Thursday, May 04, 2006

 

Thoughts on Party Officers

Where da Wege finds time to type out this much eloquent right-on-the-money-ness, I don't know. I can type about 90 words per minute, if I don't have to think about what I'm typing, which certainly isn't the case when blogging.

And now to an aspect of political campaigns that doesn't get a whole lot of attention - party officers! I know what you're saying - probably something along the lines of "...huh?" But hear me out. A political party lives and dies by the strength of its grassroots organization - it could be said that the party's job is to get out the base vote on Election Day, and it's the candidate's job to reach beyond that base to the moderates and independents. Naturally this is a gross over-simplification, but without the base, it's close to impossible to win an election.

Which brings us to the skills and smarts of those in charge of the party, from the state level all the way down to precinct chairs and Senate District directors. The campaign-related idea here is that, well, these officers, at least at the SD Chair level and above, run for their positions just like any other elected official. Some even send out campaign literature - yesterday I received a campaign letter from the Treasurer and Secretary of the CD3 DFL, who are both running for reelection.

My question is this (and it's most certainly open for discussion) - how important is consistent leadership within the party organization? In the case of CD3, there's going to be a contest this weekend for CD Chair - is an infusion of new blood at the top a good thing? Why? Obviously these are the questions that delegates to the convention need to ask themselves before that ballot. But it strikes me as a systemic bias toward existing officers - the whole reason they're there is that people in the party know and trust them. In addition, those same officers tend (I would think) to control the keys to their own offices - it would be difficult to contest a race for CD Secretary, for example, if the sitting Secretary controls the delegate lists you would need to contact potential supporters.

Or perhaps this is all a mental exercise, and competitive elections are best left for DFL v. GOP battles. But I have to think that somewhere along the line, the best organizers and political minds should rise to the top of their party organization - how do we do that fairly?

Comments:
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Blogger Jay said:
The party structure is set up for those with time to rise and stay. Looking through the structure over the last 15 years and you see very little turnover. That's at all positions!

1200 members of the Central Committee and less than 50 with bonified campaign experience. Subtract these last five years (including some of the newly elected) and that number is even smaller.

The governing body of the party has very little hands on campaign experience, so what happens to the party?

Part of that reason may be that for about 20 years now, the party has had full-time year-round staff.

When Erlandson came in, he brought the most professional and experienced staff to date. I remember the central committee debates about how much he was paying them yet, the discussion was nil on how much experience they had. Methinks that these long time activists were threatened because the party staff could operate without their input.

I'm not so sure about the GOP but, in the DFL you have party activists, campaign staff, and elected officials. We could use a lot more of the campaign people than the activists.

Back to the 3rd CD. I don't know who is running against Ruzich for chair but, what the hell has she done on the years to put a dent in Ramstad's armour? What about the local candidate help? This next line is hard for me to put out but, Steve Kelley has been out there pounding in lawn signs and dropping lit for candidates a lot more than any party officer. The Nelsons are in-deep for a coupel of decades out of Eden Prarie too.

Those of us who work campaigns need to take a bigger role in the party.
 
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Blogger MN Campaign Report said:
I know we should have a black cat walk under a ladder and over a broken mirror on this one Jay - but I agree with you on this one -gasp-! You're right, not a lot has been done to counter Ramstad's dominance in the 3rd - but progress has been made in the last couple cycles at the state level. Maria Ruud, Terri Bonoff, and others have given the DFL a foothold in the West Metro.

As one local officer asked rhetorically, if we make strong progress in 2006 and 2008, should credit go a new chair (who would be Marge Hoffa, Ms. Ruzich's opponent on Saturday) or to the groundwork laid by Ruzich's old guard? It's a tougher question than it sounds like on its face. I think so, at least.
 
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Blogger Demrock6 said:
One problem is the election timing of party officers as well.

That was addressed in the Wright county DFL convention. Currently "to my understanding" chairs and officers are elected during the convention in the summer of the general "even numbered" election years. This gives them only a few months before they are in the thick of things in fall, and they are green! It was put forward that we would have county/congressional district meetings on off "odd numbered" election years to elect party officers. This gives the chair a year to get ready for the even numbered election years.

Some thought it was a bad idea because we would use recourses for internal party affairs rather working only for the general election years. I say: look how well the old way was working?

Time for a change. Giving party officers a year of prep before the election is a good idea. I am not alone it just barley got a majority vote in Wright. I hope is passes CD6 and goes on to state.
 
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Blogger Jay said:
demrock6,
There are five party officers in a district. There are about a dozen other titled positions in a senate district. Why are green people running for these top seats? WHy haven't leadership worked with these folks in the past?

I like the elections dates as is because more people come out to the caucuses and conventions for the and also are forced to participate in the party process.

In odd years, your crop of candidates would be visibly worse as they would only have to turn out a dozen or so people to win.

Again, people who take the leadership roles should have some experience in campaigns AND organizing. Those are the two main jobs of the local units.

The state party does its elections in the off year at the business conference. There are many reasons why, and over the years a lot of thing shave been changed and tried. The thing that has been constant is that this structure is set-up for incumbent protection. Unless you live in a GOP strong district for the most part, outsiders who may the political experience find it very, very hard to break into the central committee. Yeah many new people will be delegates to the one time shot state endorsing convention, but the real power is in the that central committee. That's where the governing standards are set for the party.

