The AZ Democratic Party is neither Tammany Hall nor a group of venture capitalists
This editorial appeared in Saturday’s AZ Republic. Nomiki Konst was a candidate for Congress in CD2 (Ron Barber’s seat) and claims she was “pushed out” of the race.
In a year when Democrats triumphed against the odds, Arizona Democrats blew it.
President Barack Obama built an historic victory by continuing the construction of a coalition of new voters. Nationally, Republicans lost because they didn’t get this message — but neither did the Arizona Democratic Party.
It’s time to quash a widespread lie: Arizona is not a red state. Just like neighboring Western blue states, libertarian Republicans are being replaced by a new socially liberal and fiscally conservative voter.
Yet Republicans continuously rule and Democrats make excuses: Hispanics don’t vote; youth are apathetic; redistricting is biased.
As a former congressional candidate stepping toward a noose that could kill my political career, I’m challenging the Arizona Democratic Party to drop the excuses and change their approach.
The party, as far as I’m concerned, has one duty: to grow. This year, with demographics in party leaders’ favor, they failed.
They ran ineffective messaging, had weak organizational strategies and backed establishment candidates early on.
Oh here we go again. I’d like for one of these people to explain to me what, exactly, the AZ GOP is doing so well, given how their organization is constantly broke, in disarray, and at each other’s throats. When was the last time they had a state committee meeting that didn’t descend into a chaotic bloodbath? If the Republican Party here has a compelling message, I have yet to see or hear it. I’d also like to see what data Ms. Konst has to support her contention that “libertarian Republicans are being replaced by a new socially liberal and fiscally conservative voter” in Arizona. The “fiscally conservative” part doesn’t seem to jive with Obama’s national reelection, since his voters obviously rejected the Romney/Ryan economic plan. As with all of these screeds about ineffectual AZ Dems, Konst provides no concrete examples of what she believes is a winning message or set of policy positions.
Democrats lost opportunities to pick up a U.S. Senate seat and barely won its congressional — not because the state is Republican leaning. Instead, because they couldn’t engage voters, which is their job. We should be winning new seats, not defending seats already in our favor.
There were opportunities to expand our base in a state shifting our way, yet leaders played it safe. We could excite these voters through bold organizing and new candidates, yet the party ignores fresh ideas.
By investing resources in status quo candidates, the party embraces an Arizona of the past — the Republican Arizona.
Look at party leadership — the faces haven’t changed in 30 years. And they cling to that 30-year-old perspective from Arizona’s old Republican days.
The hapless Dem organization in 2012 also took the GOP supermajority in both houses of the state legisature away and elected a record number of pro-choice women. Yes, there were some terrible losses, such as the Corporation Commission. But again, if electoral results are purely the result of party effectiveness and organizing what, exactly, did the Arizona Republican Party do that was so engaging to voters in the Corp Comm race? People who actually paid close attention to that race attribute the GOP victories to large independent expenditures by energy companies hostile to Arizona’s renewable energy standard. Citizens United? What Citizens United? Perhaps I’m mistaken, though. Maybe the Dems should have abandoned incumbent Commissioners Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman, along with new candidate Marcia Busching (who was well-spoken, highly qualified for the position, and a hard worker) in favor of other people. Maybe that race would have turned out differently. Doubtful.
Also – “Look at party leadership — the faces haven’t changed in 30 years. And they cling to that 30-year-old perspective from Arizona’s old Republican days.” Huh? There’s actually regular turnover in party leadership, and plenty of new faces in leadership positions all over the state. Really, we don’t just reelect Morris Udall’s corpse as state chair every 2 years.
This Tammany Hall strategy — running closed campaigns with insider candidates — does not reflect the voters Democrats represent. This is why the party is losing membership to that new independent bloc.
I agree that Democrats need to increase registration numbers. I argued just that in a recent blog post. But oh lord, Tammany Hall? Please, if the Democrats in this state were led by cigar chomping political bosses handing out jobs and favors to ward heelers, we would not even be having this conversation. Dems would be running this joint. The reality is that the party is an organization comprised largely of volunteers, with few full-time staffers. Officers are democratically elected, at the state level by state committee members, and at the county and district level by PCs. But the perception that there are unaccountable and all-powerful “party bosses” running the Democratic Party here persists with armchair critics and even some journalists.
