After two years of debate sparked by Sen. Bernie Sanders about a “rigged” system, Democratic leaders on Saturday stripped themselves of much of their power to influence the selection of presidential nominees.
Democratic National Committee leaders meeting in Chicago this week hope the decision to erode the status of superdelegates ahead of the November mid-term vote closes the books on lingering bitterness from the 2016 primary between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who became the nominee.
Superdelegates — a nickname and never an official designation — refers to a group of Democratic leaders who, until Saturday, automatically got to vote on a party nominee.
That included governors, members of Congress, other elected and appointed officials, labor officials, important donors and DNC members — leaders who made up the permanent backbone of the party.
Clinton won the backing of most of the superdelegates, but she could have claimed the 2016 Democratic nomination without them, a point lost in the often contentious debate.
Politics is about perception.
The Sanders grass-roots supporters perceived this insider superdelegate system as somehow cooking the books.
A reason Clinton had a running start with superdelegates was that Sanders, a Vermont Independent, was not — and is not to this day — a member of the Democratic Party.
A Unity Commission was appointed at the 2016 convention to deal with the superdelegate question in order to keep the Sanders supporters — many youths jazzed about politics for the first time — in the game.
In 2018, the argument for the change has evolved, fueled by the growing activism of the Democratic progressive wing of the party, not to be ignored with the 2020 presidential elections on deck with contenders playing to the left.
DNC chairman Tom Perez, dousing fires in the run up to the vote, acknowledged the debate left some wounds.
After the new rules were adopted, Perez said, “We should never, ever confuse unity and unanimity.
“We should never, ever, be afraid of having a family debate.”
The vote, Perez said, “demonstrated the values of the Democratic Party. We trust you. We want you to join the party. We will lead with you. We will listen to you. We want you to have a seat at the table. That’s what today was about.”
The not-so-super superdelegates still have privileges with their new automatic delegate status.
They will get to vote if the presidential nominating ballot goes to a second ballot, which has not happened in decades.
Illinois DNC member Carol Ronen, a former state senator from Chicago who has been a superdelegate, said after the vote, “This allows the people to speak.
“It would have been the wrong thing to do, to say, superdelegates can overturn the results of people voting in primaries and caucuses.”
Though it has not happened, Ronen said it was better for the party to eliminate even that possibility.
Said Ronen, “This is the more Democratic way.”
Sanders released a statement after the vote that seemed restrained, given that his strong opposition to superdelegates forced the DNC to change.
“Today’s decision by the DNC is an important step forward in making the Democratic Party more open, democratic and responsive to the input of ordinary Americans. This has been a long and arduous process, and I want to thank Tom Perez and all of those who made it happen.”
Objections raised by members of the Congressional Black Caucus — many superdelegates are African-American — created last minute lobbying missions at the DNC summer meeting at the Hyatt Regency, 151 E. Wacker.
DNC vice chair Mike Blake said in an interview he was optimistic that rifts can be repaired with unity a common goal.
A last-ditch effort to sideline a package of changes in primary, caucus and superdelegate rules failed in a procedural secret paper ballot vote.
A measure to plow ahead and not sideline the changes passed 329.5 for and 106.5 votes against.
With those numbers, one of the opposition leaders, former DNC chair Don Fowler, asked for approval by acclamation.
Said Fowler, “I think the body has spoken.”