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2007 Florida Democratic Party Convention, Part 3

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

The 2007 Florida Democratic Party Convention, Part 3

Earlier parts this series...
2007 Florida Democratic Party Convention, Part 1
2007 Florida Democratic Party Convention, Part 2

Sunday morning starts with an information session in the Grand Ballroom about Family Values and the “Marriage” Amendment. On the same ballot as the presidential primaries there might be a proposed amendment to Florida’s State Constitution saying: “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

As this panel came to an end, the same venue was filling up with more delegates and guests coming for “Winning Florida in 2008”, a discussion moderated by Florida’s Democratic CFO, Alex Sink. I relocate to the media table over to the side of the venue, and the Trojan horseflies begin. First, I get an email saying the video of John Russell being banned from Disney World has been posted on the internet. Then I get a phone call from someone who has a similar bone to pick with the FDP for not supporting a candidate she was campaign manager for.

Then John Russell calls to ask if I’ve seen the video and I say No, I don’t have my laptop with me. Not surprisingly—and to my great chagrin at being used in this manner—about a half-hour later, coming towards me with his eye on the empty chair between me and an Associated Press reporter, is someone I’d met the previous night who had identified himself as the friend of a Scoop contributor.

He has a laptop and seats himself between me and AP, and tries to connect it to the convention center’s wifi. By the time he’s unsuccessfully exhausted all options, it is lunchtime.

AP’s story on the rah-rah session is here:

::Off with her head!::

Now we’re getting to the action! The promised palace coup! After lunch, I’m introduced to George Maurer, the FDP Executive Committee member who has a motion on the afternoon’s Central and Executive Committee Meetings agenda to remove Karen Thurman as State Party Chair “for cause including but not limited to, malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, incompetence”. I suggest we go into the now-empty (so I thought) ballroom so I can get his side of the story on tape. Unbeknown to me, because I have my back to them, a couple of press guys are still at the table on the other side of the room writing their stories, which explains why Maurer is talking so loudly. At the end, he even called over to them, “Did you hear that? Was I shouting loud enough?” More mug me. Still, I do later see Mr. AP at the committee meeting. He just doesn’t report it.


The Central and Executive Committee meetings are listed on the Convention Schedule as being from 1pm to 3pm on the last day, the very last things on the schedule. They are “Open to all registered Democratic voters. Only committee members may vote.” Before the Central Committee meeting begins there’s an announcement that the last round of buses to take people to their cars will soon be arriving, so throughout the meetings there’s a sense of “hurry up and get this done as quickly as possible or we’ll miss the buses home.” People have to line up and show their credentials as committee members before the Central Committee business is heard, and then again before the Executive Committee business is heard so they can be issued with a paper ballot to vote on the Thurman motion.

As fast as the convention center workers wheel out stacks of chairs from the meeting room, people are bringing more back in from the ballroom across the hall. Someone goes by with a stack of papers that look like an agenda. Is that the agenda for the meeting? I ask. The staffer eyes my green media badge, clutches the papers print-side to her bosom so I can’t see and says, “No.” Someone comes around handing out Maurer’s motion and its attached supporting document. The Central Committee business is dealt with, everyone goes out and signs in again, and Thurman begins chairing the Executive Committee meeting, excusing herself from the chair, but staying in the room, when the motion to remove her is heard.

::Wiley Coyote::

I’m sitting by the door on the far side of the room from where the committee members are sitting and the acting chair is dealing with the business. So I’m in with the general mass of delegates and guests who are there to show their support for Thurman but have no vote on the motion. When Maurer begins his motion he gets booed, and shortly thereafter a group of staffers—identifiable by their red badges—march in and stand behind Thurman, for all the world like the palace guard. Other staffers move to stand by the doors. When one opens I can hear someone, a woman, shouting out in the lobby.

FDP Chair Karen Thurman, in the orange dress, sits at the side of the meeting room, beside Florida Senator Steve Geller (obscured, but with his hand on his forehead). Standing behind her are staffers.

