Time for the Arizona Democratic Party to reinvent itself

The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) has a quote from Democratic House Minority Leader Chad Campbell which deserves wider attention among Democrats, especially those of you who are elected precinct committeemen. Why most Dems couldn’t win in 2014:

campbell-1-of-1“There’s got to be a serious autopsy,” said outgoing House Minority Leader Rep. Chad Campbell. “And I say autopsy because I think we’re dead at this point. The infrastructure is dead, the party structure is dead. So there has to be an autopsy to figure out why it died, and move forward with a new model,” he said.

“It’s not just money, we have a much bigger problem than that,” he said, adding he’s also at fault as House Democratic leader and organizer of his caucus’s independent spending. “I can’t blame anybody. I’m part of the problem, too.’’

After the “Blue Wave” Election of 2008, Democrats controlled the presidency and enjoyed a super-majority in the House and Senate. Democrats controlled 28 governorships, including every presidential “battleground” state with the exception of Florida. Democrats controlled both houses in the state legislatures of 27 states; Republicans controlled both houses in the state legislatures of 14 states; Eight states had divided legislatures (Nebraska is unicameral).

Republicans were in disarray. But the GOP had a comeback plan. They would focus on taking over statehouses, both governorships and legislative chambers. They would use this advantage to redistrict their way to safe congressional districts after the 2010 census. And so they did just two short years later in 2010.

The GOP has built a farm team of minor league players in the state houses to move up to be bench players in Congress, and to move up to play in the bigs in the Senate and to run for president. In just six short years, the GOP has entirely reversed its fortunes.

Libby Nelson describes what happened at Vox.com Republicans now have historic majorities in state legislatures. That’s a really big deal.

Partisan Control of Governorships after 2014 election

Screenshot from 2014-11-07 13:24:58

Republicans now control state government outright in at least 24 states, one more than they did before the election. [25 after a putative Democrat switched parties in West Virginia on Wednesday.] They control at least 66 of 99 state legislative chambers nationwide. And they cut the number of states with total Democratic control from 14 to seven — the lowest number since the Civil War.

Legislative Partisan Composition after 2014 election

PartisanComp_11-6_1045am

This is a big deal — for the day-to-day lives for people in those states, and for the outcome of elections in years to come.

The GOP’s long game to win the states

Republicans made historic gains in state legislatures in 2010. They held on in many states in 2012, or made up for losses in one state with gains in another — even though Democrats won the national election. And they won even more in 2014. This isn’t an accident — it’s the result of strategic fundraising from national Republicans, beginning in 2010, aimed at engineering statehouse takeovers. Out-of-state contributions were shuffled to states where they would make a difference, particularly as congressional partisanship and gridlock made policymaking in Washington increasingly unlikely.

* * *

The consequences of losing statehouses could last decades

One of the most-discussed consequences of Republicans’ state legislative takeovers in 2010 was for Congress. Republicans drew the electoral maps in the majority of states, and in the 2012 elections, took back the House majority despite getting fewer votes than Democratic candidates. Democrats also tend to be packed into urban districts, where Democratic candidates win large majorities. But redistricting sharply cut the number of competitive House districts, from around 100 in 2010 to about 39 this year.

The next redistricting isn’t until after the 2020 Census. But the overwhelming Republican control of state legislatures already matters for elections down the line in at least one key way: by weakening the Democrats’ legislative bench.

Statehouses are fertile ground for candidates for higher office from both parties. Nearly half of all members of Congress started out in statehouses. Forty-three Senators were once state legislators, including 27 Democrats. So were 217 voting House members, the majority of them Republicans. And, of course, there’s a former Democratic state senator from Illinois with a pretty important elected office right now.

There are still plenty of Democratic state legislators out there. But the fewer statehouses there are under Democratic control, the fewer opportunities those legislators have to make policy, become visible, and rise through the ranks. That’s a loss with ramifications that could last a generation.

Here in Arizona, a Democrat has not won a statewide office since Governor Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard were reelected in 2006, and Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman were elected to the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2008. It is now three election cycles without a statewide Democratic candidate victory.

The Arizona House has been controlled by Republicans since the election of 1966. The Arizona Senate has been controlled by Republicans for the past 14 years. Democrats shared a bipartisan 15-15 split with the election of 2000 that lasted only two years (because of GOP domination of the newly created Independent Redistricting Commission in 2002). Democrats last won control of the Senate chamber outright in the election of 1990.

