by John Colby
Ongoing troubles in the 37th District Democratic Party continued last Monday. For those new to the controversy, it stems from a failed attempt to recruit Precinct Committee Officers (PCO) without an election. A combination of state law and Democratic Party bylaws bar individuals who didn’t run for PCO positions from voting after November 30 on appointments and leadership positions.
Precinct Committee Officers ostensibly work to organize in their voting precincts, with an emphasis on turning out voters for candidates endorsed by the Democratic Party. Additionally, PCOs elect certain leadership members (Legislative District and County Chair, representatives to the State Party and certain other officers) and elect other PCOs who are seeking appointment in King County.
In partisan races, PCOs are gatekeepers of an appointment to the State Legislature. It is not uncommon for politicians to recruit PCOs in a year when it appears there may be an appointment due to an incumbent seeking a different office. However, under state law, PCO terms only last until the end of November in even-numbered years. So, if someone is appointed in October, their term expires shortly thereafter, often leaving them to seek re-appointment after a reorganization in January if they want to continue to coordinate efforts in their precinct.
Issues in the 37th are well-documented. In advance of the April membership meeting, the party prepared a timeline of events and analysis (37th-Timeline), which offers more details to those interested. On the agenda for the April meeting: a discussion of the timeline.
An initial concern raised by many members: what has happened to the PCO appointment forms from the previous meeting. 37th Chair Akilah Stewart was unable to attend the meeting and so First Vice Chair Chase Cross fielded the question. Cross acknowledged he did not know exactly where things stood in the process. He stated the King County Democrats’ Chair, Bailey Stober, would be signing them any day, if they had not already been signed.
Further, he noted additional work was necessary on these applications. Applications from people unregistered to vote at the address they submitted or seeking appointment to precincts already staffed with PCOs elected during the August 2016 election were interspersed in over 80 applications voted on in March. The all-volunteer board members noted it takes time to do this verification and, with the primary just under four months away, closing this issue in May would not impact the ability to canvass neighborhoods for those who won (or those who are unsuccessful).
Multiple individuals raised concerns about their ability to begin organizing their neighborhoods without PCO status. The verification of addresses raised additional concerns from some in the room, noting this authentication made them feel like the party was less inclusive. Eventually, Washington State Democrats Chair Tina Podlodowski spoke on what she is working on to fix a “broken process.”
Podlodowski noted her concerns with communication to people about the process and what steps she is committed to taking to fix things so this does not happen in the future. She stated the 37th isn’t the only district facing these issues currently. Podlodowski, elected Chair two months ago, stated she is taking action, but explained the interplay of party bylaws and the Revised Code of Washington means the problem won’t be solved overnight. The subject applications, she noted, would be signed by Stober within a week and then the party could move on to focusing on preventing these issues in the future.
Podlodowski closed by offering to meet with people in the entryway of the building, stressing the need for the 37th to move on and continue with its business, including updates from Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, staff from Congressman Adam Smith’s office, City Council Member Lorena Gonzalez and an outline of the upcoming endorsement process. Also present for the meeting were Mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver and City Council candidate Teresa Mosqueda.
Will this be the end of the matter? Probably not. But for now, the State, County and Legislative District levels of the Democratic Party appear to possess the desire and the early efforts to piece together a more inclusive party.