« "Republicans in Disarray" – The New Meme? | Main | Patty - Some Explanations Would Be Helpful »

December 08, 2005

Paul Berendt Retires at Top of Game

Berendt has great timing.  He’s been of tremendous help rebuilding the Democratic Party in this state – from the terrible blows of the 1994 election through the difficult court case following last year’s gubernatorial race. 

But the top down, “you’re either with me or against me” skills of this last era are the wrong ones for what is coming now.  Now we need a Party Chairman/Chairwoman who can rally the base for the grassroots and technologically savvy campaign we desperately need to stay blue and extend that blueness into the red and purple areas.

Paul was one of the first Democrats in this state to support Howard Dean, first as President then as DNC Chair. He sees and understands the future but he hasn't seemed to want to change the way he plays the game.  So, even though he's been a Dean supporter, the state Party has not been in alignment with the changes the national Party is working through.    

So, my hat is off to Paul.  He is going out as he said, “at the top of my game” and it is up to us to build on the considerable legacy he has left us and to bring the state Party into alignment with the actual way that the DNC is working these days. It's a tremendous challenge. Now let's find the team that can do the job. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 8, 2005 at 09:14 AM in Inside Baseball | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:


I always wondered why Berendt, who supported Dean way early, did not move to adopt some of the Dean campaign inovations, like using blogs and social software.

Posted by: Emmett O'Connell | Dec 8, 2005 11:54:42 AM

He is a friend and was a constant source of inspiration to me. I hope this is not the end of his political career and the Washington state Democratic party and the State it self is better off because of his leadership. We are going to miss "Gorby".

Posted by: Jacob Metcalf | Dec 8, 2005 3:01:38 PM

I wish someone could explain what "technologically savvy" means because it usually comes off as part of a string of corporate world vagueries that translates to "I have no idea what I'm talking about."

Posted by: FFAristocrat | Dec 8, 2005 4:31:46 PM

He may be at the top of his game, but his top wasn't very high. I have no idea how much he contributed to the extraordinary ineptness of Gregoire's 2004 campaign, but he certainly contributed greatly toward her recount problem by his support for the Republicans' attack on the top-two primary (both in litigation and in the Legislature). If we had had the top-two primary in 2004, instead of the "Montana primary", we would not have had Ruth Bennett drawing so many thousands of votes that Rossi ended up very close. And the extremely bad reporting of contributions to the PDC, resulting in big fines, was certainly his responsibility. And the whole Dean thing was dumb; he, representing the party, shouldn't have taken such a premature and not-well-considered position in favor of Dean for President.

Posted by: Steve | Dec 8, 2005 4:39:05 PM

I am an employee in the tech dept of the state party. I am currently in DC, attending a training at the DNC. I want to say that the charge that the State Party is not "technically savvy" is way off base.

As I talk to members of other state parties, I realize how far ahead we are of other states. Paul greatly supported the creation of our own Voterfile system, as opposed to using a vendor system that we continually had problems with. The creation of our own Voterfile system allows us to taylor it to Washington's needs. No system is perfect (hence the use version numbers in all software), and the creation of our own system allows us to continually change it, as needs change and as we get feedback from all of you.

In other states, PCOs and grassroots volunteers do not have the ability to use the Voterfile, add to it, and pull lists. Paul gave PCOs the ability to do this.

Thank you Paul for all your hard work!

Posted by: Misty Shock | Dec 8, 2005 4:57:02 PM

>>I am an employee in the tech dept of the state party. <<

I guess there is a certain point where enough is enough. I wondered if someone from the state party would jump in all these discussions. After all, their jobs are at stake.

I try not to come off too defensive about criticism about the state party but I talk to their tech director Mehall quite often so I know the frustrations and difficulties they have to deal with. Problems I don't think many critics realize exist.

He helped run the Murray operation, which I don't think anyone has anything to complain about, and the rest of that crew is running the coordinated for Cantwell/2006. So really, what is there to complain about? The finest field operation in the history of Washington State is doing Cantwell's field effort. What *is* the issue?

People need to remember that the state party isn't some ensconced imprenetreble fortress in the heart of darkness in Olympia where communication can only be had through pre-arranged channels.

They have an downtown Seattle office in Pioneer Square with a very competent staff that's been happy to help me on the occasions I've asked and very nice tech director that's put up with all my requests for data. If you want to have a dialogue with them, send an e-mail. Or just show up and ask. Lord knows they've been patient with all the times I've shown up unannounced. It's that easy. Really. Go to their contact page and send an e-mail.

In closing, Gregoire was close because she ran an terribly inffective campaign against an opponent who basically ran a perfect campaign for Washington State. It had nothing to to do with the coordinated because she contributed nothing to it. Fortunately, she's a much better Governor than she was a candidate so I guess all is well.

