Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On the Sidelines but in the Fray

By Delegate Heather R. Mizeur (District 20).

The Washington Post recently ran an article detailing my fifteen minutes in the superdelegate spotlight.

I hope it’s the last fifteen minutes I’ll have to spend there.

Like a couple hundred other Democratic superdelegates around the country, I remained – as the Post put it – “adamantly, stubbornly undeclared” throughout the primary season. And so for nearly six months, the Clinton and Obama campaigns each lined up a small legion of surrogates, who dutifully called to sway my vote one way or the other.

And that’s the story the Post ran, the story most Americans wanted to read about uncommitted superdelegates: phone conversations and meetings with Governors and Senators, encounters with friends and neighbors on the Metro, and – of course – Melissa Etheridge calling.

But my experience is more nuanced than that.

The night before the article ran and my support for Obama’s candidacy became official, he had become our presumptive nominee by reaching the number of delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination.

The timing of my decision prompted questions by people who posted online comments, emailed me, or blogged about the article. Why did she wait so long? Why now?

Fair questions – what I haven’t ever articulated well enough was why I stayed on the sidelines.

It’s quite simple: I wanted the voters to decide.

We have never had an election like this one, and we may never have another. Since their creation in 1982, superdelegates had never played a significant role in choosing our Party’s nominee for President.

Even when it became clear that we might be forced into that role, there was no rulebook to guide our decision-making process – or the campaigns’ and the public’s efforts to sway our votes.

I became a superdelegate when the Maryland Democratic Party chose me as one of its representatives to the Democratic National Committee. When I was elected as a Committeewoman in 2005, I pledged to work hard for our Party, to grow our base, to shape our platform, and to support our candidates. Since then, I have remained neutral in Party primaries, which isn’t always easy in a state and a county boasting a bumper crop of talented Democratic leaders.

Last fall, when faced with a heavily contested presidential nominating process, I decided to remain neutral until at least after the Maryland primary had concluded. Doing so lets me be an unbiased resource connecting voters and activists to all Democratic campaigns. It also allows me to advocate and assist all our candidates.

I held a house party for Bill Richardson, and offered to do the same for the other candidates. I volunteered at rallies for Barack Obama and John Edwards. I drove elderly voters to the polls for Hillary Clinton. I took pride in helping other Marylanders do the same.

As Maryland’s primary concluded, it seemed increasingly likely that the contest would remain close and the national dialogue would continue to unfold and flourish. My gut told me that it was important to let that conversation run its course – that Superdelegates should not prematurely end this race. Though my resolve to remain uncommitted was sometimes tested, it was never broken.

Along the way, I was encouraged to declare my choice for the Democratic nominee by both sides of the contest – campaign surrogates, advocates in Maryland and across the country, neighbors, and the candidates themselves. Sometimes it seemed that there were as many rationales as there were pundits to deliver them.

These were oftentimes compelling, but none ultimately convinced me that I should abandon my neutrality. And so I remained “adamantly, stubbornly undeclared,” waiting for the process to play itself out.

On June 3rd, it had ended. The last primaries and caucuses had been held, the last votes had been cast and counted. Senator Obama and his campaign had masterfully developed and executed their national strategy and he emerged as our presumptive nominee.

Never has staying out of a fight proved to be so bruising.

Committing my support when I did has been misinterpreted by some as political opportunism; remaining undeclared through the end of the races has been misconstrued by others as a self-interested joy ride. While I can probably do very little to change these opinions, I would like to offer some insights.

The Democratic Party, Senator Barack Obama, and our candidates up and down the ballot are stronger than ever as a result of this primary season, and we stand ready to defeat Senator John McCain and the failed policies of the Bush Administration in November.

Because the process was allowed to play itself out, each state played an important role and we sent organizers to states and cities where Democrats normally do not compete. Because the process was allowed to play itself out, tens of millions of people voted and we registered record-breaking numbers of new voters. Because the process was allowed to play itself out, Senator Obama is ready to win in November, and we are all ready to help him.

And finally, because the process was allowed to play itself out, America decided – instead of me.

Editor's note: This guest post is the first part in a two part series describing Delegate Heather R. Mizeur’s (D-Takoma Park and Silver Spring) status as a Democratic superdelegate in the recent Presidential nominating process.

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