the last administration was the lack of relationship between the President and the Congress. This third point does foster that relationship. Stu Eisenstadt said it, and I take his word for it—nobody should know better—that had Jimmy Carter been forced to relate to the Congressmen and to the Senators early, it might have produced a better relationship in terms of governing this country.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | NOVEMBER 7, 1981 | PAGE 150
You have a problem both in terms of timing, of when you bring in elected or automatic delegates, and you have a problem of size. And let me just go to this question because it goes to the one of balance.
The problem that a lot of people identify now on this issue is the candidates who come out of the primaries as likely winners, likely nominees who are successful, are in a position, in fact, to become nominees without really having to necessarily coalesce the leadership of the party for that no nomination, or on platform, or eventually in governance. And there are a lot of arguments we have already heard about the problems with that.
What we also wanted to look to in our discussions is what happens when you do, to quote Mark again, in quoting Webster, when you do something and begin to affect or change the process. And here are a couple of points I think that we talked about that are concerns.
Part Four: Against Superdelegates
Some participants express concerns with the superdelegate system, raising the scenario in which superdelegates go against the popular vote. Others discuss how superdelegates would affect the representation of women among delegates.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | NOVEMBER 7, 1981 | PAGE 151-152
It gets you into a question of how those processes relate, and it gets to an essential question of legitimacy. And one of the questions we had on numbers is if the numbers are very large in terms of uncommitted delegates, getting to that question, what you effectively do, if you look at it in [sic] the course of part processes, is candidates, for instance, for example, who come out of the primaries let’s say leading a potential nominee with 40 to 45 percent of the delegates that have been won in the primary, as you go up to larger and larger numbers, what you begin to do is change the dynamics of the process. Coming out of the primaries as that person now stands, they sand in real terms on the verge of the nomination, and the problem is to then gather in the last remaining needed people to in fact become the nominee, to bring the Party together.
On the other hand, if you start having large numbers of uncommitteds, what you essentially do is begin to drop those percentages down from, let’s say, 40 or 45 down into 30, 32, 33.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | NOVEMBER 7, 1981 | PAGE 154
And beyond that, what happens if the bargaining, in fact results in at these large numbers where blocks of delegates, either from candidates who have been defeated, or uncommitted delegates begin to move against what is perceived to be a popular choice?
Well, we came to the—some of us came to the conclusion or started realizing is that a level is very important. You get a very close result in the primaries and these arguments don’t apply, when you have a situation where someone has emerged, even if they have weakened but clearly emerged as the frontrunner, our argument was if you get it—what you seem to be looking for is a process that will in fact join them with the Party. If you go beyond that and create a process that puts them at odds with those people either in terms of bargaining or in terms of division, you will in fact get dissensus, you will get either a brokered convention on one hand, or you will in fact find that candidate potentially, at those groups, in conflict. You will in fact have two processes clashing, with the first candidate emerging arguing his legitimacy against the Party, which is the exact reverse I think, of what most of us in starting off this thing are looking to do…
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | NOVEMBER 7, 1981 | PAGE 186-187
I think party-building exists on the reach-out level and not just on the reach-up level as well, and we should not overlook some of those things that happened, in addition to which the super status, the super category of delegate will clearly be white and male. So we will have equal division, but in fact some will be more equal than others.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | JANUARY 14, 1982 | PAGE 141
Nevertheless, there was a general agreement that if there was a category, uncommitted, for elected officials, women should be part of that. The Ferraro plan, as it now stands, has come a very long way to answering that problem as it was raised by the TAC people initially. That is, if you look at Rule 8, it gives, among the grouping of elected officials to be selected, statewide elected officials, state Legislators, members of the Democratic National Committee not previously selected, and other party and elected officials.
We now have a plan that equates with Senators and Congressmen, local elected officials. It does that precisely so that women can be added and women can be used to balance off the Congressmen and Senators. It seems that rather than looking at this as a defeat we have, in fact, upgraded the role of women elected officials.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | JANUARY 14, 1982 | PAGE 147
They have been steadily decreasing because they have felt in many, many instances that their input was not called for, was not welcomed, was not relevant, and that nobody particularly cared. They have also been turned off by many times seeing the Democratic Party at Convention arguing at great length and with enormous fevor and, I must admit, with a great deal of feeling—the proper feeling on points that they find not only esoteric but many time [sic] irrelevant to their own campaigns.
These are the same people who have to try to carry out a Democratic President’s programs, once he is elected, in the Congress. Their failure to do so often would defeat that Democratic President, once elected, or their inability to stand behind programs proposed by a Democratic candidate means that candidate will not be elected at all.