There are numerous political science research papers which argue that the traditional 20th Century political party structure is going the way of the dinosaur.

This organizational model and party infrastructure no longer attracts younger persons into serving as precinct committeeman, or district officers, or state party officers. I’ve been doing this a long time, as many of you have. Look around you: how many of us old warhorses are now turning grey or elderly after years of service to the Democratic Party?

Take another look around you: where are the younger faces, the 20-30-40 somethings coming up through the ranks as the next generation of party leaders? Yes they volunteer and work hard on campaigns, but the day-to-day party work between elections — they are just not interested. A political party cannot be built from scratch every election cycle. Someone has to do this often thankless work.

One of my biggest complaints about the Arizona Democratic Party is the lack of any formal program for the recruitment, training, and development of candidates. Yes there are organizations like Wellstone Action, Progressive Majority, Arizona List, etc. which provide training, but the way in which candidates are recruited and developed is entirely haphazard. How many one-off candidates have you known, never to be heard from again?

The GOP will run their candidates in election after election to give them experience and name ID until they can win an election. And the GOP starts them out in school board elections, water board elections, fire district elections, etc. When is the last time you heard of the Arizona Democratic Party recruiting for these positions?

Democratic candidates who do get elected tend to stay in the positions to which they were elected for too long, especially at the county elected office positions, because (1) it pays well and (2) there are no term limits. Mayor and council positions do not pay as well, but they also tend to stay too long. Where is their ambition to move up to pursue higher elected office?

Because of term limits, Democrats elected to state legislative offices rarely serve more than 8 years, with few exceptions. Democrats have an inexperienced weak bench. There is no real farm team of which to speak.

Ask yourself this question: who has the financial ability to raise tens of millions of dollars and is viable as a statewide candidate to challenge Arizona’s angry old man, 80 year old John McCain, for the U.S. Senate in 2016? Anyone? Hello? I didn’t think so. We have had four years to build the perfect candidate.

Democrats may want to try to convince some multimillionaire celebrity with name ID  to move to Arizona next year to run for the Senate in 2016, because that may be the only option.

It is for this same reason that Democrats have not run serious, well-financed, viable candidates for Congress in GOP-heavy registration congressional districts. I respect those Democrats who put their life on hold to run these David and Goliath races facing certain defeat. You are to be commended for your principles and your fighting spirit. But if Democrats are ever going to genuinely compete for these districts, we have to get real about putting forward serious, well-financed,  viable ccandidates. Even if they do not win, force the GOP to spend money playing defense. No free pass.

Another pet-peeve of mine is this notion that there are “independents” and “persuadable Republicans” to whom Democrats must appeal to win their votes. This election was a classic example of this in practice. How did that work out? The lowest voter turnout in Arizona since 1942, during WWII. We live in an age of partisanship — Diane Douglas is proof positive of Republican tribalism, and the so-called independents barely turned out to vote.

Republican-lite does not energize or motivate Democratic leaning voters, nor does it provide an alternative to voters who are looking for something other than one party rule by Republicans in this state. Democrats need to think in terms of parliamentary politics: the loyal opposition presents a competing set of party principles, policies and an agenda to the one presented by the majority party to offer voters a stark contrast between the parties from which to choose.

I have posted about the political science research which dispels the myth of “independent” voters. There are “leaners” who are going to vote Republican or Democrat, if they vote at all. Actual “swing voters” are no more than about 7% of the electorate. Because the Republicans have a huge voter registration edge over Democrats, even if Democrats turned out all of their voters and captured all 7% of the “swing voters,” it still might not be enough.

Democrats have to grow the number of registered Democrats and Democratic leaning voters. The Voting Age Population Census (VAPC) for Arizona (2013) is 5,009,180 or 75.6% of the population. The Secretary of State reported registered voters eligible for Tuesday’s election totalled only 3,235,963. That means there are more than 1.75 million Arizonans who are of voting age population who are not registered to vote. When is the last time the Arizona Democratic Party had a voter outreach program to try to register this untapped source of unregistered voters?

