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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.


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