Virginia Dems Launch Power Grab to Edge Out Progressives

Party to vote Saturday on new rule that would drastically reduce who can vote for DNC delegates

Virginia state Democratic Executive Director Shyam Raman and Susan Swecker, seen at a 2022 meeting, are said to be engineering a power grab via rule changes up for a vote on Saturday.


(Uncredited/via Twitter)

Virginia Democrats have until Saturday to stop a purge of party progressives, some state party members tell TYT.

The members warn that a proposed rules change that could pass this weekend would strip grassroots members of their power to elect who sits on the Democratic National Committee (DNC), concentrating power with a small group of establishment-aligned party insiders.

The rules proposal will get a preliminary vote on Friday and a final vote Saturday, with little time for debate, at a location inconvenient for many members.

The attempted power grab would all but guarantee establishment control over which Virginia state party members are elected to the DNC for years to come. And it comes after DNC progressives told TYT that in the face of an establishment stranglehold on the national party, the best hope for progressives is to make change at the state level.

That will be a lot tougher if this Virginia rules change goes through on Saturday. And according to one state party member, it’s just the latest attempt to push out Virginia party progressives, who only make up about 10% of the party’s members.

If the measure passes, delegates to the Virginia Democratic State Convention would no longer elect the five state committeemen and women to the DNC who also serve as superdelegates. Instead, the five would be picked by the Virginia Democrats’ State Central Committee (SCC), according to members of the Virginia SCC who spoke with TYT on background.

Earlier this month, Virginia SCC members were emailed the proposed amendment by Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA) Executive Director Shyam Raman. An attachment includes an amendment summary framing the change as “practical.”

But as one SCC member explained, the SCC only has 307 members, far fewer than the 2000 state convention delegates. And its rules define a quorum as just 35%, or 107 people, who can make key decisions based not even on majority votes, but on pluralities. The member said this will ensure that DPVA Chair Susan Swecker, who is said to have an “authoritarian mentality,” can handpick who goes to the DNC. (Raman and Swecker did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)

A member of a different state party who’s familiar with Virginia’s proposed changes told TYT on background, “[D]epending on the number of people running, some of the most powerful people in the Democratic Party could be elected with a handful of votes if this amendment passes.”

By comparison, the same member said, Virginia’s 2000 state convention delegates are “extremely diverse.” They come from across the state and include activists and grassroots people from a variety of different racial and economic backgrounds that more accurately represent the electorate, according to the same member.

The SCC members who spoke with TYT say the timing of the proposed change is bizarre and the reasoning behind it doesn’t add up.

SCC members are currently focused on winning delegate elections to the General Assembly, school board races, and other critical races in November. One SCC member said, “I don't understand. Why now? [...] What is the reason that you would take votes away from 2000 grassroots Democrats to give it to a small inside group of a little over 300?”

According to some members, the proposed amendment caught many SCC members off guard and left many questions unanswered.

It’s also unclear who initially proposed the amendment, though there is plenty of speculation among committee members that Raman may have devised the plan to change the DNC member selection process on Swecker’s behalf. And Raman is said to have been lobbying some of DPVA’s Steering Committee members, but not all, to support the changes.

According to some SCC members, Raman gave “unsatisfactory” explanations for the amendment during a meeting last week, when he allegedly said that “there's nothing to correct right now. We're just thinking about the future.” Those SCC members heard that as Raman admitting there’s no real need to change the DNC member selection process at all.

Although the amendment would reduce the number of people voting for DNC members, Raman argued that it will remedy what he described as inequitable representation during the state convention. Raman allegedly said that Northern Virginia and Richmond, which tend to lean progressive, are overrepresented at the state convention and that the SCC will be “more representative.”

SCC members also say Raman cited a need for “better” DNC members, accusing some of not doing their jobs and skipping out on meetings. Raman allegedly named former state delegate and current DNC member Joshua Cole. Cole did not immediately respond to TYT’s request for comment.

Cole became the youngest and the first Black person elected to the Virginia General Assembly from Fredericksburg in 2019 but lost his seat in 2021 due to redistricting. He was also a national delegate for then-presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in 2020.

Some SCC members are pushing back against Raman’s reasoning. They say the remedy isn’t to shrink the pool of voters who select DNC members, but to create a job description and impose job-performance requirements.

And Raman allegedly has tiptoed toward admitting an anti-progressive agenda. At the meeting he is said to have advocated for ridding the party of “factionalism” to avoid “ideological proxy fights.” Raman allegedly referred specifically to the 2016 presidential contest, when Sanders won about a third of the Virginia primary vote, enough to elect a Sanders delegate to the DNC.

“I think this is an effort to purge progressives from the party,” one SCC member told TYT,

“It is an attempt to centralize power in the leadership and the leadership will not support progressives – not in Virginia,” said another SCC member. “They've actually done everything in their power to marginalize [progressives] to the greatest extent humanly possible.”

Even the logistics of Friday’s DPVA Steering Committee meeting is controversial. Some on the SCC called it “suspect,” given its inconvenient location and time constraints.

According to SCC members, Steering Committee meetings are normally held in Richmond, but this Friday’s meeting will happen in Fredericksburg, about an hour north. And it’s immediately followed by a fundraising event with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), effectively capping the time for debate.

“It's a tactic,” said one of the SCC members, to intentionally rush the Steering Committee vote on whether to recommend the amendment to the SCC for adoption. The SCC is set to vote on the amendment via Zoom on Saturday.

“I've seen this happen before,” one of the SCC members said of the Friday preliminary vote. “They'll come in and they'll say well, we have a big agenda. Let's get through this fast so we can get to our fundraiser at 5:30 and you know, you got travel time.”

If the amendment passes it will not only kill any hope progressives might have of gaining influence within the DPVA, it will also hamper efforts to elevate progressives to party leadership - part of a broader nationwide effort to do so in every state party.

Our Revolution Board Chair and DNC Superdelegate Larry Cohen has been heavily involved in pushing progressive policies at the DNC and is part of a progressive bloc of DNC reformers. Told of the proposed Virginia changes, Cohen told TYT, “Decision-making at the DNC should be dominated by those people elected out of state parties. That's where the party lives. That's where the voters live.”

Opponents of the rules change are hoping enough people will become aware of the proposed amendment and urge their SCC representatives to vote “no” on Saturday.

TYT Washington Correspondent Candice Cole was previously a correspondent and senior White House producer for the Black News Channel and has worked at a number of local news outlets. You can find her on Twitter @CandiceColeNews.