In Houston, citizens are trying to become more engaged in political leadership are meeting roadblocks—from the Democratic Party.
Cody Pogue, a resident in Harris County in a suburb outside of Houston, submitted his application earlier this year for a vacant Democratic precinct chair position in Houston only to meet roadblocks and a rejected application.
A precinct is the smallest political subdivision, and it’s the precinct chair’s duty to mobilize voters, sit on the County Executive Committee (CEC) to conduct local party business, bridge the gap between voters and elected officials, and serve as a representative on behalf of the precinct for the party. Essentially, it’s as grassroots as it gets.
Turmoil During Primaries
Pogue attended the Senate District (SD) 6 meeting to discuss the state and national convention during the Democratic primaries.
“First of all, the district meeting was extremely hostile to Bernie supporters,” Pogue noted.
The rules of the Texas Democratic Party require that each Senate District send an equal number of men and women. Due to the voter turnout, Clinton won the vote in SD 6; she got to send three delegates to the National Convention and Bernie got to send one.
The problem was that they got to choose their three first. They could send a man, a woman, and a third person of either gender. The one person representing Bernie had to be the opposite gender from the third Clinton delegate. There were four women who really wanted to be the Bernie delegate, but no men who really wanted it.
The Bernie delegates asked that they be able to choose their one delegate before they chose their third— so that they could send one of the four women who wanted to attend instead of forcing the one guy who didn’t really want it to go.
“[The Senate District leaders] were within their rights to say no. The problem was that they went on the stage and twisted our issue to make us sound like we didn’t want a woman to be our delegate, when the exact opposite is true,” Pogue said. “It felt like an attempt to paint us as sexists, which was not the case at all.”
Since Clinton had won the vote in SD 6, Pogue and the other Bernie supporters were fine sending only one Bernie delegate.
After the convention, Pogue realized his precinct chair seat was vacant and applied.
Precinct Chair Application Process
In mid-January, Pogue applied to be the precinct chair for precinct 0045. On February 8, he received an email from a Harris County Democratic Party staffer stating:
“Since we currently do not have a Precinct 0045 Chair, Your Senate District Vacancy Committee can consider you for a ‘vacancy appointment’. I am copying SD6 Chair and Vacancy Chair. They will be in touch with you regarding your potential appointment.”
On March 2—nearly a month after hearing from either of them—Pogue sent them an email telling them a little about himself and his excitement to become a precinct chair.
On March 5, which was also the date of the CEC meeting, Pogue received a reply from the SD 6 chair, Yolanda Alvarado, saying that she would like to meet with him before accepting me as a chair.
“As a faithful democrat, I went to the CEC meeting anyway. I spoke briefly with the vacancy chair but did not get a chance to speak with the district chair before the meeting,” Pogue said. “I did, however, notice that my name was on the agenda as a potential precinct chair. I sat through the meeting and when the potential precinct chairs were read by the district chairs, my district chair failed to mention my name.”
On Pogue’s way out, a friend stopped him to congratulate him on becoming a new precinct chair. When Pogue explained what had happened, he rushed Pogue to the front and showed the person running the meeting Pogue’s name on the potential precinct chair list.
“He had the lady next to him write my name in a book and the judge swore me in as my friend witnessed,” Pogue said.
From that moment until May 4, Pogue thought he was a precinct chair, until he received a phone call from Alvarado saying that she was denying his request to be a precinct chair because she questioned whether he was a faithful member of the Democratic Party and because he did not follow the correct procedure.
“I feel that the true reason for this rejection lies in the politics of the 2016 Democratic Primary. I was the organizer for the Bernie Sanders delegation to my Senate District and the leadership of my Senate District was made up mostly of very vocal Clinton supporters,” Pogue said. “There was a great deal of conflict at our Senate District meeting at the state convention. I can’t prove it, but my personal belief is that they purposely blocked my nomination as a precinct chair in order to punish me for supporting Senator Sanders in the Democratic Primary.”
I reached out to Alvarado asking why she rejected his application even after he was sworn in by a judge, and she said, “I rejected his application because he promoted the Green Party candidate.”
“It sounds like they went way back into my Facebook and found a post during a heated time during the 2016 primary. I was frustrated with some things going on in the party and I felt like the party establishment was doing all it could to stack the decks in favor of Clinton. I am not a public figure with a professional running my Facebook page. I am just a regular 34-year-old guy who is human,” Pogue said. “In that moment of exasperation, I said something about how if the Democratic party doesn’t clean up its act, I may have to go join the Green Party.”
Pogue didn’t join the Green Party, and he voted for Hillary in the general election.
“If the people in the party establishment can successfully remove me from any position in the party, after all that I have done, how much easier will it be to totally kick an idealistic 22-year-old out of the party?” Pogue asked. “It’s not right, and this sort of thing has to stop.”
The Harris County Democratic Party’s (HCDP) audit committee will be investigating the incident. Even though this is more of a Senate District issue, the local party will still be investigating to ensure the doors stay open to anyone who wants to get involved.
“HCDP relies on passionate, progressive volunteers seeking to make our communities thrive in inclusive and well-resourced environments. In order to do this, we must support every passionate progressive looking to make Harris County a more inclusive, supportive, and welcoming environment for everyone,” Lillie Schechter, HCDP chair, said. “We will be hosting a meeting with all SD Chairs and Vacancy Chairs to discuss best practices for recruitment to create a more organized and effective standard.”
This is only one example of Democratic establishment operatives around the country treating Bernie supporters/delegates in this manner. As Democrats continue to lose local elections to the far-right, it is imperative the Democratic party gets new leadership.
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