Column: Superdelegates trump votes of voters

Kathy Hoekstra

‘This is what democracy looks like!”

This was the rally cry in late 2012, when mostly union-made protesters exercised their free speech rights to oppose the right-to-work push by Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-led Michigan legislature.

The protests got so contentious that Capitol security locked the doors to keep more people from piling into the already crowded halls and rotunda. This act sent many of the state’s top union brass into a frenzy:

“It was a stomping down of democracy like I’ve never seen before in this state,” said David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who was locked out along with UAW President Bob King, AFL-CIO President Karla Swift, numerous rank-and-file union members and other citizens. “It’s despicable.”

Given that union members traditionally support and elect Democrats (President Obama got 58 percent of union households in 2012 compared with 49 percent of non-union), it will be interesting to see if we hear a similar outcry over Hillary Clinton’s democracy sidestepping.

The presidential hopeful has a huge lead over Bernie Sanders, despite two close state caucuses and Sanders’ overwhelming victory in New Hampshire. Those victories netted each candidate 51 delegates apiece on the way to the 2,382 delegates needed to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

But those are only the “voter-earned” delegates. For instance, prior to Super Tuesday, Clinton had collected 543 delegates, compared to Sanders’ 85, because she’s snagged 453 “superdelegates.” These delegates count at the convention, but they are not selected by a primary or caucus process. Instead, these folks are mostly establishment Democrats, such as sitting governors, congresspeople and county executives. They are allowed to back whomever they like.

As publicly funded officeholders, we’re all paying for most of them so far to vote the Democratic establishment candidate. This should outrage Sanders’ supporters as much as it does Republican voters, including and especially voters in the New Hampshire, which saw Sanders topple Clinton by more than 56,000 votes.

Essentially, the votes of politicians count more than the votes of ... voters.

This particular brand of democracy disconnect should resonate particularly strongly among Democrats who are still cheesed over the 2000 election that saw Republican George W. Bush take the presidency with the electoral votes over the popular vote. Plenty of Democratic voters still feel that election was stolen from voters, whose 450,000 more popular votes for the Gore/Lieberman ticket were trumped by the five more Bush/Cheney electoral votes.

At least there is legal cover in the U.S. Constitution for the electoral college process.

Not so with the superdelegate steal. That process lies totally within the Democratic party. Because the party establishment apparently knows better than voters, there are 712 such superdelegates representing 30 percent of 2,382 delegates needed to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

Ten of Michigan’s 17 superdelegates have reportedly already committed to Clinton. These include U.S. Reps. John Conyers, Debbie Dingell, Dan Kildee, Brenda Lawrenc, and Sander Levin; U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow; and DNC members Jill Alper, Dennis Archer and Barry Goodman.

Among the uncommitted superdelegates are DNC members Steve Cook (president of the Michigan Education Association), UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, Daryl Newman of the state AFL-CIO, DNC Black Caucus Chair Vergie Rollins, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon, MDP Vice Chair Nancy Quarles and Mary Fleming.

Unlike caucuses, which are run by the political parties, primary elections are usually run by state governments and funded with our tax dollars. In other words, we pay for this undemocratic superdelegate end-around.

Kathy Hoekstra is a communications manager for a business advocacy organization and frequent political commentator.