Friday, February 15, 2008

Democratic nominee should be chosen
by voters, not party elite
By: Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

February 12, 2008

The Democratic Party is on fire. We have two talented, precedent-shattering, history-making candidates. We have a fired-up, mobilized, energized base, breaking voting turnout records. We have a grass-roots donor base that is using the Internet to set new fundraising records every time we turn around. And the Republican Party seems tohave settled on an aging nominee who has serious problems with his conservative base, tells voters that their jobs are gone and promises a 100-year war and occupation of Iraq. So I would suggest that this is a time that Democratic superdelegates should tread lightly. Let's not get in the way of our rising tide. Let's allow grass-roots voters to choose the 2008 presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, not party elites.This is a subject I know a bit about.

I am one of 796 superdelegates, by virtue of being a member of Congress. I'm a national co-chair for the Obama for President campaign and I was once a Democratic National Committee member. I came of age during the great political campaigns of my father, Rev.Jesse Jackson, grass-roots campaigns during the 1980s that took on the Democratic Party's establishment, the superdelegates and the question of political elites ruling the convention. My father's 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns brought the civil rights movement of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. fully into electoral politics, registered millions of new Democratic voters and changedthe face and structure of the party -- including the rules.We fought during the '80s to make the Democratic Party a party of inclusion, and we largely succeeded, as our two remaining Democratic presidential nominees this year illustrate.

Back then, we registered millions of young African-American voters, an investment that has paid huge dividends to the party at every level for the last 20 years.We fought to lower barriers to grass-roots participation and won rules changes that made our primary process fairer, smoother and more accessible to everyone.These rules changes were bitterly resisted at the time, yet Democratic presidential nomination races since 1988 have been less acrimonious and fairer and have helped us win at least two, really three and maybe even four presidential victories in the years since(depending on how many stolen elections you believe took place).What were those changes? We fought to eliminate "winner-take-all" and"bonus" primaries, which were very biased against grass-roots candidates, especially minorities -- and we won.We fought to lower the threshold percentage for winning delegates from 20 percent to 15 percent -- and we won.

We actually succeeded in eliminating hundreds of superdelegates at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, by taking away the status of unelected committee members. (Unfortunately, those slots were quickly reinstated as superdelegates the next year, once the election was over.)The Democratic Party now is fairer and more accessible than it was a generation ago, which is a big reason why Barack Obama has such a good chance to become the party's presidential nominee. Still, one-fifth of the convention delegates in Denver this summer will be superdelegates -- more than enough to make the final choice in this year's close primary contest.Don't do it. Let the process play out.

Let's see if the voters point us in a clear direction, and rather than intervening to change that direction, we superdelegates can ratify their decision. Let's trust the voters to make wise decisions. Let's trust the candidates to stay on the high road, so that a long primary process continues to build the party up. Let's keep a wary eye on proposed solutions that favor the power of elites over that of voters. And when this is all over, let's revisit this whole superdelegate issue. Because maybe the number of superdelegates who will be seated at the Denver convention are just too many. If it better serves justice, I'd be willing to give up my automatic superdelegate slot(as long as my colleagues join me). Most of all, let's not break the hearts of the millions of young people who have been inspired to participate in the election process this season. If we keep them involved, we'll all reach higher ground.

Jesse Jackson Jr. represents the 2nd Congressional District of Illinois. He is a national co-chairman of the Obama for President campaign.

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