Writers Guild members should have received ballots this week for the 2011 election, along with a packet of candidate statements and endorsements thicker than a screenplay.

You’ll see my name listed on several endorsements for candidates I think are terrific, but I also want to give a more general overview of the issues and personalities involved.

The top of the ballot

We have two candidates for WGAw president: Chris Keyser and Patric Verrone. Both have served the guild in a variety of roles. Both have strengths.

Chris Keyser comes from the Board of Directors and the Negotiating Committee, and spent seven years on the Health and Pension Fund, where he served as a Trustee. I didn’t know him before this election, but after reading his statement and watching a video of him speaking at a house meeting, I think his priorities are correct:

We cannot demand that companies make more movies or pay for more development, but we can be a Guild that is strong in between negotiations, strong on those days when we don’t have an army on the streets. We can be strong through enforcement, strong through leveraging our shared membership with the DGA, strong through rapid, effective assistance to members in need.

A WGA president must occasionally play the general who leads us into battle, but far more often needs to be the pragmatic CEO who insists on the best from his organization and all its partners. We can do a much better job enforcing the contract we’ve already won. That seems like Keyser’s focus.

Patric Verrone is by far the better-known of the two candidates, since he served as president during the 2008 strike. It’s impossible to talk about Verrone without some rehashing of the strike, and what it means going forward.

Here’s my short assessment: I think Verrone did a commendable job of internally organizing the Guild. He kept members informed and engaged in a way I hadn’t seen before.

But his external communication was a disaster.

For months leading up to negotiations, Verrone kept beating the “strike or cave” drum, including an ill-fated campaign of picketing for reality TV. Watching this, the AMPTP came to us with a ridiculous offer full of rollbacks, giving no choice but to make good on our threat to strike. Meanwhile, the studios did an end-run around us and made a deal with the DGA.

We were boxed in, and Verrone built the box.

The contract isn’t up until 2013, but re-electing Verrone signals to the studios they might as well prepare for a strike — again. They might as well pre-negotiate with the DGA — again. They might as well just ignore us, because we’re lunatics who elected that guy – again.

I’m voting for Chris Keyser.

The rest of the ticket

I’m happy to see so many strong candidates for the other offices and board of directors. I’ll be reading through the candidate statements, but want to give a few recommends based on writers I know personally.

Keyser and Verrone both endorse Howard Rodman for Vice President. So do I. He’s particularly devoted to getting WGA coverage for writers working on indies.

I served on the Committee on the Professional Status of Writers with Billy Ray and found him to be smart, focused and incredibly generous. Last year, he organized a series of workshops for screenwriters hoping to direct. That’s exactly the kind of programming the WGA needs more of. A strong guild is made of strong members.

In his statement, Jeff Lowell focuses on enforcement. In particular, late payment:

Honestly, the fucking blatant disregard for the contract they signed… They acknowledge they owe me money, let me know that there is some kind of mysterious internal operation of indeterminate length to “process” the payment, and then, when that’s done, it’ll take five to ten business days to get the check from them to my agent.

He’s angry, but he’s right. The WGA needs to spend the money to get checks in writers’ hands on time.

Ian Deitchman focuses on repairing relationships with the DGA and SAG/AFTRA. He also has experience with web series, which still haven’t materialized as the Next Big Thing we were supposed to be striking over.

Ballots are due September 16th. I urge you to vote.