CONCERN: While I have not researched all the votes used in the example scorecard, some of them are poorly explained, misleading, and not altogether thought out. For example, the specific vote used for the income tax example (Apr 30, 2003:Raising the income tax to 5.95% to offset the budget deficit) would have actually increased the income tax retroactively - people would have had to pay double the difference in their income tax deductions in the second half of 2003 to make up for the deficit caused by not collecting at the higher rate for the first six months of that year. Surely surprising people with a giant deficit in their paychecks for the second half of 2003 or a larger tax bill at the end of the year is not a Democratic value. While tax increases should be on the table at certain times, they shouldn't be something to judge a legislator by.
OUR RESPONSE: The votes to be used would be vetted by the Mass Dems Public Policy committee. We actually vetted all the votes through several DSC members, several state reps, and the Mass Dems chair -- they all said ok to that one. In general, the idea is to use unambiguous votes -- if there's any ambiguity as you bring up, the vote doesn't count on the scorecard. The details on the tax vote are that the alternative was something that the platform would consider a "gimmick":
-- Taxable income shall be taxed at the rate of 5.95 per cent for tax years beginning in 2003, for Part B income. [Increase in the tax rate].
-- Relevant platform section: PART V: FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY, TAX EQUITY, & PUBLIC STEWARDSHIP: Tax Fairness and Responsible Budgeting: "We believe that taxes should be fair and based on ability to pay, and that budgets should be fiscally responsible and balanced without gimmicks."
CONCERN: Many legislators have many different reasons, many of them personal, for voting a certain way on issues. Should we brand a legislator as being "un-Democratic" when we disagree with their votes on certain issues?
OUR RESPONSE: No, only when they disagree with more than HALF the platform. That's the standard defined in the party charter, and allows for plenty of leeway on personal issue stances. Those who agree with less than half the platform should reconsider why they call themselves Democrats. Also, every legislator has an opportunity to write a note on each individual vote, if they want to explain it.
CONCERN: If we, as Democrats, truly want to be the big-tent party, then how can we propose a system whereby we run the risk of alienating a legislator who might vote with the party 60% of the time, and against the Republicans 40% of the time? Wouldn't we rather have that person on our side for 60% of the time, than risk running them out of the party and having them vote against us 100% of the time.
OUR RESPONSE: Sure, a vote in agreement with the platform 60% of the time is fine. But when it comes time for re-election, we'd rather vote for a candidate who would be on our side 80% or 90% of the time. The scorecard lets the voters know who's who. If there were a Democrat who scored 60% running against a Republican (who would typically score 20% or 30%), we'd vote for the Democrat. But if there's a primary with one Democrat who votes our way 60% of the time and another who votes our way 90% of the time, we want to know which one is which. Maybe this district would prefer the candidate who only agrees with 60% of the platform -- but it lets people know where the candidates stand.
CONCERN: The people who attend conventions (especially issues conventions) are generally more liberal than the Democratic Party at large. Should all Democrats (let's think big-tent again) be beholden to the views of a small percentage of the most liberal members?
OUR RESPONSE: The real result of the scorecard, we suspect, will be to mak e people care what's in the platform. Right now, it's a bone that's thrown to the progressives -- they let us play with the platform and then ignore the outcome. The result might be, in future years, that people from the other side of the big tent will have serious discussions about what goes into the platform -- that's good for democracy and good for the party. Let's debate the platform and give it meaning, instead of endorsing its flagrant disregard. The further effect of this method will be to bring out more voters who care about issues and about party openness -- and bringing out more Democratic voters is something that all Democrats want, from every side of the big tent.
CONCERN: The idea that we need to "hold legislators accountable" is a fallacy. Every elected official is already accountable - to the voters in their districts. If the voters don't like their Legislator's votes,they are perfectly free to expel their representative every two years. That would be the opportunity for activists to run more progressive candidates and show to the electorate the incumbent's positions on those "key" issues.
OUR RESPONSE: Voters are not told their legislators' voting records. If you want to see them at election time, you could save copies of the local paper for a year, and then review them carefully against the meaning of each vote -- a major undertaking. Or you could try to figure out the House Journals -- which is what we do to build the scorecard -- that requires an advanced degree and a lot of patience to deal with the regular omissions. Most voters think about elections a couple of weeks prior to the election, for the first time, and would never consider those methods -- but they WOULD consider reading a website that summarized it all, and then going out and voting based on that. The lack of voting transparency and the resulting lack of accountability are "incumbency protection" -- every incumbent can say, "I ag ree with you" to every voter, because there's no way to check. We check!
