Monday, April 14, 2014

Some thoughts on where we are and WHO we are and WHAT we are as Democrats.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a discussion with a friend who is also an elected official.  My friend suggested, with good reason, that next year, when there are NO partisan elections, that we have a retreat or gathering with as many of us who consider ourselves to be Democrats gather to discuss just what we mean when we say we are Democrats.

Part of our problem, at least on a statewide basis, is that so many Democrats wanted to run from what it meant to be a NATIONAL Democrat, since that involved discussions of race and what we were as Democrats prior to 1964.  We had Democrats in the rural areas that wanted no part of the Democrats of the urban areas that brought them statewide victories.  Many of them retired or got beat in response to the election of Barack Obama as President.

Also as much as no one wanted to admit it, there were (and ARE) urban Democrats who wanted no part of the rural Democrats that enabled us to control the General Assembly for 140 years, along with the machinery of state government.

The true fact, as far as I am concerned, Democrats are not all ANYTHING.  We are a polyglot, with white, black, brown, straight, gay, transgender, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, with the occasional Buddhist thrown in for good measure.  The Republicans have spent the last 40 years attacking any position left of far right, much less left of center.  In the process, they have done their best to destroy harmony in this country, marginalizing centrist Republicans and forcing moderates like Lamar Alexander to kowtow to the further of the right.

However, due to this situation, as many of us struggle with how to move the country's true center back TO the center, we face a struggle within our own ranks.  These pop up especially in the primaries.

Those of us that sit on the Executive Committee must understand (and I include myself) that we are not the Party, but merely represent it.  Those who vote in primaries are the ones who truly can call themselves Democrats, and we have to figure out A) why so many Democrats refuse to take part in the primary process and B) just what it is that they want for their candidates.

And, C) why it appears that white candidates feel that they can't win primaries, and D) why African-Americans feel that white Democrats won't vote for African-Americans in county general elections.

Both of these are, in my opinion, overreactions.  Both of the men named Harold Ford could not have been elected without white support, and Steve Cohen could not have been elected without African-American support.  Indeed, I find that when it comes to elections involving actual issues and policy, such as executive races (Mayor, Sheriff) or legislative, all Democrats vote together.

That, above all else, is why ALL Democrats need to gather next year.  I intend to work behind the scenes for this as we move through the year.

Here's something to consider:  Regarding clerkship races, white Democrats often see no difference in policy, and many of them believe that court clerkships should be appointed by the judges of those jurisdictions rather than be elected.  I have said this before, and will keep saying it.  Clerkship races tend to be more about the number of jobs that can be hired than any policies that need to be reviewed. This is why we lose white Democrats at that point in the ballot.  That, and the face that we lose all types of Democrats that far down the ballot.

One of the problems that African-American candidates face is that, while activists like myself know these candidates, the average voters do not.  I can help to a certain extent, but if you plan to run countywide, you had better be able to raise at least $50,000 or you aren't going to have a chance to beat an incumbent.   Why?  Because you need to be able to do direct mail to Democrats, especially white Democrats.  If you have sent mail pieces to white Democrats, that makes it far more likely that they will greet you warmly when you do targeted door-to-door.   (I had a candidate once ask me this very thing several years ago).  We are, in fact seeing this more often, as I am starting to get mail pieces from all Democratic candidates.

As familiarity increases, so will the number of victorious Democratic candidates.  This leads me to my next topic.

As Democrats, we need to stop beating each other up in public.  (Waits for the tomatoes to be thrown).  I understand my own role in this, and work to do better.  To those who are candidates in the primary, I want to know not only why you are the best Democrat, but to know how you will beat the Republican you will face in the general.

And once we have completed this process, we have to work together and elect Democrats.  You may not like whom the Democratic electorate has selected as the candidate, but we have to respect that choice, regardless, because, to paraphrase Hyman Roth, this is the Party we have chosen.

This, too, is why I hope that we, as a Party Executive Committee, do NOT choose to endorse in the non-partisan judicial races.  If we wish to identify those who have voted more in the Democratic primaries, that's one thing.  Choosing between Democrats is not OUR job, it's the electorate's job, and we had better respect that.  It also takes focus away from our primary function: to assist the NOMINEES of the Party with their elections.  Also, as I know (and have DONE in the past), the ExecCom members will help whomever they please, as it's a NON-PARTISAN election.  ENDORSEES are NOT NOMINEES, now or ever.

With regard to Party Discipline, we have to be judicious and select the proper time for such matters, which is NOT the same thing as suggesting that we have NO discipline.   We can move forward from here.

I also have to say that Bryan Carson is doing an amazing job of juggling all the various groups within the party, and those of us who have been around for a while need to be there for him more than we have been.  He's doing a fine job right now, and he continues to bust his butt to elect Democrats.

It's time to work for the primary candidate of your choice, and then support whichever nominee is chosen by the Democratic electorate.

And let's think always about how to INCREASE that Democratic electorate.

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