Equality, national pressure and quotas: the structure of the Democratic State Central Committee

March 5, 2010

Today the Illinois State Board of Elections proclaims the results from the February 2nd primary. This means the Republican race for governor will likely conclude. It also means Scott Lee Cohen will officially be declared winner, and then have his candidacy immediately withdrawn. That'll open up the lieutenant governor vacancy to be filled by the Democratic State Central Committee, whose members are also finalized with today's action by the election board. The candidates for the Democratic State Central Committee run every four years, in non-presidential years. And -- since the 1986 election -- the panel has consisted of one committeeman and one committeewoman from each of the state's congressional districts. (The number has declined over the years along with Illinois' shrinking congressional delegation.) I did a story for this morning about how this equal gender representation plan came to be. The pressures involved Here's a clip of my interview with Philip J. Rock, then the Democratic president of the Illinois Senate, and chair of the state party. Rock is describing some of the pushback he got from other Democrats about the one man, one woman plan. rock web The system was put in place, I'm told, for a number of reasons and converging pressures. Party activist D. Clancy, who helped push for the change, says Illinois women had shown the party they were an important force. She also notes pressure from national Democrats for states to adopt "equal representation" provisions, for both delegates to national conventions and in state party leadership. From Article 9, Section 16 of the Democratic National Committee's charter:

The membership of the Democratic National Committee, the Executive Committee, Democratic state central committees, and all national official Party Conventions, committees, commissions, and like bodies shall be equally divided between men and women. State Parties shall take provable positive steps to achieve legislative changes to bring the law into compliance with this provision wherever this provision conflicts with state statutes.

And, as pointed out to me by John Jackson from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, Rock was launching his own primary campaign for the U.S. Senate. (Paul Simon ended up winning the nomination, and the general election.) Jackson told me, "At that time, [Rock] thought this was a good thing to do substantively, but undoubtedly thought it might help him with women voters and women party activists that he needed in the March primary." I asked Rock if his own ambitions were at play, and he said, "Not really." Has "equal representation" in party leadership trickled down to the candidates? Looking back now, more than a quarter century later, how close to "equal" are Democratic Party politics in Illinois? A CNN exit poll from the 2008 primary showed that almost 60-percent of Democratic primary voters in Illinois were women. But that share of the primary vote hasn't translated to an equal share in the state's legislative bodies.
Cook County BoardAllWomenMen
Democrats1248
Republicans514
Chicago City CouncilAllWomenMen
Democrats471829
Republicans101
Illinois HouseAllWomen Men
Democrats692544
Republicans481137
Illinois SenateAllWomenMen
Democrats371027
Republicans22319
Sources: Cook County website, City of Chicago website, Illinois General Assembly website It has, however, made the Democratic State Central Committee more balanced, by sex, than its Republican counterpart.
State Central Committees19842010
Democrats2 women out of 2219 women out of 38
Republicans1 woman out of 224 women out of 19
Sources: Democratic Party of Illinois website, documents provided by the Illinois Republican Party, Chicago tribune report from January 29, 1984 This week, Illinois Republicans voted for new committee people at their county conventions. Those results have not yet been finalized, so these numbers relate to the current committee. Also note that Republican committee people appoint deputies of the opposite sex. I did not include those in this list because they don't have voting rights (unless the committee person is absent). Quotes of quotas Don Adams was chair of the state Republican Party back in 1984 when the Democratic leaders voted to change their rules. A Chicago Tribune report from the time paraphrased Adams saying GOP attorneys "doubt[ed] the constitutionality of electing committee members based solely on sex." (I haven't found evidence of court challenges the Illinois Democrats' system, though.) In a Senate debate on June 28, 1985, Democratic state Senator LeRoy Lemke sounded off on his problems with his party's plan: "I've seen the unwise decisions of the Democratic National Party with the selections of quotas and minorities and...and ethics and everybody else. And yet with those...we put up candidates that can't win." Lemke was explaining why he would not oppose an Illinois Republican plan to change the way it elected its state central committee people. There was nothing about gender in that plan. What it did was remove the direct selection of committee people from Republican primary voters, and instead put it in the hands of local party officials. That's a fight that continues to this day.
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