January 2005 Archives

paul_berendt.jpgMany people think this race is a referendum on Paul Berendt's tenure as Chair for the last ten years.  Paul was elected in 1994, another very bad year for Democrats both nationally and in this state.  He was able to turn the Party around and figure out how to make it financially healthy.  Democrats have done well in these last ten years in this state.  Now, after a year when a massive number of new people have become more involved in the process and we had a rollercoaster of a post-election, the Democratic Central Committee will decide on Saturday whether to keep Paul as Chair or bring in new blood. 

Paul understands much of the changing desires of the newly involved Democrats.  The Party electors will have to decide if he understands enough.  If he wins, he will have to buck the people around him and significantly improve the operations side of the Democratic Party in this state as well as keep the energy and enthusiasm of the people new to active Party involvement.

This is the last of the four candidates running for Chair whom we have interviewed.   Read on for the full interview.  Or check out our recent interviews with other candidates Greg RodriguezKat Overman and Bill Phillips

Q: What have you been doing to revitalize the Democratic Party in this state?

PB: Under my leadership, the State Party has been a conduit for harnessing the energy of the last year. I believe we have a wonderful State Party. It is an activist party, a populist party. We've done well. We have two U.S. Senators, the Governor and majorities in both Houses. The challenge for us is to consolidate our power and move clearly into being the majority party.

Q: How would you sum up what you did or learned?

PB: In the past, people have deferred the lobbying, the training, and the planning to others. They have invested power in the Chair. What we've seen this last year is that people want to have greater control over the decisions of the Party and what it stands for. We need to learn to work through committees, to find jobs for people to do that are right for them.

The turning point was the caucus process last spring. This brought a lot of people into the Party and people discovered or rediscovered that process. I believe 8 out of 10 people get involved in politics because of issues. People want to feel like they are able to be an advocate for an issue.

Q: What would you do as State Chair?

PB: My job is to create mechanisms for people to be directly involved in the precincts, and in communications, developing messages and fund-raising.

We have a good staff but now, instead of doing the work, they need to facilitate others doing it. It's been easier to do it ourselves but we need to change that.

I want to have more of an on-going presence in Olympia. We need to give our Democratic Governor and Legislature the cover they need to make things happen. Maybe we can have Issue Day at the state capital, where people come down and lobby for an issue that is important to them and do that maybe once a week while the Legislature is in session. I'm going to propose that to the Central Committee.

We have a Party structure. It works better some places than others. I think it's important that the State Party has something to do for those people who fall through the Legislative District cracks.

The Party already does big statewide events well. We have maybe half a dozen events a year which elected officials attend and talk with people and answer questions, i.e. the Crab Feed and PCO Training coming up in February. We do two major trainings a year, one of which is in Eastern Washington.

We still need to create more venues for people to plug into. The Howard Dean campaign used the Meetup forum well. Perhaps we can create a venue where people can help develop the Party platform through something like the Meetup process. 

Q: Why should you be the Chair?

PB: That good news is that we have 4 good candidates this year. We are all friends. We are saying a lot of the same things. The issues are not that different. We all want greater field operations between elections, better communications and more involvement in Eastern Washington. We want to figure out ways to get more people to participate.

I've proven I can do this. I'm really good at tactics and tactics are important.

Q: How would you involve the other candidates if you win?

PB: I've always brought the other candidates from any race into the process to do whatever they want to do. I will meet with each of them and listen to them about the issues they want to address.

kat_overman.jpgKat Overman is passionate about rebuilding the Washington State Democratic Party through grassroots organizing.  She links the necessity for optimal voter data information with active on-the-ground recruitment.  She is the second of the four candidates for Party Chair whom we recently interviewed. 

Read on for the full interview.  Or you can check out our recent interview with Greg Rodriguez.  Stay tuned for upcoming inteviews with Bill Phillips and incumbent Chair Paul Berendt.

Q: What have you been doing to revitalize the Democratic Party in this state?

KO: I've been involved in the Party from many angles.  I've managed campaigns; I've done media coordination, political consulting, lobbying, fund-raising, mass mailing and volunteer coordination.  I co-founded a political club, the Possession Sound Democratic Club; I've been the Political Organizer of the King County Labor Council and most recently I walked 21 precincts to get Mike Sells elected Representative to the Legislature from the 38th District.

Q: How would you sum up what you did or learned?

KO: I learned how little we know about voters in this state. The lists were terrible; the information was no good.  The technology for this state has to be updated. 

Q: What would you do as State Chair?

