On choosing a party chair : it's not just about electing Democrats

I’ve posted this on the facebook page Candidate Forum for Election of Chair of Washington State Democrats and am posting it here as well. I hope a candidate will emerge that wants to make the party live up to its potential.

• We need a candidate [to replace departing state chair Dwight Pelz] who will articulate our party’s message effectively and forcefully. It is time to end the accommodation of Reaganism and to make that point clearly every time we are offered a microphone. Individual campaigns cannot be expected to engage in transformational politics, that is the party’s job, and it is a role that it has abdicated, while the GOP has embraced it. We need to move the Overton Window to the left, and we need a chair who understands how to do that. Our seeming disdain to forcefully oppose (with more than a resolution against) initiatives based on a right-wing viewpoint- such as Top Two and all of Eyman’s- is just one way we have fallen short.

• Another role the party has not been doing as well as it can is interest aggregation. We need to bring the interest groups that make up our party together and forge a positive vision of a future that will benefit all. Hammer out our differences, embrace our shared values, and go forward TOGETHER. One big obstacle to this is the lack of faith different groups have that the party can actually accomplish much. Which brings me to my final and most important point.

• The biggest failing of our party is clearly in its inability to hold elected Democrats accountable to our platform and values. Sen Feinstein’s recent statements along the lines that she “knows better” than us rabble are truly disgusting but not as much of an outlier as we’d like to believe. One of the biggest assets our party has is that the rank-and-file DO embrace those values, yet we continually disappoint them. Many have already left, and many disaffected young people (a HUGE potential asset) avoid us because of what may be the biggest problem we face, even bigger than Reaganism, the idea that “There is no difference between the parties.” My friend Mark Dudzik, who headed the Labor Party upon Tony Mazzochi’s passing a decade ago, is now doing his utmost to work for labor and single-payer health care within our party. He heads Labor for Single Payer, and co-chairs PDA’s “Healthcare for All” issue team. His (along with Katherine Isaac’s) analysis of whether it is time for another try at a Labor party, “Labor Party Time? Not Yet,” is a long, but educational read. This is part of what he has to say under the heading of “Reform the Democratic Party,” and it hits the nail on the head.

 … neither of the two major parties has a structure that would hold them accountable to a living, breathing constituency. Rather, the parties exist in the ether as a series of unaccountable relationships between funders, candidates, and interest groups. Instead of accountability to masses of voters, and especially since the rise of neoliberalism, the overriding allegiance is to a globalized capitalism whose interests trump all other concerns. …

While I do not think it will be a simple process to rein in our unaccountable officials, we really have no choice. Our base will NOT stand for the Democratic Party becoming the moderate Republicans of 40 years ago, nor would they survive it. It is not just labor that will revolt.

I think an excellent first step would be creation of a statewide Legislative Action Committee. It would provide a means to activate and build our grassroots base. We have many good elected official now, this would enable us to identify them to our base and provide them more help. We have many that are falling short of the mark and making it impossible to achieve the kinds of victories that could flip red areas of our state (and I am not just talking about Tom and Sheldon). A significant expansion and activation of our base is a prerequisite to any change from money-oriented campaigns to people-oriented campaigns.

I will be looking for a candidate for chair who understands the importance of this and will work to make it happen. In our state charter, the first two reasons for the party’s existence are:
1. Adopt and promote statements of policy to serve as standards for Democratic elected officials and goals for the people of the state.
2. Nominate and assist in the election of Democratic candidates at all levels who support the goals of the Party.

It’s not just about “electing Democrats.” We have to be able to tell the difference.

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