On Saturday, Joe Keaveny was selected by 18 committeepeople in the 4th Senate District as the Democratic nominee for State Senate. I strongly preferred Rachel Storch, but I have heard from people whom I trust that Keaveny will do fine representing the district. But this post isn’t about my disappointment with the outcome. It’s about my amazement that the process is so opaque.
According to the bylaws of the Missouri Democratic Party, every Democrat should have a committeeman and a committeewoman directly elected by voters in a Democratic primary in every township and ward in the state. The listed duties are fairly simple: to sit on the various county and legislative district committees in their jurisdiction and elect officers for those committees, to represent the views of Party members to the county committee, and to build a strong Party organization in the area. And in their purview as members of legislative district committees, they get to cast votes toward the selection of replacement legislators.
The purpose of elections is to hold our representatives accountable. If our state representative casts votes that we disagree with, we can vote for someone else at the next election. Same goes for a mayor or governor or US senator or alderman or alderwoman or whatever. But with a committeeman or committeewoman, I have no idea how to gauge their performance, because it’s kept completely in the dark. Chris Carter’s tweets notwithstanding, the 4th Senatorial District Committee meeting was closed, and no details of the meeting are available to the public. I have no idea how my committeepeople voted or how they made their decision.
Also, if it’s the responsibility of the committeepeople to relay the views of Party members to the county committee, why was no uniform effort made to gauge the views of Party members about who should replace Jeff Smith? No such effort was made in my ward, and as far as I know, few wards in the district held meetings or posed questions publicly to the candidates and solicited feedback from their constituents.
At a bare minimum, the Democratic Party bylaws should be changed to require open meetings for votes by legislative district committees. I’d also like to see every single ward and township hold regular Democratic Party meetings free and open to the public, with meeting times and places publicly announced well ahead of time, where our committeepeople can hear from us on a regular basis. The fact that this fails to happen in every ward of a heavily Democratic city like St. Louis isn’t just a failing of our committeepeople and alderpersons, although they deserve blame for it. It’s also our own fault if we don’t act.
Look at the example of Gregg Christian and Jan Clinite, who were part of a group that started an open ward organization a few years ago in the 15th Ward of St. Louis, much to the chagrin of the established (and closed) regular organization. Now they are both the elected committeeman and committeewoman of the ward, holding regular ward meetings and posting relevant updates on their respective websites.
And I wouldn’t write off your committeepeople completely. Maybe they used to have a decent open ward or township organization that has atrophied for lack of capable people, and perhaps they would welcome the help in rebuilding an organization that could hold regular meetings. Approach them first, and if they refuse to open up the process, start your own open organization. And if you by some chance don’t have a committeeman or committeewoman, declare your candidacy as soon as possible!