Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The local Democrats' chairmanship squabble

Not even an anthill -- much less a molehill -- in the grand scheme, but worthy of some brief commentary.  Stace has already weighed in; let's begin here by republishing the full letter from the challenger and the leader of the Gang That Couldn't Get Signatures Straight.

Last week I wrote to all of you announcing that I had filed for a place on the ballot to run for Chair of the Harris County Democratic Party.

I was informed late Friday and again via official letter over the weekend by the chairman of the party Lane Lewis (my opponent) that my petition signatures were invalid and that I had failed to make it onto the ballot for the primary election this March. With my name not on the ballot and the deadline passed, I will not be running for party chair.

Even as I accept the decision, I was very disappointed to receive this news. The signature process is a precise one and requires 48 legible signatures from current precinct chairs. It also requires that none of these chairs sign more than one petition for a single race, yet some had forgotten they had signed Lane Lewis' petition during the summer.

Here in Harris County, our democracy has been dealt a setback. The process to challenge a sitting party chair is convoluted and flawed, and the number of signatures I received displayed a level of anxiety with our party leadership that needs to be addressed immediately. My challenge of Lane Lewis's chairmanship was never personal, but it was meant to send a strong message that change is needed in order for our party to start growing again and winning big.

That message has been sent.

I look forward to remaining a leader in our party and working with all of you to elect Democrats up and down the ballot, promote diversity, fight for equality, and move our city forward.

Thank you, Happy Holidays to you and your family!

-Philippe Nassif

In the bold emphasis above (which is mine), "legible" is not the word used in the election code but "eligible".  Perhaps this is just an unfortunate typo or autocorrect error, but it tells a story about the competence of the very abbreviated campaign Nassif was running.  Also take note in the third paragraph that the description of the process of gaining ballot access for the county chairmanship is described as "precise", and in the very next graf "convoluted and flawed".

It can be both of those things at the same time, which I believe was the author's intent to convey.  But he communicated it poorly: the rules is still the rules, and if you don't like 'em, you need to follow 'em at least long enough to get elected and change 'em.  Don't blame the rules if you can't abide by 'em.  Herein lies the more nuanced dilemma: if precinct chairs can't remember whether they signed a ballot petition for your opponent before they signed yours... whose fault is that?  But more to the problem-solving point: if you're savvy enough to anticipate a potential shortfall, what is your strategy to overcome it?  Anyone who has gathered ballot petition signatures -- which is to say, every single judicial candidate who has run for office in the last several years -- could tell you, and probably at no fee.

Was there an attorney versed in election law on Nassif's campaign?  If there was, did that person give good counsel to the candidate and his team?  Did the campaign not only understand but heed that advice in this regard?  We know the failure was in execution but only Nassif and his Gang of Three (or Four) know the answers to the rest.

I am not a lawyer, as everyone knows, but I did stay at a nationally branded hotel chain recently.  Not last night.  Anyway, best of luck to the rebel faction in 2018, and I hope everybody learned a lesson.  Insert that tired "if you strike at the king" parable here.  Comparing Lane Lewis to Debbie Wasserman Schultz is most assuredly the wrong tack, but when you lose in embarrassing fashion there's always a good excuse or two; just be sure to pick the right one.  I wonder if they would blame a member of the Green Party for their defeat if they could.

Had Nassif cleared the very low bar for ballot qualification, there's an analogy that shows up in Kuff's very cogent post about Adrian Garcia and his challenge to Gene Green: if you can't offer a sensible, demonstrable reason for changing out an incumbent, then the voters simply aren't going to make a change.  The attacks on Lewis were that his bid for Houston city council "caused (TeaBagging Republican) Mike Knox to be elected to AL 1", and he "abandoned his job as chairman" in the process.  The first part of that premise is a laughable fail; using this logic, Knox's election could just as easily be blamed on Tom McCasland, whose city council campaign was funded in large part by Amber and Steve Mostyn.  The second half of the premise simply fails on the evidence: nobody has worked harder to elect Democrats in Harris County than Lewis, with but one possible exception: Art Pronin, the president of the Meyerland Area Democratic club, who poured himself out on the streets and sidewalks of southwest Houston in the mayoral runoff.

As for Nassif, he still has a bright future in Democratic politics, but should be more cautious about who he falls in league with, generally exercising greater due diligence.  As a hint, any bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Young Turk wanting to get a job for Team Blue should look to the Mostyns, who are assimilating all aspects of Texas Democratic and Harris County Democratic politics, internal and external.  Just last week, the their 'longtime advisor', Jeff Rotkoff, was installed at the Texas AFL-CIO as campaigns director.  The power couple are currently hiring loyalists, like the fellow who recently moved from BGTX into the candidate recruitment directorship at the TDP, and the former Steve Costello campaign operative who has taken a high-ranking position at the HCDP, at three times the salary of the previous person in that slot.

Kindly note that GOP experience has no negative bearing on future Democratic leadership positions.  Especially when confronted by progressive Democrats, and especially in Texas, where there is a long history of what we call Blue Dogs today -- Allen Shivers, John Connally, Bob Bullock -- holding themselves out as the last of the Mohican moderate Republicans in the nation.


Gadfly said...

Bingo on the main point. Everybody who's done one of these knows you get a petition "oversubscribed" to allow for mistakes, challenges, etc.

Nassif gots himself some learning to do.

Chip Nouic said...

I not sure why the blog poster is so critical. Nassif did have over 54% more signatures than needed. However, there is confusion by many who think they are "Precinct Judges". This stems from the Party enticing people to be Precinct Chairs by promising them first chance at being Election Judges (a paying gig) -- two very different jobs. So it's no wonder many people did not know whether they are Precinct Chairs. This shows a problem with Precinct Chairs actually being asked to do the frontline job of getting out the vote.

The list of Harris County Precinct Chairs is not published on the HCDP web site, much less any contact information for these public servants. Nassif had the decency for his municipal campaign to end before running for Chair, and that was not enough time to find Precinct Chairs.

This blog post touches on so many dubious issues, it is hard to address them all.

PDiddie said...

No worries, Chip; nobody reads this blog (according to Sarah Slamen).

Christopher Young said...

I did. By the way a list of Pct. Chairs is available (and has been) here

Someone running for County Chair should have been able to find it, right?