Maryland Matters published my commentary on how our local political party has veered away from representative democracy. 

The Democratic Party of Maryland has long prioritized party above the public interest. The latest manifestation of this gross abuse of the public trust revealed itself in a vote by the local party apparatus to yet again deny voters an opportunity to exercise their democratic right to self-determination.

On Feb. 13, the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee voted to preempt the democratic process by prohibiting candidates from simultaneously running for seats on both the central committee and any other elected office in government.

Notwithstanding that there are current members of the Maryland General Assembly who are concurrently serving on their local Democratic Party central committees outside of Montgomery County, many of the individuals who voted for this measure have themselves never won the confidence of the voters at the ballot box. In fact, more than half of the Democratic central committee’s current membership has been appointed to the body, including all of its officers. It is consequently no small wonder that they see little merit in perpetuating the practice of denying voters an opportunity to select their own representatives.

The hypocrisy of their vote is appalling.

Despite the reality that many of these individuals have never been elected into their current office, they are nonetheless responsible for having effectively appointed one in three members of the Montgomery delegation to either the Maryland House of Delegates or the state Senate. That’s right. Individuals who were appointed to the central committee in turn have appointed themselves to the state legislature. The Democratic central committee has effectively become a de-facto channel for bypassing popular election into the General Assembly.

As a result, turnover in this body is incredibly high as the committee is increasingly used only as a placeholder until a vacancy arises in the legislature to which they can be appointed. This happens with surprising frequency as various members of our delegation become disenchanted with public service due to a corrupt culture of intimidation that is endemic to our heavily hierarchical, top-down legislature.

A toxic culture of subordinating the public interest to the agendas of “leadership” (i.e. the speaker of the House and the Senate president) and special interest groups whose contributions play such a significant role in financing increasingly expensive campaigns that Del. Andrew Platt (D-Montgomery) has decided not to run for re-election to a second term in the legislature.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) preside over their respective chambers in such a way as to penalize anyone who steps out of line with legislative irrelevance. This anemic atmosphere stifles independence at the expense of legislators’ consciences and has sent many legislators looking for an exit strategy.

Former delegates Craig Rice and Tom Hucker and now sitting Montgomery County Council members, having decided that they could have more impact as one of nine votes over a $5 billion budget in Rockville instead of being one of 141 votes over a $60 billion budget in Annapolis. Sen. Roger Manno and Del. Aruna Miller are currently seeking Congressman John Delaney’s seat, and both Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez and Del. Kumar P. Barve remain in the House of Delegates despite having tried to leave in race for U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s congressional seat that one-time state Sen. Jamie Raskin now occupies. And then there’s Del. C. William Frick who first ran for attorney general, then ran for Congress, and is now running for county executive in a quest to seemingly find any available option to escape from the House of Delegates.

As a result of all of this electoral turmoil, many legislative vacancies have arisen, some of which were filled by the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee including a few from among their own ranks. Indeed only a small fraction of the members of the central committee of 2013 (those members who were on the body prior to the previous gubernatorial election) continue to serve on the body. Since that time there have been four chairs of the central committee, one of whom left in controversy.

It is worthwhile noting that subsequent to its first vote, the Democratic central committee subsequently voted to prohibit its own members from seeking other elected offices but decided that this provision would not apply to the current election cycle (unlike the first decision that is effective immediately, thus annulling the candidacies of all persons running for both public and partisan office simultaneously). The central committee elected to inequitably apply the implementation of the new rules so as to benefit those among them who are currently seeking a seat in the General Assembly.

One would be excused from concluding that the central committee is a self-serving body of individuals that seeks to control our government by eluding the direct election of our representatives. It is abundantly clear that the votes of the three dozen individuals who sit on the Democratic central committee have drowned out the voices of the 1 million people who populate Montgomery County. Their aforementioned votes indicate their contempt for Democratic voters in Montgomery County who are now being denied the opportunity to determine who, among the willing candidates, will represent them in their local Democratic Party.

This perversion of democracy is indicative of a deeply corrupt Democratic Party that undermines popular participation in our elections. This is the same Democratic Party that created some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation based upon the presumption that having more Democrats elected to Congress is more important than providing Marylanders with free and fair elections.

One can only conclude that it has been in the interests of the Democratic Central Committee and of the incumbents in the General Assembly to depress voter turnout so as to ensure that those favored by the Democratic establishment prevail on Election Day. Incumbents in Montgomery County are reelected at a nearly absolute rate and they are elected in off-year gubernatorial Democratic primary elections in which only 1 of every 6 registered Democrats participates, in which participation is closed to all voters who are not registered Democrats, and which are scheduled in the middle of the summer while families are away on vacation.

During the last election cycle in 2014 less than 10 percent of the population of District 16, where I ran and where I am once again a candidate for the House, elected the Democratic Party nominees who inevitably went on to win the general election.

Low voter participation favors incumbents who have name recognition among “super voters” and candidates tend to target these individuals on the campaign trail, effectively relegating the remainder of the population to electoral oblivion. As an area coordinator for the past few years, I organized phone banks and canvasses with elected officials that specifically targeted Democrats who had not participated in every election for the past few cycles. The Democratic central committee had pledged support but that support never materialized.

I stood up at the Democratic central committee event to articulate my interest in reaching out to disengaged and disenchanted Democrats while also seeking to drive down health care premiums and to reduce the teacher-to-student ratio as a means of addressing overcrowding in our schools. I explained my steadfast support of the Democratic Party and its candidates in Maryland since I first worked for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2003. And the Democratic central committee voted to prevent my name from appearing on the ballot this June in a manner that has been permissible for decades.

The only rational conclusion that one can draw from the behavior of the Democratic Party in Maryland is that it is corrupt and that it is in need of a desperate overhaul of its leadership, its objectives and its platform. The Democratic Party should be one of inclusion that facilitates participation in our democracy. It has shown itself to be decidedly against popular participation in our electoral process and has consistently demonstrated its interest in anti-democratic and collusive measures that undermine our democracy.

Jordan Cooper is a Democratic candidate for delegate in District 16, and up until this vote was a candidate for the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee in District 16.