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Category: TCD membership

Thurston County Democrats: No longer elitist

I never actually believed that the Thurston County Democrats were ever elitist, but now even Particle Man (who does things that particles can) can agree that the above statement is true.

After working since January to open our membership to non-Precinct Committee Officers, the central committee voted earlier tonight to give every member not only a voice, but a vote.

My favorite moments during this debate included Ivan Weiss’s talk last month on how open membership has really made a difference in his King County legislative district organization (I was thinking “Ivan for Governor” after his talk).

The other came tonight when uber-member Rhenda Strub talked about walking her precinct. Rhenda’s not a PCO, but she takes on that most common of PCO tasks. She said that no one asks her whether she’s a PCO, they don’t even ask what her name is, they know who she is, she’s that crazy Democratic woman. Nice.

Anyway, I’m glad this happened. We have a lot of work in Thurston County and the more folks that feel invested in our organization, the more work we can pile on to them.

Which brings me to a point that an opponent of the bylaw change made. There should be something in what we ask members for in terms of their commitment to our organization. Originally, I’d asked that we require members to volunteer before we give them the vote. But, taking into consideration the hours it would take to manage such a requirement, while also realizing you get more volunteers with an incentive rather than a requirement, changed my mind. Excellent point though.

Open membership in Thurston County (vote in June)

Last night we (the executive committee of the TCD) presented another version of the open membership amendment to the central committee.

And, wow Ivan Weiss, chair of the 34th LD gave a great five or so minutes on why open membership is the core of his organization. 100 to 150 folks show up to each monthly meeting, because “they have a voice.” They also get out in the community (volunteering at a food bank for example), trying to get more folks involved while also helping their community.

Rossyln Reed, chair of the Mason County Democrats, followed up with her organization’s more recent experience with open membership. Last August they amended their bylaws to allow open membership and since then they’ve seen a sharp increase in participation.

So, next month we’ll be voting again. Last time around the amendment was tabled. Here is some information on a powerpoint I presented last night as well (more technical that rah rah stuff).

Thurston County Dem membership marching on

After a few months off, we’re going again at the membership thing starting tomorrow night. We’re cleaning up the language a bit, but the intent is basically the same. Like some other counties and tons of legislative district organizations, if you think you’re a Democratic person and want to give a bit to your local party, you can vote. Not for everything, but for a lot.

We’ll have a handful of presentations during this month’s meeting, explaining the point of the bylaw change and talking about the benefits of open membership in Mason County and in an LD up in Seattle. Then in June, we’re going to vote again.

Open membership tabled, marching on

On Monday night the Central Committee of the Thurston County Democrats decided to table the open membership by law change. This would have allowed regular, non-Precinct Committee officers, the ability to participate in our affairs, up unto the point banned by state law.

Basically, our most open option, giving anyone who comes along and pays $20 gets a vote, failed. Open membership didn’t, just that version of it. From here, there seem to be two ways to go about it. One is the “club idea,” which is basically the same as wide open membership, but creates a club around the central committee that does a lot of stuff (like spend money on campaigns) that a central committee would do, but isn’t exactly outlined in state law.

The other is my favorite, earned membership. You wouldn’t have to just pay your way in, you would have to earn it. Which is sort of the argument anyway, because we have a good number of folks that do a lot for TCD, but who don’t get any vote.

Open membership discussion

We’re going forward in Thurston County with a discussion on open membership for our county Democratic organization. Right now, only PCOs have a vote at all in our organization, this idea would open it up to anyone who either works or pays enough.

Things seem to be going well, and I’ve been doing some research into what other local Democratic organizations do. In addition to three county organizations that have open membership, I’ve also come up with 16 legislative district organizations that do.

Last Monday and roles of PCOs provided by statute

During the county central committee meeting on Monday we introduced the bylaw change that would allow participation by “paid members” in local Democratic affairs. Right now, the only people who vote on what our local party does are PCOs, who are elected or appointed.

This change, that would allow pretty much anyone who is interested into the process, is important to me because it recognizes how things have changed in the past 100 years. Neighborhood political organizations are reflected in the PCO idea (only one representative for a geographic area). But, we don’t live in an era of neighborhood connections, we live in an era of much more flexible social connections.

Anyway, there is some confusion about what roles PCOs are afforded under state law. Some think that PCOs are the only ones allowed to vote in our affairs, but that isn’t actually true. There are very specific roles for PCOs:

What Roles are Provided for Precinct Committee Officers by statute?

