The Two Superdelegates That Democrats Should Cut Loose

Randi and Lily didn’t deliver in 2016 and have sown divisions within the Democratic Party

A committee established to reform the Democratic presidential nomination process has formally proposed that the party dramatically slash the number of “superdelegates” ahead of the 2020 election.

On Saturday, the Unity Reform Commission, which was established following the contentious 2016 primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, approved a series of recommendations aimed at making presidential nominations fairer and more transparent, including the elimination of approximately 400 superdelegates (or about 60% of the total).

Superdelegates are at-large members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) who vote for the party’s presidential nominee at its quadrennial national convention. Unlike pledged delegates, who are elected and required to cast their ballots for the candidate who won the primary or caucus in their respective states, superdelegates are selected by the DNC and are free to vote for any candidate they choose.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders said the nominating process was “rigged” because superdelegates largely backed Hillary Clinton.

Although only 15% of the delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention were superdelegates, a large majority of them backed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. That’s why many in the Sanders-wing of the party have denounced superdelegates as an undemocratic way of giving establishment candidates (i.e., Clinton) an advantage over insurgents (see: Sanders) in the nominating process.

The Unity Commission’s recommendations still need the approval of two-thirds of the Democratic National Committee, but if the party decides to slash its superdelegate ranks, I would suggest they start with AFT president Randi Weingarten and NEA president Lily Eskelsen García.

Weingarten and García were among 75 new at-large DNC members appointed by party chair Tom Perez in October. Sanders supporters harshly criticized the appointments, noting that many of the new members-at-large were prominent supporters of Clinton’s campaign.

DNC chair Tom Perez appointed Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen García as superdelegates in October.

Thus, it makes sense that Perez included Weingarten and García, since both engaged in extensive behind-the-scenes maneuvering to ensure that their respective unions endorsed Clinton. They also took serious flak from rank-and-file members who felt that AFT and NEA’s endorsements of Clinton were all but predetermined.1

In any case, there are several reasons why Weingarten and García shouldn’t be superdelegates. For one thing, they failed to deliver the votes of their members to Hillary Clinton in the general election. According to Greg Toppo at USA Today, internal union surveys revealed that one-third of NEA members and one-fifth of AFT members voted for Donald Trump.

Furthermore, Weingarten and García’s actions demonstrate that they put the interests of their unions ahead of those of the Democratic Party. Last summer, Weingarten used her role on the DNC’s Platform Committee to amend the party’s official position on education. The resulting language, which attacked charter schools and standardized testing, amounted to a repudiation of the Obama Administration’s education policies and caused an uproar among Democratic reformers.

Meanwhile, under García’s leadership, the National Education Association has tried to use its influence to alienate pro-reform Democrats within the party. Late last year, I published a series of stories about a secret, NEA-backed group that was trying to establish a moratorium on charter schools in Louisiana. Among the documents I uncovered was a resolution, passed by the California Democratic Party in 2013, which attacked Democrats for Education Reform as a front for Republicans and their corporate interests. The group I exposed wanted to get the Louisiana Democratic Party to adopt a similar statement modeled on the California resolution.2

At a time when the party needs to come together to defeat Donald Trump, Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen García have instead tried to score political points at the expense of their fellow Democrats. They shouldn’t be rewarded for that behavior with prominent positions in the Democratic Party hierarchy. If the DNC is serious about “being inclusive and welcoming to all” they should adopt the Unity Reform Commission’s recommendations and jettison Randi and Lily in the process.

  1. Weingarten, in particular, received withering criticism for getting AFT to issue an early endorsement of Clinton. In fact, according to emails released by Wikileaks, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta reached out to offer support to Weingarten in the midst of the blowback, telling her: “Let me know directly if there is more we can do to deflect some of the heat your [sic] feeling.” 
  2. Full disclosure: I serve on the advisory board of DFER Louisiana, although the thoughts expressed here are my own

Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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