My friend Jeff Kolb took up my challenge of trying to improve the endorsement process, rather than trying to demolish it. He lists out several ideas, some good, some not so good, and several that already take place. here's my response to his points in the order he listed them;
1) Require a 75% vote for considering endorsement
While this sounds simple, a 3/4 majority is incredibly rare in parliamentary procedure. 50% plus 1 is a majority, 60% is a 3/5 super-majority, and 66% is a 2/3 super majority. 75% runs the risk of allowing a 1/4 minority to dictate the process tot he majority. Consider the MNGOP over the last few years. How many good conservative candidates would have been denied endorsement (and thus party support) by a 25% Ron Paul wing vocal minority?
2) Restructure the nominations committee
Here Jeff is asking for something that is already in place. The nominations committee is made up of a chair and member at large appointed by the state party chair, and one member from each CD appointed by each CD chair. Jeff says you can game the system by getting your people on the committee. Huh? If you are a candidate and have the state party chair and at least 4 CD chairs in your back pocket, then yes I suppose you could leverage the nominations committee to deny other candidates the endorsement. But you would be giving those candidates a perfect reason for running in the primary, something Jeff is already in favor of. The nominations committee only works when it is fair and equal to all candidates, otherwise it would be seen as tainted.
3) Require financial disclosure
This is Jeff's best idea, and has real merit. Forcing candidates to disclose the state of their fundraising would be a clear indicator to the candidates about the viability of the campaign. But is this a proper function of the nominations committee? Jeff and I agree that the nominations committee should only report on the most limited category of what makes a candidate qualified or not. Running fundraising through nominations runs the risk of over-emphasizing money as a factor in campaigning. What threshold should candidates be held to? What dollar amount can we say right now is the minimum that a candidate should have raised to run against the deep Hollywood pockets of Al Franken? Allowing the nominations committee to make that determination runs the risk of giving the committee an easy way of disqualifying candidates-exactly the situation Jeff warned against in point #2. Instead, candidate financial disclosures should be a rule proposed from the floor, or a challenge from a bloc of delegates.
4) Eliminate nominations from the floor.
Already done at state and congressional district level, and by and large done at BPOU level as well. Floor nominations are an exception to the rule, and can be dealt with effectively if the convention chair or parliamentarian has done their homework. Maybe the party should give all BPOU chairs a copy of Robert Rules of Order, but banning a parliamentary procedure is not the answer.
5) Limit the number off ballots
Here is Jeff's most draconian idea, and the least useful. An endorsing convention, especially at a statewide level, has its own process and flow, which can be confusing to folks who have never been through it before. I know I was certainly mystified at how things worked when I got involved in the party. Some delegates promise to vote for a candidate on the first ballot, and then are free to vote as they will, others are held to voting for a candidate by their BPOU chair or local leader. How the votes shake out in each ballot is a story in itself, and appearence of momenteum for a candidate can swing the vote.
Limiting the convention to only a handful of ballots would make each vote critically important, and make an already tense process even more crucial. That kind of intense pressure is where we tend to see the worst in campaigns-negative attacks on flyers, heated rhetoric and personal rivalries.
There is merit in the ever increasing threshold for how many votes candidates need to stay on the ballot, i.e 10% on the first ballot, 15% on the second ballot, ect. This is governed by the rules of the convention, and can be very effective in winnowing the candidate field down quickly.
6) Require 'no endorsement' to be a choice on each ballot
Not a bad idea, but not terribly useful either. Any delegate can cast a blank ballot, which is effectively the same as a vote for no endorsement, as candidates must receive a majority of all ballots cast. A motion for no endorsement can be made in between ballots, so why it would be beneficial to include the option during balloting is a mystery to me.
7) Require a 2/3 majority for endorsement
Not a bad idea, and is an option available to the rules committee. A 2/3 majority would make a 3 way deadlock more likely however, and brings back the question from point #1; how much power should we give to a minority of the delegates?
Most of Jeff's idea revolve around requiring super majority votes to move the endorsement process along. While not bad ideas per se, they do run the risk of allowing a small minority to control the endorsement process, an idea most of us should have a healthy fear of given the last few years in the MN GOP. In the end, I trust the delegates to make an informed choice more often than not on who to confer party support and resources on. The idea of requiring financial disclosure has a lot of merit, but I don't think the nominations committee is the place to require it-rather each candidate should address the question during their floor time.