Then there  is the issue of money in campaigns. Face the facts Democrats, the Republican Party quite literally has an unlimited reserve of campaign cash on which it can draw from the millionaire and billionaire corporate Plutocrats whom they serve. Democrats will always be outspent in state level races by Republicans, with rare exceptions. This is the world the Roberts Supreme Court has given us.

The candidate with the most money does not always win, however. Democrats have to work smarter and harder than their opponents who rely on the lucre of secret “dark money” to get elected. Deal with it.

This issue of money was related to the lack of primaries in the Democratic Party this year. Democrats have become averse to primaries. While it makes sense on paper to reserve limited campaign funds for the general election, what it means in the practical sense is that your campaign is essentially “dark” — little or no media attention until after the primary election at the end of August. Your campaign message does not get out to the voters, and you cannot define yourself favorably  before the post-primary attack ads from your Republican opponent try to define you as the spawn of Satan.

A primary affords candidates the opportunity to get the press coverage they desperately need and to build name recognition with voters over an extended period of time. I believe it also makes for a better candidate. Set up a “straw man” primary opponent if you have to, but welcome a primary.

The biennial reorganization meetings are occurring at the district level this month, and the county party reorganizations occur between November into early January. The state party reorganizes in late January 2015. If you are an elected Democratic PC, it’s time for you to step up and answer the call for new leadership.

24 Responses to Time for the Arizona Democratic Party to reinvent itself

  1. moving,

    So be it, and I am not referring to anybody who would engage in party politics or even those who do their homework. But honestly, do you think the majority of people who make their voting decisions in the final days of an election are really researching what it means when they vote for someone?

    They don’t. My points are this:

    Distance yourself from basic Democratic principles and expect democrats to vote for you and you will lose votes. Instead of running from the accomplishments of this President, embrace them.

    Re: voter registration. Republicans in this state have had a voter registration edge for how many years? Yes, I know a ton of people work hard to win elections, but we will always be playing catch up until we equal the registration totals of Republicans in the State, always.

    Arizona, did much better than the national ‘wave, that being said we had some of the best, most experienced candidates out there and still we lost some positions that, if researched, we would never have lost.

    Again, I was not speaking in the context of an “engaged and informed” voter. If I insulted anybody, I assure you they are not the type of individual to be reading blog posts on a Democratic website.

  2. “Republican-lite does not energize or motivate Democratic leaning voters, nor does it provide an alternative to voters who are looking for something other than one party rule by Republicans in this state.”

    Nailed it!!

    As for me, after thirty years of voting only Democrat I decided to change my registration to Independent. The Democratic Party in AZ, in my experience, is little more than a tiny group of drinking buddies who get together to mock everyone who doesn’t think exactly like they do over their beers.

  3. CHANDLER MCELROY

    One mistake the democrats inflected upon themselves was to eject Chadd Campbell out of the Gov.’s race, I think he would have conducted a much more aggressive toe to toe campaign against Ducey. If you are looking for new blood to run the party apparatus you better think about recruiting guys like Campbell because he has what it takes to appeal the the Az political landscape we exist.

  4. There are many reasons to be hopeful about Democratic prospects in the future in both Arizona and the nation. Demographics may not be destiny, but the changing face over the electorate as we move to the midpoint of this decade and start to look forward to the 2020’s favor us. We are also right on the issues that the new electoral majority favors.

    What really troubled me during this last campaign season was how few of our candidates were willing to be spirited fighters. By that, I don’t mean “going negative,” but they were disturbingly unwilling to take the fight on the issues directly to the Republicans, even though they had the facts on their side. From the president on down, Democratic candidates and spokespeople seemed lifeless and feckless. Some of them (like Fred DuVal) started so to show some pluck at the end, but with early voters casting so many ballots more and more every year, it was way too late.

    We have convinced ourselves that being direct and forceful on the issues turns off independents who may be averse to such tactics. Nonsense! Americans love a fighter who stands up fro their principles and calls BS on the other side…as long as they do it with both passion AND logic. The GOP is practiced at tapping into both fear and ignorance to gin up their vote counts. We need to be more direct in taking them to task on all the hateful, hurtful things that come about as the result of their policy choices.

