Michael Burleson, Rules Committee Chair

Michael Burleson, Chair of Rules Committee, sees role as leveling the field.

If you were fortunate enough to attend October 12th Comedy, Candidates, and Cocktail fundraiser, you heard Michael Burleson’s spot on impressions of George W Bush, Trump, and Bernie Sanders. He then took a moment to make his campaign pitch for Portland mayor. Besides running for mayor Michael is the new head of the MCD Rules Committee, which is why he is featured here.

Even at the tender age of five, Michael Burleson knew he believed in science, but he found himself the odd person out when after “a hokey presentation on how improbable it (evolution) was,” he was the only child left raising his hand attesting to the belief in evolution after someone said, “Wait, is evolution the one where we evolved from monkeys?” In suburban Texas, almost everyone was a conservative Republican.

That didn’t stop him from voting for Al Gore in his second grade mock election—a decision he is still proud of. “An Inconvenient Truth” taught him about climate change in 2005 when he was 12, contrary to those around him. “Basically, the gist is this; I’m a Democrat because the Republicans were and are anti-science.”

Michael Burleson is a relative newcomer to Portland, having come here for law school in 2016 after attending the Texas State Democratic Party convention in San Antonio. This is after he had convinced his parents to become state delegates for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, before Michael could vote. He became active in the party through his support of Bernie Sanders in 2015.

Michael’s first Multnomah Democratic event was probably in December, right after the 2016 election. It was a fellow Bernie delegate who suggested he get involved with the Rules Committee. Because it is the Rules Committee that creates the bylaws and standing rules for the organization and “if I wanted to “combat the institutional nepotism that keeps out brown, black, young, and working class folks from our party, this is where I needed to start.”

According to Michael, the Rules Chairman needs to have “a combination of parliamentary skills and the knowledge and strength of character to deal with systemic oppression.” In both of these areas, Michael feels competent. His understanding of parliamentary procedure started with high school debate and continued as he worked with the model United Nations in college. From his junior year in high school he also participated in Student Congress, where students learned how to pass bills and resolutions in a congressional setting. These experiences were so formative that he highly recommends them to young people.

Michael’s character has been forged through a number of experiences. First, his church, though backward about evolution, grew to be very social and racial justice conscious. He started organizing with them around issues like payday lending, and led a study group on school segregation while attending UT, Dallas. Throughout that time, the number of people whom he met who struggled to work several jobs and take care of school-aged kids troubled him. This led to a stint teaching at CitySquare AmeriCorps in Dallas, Texas, with a population that was largely low-income, minority, and/or refugees. He and his girlfriend, who was Pakistani and spoke three languages, taught a mock trial class together. But even with their combined skills, it was incredibly difficult to help students from around the world achieve the same reading comprehension as their peers. It was harder still to find kids whose parents cold pick them up at 3pm.

“My work at AmeriCorps, and in organizing, and later at the Innocence Project of Texas, still informs my dedication to racial and social justice. Specifically, I believe that our bylaws, even now, disenfranchise people of color and working people. A lack of time limits, seemingly endless meetings, and unwritten rules all plague us even now.“ Progress had been made. “the process for amending the bylaws and standing rules is now one month. We have a systematic program to put primary challengers on equal footing with incumbents through our candidate accountability program. We enacted STAR voting to further our voices. But there is more work to be done. I try to come to the position every day with the ides of doing what is right and not necessarily what is popular But, if I can, I try to make what is right a reality by constantly repeating the message of social and racial justice and elevating the voices of those in our party who are disenfranchised.”

When he’s not working on class action lawsuits for a local law firm while he waits to take the bar, Michael bikes, likes indoor rock climbing and would like to get back to karate. His ease with impressions comes from a few years of theater in middle school.

Aiming for Goals

Some of the goals Michael would like to accomplish are: 1) make the party chair a paid position at $15/hr to enable working people to be elected; 2)create firm time limits for central committee meetings; 3) limit the number of standing committee meetings before decisions are made on pending resolutions, bylaws, and other action items; 4) publish Robert’s Rules Cheat Sheets in all major languages; 5) move central committee meetings around town so that people of color are more represented at the meetings; and 6) identify other forces systemically oppressing people seeking to get politically involved.

Join the Effort

Michael is looking for committee members who would like to join him to “promote a socially and racially just democracy.” He would like to see more representation from women and minorities. Committee meetings are once a month, but can involve some homework. Innovative ideas, policy expertise and guidance on elevating other voices within the party would be greatly valued. If you are interested in providing input at every state of the development of our party’s rules and bylaws, contact Michael at rules@multdems.org.