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February 19, 2007

State Democratic Party PCO Training

They started on time!  Who knew Democrats would begin on time? (I know, I know; I’m going to get a comment from Ivan berating my on-going questioning of Democratic Party logistical abilities.)  I drove down to the annual PCO Training and Crabfest in Lacey with Dinazina, a front-pager over at Washblog and we walked in 20 minutes late, time enough to get the Voter File Training but too late to hear the welcome by Party Chair Dwight Pelz.

I’m not going to give away secrets on what we actually learned in the day; I will focus more on the feel and the tone of the event.  I am passionate about making Democratic Party events more appealing – to bring out folks who are new to involvement in the Party and may have in the past gotten frustrated with trying to get involved in politics through the Party.   

I do have to say that I was inspired by the day.  This was not necessarily expected.  I have not been a big fan of the few state Democratic Party meetings that I’ve attended or of the crusty institutionalized thinking of the Party that I’ve seen, a very cool LD organizations excepted.  Here’s my report. 

Wes Beal – Technology Director

The Voter File is the master database that allows PCO’s (precinct committee officers) to pull off information about the voters in their district.  Stories about how out-of-date and badly managed the Voter File is are legendary.  Pretty much anyone who has worked on any of the Democratic campaigns has stories and questions about how frustrating they can be to work with. 

The Party has been on the case and there is obvious improvement.  There are also more improvements coming.  They are needed.  Wes Beal, the new Technology Director, walked folks through the process of getting on the Voter File and clarifying what the different codes mean.  When he mentioned that we could not yet use Firefox to pull information off the files, there was a round of groans from the audience.

The questioners were more focused on issues of strategy and communications than of the nuts and bolts of how to use the Voter Files.  Nice and welcoming as Wes is, the role of Technology Director does not include what the folks were asking for: how to connect to each other to assist campaigns and fill the holes that any campaign and Party organization will always have. 

I chased down Michael King, Communications Director for the state party, to ask him about developing a different strategy for involving folks in small discussion groups to pull out the contributions of people who want to help plug those holes.  I also talked with my friend, Rob Holland, new Chair of the 37th district, who says that the Chairs are likely to talk about involving people in less institutional ways at the upcoming Chairs meeting in a few weeks.  Yes, please.

Jaxon Ravens – Executive Director

Jaxon is a lively speaker.  He was up to talk about the delegate selection process for the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.  In the 2004 election cycle, 100,000 people showed up for the Washington state Democratic caucuses.  It overwhelmed the Party and they did not have a plan in place to make use of that energy.  Jaxon says that is different now.  There are already plans to make use of the folks who want to get involved in getting a Democrat elected to the Presidency and more Democrats in Congress.

Precinct caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 9th next year, relatively early in the primary season.  Washington will sent 97 delegates to the national convention along with 13 alternatives.  Of those delegates, 51 will be elected through the caucus process.  The remaining delegates are elected partially by the 51 caucus-elected delegates and partially by the winning nominee organization.

Jaxon was applauded when he talked about the preparations already being made to involve the numbers of folks who show up at the precinct caucuses.  He went on to clarify the process of how to run the caucus meetings and select the delegates who go on to the LD caucuses and then the county conventions and the congressional district conventions.  Plus the elected Democrats who are automatically included in the delegation.

Jaxon also promised that the platform issues will be addressed more effectively at the 08 state convention than they were at the 06 state convention.  (Applause from the audience.)

Dwight Pelz – State Democratic Party Chair

Dwight is liked by this audience.  He was not on the agenda at this time but Jaxon asked him to come up for a few minutes and he was applauded.  He talked about the varying strategies that the state is talking about to involve the people who attend the caucus meetings.   


Larry Phillips - King County Council Member

As usual, I hung out in the lobby talking with people I ran into, including Darcy Burner, who is due to speak later.  I came in just as Larry Phillips, was finishing up talking about why the grassroots matters.  He introduced the next speaker.

Aiko Schuaefer, Executive Director of the Statewide Poverty Action Network (SPAN)

One in five people in WA State are considered working poor.  That’s huge.  750,000 of people in Washington State earn $20,000 per year or less.  Only 48% of these folks vote vs. 77% of those earning more than $50,000.  If the folks who earned $20,000 or less voted at the same rate as those earning more than $50,000, we would have 30,000 more voters.

When SPAN did focus groups, they saw that the desire to vote decreases when a person doesn’t know what they are voting on and they don’t know which candidates reflect their views or know how topics affect their votes.  In addition, people in this demographic tend to move more. 

SPAN made a goal of increasing voters turnout by 2%. 

She said that the typical goal of political organizations is to focus on frequent voters.  Her contention was that if this population got the same level of attention, they would vote at a higher rate.  They decided to figure out how to get this to happen.  They realized they needed to talk about things that matter.  When they went out across the state, they went out to find out what was on the minds of the people they wanted to target.  They realized early on that folks in this demographic don’t always know about the differences between the Democratic party and the Republican party.  They also don’t understand how voting effects them directly.  How does it impact their ability to have more money or to get healthcare, for example?  They don’t see that anyone has their interest at heart. 