Posted by: FFAristocrat | Dec 8, 2005 9:35:49 PM

When I say things like "tech savvy" I mean to refer to building community online, encouraging dialogue, providing avenues for engagement. Sound buzz wordy enough? Specifically, I mean what the Dean campaign did for a lot of us, what Andrew Rasiej and Scott Chacon tried to do, and what Peter Ashdown (especially) is doing in Utah.

Posted by: Emmett O'Connell | Dec 8, 2005 10:32:32 PM

Most things that get bounded about are tech for tech's sake and I think there's a fundamental misunderstanding of what the state party's role is in the scheme of things to boot.

My biggest pet peeve is the palm pilots thing. Sure, if you're a tiny campaign with one tech-savvy volunteer, I'm sure it works great. But for a field operation of any size, they're impractical, expensive and unscalable. Yet Microsoft-types with no campaign experience continue to insist the lack of PDAs is somehow a failing of the party. And of course, they talk loudly and have blogs. So there's this perception of a huge problem when really there's just a couple cranks who are upset they're not getting their way. (East KC Dems anyone?)

Finally, Dean lost. Accept it. Deal with it. I did. Let's not hold his campaign up as a model for "how things should be" lest we lose in a similarly spectacular fashion, mmkay? I think his campaign's infatuation with blogs was a huge component for neglecting basic field work in Iowa.

Posted by: FFAristocrat | Dec 8, 2005 11:18:01 PM

It sounds like there is some very good progress coming from the state Democratic Party. Wonderful.

I refer FFAristocrat to a previous post here about just how a good techno-savvy campaign, combined with a good grassroots campaign made a big difference in the recent NJ Governor's race. It matters. And until we can compete satisfactorily with the well-financed, well-organized Republicans, we have more work to do.

Posted by: Lynn | Dec 9, 2005 7:57:37 AM

"Finally, Dean lost. Accept it."

You mean DNC Chair Howard Dean? That guy?

He does not seem like a looser to me.

Posted by: Jacob Metcalf | Dec 9, 2005 12:46:56 PM

I don't know if people appreciate what an unusual (and good ) situation Washington Dems had with Paul.

Most states have party chairs who are either a) wannabe or has been politicos who use the job to run for office or b) incomptent hacks who last a year or two then get replaced by another, similar hack.

Washingotn was lucky to have someone who focused on what parties can do well, eschew the abuse of the party structure for a personal political run for office, and who stuck with it for 11 years. When you consider how much has changed over the last 11 years in politics, tech, and society, as well as the record of other party chairs, here and elswhere, Paul comes out on top.

No one is perfect and I'm not suggeting Paul is - people are human after all. But he has done an incredible job of professionalizing the party's role as best anyone can do with a political party apparatus.

Now, as for who will replace him, who do you all want to see? Hopefully not a burnout politico who likes the sound of their own voice and can't raise money or organize and help support Demos across Washington State. Let's hope for the best, folks!

Posted by: Greg Dewar | Dec 9, 2005 1:29:51 PM

Paul always struck me as an effective leader. He will be missed.

Re the tech thing - I count myself as one of the hugely impatient advocates for tech wherever it can be implemented and used effectively. But I can't ignore that well over 25% of those over 65 ( a HUGE part of our party base - and an even bigger slice of our donor base) doesn't even have email, and won't. My LD chair doesn't - and won't even own an electric typewriter. Paul understands the tech gap.

So how can anyone run an organization with such a gap? Paul called my LD chair several times a week. Every week. Every month. I'm sure this was not unique. There are an awful lot of blank slots in the email column of the state leadership spreadsheet.

I can't begin to tell you how much progress has been made in Eastern WA by the party in the last 4 years. I think part of that is because Paul was good at understanding the very different characters and needs of Rural Eastern WA Democrats and the needs of Urban/Suburban Western Dems.

That we are a united organization, and so far ahead of much of the rest of the country on many fronts is not an accident.

But we are not done, and there's on hell of a lot of work yet to do. I wish Paul well and pray that we have the vision to elect a successor who understands the diversity of our party as well, and who serves the party with as much energy as he has.

Posted by: Ian Graham | Dec 10, 2005 1:45:45 AM

I'm loving this discussion....

My own take on the tech situation (and Paul's role in the creation of the VoterFile) is a basically positive one. Some of the technology involved is quite nice (especially the printing out of walking lists, labels and the uploading of info back into the system). Just the fact that it exists is testament to the fact the Paul at least had some kind of forward thinking vision of a state party infrastructure.

