Sunday, June 8, 2008

Dem Convention: Voting my Conscience

In the end, when they called my name to vote for the nomination for senator, I switched my vote to John Kerry. I had planned to vote for challenger Ed O'Reilly because I believe that the 3,500 or so delegates at the convention shouldn't invalidate the will of the 10,000 plus voters who signed the papers to put him on the ballot. I was not going to be part of any effort to keep O'Reilly off. But over the 18 hours leading up to the vote, I had a change of heart.

The doubts began to creep in as the O'Reilly party on Friday night. I arrived at the Doubletree Hotel right exactly at 5:00, the time the party was scheduled to begin. As I walked from the parking garage, I noticed O'Reilly people unloading huge signs from trucks and carrying them into the lobby. At 5:00. As the party was supposed to begin. I figured there was no sense in me heading straight to the event (since they apparently were still setting up) so I hung out in the lobby, checked my phone messages, admired the view of the canal from the patio, looked to see if they had free Internet in the business center (they did not) and then went on up about 20 minutes after 5:00. As I entered, I noticed there were about 40 other delegates mingling, and staffers still affixing signs to the walls. I was struck with the sense that the O'Reilly campaign wasn't particularly well organized. That impression was furthered as the candidate's most high-profile endorser, the Progressive Democrats of America, continued setting up their table, signs, etc. until well after 6:00.

While the lack of organization was a red flag (if you can't organize a reception, how are you going to run a senate office) that didn't leave as negative an impression as the candidate himself. I wanted to meet the candidate, shake his hand, and try to get an idea of what he was about. Of course I wasn't the only one--everyone at the reception who wasn't already a committed supporter was there for the same reason--and I was willing to wait my turn. The problem is that my turn wasn't really my turn. I shook O'Reilly's hand, introduced myself, and someone tapped him on the shoulder. He left to speak with other gentleman before I could even start a conversation. A few moments later, O'Reilly noticed that I was still there, mentioned to the man that had interrupted us that he needed to get back to talk to me, and then was intercepted by another party-goer. After about 15 minutes of talking to this person and that, he finally got back to me. I took away the impression that he was flighty and had a hard time focusing on what I--or anyone else--had to say for even a short moment.

I was able to quickly compare O'Reilly to Senator Kerry as the Senator was heading into the hotel at the same time I was heading out. There were a handful of other people in front of the hotel and Kerry took the opportunity to talk with each one. When he got to me, he shook my hand, we spoke for about a minute, and he posed for a photo. The entire time, other people outside the hotel were trying to get his attention, but he remained focused on me the entire time. Whether he was genuinely interested in what I had to say or whether he had learned to appear interested through years of practice I can't say, but I came away from my encounter with Kerry with a much higher regard for him on a personal level than I did for O'Reilly.

Still, I arrived at the convention with every intention of voting for O'Reilly based on the principle that he deserved a spot, regardless of how bad a candidate he appeared to be. Then O'Reilly gave his speech, and I really had a decision to make. I realize that he was rushing to get his remarks in under 12 minutes, but he was loud, and shrill, and screaming, and angry. He sounded like he'd never given a speech using a microphone before. He didn't modulate his voice or soften his speech, even when speaking about his own background. He spent a good part of his speech ripping Kerry, instead of giving a rationale for his own candidacy.

Following his speech, I was left with a dilemma: On principle, I believe ballot access is a good thing. If I vote on principle, I'd vote for O'Reilly. But I was completely convinced that John Kerry would be a significantly better senator that O'Reilly. If I vote my conscience, I'd vote for Kerry.

I watched the crowds during the nominating speeches, and it appeared that O'Reilly might just have enough support on the floor to get to 15%, but I wasn't sure. When it was time to vote I was helped in my decision by the fact that the votes are called alphabetically by town. Two trends stood out to me: first, all of the top Democrats in our delegation (including Senator Bob Antonioni, Representatives Bob Rice, Hank Naughton, Steve DiNatale, and Jennifer Flanagan, Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, and Register of Deeds Kathy Daignault) were no-shows at the convention. If that trend was applicable among other delegations, then a number of committed Kerry supporters were not in attendance to vote (I'll have more on this in another post). Secondly, nearly all of the attending delegates from Gardner and Fitchburg cast votes for O'Reilly. Doing the math in my head and noting that at there were still O'Reilly voters from Westminster still to vote after Sterling was called, it was clear that O'Reilly would do well above the 15% in our delegation regardless of how I voted. If that were the case across other delegations, then O'Reilly should be safe to hit the 15% threshold.

Taking all of that into consideration I voted my conscience and supported Senator Kerry. In the end, O'Reilly took 23% of the delegates. So I guess I got all of what I wanted. The principle of ballot access was upheld, and I was able to support the best man for the job.

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