Maurer is asked by the acting chair (First Vice Chair Diane Glasser) to cut his speech short because everyone has to catch buses. He asks for five minutes, and is booed down, so follows the VC’s request to keep it short. The Vice Chair neglects to ask for a seconder. Someone asks for the motion to be stated. There’s a seconder. Someone who is against the motion gets up to speak to the motion and VC Glasser interrupts him three times before he can get started. When he speaks, Jon Ausman from Leon County says that he respects Maurer’s right to do what he’s doing but that he thinks he’s exercising very poor judgment.

“I consider myself—I proudly consider myself—a member of the rational results-oriented wing of the Democratic Party. I believe, I don’t know for sure, but I believe that 95 percent of the people in this room feel the same way. They’re members of the rational wing with me. I believe that 95 percent are the members that work very hard in their counties, hours, untold hours, knocking on doors, making phone calls, without compensation, to try to build their local counties and try to the build the credibility about how Democrats are the right choice for leading this state forward.

“I also believe that 95 percent understand the time and effort that our FDP Chair Karen Thurman and the FDP staff have put into this convention. We’ve generated a lot of goodwill this weekend, a lot of goodwill. No candidates, but I can tell you this has been a great weekend, a great weekend. Now, what I don’t want to have happen is have that goodwill squandered, that goodwill undermined by opening up my newspaper tomorrow morning and reading about the George Maurer Show.”

Ausman gets a standing ovation, during which a male voice shouts “Call the question.” It’s unclear to me in the noise of the continuing ovation if VC Glasser actually does call the question. Someone moves to commit the matter of removing Thurman to a special committee of three convened by Alex Sink. There’s a kafuffle about whether it’s the right parliamentary procedure to have two motions on the floor at the same time.

“Where’s the parliamentarian?” someone asks. “Oh, man. He left an hour ago,” another voice replies. Someone waves their copy of Roberts Rules of Order in the air and the FDP’s former parliamentarian--from about 10 years ago—steps up to take charge of the meeting. It is none other than Senator Steve Geller, who has been sitting at Thurman’s side all this time.

Senator Geller acting as parliamentarian.

By way of background for non-US readers, Roberts Rules of Order is the bible for running meetings of boards and committees. There’s no law saying they have to be used by organizations, but on the other hand there is a profession of “parliamentarian” in the US - people who are hired by organizations solely to rule impartially on matters of meeting protocol - and they usually adhere to Roberts Rules.

It is a reasonable expectation that a state-wide organization such as the Florida Democratic Party, with a multi-million dollar budget—not to mention having several controversial matters on its plate—would have hired a professional parliamentarian to be present at its state convention. At the very least, one would expect the FDP’s own parliamentarian to have been present. When I asked Senator Geller as he left the meeting, “Do you always hold meetings where there’s no parliamentarian present?” he replied, “I don’t know why he wasn’t at today’s meeting. I don’t think he was at the convention this weekend. I haven’t seen him. At all.”

SCOOP: I can’t believe that a party, that an organization as big as the Democratic Party doesn’t have a parliamentarian at its convention.

GELLER: It’s a volunteer position. It’s Dr. Wayne Bailey. I think he’s been the parliamentarian since I left. I was the parliamentarian of the party for 14 years, Dr. Bailey has been the parliamentarian for the last 10 or 12 or 14 years. Something like that. He was unable to attend this convention. It’s a volunteer position.

SCOOP: How often do parliamentarians not attend conventions?

GELLER: It’s a volunteer position. They have family…

SCOOP: How often do they not come?

GELLER: I give up. I don’t know.

Click for big version

Senator Geller being congratulated by Thurman supporters as he leaves the Executive Committee meeting after the Maurer motion is heard (but before the Executive Committee meeting ends).

::Stand and be counted::

Now, it may be that I’m just lack the imagination not to do things by the book, but it seems to me that the most egregious thing that happened at this convention was the way Maurer’s motion was handled by Geller once he had taken it upon himself to act as parliamentarian. He started off by saying the second motion—to commit the matter to a three-member special committee—couldn’t be voted on because the question of the first motion had been called. However, when someone then stands and moves that they hold a standing vote, Geller says: “Mr, Maurer, to cut through, because we’re all tired. Mr. Ausman has suggested a standing vote. Would you be willing if you see the overwhelming [unclear], would you be willing to withdraw your motion?”

