After hearing from local democrats and public officials during a biennial reorganization meeting Saturday morning at the courthouse, leaders of the DeKalb County Democratic Party voted to withdraw a proposed amendment to the bylaws which if approved would have given them the authority to conduct party conventions instead of primaries to choose nominees for county offices in general elections.
Proponents of the change said the convention process would ensure only bona fide democrats become nominees and, unlike a primary, would keep republican voters from influencing the outcome. Democratic candidates would also be able to put all their financial resources toward the general election rather than having to spend some of their money trying to win a primary. And by not having a primary, the county would save approximately $20,000 which is what it usually costs to hold an election. Through the convention process, democratic leaders would seek a commitment from potential candidates to ensure they would work hard to win election if nominated and to help other democrats up and down the ballot get elected as well.
“It’s not fair that republicans get to come and vote in our primaries and choose our nominees. That should not be happening. A convention would keep them from doing that,” said DeKalb Democratic Party Chairman Jordan Wilkins during Saturday’s meeting.
“A convention would save democratic candidates money. The republicans have the money advantage on us. They have a program called “Red to the Roots” where they target local officials to try and get republicans elected at the county and city level. This would allow you (candidates) to save your money that you normally spend in a primary and hold it for the general election,” Wilkins continued.
“Another thing is that it encourages party unity. I know this bylaws amendment brought a lot of people out today. But there are people here today that I’ve never seen before at a Democratic party meeting. That’s wonderful. You need to be involved”.
“It (convention) also makes sure our nominees are bona fide democrats. When you become an elected official you are first and foremost elected to do your job to the best of your ability. But you are also a representative of the party that nominated you and its your job to be out there helping other democratic candidates get elected,” said Wilkins.
Many democrats in attendance at Saturday’s meeting voiced their opposition to doing away with primaries with most taking the view that the nomination process should be decided by the voters and not 20 members of the Democratic Executive Committee, as the proposed bylaws amendment would have provided.
Most, if not all, local democratic public officials also objected to the move.
“I am speaking today on behalf of the democratic county officials including County Clerk Jimmy Poss, Circuit Court Clerk Katherine Pack, Register of Deeds Jeff McMillen, and myself,” said County Mayor Tim Stribling. “We are not for this amendment. We feel like a primary election is fair. We welcome a primary election. It gives us a chance to get out and see the people. We don’t feel like putting our fate and our promise to run an election in the hands of 20 people is the right thing to do. If you have 20 people you’ll need 11 people for a majority. So 11 people would decide who is going to run for each office. I’m just speaking on behalf of these county officials and also several county commissioners are here today. A majority of the democratic commissioners feel the same way. They welcome a primary and would like to have this amendment defeated,” added County Mayor Stribling.
County Commissioners Joe Johnson, Betty Atnip, and Wayne Cantrell all voiced opposition to doing away with primaries and county commissioners Bradley Hendrix and Larry Summers were also in attendance although they did not speak.
Former party chairman Faye Fuqua said abandoning primaries for conventions might also create division in the party. “Its important that you (party leaders) do not get involved in primaries. We have seen division in our party when an official or an executive committee woman or man took sides in the primary. Even in national elections and our state elections everybody must be treated fairly. You need to be seen as people who do that. I challenge you all to be very careful what you do during a primary. If people see you as being fair you can bring everybody back together. We all know our primaries can be bloody but I have seen very few times when people fell away from the party if they thought they had been treated fairly,” said Fuqua.
Even before the public comment period several members of the executive committee said they too opposed doing away with the primaries.
After it became clear how a majority of the people at the meeting felt about the issue, the executive committee voted to withdraw the proposed bylaws amendment from consideration and to draft a resolution asking the state legislature to pass a party registration law to require voters statewide to declare party affiliation before participating in a primary election.