Quite frankly, Mr. Chairman—and I applaud you very, very much for the efforts that you have made over the past few moths to bring us together on these issues—I think that the Congresswoman’s proposal speaks even greater to this issue than we have discussed here. Unless we bring, and not bring in by some artificial means but bring in because they want to be brought in, the men and women who are in the Congress, the men and women who might be elected as Democratic Governors or significant mayors, unless we bring them into this process we are going to be doomed to defeat after defeat after defeat.
I would point out that the United States Senate, which has had Democratic control for over a quarter of century, lost that this year. They lost it because the Republican Party, among other things, was able to bring about the enthusiasm of its members of the Senate, members who ranged from the right of Atilla the Hun to people would appear to be liberal Democrats, in a number of issues on which they could agree.
We were unable to do that. We had, during the past two national Conventions, a steadily decreasing amount of interest on the part of those members of Congress because they felt that the campaigns that they were running in many instances were more relevant to the issues of the people who might have to elect them.
And I would hope that we would not lose sight of that…
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | JANUARY 14, 1982 | PAGE 153
Now on behalf of what she has said, I would like to support it because I have been to a lot of conventions and I would just like to tell you that I think that the experience of attending all of those conventions has made me feel that it really doesn’t make that much difference how many Congressmen or Governors or Mayors or whatever attend the next Convention in 1984.
So you can argue about the numbers day after day to make that kind of a blend. But what really is important is that this party has said something significant about equal division and that is what makes us so different in the minds of people all over this country. I don’t have to go on. Most of you know about it—how we are winning with the women.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | JANUARY 14, 1982 | PAGE 157
That’s ridiculous. Of course, that is not the case and I’m somewhat appalled that we find ourselves sitting here-I am a little bit amazed at the selfishness of the Congress in insisting on a two-thirds figure which renders it numerically and statistically impossible to even come close to equal division in the uncommitted delegate block. I find that reprehensible.
The only way that we are going to stop this freight train is to adopt a principle that then forces some parties to go back to the table instead of coming here tonight with this thing that has already been set together, put together before we ever got here and presented to us and be told that well, gee, we’re sorry we couldn’t do better on equal division.
Part Five: Predetermination
In the final session, participants discuss the distorting effect of the front-loading of primaries, and how superdelegates could offset this.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | FEBRUARY 5, 1982 | PAGE 130-131
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | FEBRUARY 5, 1982 | PAGE 133-134
The whole purpose of shortening the window, the process of maintaining a process that will extend for three months was to make sure that the states in the elected process responded to the change in events that may occur within this country or internationally, that might impact directly on the selection of the best candidate for President for the Democratic Party.
Now, if we do not put some breaks on that process by making sure that at least a significant number of delegates are elected as close to the convention as possible, we will in effect have shortened the window to two months and removed it further form the actual date of the nomination. To that extent, we are moving counter to what we discussed in our last meeting.
I think that certainly we ought to consider Mayor Fraser’s amendment, and I hope that we will vote favorably on it.
DNC COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS | FEBRUARY 5, 1982 | PAGE 172
So, I would like to move that the Commission adopt the following language. “The Hunt Commission urges the national party leadership, state parties, and Presidential candidates to discourage states form scheduling their primaries or first state caucuses earlier than they were scheduled in 1980.”
This is not a coercive measure, but it is one that I think will provide guidance for the party in the coming years.
Duke University Forum on Presidential Nominations | July 28, 1981
Much of this wave of reform was a response on the part of politicians to the upsurge in participation and to the decline of public confidence during the 1960s. Reformed were trying to regain public confidence. This was a laudable effort, but it has had many unintended consequences, including the fracturing of political parties and the undermining of leadership. We need somehow to rechannel the new forces brought forth by the opening of the political system so as to restore the ability of government to govern.
The paradox of democracy is that while the system gains legitimacy from public consent and broad participation, these very same forces can undermine the leadership and tear apart the system.
Reform of the Nominating Process
The reforms I would like to see in the nomination process center around efforts to shorten it somewhat and to knit together the various state and nationally elected officials with the Presidential candidate, so as to ensure his ability to govern.
First, we need to shorten the process of Presidential selection, so as to distance campaign politics from the process of governing. One way to do that would be to have just four primary dates, and to require each state to select on of those dates for its primary.
Secondly we need to involve elected political officials more in the selection process. I advocate making every state senator, governor, Congressman and Senator and automatic delegate to the political convention. Without their participation and active support, how can one lead, let a lone govern? I prefer a system in which an ambitious challenger to the old party establishment like John Kennedy has a chance to win the nomination, but not one in which a complete outsider with no links to established political coalitions can make it.
In These Times will be making additional materials available over the course of the coming days.
Read the June cover story: “The Secret History of Superdelegates”