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March 10, 2005

Kansas Yes, Colorado No

By Andrew Dobbs

So when should you kick out a chairman of a party? Dallas County is pondering that right now- though they can't really kick the Chair out- but this post (blessedly) isn't about that. I am not terribly familiar with the situation up there and I try my damndest to stay out of intraparty squabbles. This is a post about Colorado

While Chris Bell and Byron are right to suggest that we can learn from Kansas 2002, let's make sure we don't pay attention to Colorado 2005. Greg posted this bit of news from the Associated Press:

Chris Gates, at the helm of the Colorado Democratic Party when Democrats won a U.S. Senate seat and took control of the Legislature, has been voted out as chairman.

Democrats upset with the handling of Mike Miles' unsuccessful Senate campaign helped engineer the upset in Saturday's election by the Democratic State Central Committee. Gates said he will challenge his 187-184 loss to Pat Waak of Erie, who has called for more grassroots organizing and respect for candidates like Miles. (...)

Gates led Colorado Democrats last November, when then-Attorney General Ken Salazar, a moderate Democrat, defeated Republican beer executive Pete Coors for the open seat vacated by Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell. That victory and the win in the 3rd Congressional District by Democrat John Salazar, Ken Salazar's brother, were hailed as among the few bright spots for the party that lost the presidency and lost ground in Congress.

Democrats also seized control of both chambers of the Colorado Legislature for the first time in about four decades. President Bush carried the GOP-leaning state, but his margin of victory narrowed slightly from 2000.

Those accomplishments left party insiders shocked by Gates' loss to Waak, who lost a bid for the 4th Congressional District seat in 2002. (...)

Miles, an El Paso County educator who opposed the Iraq war, said Gates urged donors not to give to his campaign after Salazar, who is more conservative, entered the race.

"He created a lot of obstacles," said Miles, who distributed a letter supporting Waak.

Gates said he didn't endorse Salazar but acknowledges that his apparent ouster as chairman "exposes a disagreement, a rift in the party that is very real."

Miles campaigned for two years and won top-line designation on the primary ballot after winning more votes at the state Democratic assembly. He garnered only about 27 percent of the vote in the primary.

His supporters, however, have maintained their loyalty and have met regularly since the primary election in August. Vicki Rottman of Denver said she and other supporters worked to elect Waak.

"People are ready for a change," Rottman said.

Wow. This is stunning. So the chairman was intelligent enough to realize that in a largely moderate/conservative state, the ultra-left wing loony who has never run for office before probably isn't as good of a chance to win as a moderate Democrat who has been elected statewide. And the supporters for the loony kicked him out of office, even after the Democrat (who, by the way, three-quarters of the party suppored in the end) was elected to the US Senate. Are they completely daft?

This is the problem with the leftward shift of our party in recent years. I'm all about progressivism, particularly on the state level. But 60% of something is better than 100% of nothing, and winning is the most important thing. We have too many people who think that the reason we lose is because we aren't left wing enough. We lose because we run boring, unintelligent, uninteresting candidates on one hand (Tony Sanchez) or psychotically out of touch left wingers on the other (Kerry, one could argue). We have to have candidates that fit the electorate's values, and we have to keep ourselves from eating our young.

Kansas is a great example of what is right. We ran a moderate Democrat when the Republican Party was split over social issues (read all about it in the better-than-expected What's The Matter With Kansas) and she won. We ran someone with some experience, intelligence and who represented mainstream values of her home state. Colorado is likely to turn out to be an example of what not to do- fight fights that you lost not once, but twice, and try and move the party away from the common ground in your state. Texas needs a Kathleen Sebelius or Ken Salazar, and I think we are headed that way right now.

Just my two cents. Oh, and in Dallas, I think that there are legitimate concerns from the activists and some legitimate arguments from the Chair. Still, the war is hurting our party and one side needs to back down. The activists aren't going anywhere it seems, particularly since this movement is firing them up right now. So I suspect that it would be a good idea for the Chair to resign. That way this energy can be translated into a grassroots movement to take back Dallas County in 2006 across the board. But that's beside the point and I could be completely wrong...

Posted by Andrew Dobbs at March 10, 2005 01:55 AM | TrackBack



I disagree with the sentiments of your quote above, "We have too many people who think that the reason we lose is because we aren't left wing enough."

Most of the people you describe aren't really "left wing" -- they are simply "left out".

The day when grassroots activists are content to simply be seen as "the volunteers too dumb to get paid" are over.

In the long run, party leaders who really value and support the grassroots will thrive and those who don't -- won't.

"THE PARTY" to which we all so often refer means different things to different people. In the final analysis, though, "THE PARTY" is the kind of people who elected the new chair in Colorado. "THE PARTY" is NOT the elites who think they know better than the masses -- and who will compromise any principle to satisfy their egos with a "win".

What if a "moderate Republican" un-supported by his party ran in the Democratic Primary and got elected with other "moderate Republican" support--and later went on to win the election. Would that be a "win" for the Democrats? Would that invigorate our base? Would that help build our party? Are we just supposed to wait around for the "left wing" of the Republican Party to save this country? If our own Democratic leaders, for whatever reason, obstruct the grassroots, then they will have to go. Period.

Posted by: Michael Murphy (San Antonio) at March 10, 2005 04:03 AM
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