CONCERN: The legislative process has lots of ins and outs, not all of them recognized or understood by even many a seasoned political professional. Certain legislators might vote against a particular bill that they might otherwise like because it has unintended consequences, they are holding out for something better, or they are playing a little inside politics in order to get even bigger gains in the end. To judge a legislator on particular votes when all the facts, on every vote, for every legislator, can never be known is to jump to a premature conclusion. This would brand otherwise "good" legislators as not being in step with the Party when, in fact, that legislator might have been risking their reputation for the good of the party.
OUR RESPONSE: We're aware that many votes are "strategic" and we don't count those votes in the scorecard. The actual votes we use are describ ed at http://massscorecard.org/MA-House_Votes.htm -- including votes which we rejected for your reason and several other reasons. Same for the Senate at http://massscorecard.org/MA-Senate_Votes.htm -- the vote selection is important, and NOT counting "strategic" votes is also important.
CONCERN: Many of the same people advocating for the Scorecard have railed against a Speaker of the House who some say is dictatorial in organizing his members. Why would these same activists be advocating a system th at forces legislators into specific voting patterns?
OUR RESPONSE: Finneran was irrelevant in our deliberations about the scorecard. Our problem was that we saw a great document -- the Party platform -- which is the result of countless hours of work by engaged Democrats, being disregarded publicly. This sends a conflicting message to the public, causing people to question what it means to be a Democrat. See the gay marriage debate: one week the Party comes out in favor of it (unanimously) and the very next week leaders in the House who are Democrats crafted plans to defeat it. This is confusing to voters and turns them off.
CONCERN: The Scorecard idea ignores one premise behind independent (unenrolled) voters. Many independent voters are independent because their political beliefs do actually fall between the two major parties. Would those unenrolled voters want to join a party that pushes itself as a bastion of libera l ideas? Lets keep thinking big tent.
OUR RESPONSE: Some independents are centrists, as you suggest, but we think significant numbers are left-leanging people who feel disaffected by the Democratic Party. Voter registration in Massachusetts is mostly Democrat, then unenrolled, then Republican. If we get more unenrolled people to vote, with the same ratio as other Massachusetts residents, the Democrats win. That's our goal.
CONCERN: The point is well made that Dean's success was attributed to his "straight talk." But, most pundits will agree, that his downfall really came because he was too concentrated on attacking Bush and not concentrated enough on putting forth a positive message of his own. By being proponents of a scorecard that will criticize the elected officials in our own party we run the risk of burning out the Party just like the Dean candidacy did.
OUR RESPONSE: Dean brought in thousands of new voters into the Democratic Party and brought back thousands of disaffected voters who had given up on the Dems. Reich did the same. Their legacy is based on the people they brought into the party -- it doesn't matter that the candidates themselves lost. Bringing in new people, and bringing back disaffected people, is what keeps the party alive and growing. Without constant new blood, the party gets stale.
CONCERN: We already have scorecards. Numerous non-profit and lobbying groups already compile and publish scorecards on legislators on a myriad of issues. Wouldn't in be redundant for the Party to publish one that would risk alienating some of its elected officials? Most of these other scorecards are readily accessible to the general public and are much more comprehensive than the proposed Scorecard.
OUR RESPONSE: If we lose the vote at the convention, we'll do exactly that. But who'll care about one more non-profit scorecard? The thing that makes this one different is that it's an official party function -- the first in the nation to do so. It would send a message. As Rep. Peter Kocot says in defense of the scorecard, "we have a great platform... let's show we have the courage to fight for it."
CONCERN: If you want to "grow the party," you have to work with the party - and the scorecard will only alienate the party, as it will be seen as an attempt to embarrass officials. This was shown last year when the Scorecard was published prematurely and there was an uproar among elected officials. Again, I wholeheartedly believe in "growing the party" and increasing civic engagement, but I feel this is a dangerous method with which to achieve those goals.
OUR RESPONSE: We worked with the party for 8 months to meet the deadline in the amendment from June 2003 -- and the clock ran out. We don't think we'll alienate the party in the end -- we WILL alienate people who describe un enrolled voters as "lazy" or "the enemy", because they're holed up in their small-tent fortress talking only to others in the same small tent.
CONCERN: What about the "uproar" in the senate last year?
OUR RESPONSE: The "uproar" was because a copy of the scorecard with only 4 votes leaked to the Senate floor. It was intended as a functional example on meaningless votes. We'll stand by the current scorecard as reflecting valid votes and valid values -- if someone is embarrassed by the new version, then so be it.