There are negatives, of course, but those discussions should be taken up with the people running the show. As was pointed out, the folks at the State Party are extremely friendly and willing to hear criticism.

And if you're qualified and don't mind doing volunteer work, I'm sure they'd give you a hand in building whatever fancy-ass feature you want to integrate into the database. If you want to send data updates via a PDA to the VoterFile, well, then just freakin' do it. It's not brain surgery and anybody who considers themselves a "computer person" should be able to do it.

I can't stand people who say things like "We should have PDA's and Community blogs and social networking and blah blah blah" and don't want to spend the time to just do it themselves and hand over the code to the State Party. These folks are hard-working and have bigger priorities than building a website to keep you occupied at work.

Posted by: Ben | Dec 10, 2005 8:48:48 AM

It should also be noted that Washington went from being a swing state that reflected national voting trends (1980,1992,1994) to a blue state that bucked the national trends (2002) under Berendt's watch.

Posted by: Mike Barer | Dec 11, 2005 12:14:44 PM

I too am loving this discussion and learning a lot about the specifics of what Paul has done. I will be talking to people so I can write up a detailed appreciation of Paul's tenure as well as write up interviews with as many of the people running for this very important and somewhat thankless job.

Posted by: Lynn | Dec 12, 2005 9:14:36 AM

Count me among those who laud Paul for the successes of the tech team in the Wa Dems. I got involved with the voterfile after the PCO training in 2002 on the day of the crab feed in Lacey. I invited then tech director Jeremy Sher to visit Mason County to train PCO's in use and updating of the voterfile. We trained 18 PCOs in Shelton that summer and if you want to talk technically reclined folks you can bet that many of the PCOs were retired folks who had to have help turning on the computer. Rep. Bill Eikmeyer and Marilyn Sayan grilled oysters while the PCOs learned how to update phone numbers and download walking or phone lists.

We had a great time but the point is that Washington does have THE BEST voterfile! Ours is up and running every day, all year, even off years when there is no Presidential or Congressional election! Unlike other states.

The voterfile allows the party to develop an institutional memory, so if a PCO moves or dies we don't loose all the information they have collected. But it is only as good as the work which goes into the input of data. I get very tired of hearing from people who kvetch about the lack of tech capacity in Washington but are not involved with developing the tech abilities in their own county or leg district. If you are not a PCO you can be a member of the committee in your precinct which the PCO is suposed to represent in the LD and County Dem orgs. Let's put the committee back in PCO!

And for all of the nay-sayers out there who whine about the lack of PCO input on tracking who is a Dem, or occasional ommision of individuals or even an entire precinct, what syatem is without bugs? Garbage in = garbage out. And if you're not putting data in then you are responcible for the garbage in your own precinct voterfile.

But don't get me started about the individual who has started his own datafile! And is charging candidates for access to walking lists and phone lists! Earning over $30,000 since the 2000 election when the rest of us are working to elect and support other Democrats as volunteers! (Clarification: I was an employee of the Coordinated Campaign for 5 months in 2004. I am a volunteer now and also was a volunteer while I lived in Mason County) And then this guy has the nerve to hold office as a state committeeman in the state central committee while charging his own legislative district a consulting fee.

Perhaps with a new chair such an abuse of position will not be tolerated.

Posted by: Anita Latch | Dec 13, 2005 12:58:39 AM

who are you refering to?

Posted by: dan | Dec 13, 2005 8:52:55 AM

I've heard a lot of complaints about Paul (especially from certain county/LD parties, who seem to want the state party to do all the work in raising money and then hand it over to the local parties to spend). I have my complaints, especially wrt the Dave Ross affair, but I honestly believe that Washington has the best-run state party in the country, and it's largely due to him.

Even if you don't know anything about the inside story, all you have to do is look at the results: we have a Democratic governor, a Democratic legislature, two Democratic Senators, and a majority of Democratic US House members. Not to mention the largest county and largest city in the state are controlled by Democrats (and the state party had more to do with that than most people here realize). There is no other state with that kind of record - the runners up would probably be Illinois and Massachusetts, where the base Democratic vote is much higher than here.

I think that, contrary to the sentiment expressed above, his "top down" organization is, and will continue to be, the most effective way to elect Democrats. People don't spontaneously come together and work miracles; they need leaders to make things happen.

And aside from that, Paul has not been an especially close-minded, power-hungry madman consumed with personal ambition, like people in his position tend to be. He has always done things with the goal of making Washington a better place to live.

There are some good potential replacements - Janet Miller might be the best, although she's not as well known as some others - but I'm pretty certain that Washington will be worse off when he leaves.

Posted by: Christopher Cramer | Dec 13, 2005 4:36:18 PM

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Paul Berendt Retires at Top of Game:

Post a comment