As Published in the Houston Chronicle
May 29, 2008, 11:07PM
An Obama mystery at state meet
By RICK CASEY
Texas Democratic Party Vice Chairwoman Roy LaVerne Brooks is a superdelegate who endorsed Barack Obama in March.
The longtime party activist from Fort Worth is also running to unseat current state party Chairman Boyd Richie.
Imagine her surprise Tuesday when she received a disturbing phone call from a national Obama operative who is part of a group that parachuted into Texas to work on this weekend's state party convention.
Roy says the operative, Rudy Shank, told her that unless she drops her candidacy to unseat Richie at the state convention she will not be going to the national convention as a superdelegate.
A deal is offered
She said Shank politely told her that "if there was any way I could not run, it would be appreciated because they would like a convention without hurt feelings."
Shank told her he could make a deal with her. He said Glen Maxey, the former Austin state representative whom the Obama campaign hired as its convention director, told him that if Brooks gave up her vice chairmanship to run against Richie, she would lose her status as superdelegate if she lost.
State chairs and vice chairs are automatically members of the Democratic National Committee, which makes them superdelegates. Brooks' term as vice chair ends this weekend.
A quiet rule change
Brooks said that was news to her. About 20 years ago, then-Chairman Bob Slagle put in a rule saying that while the election for vice chair would take place at the state convention in June, the term would extend until the end of the national convention. The idea was that the vice chair should be rewarded with a national convention at the end of his or her term, not at the beginning of it.
Houstonian Carl Davis, who served as vice chairman from 1998 to 2000, went as a delegate to the convention in Los Angeles that nominated Al Gore.
"I remember seeing the rule in writing," he said.
But apparently the rule has been quietly changed in recent years.
Slagle says he recently learned of the change, though he didn't recall whether the rule was a written one or a "handshake agreement."
Under the new rule, Brooks would lose her superdelegate status if she fails to unseat Richie. But if she backs out, Richie could name her to one of three "add-on" superdelegate slots.
He is required to nominate at least two people for each of the three seats, to be approved by the nominations committee and then ratified by the convention. Traditionally, the nominations committee approves the chairman's first choice of delegates.
There are ironies in the request by an Obama operative that Brooks back off the chairman's race.
One is that she is an African-American. The state Democratic chairman has traditionally been a white male, with an occasional white female slipping in.
Another is that Brooks is casting herself as a "change" from the good ol' boy system, and Obama's campaign is all about changing the good ol' boy system. Brooks' chances of unseating Richie are enhanced by several thousand change-oriented newcomers who will swell the convention to about triple its normal size.
All of this begs the question: Why would the national Obama campaign involve itself in a state race?
Chairman Richie was not available for comment. Maxey promised to ask Shank to call me, but I didn't hear from him.
So I can only go with speculation. One possibility is that the Democratic establishment convinced the Obama folks that Brooks would not be a good enough chairwoman to help them if Texas should come into play. She would contend that Richie isn't a good enough chairman to help.
Another possibility is that a deal has been cut with Richie that could involve both his vote and the votes of the three "add-on" superdelegates.
Do you like conspiracy theories? Thursday night, two nights after Shank made his call to Brooks, Richie announced his endorsement of Obama.
Another possibility involves a "handshake agreement" Slagle put in place in the early 1980s, an agreement that has held ever since. It (accurately) presumed the chairman would be white, and alternates the vice chairmanship and the treasurer's posts between blacks and Hispanics.
"I think this is the year the vice chair is supposed to rotate back to the Mexican-Americans," Slagle said. "If it is a Mexican-American it would be for Clinton. There might be an issue there."
Maybe so, but if they're worried about losing even one superdelegate, manhandling Brooks may not help.
Brooks said she told Shank she would stay in the race.
"I made the comment that I may need to jump over to Hillary's side because I'm not going to be treated like a dish rag," she said.
I asked if she was serious.
"I'm very serious if they keep trying to get me out of the race and I learn that Obama is behind it," she said.
You can write to Rick Casey at P.O. Box 4260, Houston, TX 77210, or e-mail him at email@example.com.