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January 11, 2006

Unity Coalition Candidate Forum

This last Sunday, Carpenters’ Hall in Renton was jammed with people who came to hear the five remaining candidates for Democratic Party Chair talk and take answers from a panel of Party caucus chairs.  It was a very good opportunity to distinguish between the five, learn from all of them about what is needed to improve the State Party and then talk afterwards with folks about their impressions. 

The Candidates’ Forum was new on two counts.  It was open to all, not just those 173 or so LD and County Chairs and Vice Chairs and few other folks who will be voting.  This was much appreciated.  People came from all over western Washington with a few from eastern Washington as well. 

In fact, I read at Washblog that the Forum was so successful that folks in eastern Washington are going to hold a similar Candidate Forum on January 21st.

It was also new because it was the first time the Unity Coalition had flexed its muscles and it worked.  The questions came from a panel of State Caucus Chairs, people who had been working for years to organize African Americans or Hispanic or women or Jews or people with disabilities in the Democratic Party without feeling like they were having much impact.  Together they were heard at this forum, their issues were raised and addressed respectfully and sincerely, and the entire slate of candidates talked about issues that mattered to the Coalition as a whole.   As well as to all of us. 
 
Luis Moscoso, State Party Secretary did a great job of organizing it and then moderated the event.  It worked top to bottom.  For those who missed the forum and want more than I provide after the fold, TVW videotaped the proceedings and will be airing them periodically. 

Zack Hudgins, State Representative from the 11th District, which includes Renton, opened up the forum.  Zack said that when he is asked what kind of Democrat he is, he says he is a big tent Democrat and it is important to think about everyone’s ideas.

Luis then talked for a few moments.  He said he that the Unity Coalition was united in the commitment to build a stronger Party.  He talked about the need for the Party to do the following:

• Work toward a leadership that reflects the membership of the Party and provides more resources to develop that leadership
• Do a better job of outreach to and the organizing of communities of color and other constituency caucuses and promote the Party as a party of all people
• Develop a more succinct process to establish dialogue with all  the officers and raise issues important to the Unity Coalition
• Take advantage of the firm standing of the Party that Paul Berendt has created to fully realize our potential

He then introduced Sam Garst, a former national leader in the Democratic Party, who introduced the candidates and moderated the Candidate Forum portion of the event.

The five candidates as of Sunday were Jean Brooks, Bill Harrington, Mark Hintz, Dwight Pelz and Laura Ruderman. 

• Jean Brooks is the feisty, experienced Party Chair from Pierce County.  Jean has been on the University Place city council since 1995 and was honored this year with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Magnuson Awards. 
• Bill Harrington is a steady progressive with a lovely mane of white hair and matching beard.  He is currently Chair of the 2nd LD and has managed several campaigns, including Initiative campaigns.
• Mark Hintz is the new comer on the block, the relatively new Chair of the Snohomish County Democrats, formerly Chair of the 44th.  Word is that the organizations he chairs tend to be good at grassroots organizing and fundraising.
• Dwight Pelz is an articulate, long-time progressive who was a community organizer for 15 years and an elected official for 15 years.  Most recently he represented south Seattle on the Seattle City Council.   
• Laura Ruderman is a former Microsoft executive who served as a Representative from the 45th LD for several years and then ran for Secretary of State in 2004. 

Each candidate introduced himself or herself; leaders of each of the Unity Coalition caucuses asked a question which each candidate responded to; and then each candidate had three minutes to sum up their thoughts about why he or she should be elected Chair.  All five candidates had strong progressive credentials and responded well to the needs of the caucuses that Luis and the caucus leaders expressed.

Here are some highlights: 

Laura Ruderman is a hoot.  She is not only articulate and capable of talking about any subject on a dime, she is funny and personable.  Laura represented an eastside district that had not elected a Democrat in years until she won it in 1998.  She touts her relationships with big donors and her ability to raise money, her focus on listening, communicating and getting the Party organized, and her ability to appeal to moderate Republicans.  She talked in particular about finding organizations in rural areas to partner with, about providing leadership opportunities to caucus leaders and about actively involving all groups.

Dwight Pelz is sharp, disciplined and impressive.  He is definitely a fighter and pulls no punches about his thoughts on what the Democrats need to do to win and why they need to win.  Despite some buzz about Dwight being too much of a street fighter, what he said clearly worked for the folks in the audience.  No one received more applause than he did.  His all-consuming focus on strengthening the Party short-term and long-term resonated sharply.  He tied the need to communicate consistently with all constituencies to the fact that Republicans don’t care.

Mark Hintz is strongly focused on teamwork and working together to organize all groups and constituencies to unify and strengthen the Party.  Hintz has worked primarily in the private sector and has managed a large staff, something he seems to have transferred to his organizing work in Snohomish County.  He talked about proactively reaching out to the caucuses and other groups, working with them to determine what they need to thrive and then providing it.  He spoke about setting goals to bring constituents into the Party and providing appropriate representation on the Central Committee and other Party organizing structures.

Bill Harrington has been focusing on grassroots organizing for a long time and clearly has a record of supporting progressive causes going back years.  He talked about the need for the Democratic Party to regain its primacy in backing Democratic candidates which means the LDs need to learn how to raise money, get our message out, and develop a strong bench of candidates.  He would hold meetings to talk about up-and-coming leaders at every level of involvement in order to proactively support emerging leaders.

Jean Brooks is an experienced politico who has worked for the Party in many different capacities, including a dozen years in eastern Washington. She has a tremendous respect for the base of this party.  She has also worked at the University level and has long-time experience and sensitivity in implementing diversity.   She talks about meeting with the caucuses and inviting leaders of the caucuses to attend the E-Board.  She also talks about going to the base in each LD to hear their thoughts on what needs to be done to build the Party from the ground up.    

Luis was clear in the beginning that the goal of the Candidate Forum was not to endorse any particular candidate but rather to hear how each one addressed issues of importance to the Unity Coalition in particular and to the functioning of the Party as a whole.  It was a great event.  Each candidate spoke to a commitment to pay attention to the issues raised if elected.  After this resounding success, I expect that the Unity Coalition will stay on the job once the new Party Chair is elected, continuing to make their needs known and contributing their strengths to the building of a far more unified Party. 

Great event; great timing.      

Posted by Lynn Allen on January 11, 2006 at 10:32 AM in Inside Baseball | Permalink

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Comments

Great recap Lynn. I have also posted other blog recaps and emails from group postings on my website at http://www.gregrodriguez.com/UnityForumReview.htm

Hopefully this will help people with one central location to view all of this for a very important race.

Greg

Posted by: Greg Rodriguez | Jan 11, 2006 2:43:31 PM

Regarding your observation that " It was open to all, not just those 173 or so LD and County Chairs and Vice Chairs and few other folks who will be voting." COunty Chairs and Vice-Chairs will have no vote in the election of the new state party chair. Each LD and county has elected one committeeman and one committee woman to represent them at the state central committee, those are the 176 people who will vote to elect the new chair on Jan 28.

Not all of the candidates for chair recognize that the central committee people are elected to represent their members from the local organizations, and not all LD and county Bylaws are written to make this clear. However, state committee representatives are elected every 2 years from the members of their local groups, and if they are not representing the consensus of the group they may be unelected (or in some cases recalled even earlier if bylaws provide for it).

Likewise this new chair will run for reelection next winter after all the local groups have their bi-annual reorganization meeting.

Posted by: Anita Latch | Jan 14, 2006 11:39:54 AM

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