Democrat Pierson Leads on Changes to Texas Primary Process

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For those who have been chomping at the bit to see changes to our primary and convention process here in Texas can look toward House Bill 2101 as the beginning of that change. This Bill, sponsored by my Democratic State Representative, Paula Pierson (HD-93), empowers county executive committees to move their county conventions outside their particular county boundaries if necessary to hold their required conventions.  This action can only be exercised if no venue large enough to hold a convention is found within the county of origin.  The move would need to be approved by each Party's executive committees.    

This is a good start toward changing a rather archaic primary election system in Texas.  The 2008 primaries were extraordinary—probably a once in a lifetime type phenomenon in Texas primary elections, and an event that would be very hard to replicate again.  That's why I think a slow and deliberative review of this process is a better approach than quick-action reform that is more knee-jerk in nature than helpful.  But, having said that, and now a witness to our intense March 4, 2008 primary process, changes are in order.  This change, initiated by Pierson, is a good one.  From Pierson's office:

Following the Texas primary elections, county party executive committees across the state were forced to locate, secure, and pay for new venues to accommodate the huge increase in delegates and alternates. Conventions that had historically been held in schools and courthouses now required large conference centers, and even coliseums. In Tarrant County, the Executive Committee for Senate District 10 had to negotiate for use of the Will Rogers Coliseum because it was the only space in the County that could accommodate the expected 8,000 people. Additionally, the Senate District 12 Convention was moved to the Gaylord Hotel at great expense.

These unexpected costs to Party's across the state were financial burdens that most Party entities were not equipped to handle—or solve for that matter.  I remember the efforts by some in Tarrant County to raise the necessary funds to be able to secure both the Coliseum and the Gaylord to hold our conventions.  It was an unexpected and absurd expense that burdened our Party infrastructure.  

Some of you, especially from the North Texas region, may recall that Collin County, just north of Dallas County, was unable to find a venue large enough to hold their county convention in 2008:

Collin County Democrats held their convention a day later because they couldn't find a location big enough to handle the 3,300 people expected.

Collin County Democrats were attempting to pursue a venue just over the border with a neighboring county but could not pursue it because no provision in the law like HB 2101 provides, actually existed. Collin County Democrats ended up having one of the more interesting and delayed conventions out of the 2008 season.  

I know that the State Democratic Executive Committee has been holding hearings across the state to receive feedback from primary voters over the 2008 nicknamed, “Texas Two-Step” process.  In discussions with SDEC representatives associated with those hearings the feedback has been fairly uniform “keep it but change it.”  A very small number of Democrats have called for total elimination with an even smaller group saying leave it as it is.  The vast majority of feedback has been to tweak the system to make it better and incorporate lessons from this year into the solution. Changes are likely to come from the hearings but they are likely to be incremental.  HB 2101 is one of the good steps toward reforming the primary system in a bi-partisan way.  Its senate companion is a similar Bill authored by Freshmen Senator Wendy Davis, one of the newest members to the Tarrant Delegation that Pierson has been part of since 2006.  It is good bi-partisan legislation that helps both Party's should a best worst case scenario like Texas Democrats had in 2008 comes true again.    

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  1. Keep it but change the allocation
    I attended the Two-Step hearings in Harlingen, El Paso, Houston, Austin, Arlington, Nacogdoches and San Antonio. I testified to the committee that we should keep the precinct convention system, but that we should allocate all the pledged delegates based on the results of the voting in the primary. That, “keep it but tweak it” position was in my estimation the most common position taken by people who testified at the hearings. The only hearing I attended where the majority position was to keep the delegate allocation as it is now split between 2/3s primary and 1/3 caucus attendance was in Houston. At all the other hearings I attended the majority wanted to keep it, but change the allocation to respect the principle of “one person one vote”. I do not remember anyone testifying to totally eliminate the precinct convention system.

    About 90 percent of the people who testified at the hearing in Austin supported the position of keep it but change it so that the allocation of delegates is based solely on the primary results. Jim Mattox made that argument very eloquently at the Austin hearing, which you can listen to on this video (Part One, Part Two).

    I wanted to attend the meeting the Committee had in Dallas on February 7, but I found out that it was a closed meeting at which only members of the committee were welcome, which was in direct violation of the directive to the committee in the letter from Boyd Richie that began the process. Richie said in the letter, “Importantly, the Committee will be governed by the Rules of the Texas Democratic Party, which among other requirements, dictates that each meeting of the Committee be open to the public; that each meeting is publicized with sufficient advance notice that interested Democrats may attend and participate”. It seems a little odd that a committee set up to study the system would itself violate the rules.

    I hope that the final report of the Committee will include a breakdown of the number of people who testified to keep the system mostly as is, and those who testified to keep the precinct conventions but change the system to allocate the delegates based on the primary results.

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