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:
“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
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
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.
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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.