CONCERN: Why do we need this when the platform already says what Democrats believe in? Shouldn't we focus instead on spreading the word about Democratic issues, to educate unenrolled voters? Don't we all already know what it means to be a Democrat?
OUR RESPONSE: Ultimately, if the Democrats don't stand for something that's discernable to the public, we will continue to lose in governor's races, and we contend we will also begin to lose in local and state level races,as well. In response to John Podesta's new think tank, Donna Brazile has said, "the last thing we [Democrats] need is 15-page papers on this and that. What people want to hear is that Democrats are fighting for something, that they stand for something, that they have convictions. It's not lack of ideas." Newt Gingrich's Contract With America, she notes, fit on a single page. (The Nation, March 1, 2004)
If we don't start showing people that it means something to be a Democrat young people will continue to defect from the Party and we will be left with an antiquated, rusty machine.
CONCERN: This is an inherently dangerous path. It will only drive people away from the Party. There is a reason why no other states have gone down this road. Please consider all the consequences behind this proposal.
OUR RESPONSE: The scorecard is not a "dangerous" method. It's only dangerous to the extent that it's change and many people are wary/afraid of change. We would challenge people to consider how we can justify NOT holding people accountable. Rep. Jay Kaufman notes, "I am, frankly, dismayed by Republicans and psedo-Republicans in Democratic clothing. When candidates and office holders trash fundamental planks of the Democratic Party platform, what's wrong with holding them accountable?" When the Democratic Party turns a blind eye, what kind of message are we sending to the public?
CONCERN: There are issues that we must address within the party. We need to be on the same page as to how best to approach the problems. Methodology and approach are quite important. It seems to me that ramming a concept down everyone's throat and pointing out negatives may backfire.
OUR RESPONSE: What we're trying to do now is not "ram a concept down everyone's throat", but rather to gather enough signatures to be able to bring the scorecard to a vote at the Democratic State Convention in May. Whether you like the scorecard or not, that seems to me to be the right way to address this issue within the party, to discuss and vote on the issue at its convention.
CONCERN: Why should the progressive wing have say over how legislators vote?
OUR RESPONSE: At it's root, the idea of a scorecard is neither a liberal/progressive nor a moderate/conservative idea. It is simply an idea stemming from the belief that informed voters are necessary for a strong democracy.
Perhaps, as implemented, the scorecard would have a liberal/progressive influence. This is not because of the scorecard per se, but because the scorecard serves to highlight the official platform of the Democratic party of Massachusetts, which is a liberal/progressive document. By the same token, if the official platform espoused more conservative principles, the scorecard could be seen to be a conservative instrument.
CONCERN: But the progressive wing already controls the platform.
OUR RESPONSE: The party platform has been synthesized by the party over many years; it is by definition the official stance of the party and those who claim membership in the party. It is the very essence of "working with the party" - you might even say it's the ultimate insiders' document.
The scorecard is not intended to force legislators to vote a certain way or to brand any as "good" or "bad." The comparison between a legislator's voting record and the party platform is a positive comparison, not a normative comparison (it doesn't require a certain behavior -- it instead points out what legislators' behavior has been). The normative content stems from whatever one thinks of the principles contained in the party platform: for a progressive Democrat, variance between voting record and the official platform is probably bad; for a conservative Democrat, variance between voting record and the official platform is probably good.
If a majority of members of the Massachusetts Democratic Party believe that the official platform does not reflect their beliefs, then the solution (we claim) is to change the platform, not to hide how one's own beliefs or voting record vary or don't vary with it. Realistically, we anticipate that the long-term result of the Mass Scorecard will be that all Democrats will be more concerned with what goes into the platform than they have been in the past. And we feel that platform debates are healthy for the party.
CONCERN: How will something like this bring in new voters to the Democratic Party?
OUR RESPONSE: We all believe in the idea of a "big tent," and a scorecard will only help that. People choose not to become involved in politics because they view the process as confusing, opaque, or somehow tainted. By spotlighting ourselves via a scorecard, whether what is spotlighted is liberal or conservative, we are making what we stand for as a party clear. It's true that some voters really are in the middle of the two parties. Even so, I think we as a party do better to tell those voters more, not less, about what we believe. Forthrightness goes a very long way in politics.
At its root, the idea behind the scorecard is the idea that decisions about whom to support in the political process should be placed in the hands of the voters themselves and that the voters deserve as much information as possible to make those decisions. That (we claim) is the core principle of democracy.
CONCERN: Thanks for the clarification on those points. While I completely understand and support the intent – that transparency in our political system is a positive thing – I still disagree that this is the way to do it. The unintended consequence of this will be to say to people something like, “yeah, you are a Democrat, but only a 58% Democrat.” Again, wouldn't it be better to expand on our similarities than pointing out the few places where we differ?