KO: I plan to do one-on-one rebuilding.  There is a lot of grunt work that needs to be done.  We need to make use of the lists from the Kerry and Dean and Kucinich campaigns and everyone else.  We need to give individuals their own "garden to tend", a small chunk where they can get to know the people and knock on their doors when they are home and talk with them and see what is important to them.

I want to be able to take the issues and information and get it out to people across the state.  We need to keep those new people involved and active.  There were 1000 people working Snohomish County this time out.  If they stay active, when the next election comes around, we will know who's out there and what they think.

We also need to get funding to have an office in Eastern Washington.  I think it should be in Moses Lake - that's the heart of the Hispanic Community.  We have to reach out to that community.  We need be bilingual; to have all our literature translated into Spanish and printed so people can use it.

Q: Why should you be the Chair?

KO:  I am passionate about rebuilding the Party here.  I am willing to listen and work with people all over the state.

Q: How would you involve the other candidates if you win?

KO: I've got a good picture of what each of the other candidates is most interested in and I would utilize their knowledge and passion.

bill_phillips.jpgBill Phillips is focused like a laser on the importance of honing the right messages as a means of winning elections for Democrats.  He speaks as articulately as anyone on the national stage about how to do that.  This is the third of the four candidates running for Chair whom we have interviewed. 

Read on for the full interview.  Or check out our recent interviews with other candidates Greg Rodriguez and Kat Overman. Tomorrow we'll have our interview with incumbent Paul Berendt.

Q: What have you been doing to revitalize the Democratic Party in this state?

BP: I came to this state in 1993 after working in Democratic politics in Louisiana.  I was VP of the LSU College Democrats and then a statewide organizer for the College Democrats.  I learned how to take people out of the realm of spectator and move them into the realm of active participant. 

That's also where I learned about message.  In 1991 I defeated David Duke.  As Democrats, we struggled to get our message out.  We had to find something that worked to move our numbers against Duke but didn't violate our Democratic principles.

I moved to Washington State in 1993, was active in several campaigns and became Chair of the 21st

Legislative District in 2002. In that role I focused on building a bench of new leaders and developing messages that work.  Last year I was on the Snohomish County Steering Committee for the Gregoire campaign.

Q: How would you sum up what you did or learned?

BP: The focus has to be on 'message, message, message'.  We need a message that resonates in the entire state.  The Republicans have built up Red walls around our Blue Towers.  We've tried to build those towers higher but it doesn't always work.  In the 21st century we need to dismantle that Red wall. 

The Governor's race is an example.  It should not have been that close.  I know that the State Party could have done a better job of reaching out to Independents. 

Q: What would you do as State Chair?

BP: I would start by establishing a physical presence in Eastern Washington.  I would also take advantage of the new people who've just become involved, listening to them, valuing their opinions and their participation. 

I want us to focus on local races in the off-years and build a bench of Democrats on the school boards, in the city council, as mayors.

Then I want to make sure everyone is trained and has a role. We need really good PCO training.  We don't win without good PCO's.  I also want a paid Party representative at every meeting in the State; someone who will be there to listen and observe; someone who can call me at a moment's notice for a decision or opinion. 

Q:  Why should you be the Chair?

BP: First off, I'm a Vince Lombardi Democrat.  I believe that winning is everything.  Next,
being from Louisiana, I speak Southern.  I know how to communicate with the folks who aren't always with us.  And, I will be the most accessible, communicative Chair in state history.

Q:  How would you involve the other candidates if you win?

BP: If I win, I would like all of the other candidates involved.  I have roles in mind for each of them, things they would be really good at but I also want to hear from them of course.

greg_rodriguez.jpgGreg Rodriguez is passionate about becoming Chair and using that position to get the state Party running smoothly.  He is the first of the four candidates for Washington State Democratic Party Chair we interviewed.  Read on for the full interview, and if you have questions or comments, feel free to post them below... who knows, maybe Greg will even jump in and answer them himself!

Check back in later this week for interviews with Kat Overman, Bill Phillips and incumbent Chair Paul Berendt.

Q: What have you been doing to revitalize the Democratic Party in this state?

GR: Most recently I've been Chair of the King County Democratic Party.  I was in charge of financial operations for two years before that.  In both roles, I streamlined operations.  I have a background in operations and I'm compulsive about efficiency.

So we got the King County financial structure in good working order and then did the same with the technology systems.  We developed a good web presence and focused on getting accurate data in our databases.  We trained the staff and did good caucus training.  We were one of the first to institute an email alert system.  That's old hat now but it wasn't then.

Q: How would you sum up what you did or learned?

GR: In King County, we got everything running like clockwork.  We built a base and established a direction for where the County Party would go.

Q:  What would you do as State Chair?

