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Mich., Fla. Delegates Partially Reinstated after Raucous DNC Showdown

BY Admin  May 31, 2008 at 9:50 PM EDT

Committee Votes to award delegates; AP Photo

The committee’s move appeared to end a nearly five-month struggle to deal with the votes of more than 2 million Democrats in the unsanctioned Florida and Michigan primaries. But the final decision fell well short of Clinton’s goal of having both groups seated in full.

Instead, Clinton managed to close her 200-delegate gap with Sen. Barack Obama by only approximately 25 delegate votes at the Denver convention.

The decision left many of Clinton’s supporters — hundreds of whom traveled to the meeting from all over the country — deeply frustrated.

“The DNC disenfranchised millions of voters in the two states,” said Debbie Weihl, of Waynesboro, Pa., calling it a sad day for the country. “I’m a product of the Vietnam era. I’ve never been able to trust my government. They’ve failed me one more time.”

The announcement of the deal came in the evening after a three-hour break during which the committee met behind closed doors to hammer out the arrangement.

“The Rules and Bylaws Committee is back in session… finally,” committee co-chair James Roosevelt said when they reconvened.

Committee member Liz Smith, a Clinton supporter, said she was happy the Florida delegates were awarded based on the primary’s voting results.

“I’m most upset the vote percentage in Michigan did not hold,” she said, adding “I don’t know if it’ll go to Denver” — meaning a battle on the convention floor.

Describing the closed door meeting, Smith said: “We took some straw votes to see where the votes were and saw where we were divided.”

Media sources quoted participants as saying the Florida decision was arrived at quickly, but the status of the Michigan delegation had been a source of conflict. Smith said the votes taken in the public were close to the numbers of those done during the closed-door meeting.

But when the committee returned, the panel had two proposals to consider on Florida. The room erupted in applause when committee member Alice Huffman from California urged the committee to seat the full state delegation.

“I know that we are the rules committee … [but] we called this meeting because we had to fix something,” Huffman said. “It is important that the voters know we hear them. We should reinstate all of them and not have any penalty.”

But other panel members spoke out against seating the full delegation.

“Our decision will respect the rules,” committee member Yvonne Gates said. “Florida did not follow the rules that we had set up. When you have rules they must be followed. If they are not followed then you have chaos.”

The vote on the plan to seat the entire delegation narrowly lost, with 15 members voting against it and 12 in support of the proposal. The crowd erupted with chants of “Denver! Denver!” — pointing to a showdown on the floor of the party’s convention later this summer.

The committee then moved on to consider the plan of the DNC member from Florida to reinstate a 50 percent penalty.

“This is really a big step by this committee… I would ask my friends out there that the world is not perfect, but it is good,” Huffman said to widespread applause and a smattering of boos.

The plan cruised to a unanimous vote 27-0 with one abstention by a Florida committee member.

The Florida proposal had been put forward by a national committee member from the Sunshine State and was endorsed by Obama’s team in Washington.

“Our Florida Democratic voters are frustrated by the decisions that have been made that diminish our primary,” Florida Rep. Robert Wexler told the committee. “The Obama presidential campaign supports a resolution today that will allow the DNC to preserve its nomination process and at the same time enable Democrats in Florida to participate in choosing our party’s nominee and allow elected delegates from Florida to be represented at the Democratic National Convention.”

Under the deal the entire Florida delegation would be seated, but each delegate would cast a half-vote at the convention this summer. Under that equation, Clinton would close her more than 200-delegate gap by only 19.

The deal also reinstates all 26 unpledged super delegates, but again at a half-vote each.

The Michigan voting was even more tumultuous vote. The core fight in Michigan centered around a fight over the allocation of the delegates.

“The ballot did not give us a true picture of the view of voters,” party chairman Mark Brewer told the committee in making its case for the penalties to be reduced. “We find ourselves in a very unusual and unique situation.”

Heading into the meeting, Clinton advisers were saying they should be awarded all of the Great Lake State’s delegates they won, but added another wrinkle to the argument, saying the committee could not award any of the “uncommitted” delegates to Obama.

The state party proposed awarding Clinton the equivalent of a 10-delegate edge in Michigan, but Harold Ickes, a senior Clinton strategist, said that would be a violation of the rules.

“This committee, the Rules and Bylaws Committee, and the DNC does not have the jurisdiction or the power to take those delegates, to take that uncommitted delegate line, and award it to Sen. Obama or any other presidential campaign any more than this committee and the DNC has the power to take the 73 delegates or any part thereof that were awarded to Hillary Clinton as a result of that January primary and give them to another candidate,” The Wall Street Journal quoted Ickes as saying, “That is as fundamental a rule as there is. It is bedrock, it’s below bedrock, you know, of our party. And so that’s a long answer, and the short answer is no.”

When the committee did meet to vote on that proposal, Clinton supporters split over the fight.

“It does not represent the first choice of my candidate, Sen. Clinton,” former DNC chairman Don Fowler said, before voting for the Michigan proposal.

“We find it inexplicable that this body that is supposedly devoted to rules is going to fly in the face of … fair reflection,” Harold Ickes said. “Was the process flawed? You bet your ass it was flawed.”

“It will take 55 delegates from uncommitted status and… convert them to Barack Obama,” Ickes said. “I submit to you hijacking four delegates… is not a good way to start down the path of party unity.”

Ickes ended with a veiled threat to the committee, telling the panel, “Mrs. Clinton has instructed me to reserve her right to take this to the credentials committee” which would push the fight well into the summer.

Despite the raucous protests and the frustration from the Clinton camp, the committee voted 19-8 to award 69 delegates to Clinton and 59 to Obama and then immediately halve those totals, leaving Clinton with 34.5 delegates and Obama with 29.5 delegates. The final agreement was closer to what Obama allies had sought — a 64-64 split — than the plan Clinton supporters had pushed — a 73-55 allocation.

San Antonio, Texas resident Gretchen Glasscock, who works to advance women and minorities in the workplace, said she was not only disappointed in Saturday’s outcome, but of the voting irregularities she said she witnessed in her home state and media coverage of the Clinton campaign.

“I think we’re headed toward a train wreck,” she said of Saturday’s outcome. “One way or another, there will be a nominee. If Hillary were the nominee, that still wouldn’t resolve everything that’s happened.”