OUR RESPONSE: Not when our differences are on fundamental issues. Look at the Constitutional Convention -- the party platform is very clear on all of the issues involved -- that the Democratic Party (1) opposes a Constitutional definition of marriage and (2) supports equal rights for same-sex couples. If the Democrats in the House had all voted that way, there would not have been much of a Con Con -- we'd have won, without any trouble. The Dem platform acknowledges that it's a tough issue and that some Dems might not like gay marriage -- hence clause (1) which gives them an out -- any Dem could say “I don't like same-sex marriage but it's not appropriate for the Constitution.” The scorecard will make clear who voted which way on this issue, because it's an issue of fundamental values. Now, that doesn't mean that if some Democrat voted against this one issue that he should be removed from the party.
OUR RESPONSE: Even gay marriage shouldn't be a “litmus test” issue -- what the scorecard does is identify a pattern. If a legislator votes against the platform on SOME issues, that's a personal judgment -- but if they vote against the platform on MOST issues, they should not be called Democrats. Letting them stay in the party hurts the party because the typical voter has no idea what the party means anymore. A “58% Democrat” would still qualify to call herself a Democrat -- the party charter says you have to support the majority of the platform, which might be interpreted as “50%.” A 58% Democrat might face a strong primary challenge from, say, a 90% Democrat -- and that would be a fair contest, based on substantive differences of opinion. But a 28% Democrat should call themselves what they are -- Republicans -- and let there be a fair contest where the voters decide whether they want a Republican representative or a Democratic representative.
CONCERN: By spending our time and resources criticizing members of our own party instead of bringing new people in we are simply being divisive. I understand that its not an either/or situation, but the message the Scorecard will send to people is that Democratic Party doesn't trust its members enough to let them make up their own minds on certain issues - that's what the Republicans do. I may be a Democrat who doesn't support a few specific items on the platform. If that is the case, then why should I be graded or quantitatively criticized for a few differing beliefs.
OUR RESPONSE: There are no specific “certain issues” that act as a litmus test. By included numerous votes, the litmus test aspect gets washed out, and a voting pattern is revealed. In terms of “divisiveness,” we believe that electoral contests are the means to draw people into the party, especially when those contests are fairly conducted based on issue differences. The essence of a “big tent” is that we acknowledge that we won't agree on many issues. Then we let the process of democracy determine the outcome -- by voting in contested elections. Yes, that can be viewed as “divisive,” since one person wins and the rest lose. We view that as healthy democracy, and one which draws in voters, some of whom stick with the Democratic Party because they like the openness and willingness to debate issues and accept the majority viewpoint. What's the alternative? Anoint candidates in smoke-filled rooms without input from the voters or from anyone outside the inner party circles? That is indeed what the Republicans do, and what we want to avoid.
CONCERN: If the voters in a particular district want to see how their legislator voted on a particular issue – there are numerous avenues for them to do so. We don't need to institutionalize a discriminatory, quantitative grading system for the people already in our party - let's save that for the ones we want to defeat.
OUR RESPONSE: If anyone believes this, I challenge them to go right now and try to figure out their legislator's voting record on an issue of concern to them. Choose an issue that you consider important, and one that was voted on, say 6 months ago (if you read the paper every week, you can find voting records, if you're familiar with the bill number and its meaning). You will fail to find this information anywhere -- the number of avenues for them to do so is exactly zero. The best you can do is look at scorecards produced by advocacy organizations -- but those are from the previous year, and are inherently biased because they're produced by organizations with an interest in one outcome over the other. The Democratic Party's interest is in promoting Democratic values -- as written in the platform -- and would be seen as less biased.
CONCERN: The platform is too progressive already and that's why it is ignored.
OUR RESPONSE:The Mass Scorecard does two things: it makes the platform have meaning, and it publicizes legislators' voting records. How would giving legislators a numeric rating serve to weaken Democrats? The potential problem is that the Scorecard might demonstrate that many legislators consistently cast votes contrary to the Massachusetts Democratic Party platform (note that the votes to be checked are selected not by an outside group, but by a Democratic Party committee). This would either show that the legislators are out of step with the constituents, or that the platform is out of step with the constituents. Either problem should be resolved. The gay marriage constitutional amendment battle is a PERFECT example of this--the platform is clearly against banning it, but many, many legislators voted to do so. Either the platform or the legislators are out of step with the Massachusetts Democratic Party. We NEED accountability. Where will it come from?