GR: We need to approach this in a much more businesslike fashion.  We need people who can build a team and bridge different agendas. People have different skills; let's put that to work

I see the state Party providing the resources: training, messaging and techniques, much like a franchise.  The different county Parties can make use of that as they like.  In addition, the State Party will develop an on-going statewide field operation, increasing our presence in areas we haven't been in before.

We need to think like a business.  That means having a business plan.  Then we think like a business.  How do we grow our business? We take our safe blue areas and expand those.  We keep people engaged.  People are dying to have something to do.  We need to fund leadership training.

The Republicans started doing all this thirty years ago.  It shouldn't take us that long because we've laid the groundwork and we have what they did as a model. 

We also need better caucus training.  Last year the State provided a training video for the different counties and legislative districts. In King County, we developed a PowerPoint presentation to complement that and gave it to the other Democratic organizations.  I went out myself and did about 15 trainings based on the video and the PowerPoint presentations.  It was extremely successful.

We need to do the same thing with all aspects of field operations.  We can do very simple trainings to get people involved on an on-going basis -- things like how to write a letter to the editor, which issues are important on the state level, on the national level.  We can do regular messaging across the state.

Lastly, we need to develop alliances with other progressive organizations.  There is change afoot and we all need to be a part of it.   

Q:  Why should you be the Chair?

GR: This will take someone with management abilities, someone willing to work with others.  That's me.

Q:  How would you involve the other candidates if you win?

GR: I would seek out the other candidates for their input and utilize their ideas to make this Party stronger.  I already have strong ties with most of the candidates and would value their input.

I interviewed the four candidates for Chair of the Democratic Party in Washington State and I'll post those interviews one at a time over this next week. I was impressed. I asked them about their ideas for revitalizing the Party and left information about who is endorsing them and what they've done in their political lives for others to provide. The 46th District Democrats, in particular, have a thorough set of interviews on their site.

All four are focused on how to make use of what they've learned both from this last election cycle and from their years working in the Party.  Here's the short version. Check back over the next few days for the full interviews.

Paul Berendt has been Chair of the Washington State Democrats for the last ten years and has seen and made a lot of changes during that time. He carries both the institutional history and the institutional baggage of being in that role for that period of time. He understands that people have changed their relationship to the Party. They want to be more involved. They want greater control over the decision of the Party and more input into what it stands for.

Kat Overman has a wealth of varied political experience and is currently Legislative Assistant to State Representative Mike Sells of the 38th District. She is passionate about updating the Party's databases and about grassroots campaigning. She suggests finding local Democrats who can "tend their own little garden" of people in their neighborhood and thus rebuild the Party across the state from the ground up.

Greg Rodriquez, most recently the Chair of the King County Democrats, wants to approach running the Party in a much more businesslike fashion. He wants to get everything running like clockwork as he was able to do with the King County Democratic Club. He sees the need for building a team in the State Party and building alliances with other state progressive organizations. He sees what the Republicans have done over the last thirty years and thinks we can catch up in a relatively short time.

Bill Phillips
focuses on "message, message, message." He talks about the Republicans' red walls and our blue Towers and the need to dismantle those red walls by communicating messages that move Independent and moderate Republican voters but doesn't violate our Democratic principles. Coming from Louisiana, Bill says he speaks "Southern" and can communicate with voters who are not always with us.   

I don't know any of these folks well and don't know if they have the tactical ability to do what they say they want to do. The people in the Democratic State Committee do however know them and will, I trust, be voting accordingly.

That will happen on January 29th in Olympia at the annual reorganization meeting of the Washington State Democratic Party. A slate of officers for 2005-2007 will be elected after giving presentations to the 176 electors - the state committee folks from each county and each legislative district.

Once the Chair is elected, or reelected as the case may be, our job starts. We cannot leave the important business of running the Democratic Party to a small group of people.  The new Chair's success will depend on our on-going involvement and on that person's ability to keep the other candidates involved as well.

Our Very Own Republican Noise Machine

Driving home from the Inaugural events in Olympia last week, I saw the obnoxious flashing billboard north of Fife. "Dead people vote. Soldiers don't. Go to revotewa.com."

My first thought was "Get a life! It's over."   

But clearly the Republicans have different ideas. Undeterred by the certification of the Secretary of State, the insistence by the county auditors that all laws had been followed to the letter, and the final certification by the Legislature last Tuesday, the public campaign from the Republicans to de-legitimize the election continues. (See Carla's posting over at Preemptive Karma for details on just how unfounded the Republican allegations are.)   