SPAN decided to try to build trust and create local leadership.  They talked about having their interests at heart.  It’s about being present, about seeing people as community members and being there beyond election day rather than seeing them as a means to moving your agenda. 

The other strategies the organization has focused on are to provide relevant, consistent, frequent and easy-to-understand information.  Aiko is particularly annoyed at the writing in the State Voter Information Guide and she knows that neither party doesn’t have a say in that.  SPAN is trying to get to where people are at.  For example, when they are providing a brochure about filling out government forms, they put a blurb on the back that says “They most important form you can fill out is the Voter Registration Form.” 

Tania Maria Rosario – Washington State Democratic Party Field Director

Tania is formerly the head of the Latino Vote Project in the State Party.  This is the first time the Party has had a Field Director in between elections.  Her role is threefold:  1) to continue to build the Latino vote, 2) leadership development and 3) growing the party, LD by LD.

Tania Maria worked with the PCO’s on strategy and tactics.  She encouraged participation and asked for ideas from the participants, both at the precinct level and the state level.  Her energy was remarkable and her presence on the staff indicates for me that the State Party is indeed dedicated to moving into a new era.

Michael Shadow – On Telling Your Story

Dwight introduced Michael by saying that he was going to be building on what PCOs heard at last year’s training on framing.

Michael reminded us that we debate stories, not facts, and gave examples from the war in Iraq.  “Stories always trump facts.”  He said that frames are the mental structures that people have.  They will take the facts and sift them through their frames. 

How do we know what the frames are for another person?  By the words they use.  Framing words express values.  They live deep within the synapses of each of us. 

Democrats use a different set of words than Republicans use.  Ultra-liberals and ultra-conservatives literally can’t understand each other because their frames are so critical.
What’s important when we are reaching out to other people is finding the frame that the other person has and then finding the commonality between their frame and our frame.

Michael talked about some research he did on the discussion in Olympia about budgets from 1980 forward.  In 1980, a Republican State Senator said “This issue is not about revenue.  It’s about spending.”  He was standing on the Senate floor in 2001 when he heard State Senator Dino Rossi say, “This issue is not about revenue.  It’s about spending.”  For over 20 years, the Republicans have won the framing war using the exact same frame over and over.  He said he has watched over and over again as the Democrats start out a session talking about Democratic frames and end the session responding to Republican frames.  He says it happens because the media picks up the frames of the Republicans which forces the Democrats’ hands. 

A frame consists of words, stories and visual cues.  He summed up the meaning for the PCO’s as they work their precincts.

Make your message clear.  74% of listeners tune out when they don’t understand what you are saying.  Give your listeners cues.  Get your audience to “lean-in” and then deliver THE MESSAGE.  You have only a few seconds to do this.  Here are his key points:

1.    Flatter your audience
2.    Unpack the story
3.    Why?  Because . . .
4.    Pause (to cue your audience)
5.    Let me say this:  (this is the verbal colon)

Darcy Burner – Candidate for Congress from the 8th CD in 2006

Darcy got far and away the biggest applause from this audience – plus a standing ovation. 

Darcy talked about how we rocked last year.  She talked about what she learned from the election.  After pouring over the precincts in the 8th CD, she says she has a strong sense of what our jobs are as active Democrats:

1.  Talk to your neighbors
2.  Politics is a team sport; play the game with a full team
3.  Be the conscious of the Party and our elected officials

The precincts that had active PCOs voted in higher numbers for her than the precincts that either had inactive PCOs or no PCOs at all.   The Democrats had active PCOs in only 25% of the precincts in this district.  The Republicans had active PCOs in 50% of the precincts. 

The 8th CD Democrats ran candidates in most of the legislative district and won half those seats – in an area that has historically been Republican.  However, there were no Democratic candidate in the 5th LD.  Neither seat was contested and there were a lot fewer Democratic votes cast there than anywhere else in the CD.  She challenged us to donate to candidates, to find people to run and, if necessary, to run ourselves – in order to spread the Democratic message.

She also challenged us to be the conscience of the Party and the country.  Once we've done the first two, then we hold our elected officials accountable. 

She said we can do it.  We can win everything we need to win.  But we have to be able to work as hard as the Republicans and they work hard.  She offered to call or email if you need help in convincing a candidate to run or convince a person to become a PCO. 

Dwight Pelz

Dwight reminded us of the mission statement of the Democratic Party in Washington State: elect Democrats.

Posted by Lynn Allen on February 19, 2007 at 04:20 PM in Policy, Strategery, Taking Action | Permalink


How can one berate a lovely woman who melts into his arms and embraces him warmly. Don't deny it, Lynn, there were witnesses.

Posted by: ivan | Feb 19, 2007 10:21:07 PM

Wow. I wish I'd been one of those witnesses!

Posted by: shoephone | Feb 19, 2007 11:27:26 PM

Aw, but then the irresistable Ivan would have had two lovely ladies to try to fit into his embrace.

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