Feinstein Censure Killed Without a Vote

While the censure resolution failed on procedural grounds, the movement succeeded in changing the entire conversation.
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The California Democratic Party killed without a vote the resolution to censure Senator Feinstein Saturday night in a crowded committee room, just a stone's throw from Disneyland. The destiny of the censure resolution was clear from the outset. Because the resolution had been submitted within 10 days of the meeting, it was on the agenda of the resolutions committee as a "late" resolution (because Senator Feinstein's most recent actions occurred in that timeframe). The rules state that if any one member of the committee objects to a specific late resolution, that resolution is dead; it is not heard, not voted upon and not considered in any way.

When the resolution was brought up late in the session, the Party's senior advisor and long time chief spokesperson, Bob Mulholland, stood and shouted from the side of the room, "Object, and object!" There were other shouts from the room as committee members joined in. Committee Co-Chair John Hanna objected and then others objected and then, as if to make sure that we got the point, everyone who wanted to join the chorus of objections demanded that their objections be counted, too. It was a sort of pile on moment, in which one veto simply would not do. It all happened within about a minute.

Senator Feinstein's best friend, campaign chair and DNC member, Roz Wyman, had sat in the room all day, just a few feet from me. When all of the objecting was over, Bob Mulholland came over to her for a quick chat, Roz stood and said, "I'm going home," she patted a few people on the back and off she went. Mission accomplished.

Curiously, the next resolution but one, entitled "Defining 'Waterboarding' as torture and eliminating its practice by the U.S. government," met the same fate. Mr. Hanna objected to this resolution as well. The CDP refused to take a stand on the substance of a bill that Senator Feinstein herself has already signed on to support with Senator Kennedy.

While the censure resolution failed on procedural grounds, the movement succeeded in changing the entire conversation. As Brian Leubitz noted at Calitics, CDP Chair Art Torres addressed the plenary session of the executive board Saturday morning, extolling the long and virtuous record of Senator Feinstein, pleading against censure. The chairman said he had called the senator and told her that people were upset. Chairman Torres chose to frame the anger at the senator at only two specific (and odious) votes, ignoring the fact that this is part of a long term pattern of breaking ranks with other Democrats and voting to support President Bush. But Mr. Torres got the point. Without this impending threat, he would never have bothered to give this speech. We can only hope we had some impact on Senator Feinstein, which we'll know soon enough.

Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do. Friday's Guardian (UK), reporting on the censure movement said, "(CDP senior advisor and long time spokesman Bob Mulholland) blasted the bloggers and activists supporting the censure resolution as "fringe" and "pre-nursing home."

"The Democratic party's purpose is to remind armchair activists that the duty is to elect a Democrat to the White House so we can end the Iraq mess", he said. "Nothing should get in the way of that."

As the story moved around the room on Sunday, people became incensed. Mr. Mulholland waited until the 90-second procedural discussion about the censure resolution to physically block a video camera that had been recording the day's events. When asked to move, he would not. When later asked by several delegates to talk, he shouted out "you are all worse than Bush." This is how the CDP treats those who volunteer their time to work within the system to make change, rather than just bolting.

Any goodwill that Chairman Torres had engendered by addressing the censure resolution evaporated when the chairman's employee chose to stifle democracy and literally block out transparency. And still, the only discussion of the resolution was speech after speech against it, with no voice permitted to rise for it. The party officials had stated publicly in advance that the resolution would fail, but it did not. It was simply buried.

That said, let's take stock: Two weeks ago, people all over the country and especially in this state were angered and dejected because Senator Feinstein had, in quick succession, voted for an apparently morally bankrupt man for federal judge and then for judge Mukasey as attorney general. This followed on the heels of earlier votes that extended the rights of the federal government to spy on us without warrants. And the senator was signaling that she would vote to give retroactive immunity for such spying to telecom companies, which she may yet.

Thanks to very agile and determined grassroots organizers at some 40 Democratic Clubs and organizations in California and nationally, such as PDA and the Courage Campaign (of which I am founder and chair), along with our good friends at MoveOn.Org, more than 32,000 individuals signed a petition to support the censure resolution. This online petition carried enormous weight, making clear that this was not, as Mr. Mulholland insisted, a few "pre-nursing home" whack jobs. MoveOn steps up yet again.

Max Follmer's reporting at the Huffington Post forced party employees and consultants as well as senator Feinstein's staff, to respond. The Sacramento Bee's Shane Goldmacher, the UK's Guardian newspaper and the AP all filed stories. The blogs have covered this matter extensively, leading the way as usual.

We wanted the California Democratic Party to pass this resolution, but that's not the way it works. Even though Leninism is long dead, his democratic centralism rules the day in the party structures: we can disagree behind closed doors but once in public, we must follow party doctrine. We have to defend "our own" no matter what. The problem, of course, is that those who are not part of the system stop registering as Democrats. Today, approaching 20 percent [PDF] of registered voters in California are "decline to state" (not affiliated with a political party) because they increasingly see the parties as pale reflections of each other. People want honesty and transparency, they want to vote for people who will stand for principles and get stuff done, not just work to win an election.

We make our own leaders stronger when we tell them that we watch them as closely as we watch those who have led our country into its current state. In many ways, we owe it to ourselves, to Senator Feinstein and to the Democratic Party to hold all on our "side" to higher standards than those who overtly trample on America as the Bush administration has for seven years.

We had an impact this weekend. The "club" was breached and put in a public spotlight. People were made uncomfortable because they were watched. Some reacted to the openness literally with violence. I do not overestimate the effect of the combined actions that reframed the entire conference this weekend, but the path is clear. We will continue to hold our leaders and our party accountable. Transparency is the ultimate persuader. If voters can see clearly what is offered and what is delivered, then and only then do we have a chance for a sustainable democracy.

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