Progressives in Democratic Party win backing for major nomination reforms
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, left, and Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez. | Matt York / AP

Donald Trump’s attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the GOP’s never-ending parade of Faustian bargains that threaten democracy have eaten up so much of the news lately that historic decisions to democratize the Democratic Party’s nominating process have gone almost unnoticed.

The Democrats’ Unity Reform Commission—under pressure from progressive, labor, and pro-Bernie Sanders supporters in the party—voted at a meeting in Washington, D.C. last week to radically democratize the party’s presidential nominating process.

The most radical reform approved by the commission is a 60 percent reduction in the number of superdelegates. The superdelegates, unbound by voter decisions in primaries and caucuses, are party leaders that can support whomever they wish for president at the Democratic National Convention.

The superdelegates were the target of tremendous criticism last year because the overwhelming majority of them had actually pledged support for Hillary Clinton before any of the caucuses or primaries were held, giving what Sanders supporters saw as an unfair advantage to her candidacy over his.

The Unity Reform Commission was created at last July’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as part of an attempt to preserve party unity in the 2016 elections. Clinton forces agreed to the demand for the commission’s creation in a move to help guarantee support for Clinton by disappointed Sanders voters. During that convention, also under pressure form the Sanders forces, delegates also adopted what was widely considered the most progressive platform in Democratic Party history. Many of those planks are reflected in the “Better Deal” the party is promoting now.

The commission has 10 members who were appointed by Clinton, eight by Sanders, and three who were appointed by Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic Party.

The next step is to take the proposed reforms to the Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws committee. Once approved there, they go to the DNC at its fall meeting in 2018.

Larry Cohen, former president of the Communications Workers of America, is vice chair of the reform commission. He said last week the changes would make the Democratic Party “a beacon in voting rights and transparency.” Cohen’s support for the changes is important because of his strong credentials with progressive Democrats. He is the chair of Our Revolution, the national organization formed by Sanders supporters and other progressives inside and outside of the Democratic Party after the 2016 election.

Currently there are about 715 superdelegates, the number of which would be reduced under the proposals to around 315. The only superdelegates remaining will be current governors, members of Congress, and former presidents and vice presidents.

The changes proposed by the commission are not just limited to superdelegate selection, however. Radical changes would also take place in all of the presidential nominating caucuses, with new rules allowing same-day voter registration and same-day change of party affiliation. This will benefit grassroots campaigns mounted by progressives, including labor and its allies as they mobilize new constituencies during their campaigns.

The DNC cannot mandate changes like these for the states that hold primaries because the primary election rules are controlled by the state party organizations and legislatures. All the DNC can do in those cases is to recommend that the state party organizations adopt similar rules.

Still, there are significant forces that believe the changes do not go far enough. Many organizations had called for total elimination of the superdelegates. Among them were, the Progressive Democrats of America, Social Security Works, and National Nurses United.

In a letter to the commission, they said, “more can and must be done to build trust with the party’s progressive base and persuade voters alike that the party lives up to its values of fairness, transparency and inclusivity.”

Progressive forces, including those who strongly backed Sanders, are not letting their differences get in the way of unity, however. Cohen praised the changes, saying they will strengthen grassroots forces at the expense of the party establishment.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.