    Face it, the average voter coming into this election knew where the GOP candidates stood, but they saw most Democrats as timid and tentative. Where were the ads slamming the Republicans on policies that call for voter suppression, loss of health care, favoritism for the rich and privileged, disrespect for human rights and marriage of equality and denial of climate science? Virtually every poll you see shows that the public at large is aligned with Democrats on almost every issue of substance. When will be realize AND accept the fact that campaigns are opportunities to not just try to sway voters, but to educate them?

    It may be a shopworn reference, but when Harry Truman was told by everyone that he and our party were sure losers in 1948, he didn’t hide out in the White House and wait for the inevitable defeat. He took his case to the voters and spelled out in exacting detail just what Republican policies would do to them and their families. Bill Clinton was and is another politician who punched back when he got hit. Democrats have had too many candidates in recent times who shy away from being both tough on principle and relentlessly honest with voters about what the other side wants to do to most of them.

    Fred DuVal let the Republicans falsely characterize him much in the same way that John Kerry did. In both instances, the blows were not just defining, but fatal. How else can we explain a Democratic candidate for governor only winning Pima County by less than five percent?!?!

    People may dislike “negative campaigning,” but all Americans throughout our history flock to tough-minded, principled fighters who speak honestly to them about what they believe and what they will do. Election winners from both parties usually show all these traits…and they are also direct and honest about what their opponents stand for. They define the other side and hit back hard when the other side tries to define them. What do we need to do to win more elections in Arizona and nationwide? Nominate more fighters who realize that the facts are their side!

  5. movingazforward

    Hmmm. Rant alert…

    So if we do x, y, z, low-efficacy voters will start voting? What are you, dear non-voter, going to do to accomplish x, y, and z?

    How about putting down your electronic device, getting off your ass, and mailing your ballot. I’m done making excuses for you, knocking on your door, registering you to vote, and chasing down your ballots.

    High college tuition costs? You did that.
    Public school classrooms busting at the seams? You did that.
    Crappy air for your children to breath and government trying to sell off public lands to the highest bidder? You did that.
    The electoral process being controlled by corporations and money? You did that.
    Low-wage jobs aplenty and an unskilled workforce. You did that.
    Incompetent, immoral extremists making decisions that will affect your life every day? You did that.

  6. First let’s figure out what we did right. There was plenty that was done right, or else when a nationwide wave that swept 350 Dems from state legislatures Arizona ending up with a no net loss of seats in our legislature.

    Since we didn’t win everything, there’s obviously been some areas where there’s significant room for improvement.

    I’d like to see a non-corporate broadcast and print media outlet build a widely read brand to then use as a megaphone for stronger, more directly populist message.

  7. captain*arizona

    steve is being sarcastic :but putting up rich old white men may make it easier for the head of the arizona democratic party to get corporate contribution to pay the paid staff but little else then liberal punching bags. liberal old whites can get elected in pima county ;but where else? think of arizona’s future not just the next election. 70% of white vote will vote republican so what if this can be offset with young hispanic votes. example reagan got 61% of white vote in 1984 and one in land slide. romney got 61% of white vote and lost it no longer could off set minority votes! that is why minority voter suppression! republicans will never win the presidency again as 5,000,000 minority kids turn 18 every presidential cycle!

  8. These are good suggestions. One more to add is you have to give young people, single women, and latino voters a reason to vote. You touched on that but in addition to candidates that speak to them you have to have Initiatives that have something they want. Legalize pot, raise the minimum wage, again!, Oregon passed the Equal Rights Amendment (about time), be creative — how about an inititiative that makes state colleges free to state students and provides a source of funding for to help pay off the loans for grads with outstanding loans that stay in state to live, work and start businesses? Fund environmental issues? Young people are very interested in that. how about one to change the constitution to make home solar energy installations guaranteed free of connect charges? Make the APS funded Corp Commissioners obsolete. I know some Republicans and Libertarians would go for that. How about an Initiative to give Dreamers in-state tuition if they agree to set up businesses, medical practices, etc. here after they graduate? I thought of quite a few in just a few minutes. I know they are expensive but find several each election that are important issues for our voters. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, if one initiative gets knocked off the ballot there must be others still there to attract our voters. Progressive issues. Have you thought of one to change the state from a Right to Work for less, to a Right to form a Union state? Who cares if it fails once or twice, keep,pushing it until it succeeds! That’s another thing, we give up too soon. Get candidates who will commit to running at least twice for each office. Cultivate our own millionaires, there must be some quiet ones that support our issues. We need their money, we can’t keep draining people who are poor. How about an Initiative for Arizona to set up it own Health Care Exchange so that if the Supreme Court neuters the subsidy provision our people can still get health care subsidies? … Think brilliantly people. Give our voters a Lot of reasons to vote.

