Washington State Politics

A hard question for state chair candidates

I attended the candidates forum for the chair of the state Democratic Party Sunday (see report), and there was one issue which the candidates did not directly address:

As party chair, how would you balance the needs of the progressive and centrist wings of the party?

On the left, many voters are disillusioned with what they perceive as the “corporatism” and lack of backbone of the Democratic Party. They’re attracted to candidates like Kshama Sawant.

On the right, many voters prefer candidates like Rodney Tom who are Democrats in name only. Besides, voters voted almost two to one in 2010 against I-1098, the high earners’ income tax initiative. And face it: to get elected, candidates need to raise money. Democrats can’t be too liberal, especially outside urban areas.

Obviously, the party needs to work to win back voters who feel the party has moved too far to the right, and it needs to market a more progressive message so that voters stop voting against their own self-interest.  But the party still needs to respect the need to get elected and not over-reach.

As party chair, how will you handle this divide between the progressives and centrists?  And how will you work to prevent people like Rodney Tom from taking over the party?



4 Replies to “A hard question for state chair candidates

  1. The job of the State Chair is to build the local organizations, whether urban progressives or rural centrists. Let the local Party organizations use the persuasion that best suits their needs. The State Party’s overall task should be to get as many grassroots Democrats as possible actively engaged in politics. The direction our Party will take will not depend on what kind of politics the Chair promotes as much as the direction – left or right – the national discourse is flowing.
    And it has already begun to move to the left, with our state at the forefront.
    We can see this shift in the swing toward marriage equality, the liberalization of marijuana laws, the movement to increase the minimum wage and the concerns about income disparity. Each of these issues has become a potent political issue across the nation. And although the movement is not uniform from state to state, still we can see that however much it has changed, the overall direction of change is to the progressive left. Even in the face of popular reactionary efforts – like California’s Prop 8 – the movement toward marriage equality has prevailed.
    It is safe to predict that here in our state we will see, and the State Democratic Party will deal with, a comparable shift affecting the full range of our own internal political preferences. What centrists have recently thought of as unthinkable are now the rule of the day. What progressives only agitated for is fete accompli.
    This change means that America’s political battle has already shifted away from the conservative playing field and into the field where we have the stronger arguments. Now the conservatives will have to explain why it is best to end unemployment compensation. Let them tell the country why the Affordable Care Act should be abolished. It is the GOP’s chore to defend their refusal to follow the State Supreme Court’s order to provide funding for our schools that meets Constitutional requirements.
    The message here is that we are all going leftward. If our new Chair does her job properly we will be looking at the hypothetical this question asks from a new perspective – one where every new Democratic vote from every community in the State will be a vote for progress.
    Not to worry. This is not a hard question at all. Build the local Party organizations and they will take care of this matter.

  2. Jeff, well said.

    So, what you’re saying is: just let change take its natural course. Don’t try to push the river. No need to push for progressive values or for the platform.

    I don’t buy it.

    For example, what about cases like Rodney Tom, Tim Sheldon, and (to a lesser degree) other Democrats who promote Republican-friendly policies such as attacks on unions, and tax breaks for rich corporations? Should the party leadership turn a blind eye to such betrayals? If it does, even more progressives will flee the party.

    The examples you gave of progressive victories are mostly on social issues, not economic issues. The Party has mostly been followers, not leaders, when it comes to economic issues such as the fight for the minimum wage. Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the nation, but our legislators and the governor are hardly working towards fixing it. In fact, many of their actions have worsened it. Many people in the labor movement feel betrayed by the party as well.

    The party has a wonderfully progressive platform, but many legislators ignore it.

    Unless the party imposes some discipline, people will continue to leave the party and work with people like Kshama Sawant.

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