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March 03, 2007

State Dems Come Alive

Person after person said that yesterday's Democratic State Party Chairs Meeting was the best Party meeting they h’d ever attended.  I was impressed with the level of active, enthused involvement.  I have often suggested that the State Party was like a large boulder in the middle of a fast-moving progressive stream that was moving around the boulder, wearing it down at a glacial pace, but essentially paying little attention to it.  The national Party and the local party organizations have been moving ahead, innovating technologically and developing tactics and strategies that have made them relevant but it sure hasn't looked that way at the State level.

Up until now.

The 120 or so folks, of all ages, present in that room were not just sitting, listening to ho-hum speakers or arguing over arcane platform issues.  They were engaged in problem-solving and developing strategies to build up the Democratic Party in every precinct in the state.

When I live-blogged the PCO Training a couple weeks ago, Dwight Pelz, Chair of the State Democratic Party, invited me to live-blog the Democratic Party Chairs€™ Meeting in Ellenburg this weekend.  It was an opportunity that I didn not feel I could pass up - opening up the process to Democrats across the state.  I'm very glad I went.


Dwight and Susie Sheary, Chair of the King County Democrats and currently Chair of the State Chairs, welcomed the group.  We went around the room and folks said who they were and where they came from.  Quickly.  Dwight then introduced the key Democratic staff present.

Dwight also announced that there will be a move nationwide to implement a new Voter File program interface.  Judging from the responses of the folks at the table I was sitting at, this is welcome news. 

Best Practices

Next up was a panel of three leaders of different types of Democratic organizations – Mark Hintz, Chair of the Snohomish County Democrats; Bob Esvelt, Chair of Stevens County; and Becky Lewis, past Chair of the 48th LD. 

Becky talked about how she built the 48th LD Democratic up, based on excellent work that the previous Chair had done.  She talked about recruiting PCO’s, building a core team of E-Board volunteers, and finding a great fund-raiser.  Delegate.  Delegate.  Delegate, she said.  She talked about the need for improving credentialing for the caucus process as key to speeding up the caucus meetings due up in February, 2008.   

Mark talked about the work he’s done as Chair.  He talked about having been a teacher and a coach, which made him focus on being organized.  He has a whole lot of people who make him look good.   He got involved with the Democratic Party in the state in the mid-90’s.  He started as Chair of the 39th LD.  It was a difficult time to get Democrats out.  He spent a lot of time there looking for Democrats and encouraging them to get involved. 

Mark talked about having been tired of being ignored by the State Party.  So his county began doing their own fundraising, an innovation for the Party at the county level, and working out their own methods for building the Party in Snohomish County.

He also talked about making use of the influx of people who came to the caucuses in 2004.  He recruited a lot of folks, often asking them to be in charge of the areas that they griped about. He focuses on getting the Democratic electeds involved with the Party.  He focuses on working with the LDs to help them build their organizations.  Mark doesn’t think he does anything innovative; instead he just stays with the basics, supporting others and getting them involved.  He works on empowering the others around him to do the best they can do.

Bob talked about the history of Stevens County and how it moved from being in the Democratic column to being in the Republican column in the 90€™s when the Republicans were able to convince rural voters that the Democrats would take away their guns and spend all their money.

His E-Board goals were communication, action, and activism.  They have been focusing on reaching out to new voters, raising money, and running Democrats. They use the media as best they can.  The Democrats have five out of ten of the county offices.  They do no€™t have any county commissioners and few legislators.  As an example of how they are working to change perception, Bob mentioned the items they tend to offer when they run raffles -€“ first is generally a shotgun, which got a lot of laughter in the room; second is usually a hand-made quilt. 

The county has also created a separate organization for the south part of their county, which borders on Spokane and has a different focus than the more rural areas of the county.

Open Mike

Dwight then facilitated open discussion on what can be done to integrate with other media.  He asked people present to talk about their experience with Drinking Liberally and the value of getting together regularly.  I jumped up and talked about getting around the conservative newspaper coverage, or lack thereof, in eastern Washington by developing more bloggers around the state.  Dwight also asked a couple of the Chairs to talk about the exchanges between the urban, resource rich districts and the redder districts. 

Other folks jumped up to share the best practices from their LD or County.  It was lovely to hear and was well received. 

Dwight’s Challenge

The afternoon was spent focusing on Dwight’s challenge to the individual LD and County Party organizations.  He asked us to make use of the thousands of folks who come to caucuses to recruit volunteers and then involve them as activists.  This is fertile ground to get email addresses and then get folks involved.  We can build the Party if we conduct highly organized, competent, calm and friendly caucuses.  He said we want to make a great first impression.  We want to ask participants to perform concrete tasks coming out of those caucuses as a means of keeping them involved in the Party through the election and on. 

The Goal

Dwight suggested that we need to dramatically increase the number of votes for Gov. Chris Gregoire, the key statewide race in 2008.  That is our goal.  He challenged each LD and County with specific performance measures, which will require specific, individual actions. 

People want to be part of something.  They want tasks.  They want to be held accountable.  It’s lonely out there as a PCO.  (Thank you for noticing.)

Tactics include

•    Voter registration
•    Voter identification
•    Boost turnout to caucuses
•    Conduct well-organized precinct caucuses
•    Create teams of volunteers 

District classifications

The Party assigned every LD to one of six groups for the purposes of common strategizing and gave each group slightly different targets to meet.  The groups were: 

•    Rural Eastern Washington
•    Rural Western Washington
•    Suburban Blue
•    Suburban Red
•    Suburban Swing
•    Urban Blue

Strategy Sessions

The participants then spent the remainder of the afternoon working together in their groups, thinking about what they could do to energize people to vote, then energize voters to attend the caucuses and finally to organize the LD’s to make use of the people who attend those caucuses to get more people out voting Democratic. 

Very cool.

Posted by Lynn Allen on March 3, 2007 at 05:01 PM in Strategery | Permalink


Lynn, as an interested Democrat from outside Washington, from "the Democratic wing" of the party, it is very encouraging to see the dynamic you describe developing in your state. It looks to me as if the indignities visited upon our country since the '80s by the rise of the Republicans nationally is spurring a bottom up revitalization of the Democratic party, highly motivated to build the basic units necessary to lead to change. That change is a challenge to and in some cases a repudiation of the old guard. It's great that this rebuilding effort has begun at a time when we can capitalize on the national mood to advance and accelerate our gains, and remake our party in a better image. (I hope.)

Posted by: op99 | Mar 4, 2007 2:22:11 PM

Exactly right. This revitalization is incredibly important. And, when done top to bottom, as I think this is beginning to be, it will be very powerful.

Posted by: Lynn | Mar 4, 2007 7:41:50 PM

Great report. I attended and want to include something in our Chelan County newsletter. Can my newsletter editor use parts of your piece in our newsletter with attribution of course?
Nick Stemm
Chelan County Chair

Posted by: Nick Stemm | Mar 6, 2007 5:28:08 PM

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