    • “I know they are expensive but find several each election that are important issues for our voters.”

      I won’t bother asking the obvious question of “How do we pay for these initiatives?” because I know the answer. What I will do is encourage Democrats to follow your plans as much as possible. This is exactly what they need to do to get out the vote. :o)

  9. I think this is an excellent post and for the record, I am one of those one off candidates. Now, while I am a 4 for 4 democratic voter, I have to say it pained me, absolutely pained me to watch so many Democrats distance themselves from the President. A good portion of the low voter turnout came from people who just were not sure what the hell the Democratic Party stood for because they bought into those dark money campaign commercials and stayed home.

    I also believe that in principle, that this post is spot on about Independents. I think many of these voters feel they won’t be contacted if they don’t declare, but even so, I think the party must look at the number of Democrats vs Republicans and do ALL OUT voter registration drives. Also, there can be hope in citizen ballot initiatives, look at the nationwide poll posted here, it is very telling about the age range of democratic strength and issues that turn us out.

    I will also say, that due to my work and a great deal of travel for the past several years, I have not been able to be involved at the district level and be a PC. I am going to sign up and go to the first meeting that does not have a scheduling conflict as soon as the meeting location TBD changes and I can find out when and where. Oh and I will bring my checkbook.

    Finally, I would just plead. Please don’t eat each other up pointing fingers, making accusations and imploding with talk and recriminations. We’re pretty good at that. Instead, get pissed off like I am. Captain AZ, I agree with you about targeting young Latinos, but don’t call for somebody else to do it. I’ll join you and lets go get them!

    • Excellent comment, Ron! This…is spot on!

      “I have to say it pained me, absolutely pained me to watch so many Democrats distance themselves from the President. A good portion of the low voter turnout came from people who just were not sure what the hell the Democratic Party stood for because they bought into those dark money campaign commercials and stayed home.”

      • movingazforward

        Cheri and Ron,
        With all due respect, I think this line of thinking is an insult to people’s intelligence. Begging people to spend a few minutes registering to vote or requesting PEVL online is equally insulting, IMO. Our efforts are not showing good results.

        The differences between the two major parties and their candidates could not be more pronounced. Republican voters know their party’s brand, like it, and vote accordingly. Democrats and Progressives are equally aware of and support the values of the Democratic Party, give or take some minor differences, whether they see dark money ads or not. They know what they get with Republican vs. Democratic governance.

        Republicans will do anything they can to gain power and increase the bottom line for themselves and their donors: dark money ads, questionable voting practices, whatever. Honestly, I think we would be able to neuter all of this if a sizable number of people on our side voted.

        Take care!

        • “To defeat your enemy, you must know him as you know yourself.” -Sun Tzu “The Art of War”

          Everything I read on this Blog tells me that only one or two of you have an inkling of understanding of the GOP and it’s membership. Most of you think and speak in the most emotional of terms as if the GOP would eat it’s own children were it not against the law. You never display any knowledge or understanding of Republicans as individuals or people. The generalized rhetoric of hatred is mind numbing and has lost it’s effectiveness. Worse yet, it blinds you to what is happening. I did find one snippet of this posting that was filled with wisdom:

          “Honestly, I think we would be able to neuter all of this if a sizable number of people on our side voted.”

          There you go, Democrats! The answer to all your problems!

  10. captain*arizona

    Every year another 30,000 latinos turn 18 voting age and almost everyone hating republican racists. All efforts of democratic party should be getting them registered and voting this will trump anything republicans can do. 70% of white people vote republican in arizona. stop trying to appeal to people who won’t vote democrat and go after young hispanics who would love to vote democrat! No more rich old white men putting their grinning face on campaign signs egomaniacs. It cost david garcia dearly. Lets run young militant hispanics and start on arizonas future!

    • “Lets run young militant hispanics and start on arizonas future!”

      I agree! The MORE militant, the better!

  11. Maybe there is hope yet.