A standing vote? Since each Executive Committee member’s vote is weighted according to which county the committee person is from, how can a standing vote be considered binding, let alone appropriate to the atmosphere in which the vote is being held? Have I been transported back to Mao Tse Tung’s China where people have to declare their fealty to the Chairman in public? Geller is trying to find a way for a proper vote NOT to be taken on Maurer’s motion to remove Thurman, and you have to wonder why, since he seems so confident of it not passing based on his reading of the “overwhelming” pro-Thurman sentiment in the room.

Maurer objects to a standing vote, and Geller continues: “Okay. Guys, we can spend more time on doing this the correct parliamentary method, or we try and short-circuit it if we can, with the consent of the group. If there’s objections raise your hand. I don’t see any.” [Said so quickly that the room bursts into laughter.] Geller then recommended a standing vote, because he thinks the idea “made a lot of sense” and says, “I will ask everybody to stand up first if you are in favor of the motion [to remove Thurman as Chair], and then I’ll ask you stand up if you are against the motion. And then you won’t have to worry about the paper ballots.”

A woman calls out: “Only those who are eligible to vote in fact do vote. Only those who are holding ballots in their hands should be allowed to vote.” Geller replies, “Good point. It’s still not going to be scientific. Stand up for either side. Please hold your ballot in the air so we can observe it. Is that okay with everybody?” At which point, someone stands and says he doesn’t think that Geller gave Maurer enough time to withdraw his motion. Quizzed by Geller, Maurer says he’s willing to withdraw the motion now, “subject to further consideration.”

Geller then announces that the motion is withdrawn. He continues, “Let me be clear, anybody… I mean, Mr. Maurer, even if the issue was voted down today, can always file another motion at another point in time. Mr. Maurer, whatever rights you have under the Democratic Party by-laws and rules, you will continue to have. The fact is that at this point in time the motion is withdrawn. There’s nothing in front of us. There’s no special privilege. I mean, when you say, ‘subject to bringing it up another time’, the motion was withdrawn. At any point in time, and whoever [unclear] the rules can tell you, can he bring it up at another time or can any member bring up a motion at another time? Subject to the discretion of the Chair. We’re done, we’re on to the next matter.”

Crikey! Now we’re in Stalin’s Russia! A motion to remove the Chair can only be brought up “subject to the discretion of the Chair”?! Now, shave me beard and call me Trotsky, but Roberts Rules of Order, in its Table of Rules Relating to Motions, definitively and without any annotation, says that any main motion or question can be reconsidered. Of course, not being a member of Florida Democratic Party, I don’t have access to their by-laws and rules, which might conceivably differ from Roberts Rules.

Well, I don’t suppose you get to be Minority Leader of the Senate in Florida—as Steve Geller is—without knowing how to stack decks, waive rules at your discretion, and use methods that are not “scientific”, but to not give somebody within his own party a chance to have their voice heard and voted upon in the proper manner was just mind-boggling to watch.

I don’t know how many of the people in that room were executive committee members, but certainly none of the people where I sat had ballots in their hand. What happened was tantamount to having the folks sitting in the gallery at the House of Representatives decide how a vote should come out by the loudness of their boos or cheers. I’m sure it would make debates more interesting, but would anything that resulted really be considered a legitimate outcome, even if it were the one the majority of voting members would have chosen?

::No information please, we’re Democrats!::

Thurman resumes the chair and asks for a quick treasurer’s report to be given in order to address one of Maurer’s charges in the motion that she doesn’t give financial reports, pointing out as she does so that her line of reporting goes directly to the Democratic National Committee, implying the Florida Democratic Party’s Executive Committee has no automatic right to that information.

I guess the “rational” wing of the FDP have rationalized that right away, too. But wouldn’t you be worried that the money you’re busy raising with your voluntary time and efforts should be accounted for to you, the rank and file of the Democratic Party, not just to the DNC? Whose party is it, anyway?



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