  • Electing a chair and vice chair of opposite sexes during a county party reorganization (29A.80.030)
  • Electing a state committeeman and state committeewoman to the state central committee. (RCW 29A.80.020)
  • Electing a chair of a legislative district chair (RCW 29A.80.061)
  • Fill a vacancy on a major party ticket (RCW 29A.28.011)
  • Nominating qualified polling place workers (RCW 29A.44.430)

Beyond the above, votes on who to endorse, our budget, resolutions, etc…, our affairs can be open to all comers.

Other counties and their membership

You’d be surprised by how many county Democratic organizations don’t post their bylaws on the internet. Though here are some examples of Washington county organizations that don’t follow the strict PCO-only rule.

Whatcom County:

Section 1: Open Membership

The Central Committee shall be open to all who support the party and wish to be known as Democrats. All members shall enjoy equal rights, protections and opportunities in all proceedings. Discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age (except where state or federal law precludes participation), religion, sexual orientation, economic status or ethnic origin is prohibited in the conduct of Central Committee business.

Section 2: Membership
The membership of the Central Committee shall consist of:

  1. Precinct committee officers (hereinafter referred to as PCOs), elected or appointed, who are duly certified by the County Auditor in accordance with RCW 29A.80.040.
  2. General members, who are registered voters, residents of Whatcom County and have paid their membership dues to the Central Committee.
  3. Associate members, who are not registered to vote in Whatcom County but have paid their membership dues to the Central Committee.

Clallam County has a Democratic Club, a parallel organization that meets separately from the county central committee, which might be something to consider if this membership idea fails. Or even if it doesn’t, I don’t know.

The Grays Harbor County Democrats mix the Club idea with membership. Central Committee meetings are limited to what is actually outlined in law, and everything else is at the club level:

3.2 All citizens who wish to declare themselves Democrats are eligible, upon payment of a $5.00 annual dues, to be members of the Grays Harbor Democratic Club. Democratic Club members will be eligible to vote on all matters not restricted by law at the next GHCDCC meeting following the meeting at which their yearly fee was received.

3.3 The right to vote in all matters not specifically restricted by state law to Democratic precinct committee persons is granted to Democratic elected officials and members of the Grays Harbor Democratic Club with legal voting residence in Grays Harbor County.

Membership debate to go on one more month

The vote on whether to allow earned voting membership in the Thurston County Democrats won’t happen next Monday, but rather at February’s central committee meeting. We’ll certainly discuss the idea, but not vote on it. There is a requirement for ten day notice for any bylaw change, which wasn’t met this month. Anyway, gives us more time to sharpen the idea.

Currently only Precinct Committee Officers can vote for anything in the central committee, the governing body. State law only requires them to vote for a limited amount of positions on the executive committee, making all other decisions by the central committee (like how to spend money and what positions to take on policy issues) open to a vote by a membership, if there is a membership. My idea was to give a vote on the central committee to folks who have “earned” it.
The debate on our PCO email list is continuing, with a handful of folks criticizing the idea by explaining how the PCO system is supposed to work. Neighborhood based organizations, with PCOs door belling and organizing their neighbors. Though, people hate answering the doors to strangers and neighborhoods ain’t what they used to be.

That’s not to say that people aren’t organized socially, in the way that neighborhoods were once the strongest of peoples’ social ties. We just have to recognize the more organic way people are organizing themselves nowadays, and it isn’t by neighborhood. It is through interests, social circles or any number of social ties.

Membership compromise discussion

When I first starting talking about some sort of compromise in terms of a rank and file membership in Thurston County, I was hoping there would be a healthy discussion on this blog, our county Democratic blog, or somewhere else. That didn’t happen, but after we discussed the idea last week at the county executive committee, I emailed the idea out again.

Since then, there has been a more than healthy email conversation. Not as public as I would have liked, but there have been some changes in how I’d propose the compromise now. Those changes are reflected here.

The nut of the compromise is that someone can’t just show up one day, pay their $20 and be a member. They have to prove their commitment through a series of options, such as being a member of a TCD committee. One of the changes to the propose bylaw outlines who decides when someone has been active enough to become a voting member. In the current draft, it would be the Executive Committee, in a manner similar to how they approve unelected PCOs.

While most of the emails discussing the change have been supportive, not all have, including Guy Hoyle-Dodson’s from this morning:

This is asinine. Are you deliberately trying to drive away involvement by rank and file democrats? This kind of strident money grubbing, pedantic exclusiveness, and distain for keeping the county party a truly open public institution will only end in the total irrelevance of the TCD. It is just the outcome that was feared when dues were thrust upon us two years ago. Then as now, it is not well thought out.

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