What is this? Democratic AND Republican vote watchers were in every county every step of the way. Yes, we need voting reform just as the entire country does. It's a national disgrace.  And it was the first item Chris Gregoire called for in her Inaugural Address. But I think it's more than that.

Could it be that Washington State is just next on the Republican hit list? These guys -- and by this I mean the national Republican operatives who are camped out in Bellevue -- play by a set of rules that Democrats still don't understand. Their tactics are aimed at keeping their opponents off-guard. They do not care much about democracy or the rule of law. They are out to win.

Democrats in Texas had no idea what was coming when Karl Rove engineered George Bush's win in 1994 against the popular Ann Richards with whisper campaigns about her being a lesbian or lies about her failure to stem crime in the state. Read "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Make George W. Bush Presidential" to get the whole picture and to understand the tactics of this new breed of Republicans led by Karl Rove. It is not pretty. They still weren't prepared in Texas when Tom DeLay forced through the mid-decade re-districting plan that cost Democrats five Congressional seats in Texas last fall.

And we know that Democrats didn't realize what a recall of Gray Davis in California might mean or how to fight it.   

Thus far Democrats at the state level are even more clueless about Republican tactics than national Democrats. We need a national Democratic SWAT team that can come into the states on a moment's notice once we realize that national Republican operatives have arrived.

So why Washington State and why Chris Gregoire in particular?

"Bush's Brain" describes how Rove attacks any up and coming Democratic politician early to sideline them from state or national prominence. Until this close race, Gregoire was seen as a potential national star.  Now she has a big hump to get over to reach that status again.

But it is more than that.  Gregoire is a closet progressive in a state with progressive leanings. I worked full-time as a volunteer on her campaign last year and this only occurred to me now. She doesn't present herself as a progressive, unlike Ron Sims for example. I doubt she would even consider herself one. But her agenda is unrelentingly progressive and she has been very effective. In particular, as Attorney General, over and over again Chris went after major corporations and the federal government to hold them accountable and prevent them from taking advantage of regular folks.

With a Democratic Legislature to back her up, Gregoire could be a force to be reckoned with and this state could show the nation what a progressive alternative to the Republican business-run government can look like. 

No wonder national money from business groups flowed into the state to stop her. No wonder the national Republicans are strategizing behind the scenes for Dino Rossi and Chris Vance and whipping up emotions through talk radio shows and flashy billboards.  This is the great Republican noise machine in action, designed to distract us and keep us from making government work in this state.

Let's keep that from happening. 

The Challenge - Dedication to Revitalizing Our Democracy

After the debacle of the 2002 mid-term elections, I began to talk about how the right-wing Republicans had rebuilt their party starting in 1964 after the huge Goldwater loss. It had taken them 38 years of brick by brick building but they pulled out a big win and they had the structure and organization and vision to continue. I began to see that progressive Democrats would have to do the same and that we would each have to dedicate a portion of the rest of our lives to this task.

Many people working together with similar ideas about this revitalization enabled the Democratic-leaning organizations to achieve relative financial parity and the beginning of structured grassroots organization for the first time in decades. 

Yet we still lost despite all the money, all the new energy, all the expectation and hope.

In the cold aftermath, along with the confusion and anger, there remains a resolve that has the potential of becoming that dedication. If it coalesces properly, that dedication can carry us to a new national majority. To pull it off, we need to re-capture the national conversation, focus it on the real values of progressive democracy and use it to create a moral consensus. This will require a common understanding of our core democratic/progressive values, a willingness to listen to and dialogue with others of varying political persuasions and an ability to frame the discussion to focus on the real issues.

It will also have to be driven by a conviction that this all matters.  It is conviction that will drive our ability to remember how to individually and collectively learn and relearn to do those things we need to do to revitalize our democracy and recapture the national discussion. We have left these tasks to our Party and elected officials and we know now that it was not sufficient. Many more of us have to be and remain involved.

So, I issue a public challenge. As a new writer on a new progressive political blog, I ask, "Are you willing to dedicate a portion of the rest of your life to rebuilding democracy in this state and in this country in whatever way best suits you? Are you willing to work with others to make that happen and not leave it only to the leaders? Are you willing to build the influence muscles that allow you to be successful in this endeavor?" 

For my part, I've taken on the task of chronicling that rebuilding in this state and nudging it forward in whatever ways that a measure of public recognition via this blog and a predilection for bridge-building and networking gives me. I will be focusing a lot on the revitalization of the Democratic Party in this state because, flaws and all, I think it is still our best vehicle for advancing a progressive agenda. To that end, I am beginning by interviewing the candidates for Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party and will be posting their thoughts about the revitalization of the Party here over the next week. 


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