CONCERN: Isn't this sort of issue best done within the party?
OUR RESPONSE:That is indeed what we have done. We have met numerous times with Mass Dems officers as well as with the Mass Dems Public Policy Committee. We are very much going through party channels in our process. Our reason for doing so is because we want to strengthen the party. We feel that openness and accountability will draw in disaffected voters, new voters, and independent voters -- and will draw them in to the Democratic Party permanently. We believe that in 10 years everyone will look back and think it was obvious that reform was needed and that the Mass Dems greatly benefited from this reform -- but like any reform, this one is difficult for the current party leaders to admit that it's needed.
CONCERN: Giving legislators a numeric rating will only serve to weaken Democrats and thus help the Republican Party.
OUR RESPONSE: The current Mass Scorecard gives a bottom-line score to each legislator. The Public Policy Committee Chair and others claim that the bottom-line number is all the press will report. We are willing to compromise on that issue and leave the bottom-line number off, if the rest of the Mass Scorecard gets implemented. However, as a political strategy, we submitted the proposed Charter Amendment with the bottom-line score intact, on the premise that if we yield on that issue in advance, we won't get anything. The compromise that the Mass Dems offer is nowhere close to what we intended -- they call it a "support card", with every legislator commenting on each section of the platform, and therefore everyone scores 100% (actual text at http://www.massscorecard.org/PDS/Support_Card.htm ).
CONCERN: Do you claim to speak for the Convention?
OUR RESPONSE:The party rules state that when the convention and any other Democratic committee disagree, the convention decision has highest priority. We claim that as the authors of the amendment, we can speak for its intent. We are seeking a floor vote to allow this year's convention to speak.
CONCERN: Isn't the Public Policy Committee process sufficient?
OUR RESPONSE: Last year's amendment called for a publication deadline of March 1 2004. That deadline came and went with no action from the Public Policy Committee, despite our regular requests for meetings and further action. We feel that the party was intentionally "running out the clock" to avoid a convention floor vote, and we are now taking the steps necessary to implement the Scorecard. We made clear that we are still willing to work with the Public Policy Committee on implementation before May 8 (or after). We have already incorporated several suggestions made by Public Policy Committee members and other party officials, into the compromise version that we're now proposing.
CONCERN: Why a party charter when you already got a platform amendment?
OUR RESPONSE: A platform amendment is a policy guideline -- it is not binding. A party charter amendment is a binding requirement for action, with methods for a judicial enforcement process. The party charter amendment is much more specific than the platform amendment.
CONCERN: Why should we listen to a small group of radicals from Somerville and Cambridge?
OUR RESPONSE: We now represent three sponsoring groups -- the Progressive Democrats of Somerville, the Progressive Democrats of Cambridge, and CPPAX -- which have a combined membership of several thousand. (We would like our coalition to include other groups as well -- please tell us if you are interested in signing on as a representative of your group). We claim to represent "unenrolled" independent voters (which many of us once were) and progressive activists (which all of us are). We also claim to represent young voters and groups that feel disenfranchised or disaffected -- those groups have long been targeted for Democratic party involvement (mostly unsuccessfully).
CONCERN: How does this help Democrats?
OUR RESPONSE: This is the most contentious point of disagreement. Party officials made several statements indicating underlying assumptions that we disagree with:
CONCERN: The Republicans will use this to attack incumbent Democrats.
OUR RESPONSE: We have spent many months talking to Democratic State Committee members and elected Democratic State Reps, and some have come to agree that the Mass Scorecard will help the Democratic Party. We brought six letters testifying to that, from six elected State Reps, and read some excerpts to the Charter Committee. They responded that the six reps we cited were all progressives, with not a conservative Democrat among them. We are seeking support from additional elected Democrats -- any help would be appreciated.
CONCERN: Why would we want to label some Democrats "good" and others "bad"?
OUR RESPONSE: This is the core of our disagreement with the Democratic Party officials. Indeed, the Mass Scorecard does score legislators, based on how well they adhere to the party platform. One charter committee member said that he was a Trotskyite once, and their Socialist Party fell apart because of strict requirements to toe the party line. Our response is that all Democrats agree that we should focus on core Democratic values -- the charter committee members even rattled some off, and we agreed with them. The definition of the core Democratic values is the party platform -- and our predecessors struggled for decades to make it reflect their values. The Democratic Party rules state that every Democrat should follow the core values as laid out in the platform. We want to publicize which elected Democrats do that, and which don't. We don't expect every legislator to toe the line 100%, but we expect them to mostly agree with the platform, or they shouldn't call themselves Democrats.