Your problem of people being too new is a good one to have. Turning the elections over to a less open group by switching them to an off-year, will further stregnthen the grip the incumbent activists have on the party now.

This is only my opinion.
 
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Blogger twosence said:
The facts: Wright County DFL changed its constitution to elect the 5 top officers in the odd year.

Yes, we had some difficulties over the past two years, but they were due more to leadership style than inexperience per se. The county unit accomplished a lot in the two years these officers served, including raising and donating several thousand dollars for candidates. The central committee decided to propose the change because it would help to give any new officers more seasoning before an election.

Our 2006 convention had about 170 attendees out of 300 possible. If the 2007 convention turns out to be smaller, who is responsible for that? All precinct caucus attendees will be invited. If they are interested in the success of the local party, they should take one evening and come to the convention. It will give us a chance to reconnect with our precinct caucus attendees, and we can have a speaker/dinner to improve attendance.

Those who say this move was to be exclusive are just plain wrong. They were not at the central committee meetings where the idea was debated before it was proposed at the convention.

Wright is curremtly the organizing unit for the party, so we elect at least 11 directors in addition to several SCC members. The Senate District that covers 2/3 of the county is currently discussing whether they should petition to become the organizing unit. If this happens this year, Wright DFL would cease to exist in 2008, and in its place would be a more powerful and inclusive Senate District and a County Unit made of of the section of Wright that is not in SD19.

The benefit is that our volunteers would not have to choose between units for donating their money and time, and the SD and county unit would no longer duplicate efforts.
 
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Blogger Ag said:
I don't have enough time to explain my take on this fully, but there are many reasons that things should work better, but the main problem is simple. Not enough people are involved. Why do the same people keep doing everything? Because they are the ones who show up and stick it out. Are they the most capable? Not necessarily, often their one and only advantage is an abundance of time, but they all care enough to give their time, and some of them are great organizers. This whole system is based upon volunteer time and we are at the whim of people who say they'll do a job and may or may not do it.

We also cannot simply look at organizing the party exactly like a campaign, we have to build a solid and expansive community of people who share the DFL's values. This will take new ideas, continuous outreach, and simple building and reinforcing of relationships of as many different people as possible. We have to be able to get past single issue conversation stoppers, and build lasting coalitions. This will take a great deal of work and in some ways this has been happening. You can look at the netroots to find a couple of encouraging examples locally; Drinking Liberally, Blogs and Meetups - the DFA, and the DFL's version, the DFL Links. All these allow more people to enter the party on their own terms, in a socially enjoyable atmosphere and learn how to get engaged in different party activities, and have fun while doing it. I cannot stress how vital I see these fun community and relationship building organizations are, we must put more energy into broadening the base, and always try to think of new ways to do it. And as it goes with the 3rd, the current chair has been very enthusiastic about these new online organizing experiments, and has the best track record out of any of the CD chairs in encouraging them (from my knowledge).

There is one problem with bringing people in who are experienced with working and managing campaigns, even though I generally agree we need to bring them in, in much greater numbers (I do have to take issue with Jay's comment "We could use a lot more of the campaign people than the activists" that is just plain counter productive and completely missing the entire point of grassroots organizing). Campaign workers are used to getting a pay check. They have committed themselves professionally to this work, and cannot just drop their jobs and careers in order to take on a full-time volunteer position. I don't really know how to get around this, but it is something that does cause problems for the DFL structure - we need their experience. One solution may be, pay more staff for the DFL, in every CD all year - every year. And they would need to be paid competitively. Now, how much do you think that would cost?

These are real problems. They are identifiable and solvable. Continuing to try and blame the inner circle (old guard, dead wood, etc etc etc) will get us nowhere on its own, nor will trying to solve all the problems by rearranging the schedule and structure (although some of these previous suggestions may have a great deal of merit, and I am no fan of the aforementioned "old guard"). We must engage and activate the grassroots in a real and sustainable way, build relationships and communities and bring many many more people and more ideas into the party, then we can deal in a more affective way about the party structure. This will take time, years most likely, and we have to be ready, all of us, to sacrifice our time in order to achieve true success for all the issues and values we care about.
 
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Blogger Jay said:
A true defense of incumbancy. Good job AG.
For the record: I've held many DFL positions up to one on the Executive Committee. I speak from both subjective and objective viewpoints.
Meetups are fine. Just fine.
These volunteer positions are not full-time. Where on earth did you get this from? Most of these people have jobs or are retired from them.
 
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Blogger MN Campaign Report said:
Incumbancy does have its advantages, Jay. The point of my bringing this up is to find a way to put the advantages of incumbency together with the advantages of having smart new people and ideas in the fold in a way that decreases the disadvantages of both.
 
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Blogger Ag said:
Stripping down my argument to a simple defense of incumbency is avoiding the real issues. I think we should challenge ourselves and bring in new ideas, I just do not believe that the simple changing of leaders will solve much without much greater participation from the general public. My point is that we need more people rather than just leadership change. Incumbency is no one's "right," challenges are necessary and healthy.

And, come on, these volunteer positions if done well take a great deal of time. If we need to be literal, then of coarse they are not technically "full time" but I know people who come close to that. It is a considerable dedication to lead these different bodies, and to be done right it takes lots and lots of time.

So, unless we start focusing on bringing new people in rather than attempting to only find someone to blame, we are going to continue to have significant problems. I do not think that we are in disagreement about the existing problems, but rather how we go about solving them. We can take more than one approach, but we do need more people, there is no way around that.
 
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