I saw this unabashed old boys attitude up close.
Pima County party chairman Jeff Rogers took tips from the GOP’s playbook when he said, “Sweetie, start at school board.” (How appropriate for a single woman sans children!)
I then reasoned how new candidates (like myself) could excite beyond our traditional base, but Mr. Rogers probably didn’t hear me as he mumbled something about “youth” while abruptly walking across the room to fax something.
Ugh. If Rogers behaved in such a sexist and condescending manner, that is completely unacceptable. But the suggestion itself – to run for lower office – if made respectfully, is a perfectly reasonable one and something I would say to anyone with no political experience or significant community ties presenting themselves at party HQ wanting to run for Congress in a winnable district that already had a very viable candidate. It’s worth noting that Konst does not acknowledge Ron Barber’s November general election victory in CD2.
They weren’t open to discuss much else, either. Like why their only message was aimed at scaring older “reliable” voters — ignoring 76 percent of constituents.
State party chairman Bill Roe never even read my biography or answered my calls when I declared candidacy. And when I greeted him at the Democratic National Convention (I’m on the DNC Council), he thought I was an intern.
Where is Konst getting this “76% of constituents” figure? And what is a “DNC Council”? The Democratic National Committee has several of them. It’s great that Konst is on one but why should the state chair know who she is because of that?
Sadly, I’ve heard similar stories from other new candidates who were ignored, discouraged and mocked by their own party. Not to mention stories from staffers forced to leave Arizona for better campaign opportunities. Supporters were even threatened to abandon my campaign for defying the party.
Supporters were threatened with what? By whom? Mocked and discouraged? Who cares? No one can stop a registered Democrat in Arizona from running for office. If you get enough valid signatures, you are on the ballot. You are free to raise money and recruit volunteers. What you are not is automatically entitled to the support and limited resources of the party. If you’re a brand new candidate running for a big office, such as Congress, it helps if you’ve raised a fair amount of money in the exploratory phase or can self-fund. It helps if you’ve courted the support of a lot of Democratic and/or community activists in the district. Lacking those things, you are probably not going to get very far at the state or county party with your bold ideas. This is something you should know before you sashay into party headquarters demanding support. Sorry, they’re not obligated to help you fulfill your dreams. This is not a rejection of new ideas or fresh thinking. It’s a practical consideration. Contributions to political parties are not tax-deductible and the people who make them are generally not interested in funding speculative ventures.
That’s not a strategy for growing the party. Which is my point.
We can learn from this election. Americans yearn for courageous leaders.
Note how other states boldly elected Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay senator, or disabled veteran Tammy Duckworth to Congress. Or how our own Kyrsten Sinema defied status quo, proving that dynamic leaders excite Arizonans.
Arizona can be a model for American progress. While the party establishment pushed me out of my race, I urge others to challenge status quo and run. We need you.
The Arizona electorate has entered the 21st century. When will the Arizona Democratic Party do the same?
Tammy Baldwin has been a member of Congress in Wisconsin since 1999. Tammy Duckworth was a high-profile activist for disabled veterans for years and had run for Congress in Illinois unsuccessfully in 2006. She was appointed Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs by President Obama before she ran again in 2012. Our own Kyrsten Sinema served in the state legislature since 2005 and was in leadership. She supported and mentored a lot of up-and-coming Democrats over the years. Dynamism and proving one’s mettle with the party faithful are not mutually incompatible things. It’s also typical to lose an election or two before you win one.
Honestly, the only reason I even care about the griping of a candidate who withdrew of her own volition is that the Republic chose to give her unsubstantiated assertions prominent placement and a picture byline. My friend Steve of AZ Eagletarian has a good post on it, in which he echoes some of my impressions of Konst’s piece and questions the paper’s decision to run it.
Apart from analysis of what Konst wrote, I have to wonder why the Arizona Republic decided to publish Konst’s op-ed. On the surface, one possibility is that they saw it as an opportunity to bolster the paper’s bona fides with its conservative subscriber base. Because it seems obvious that the GOP would relish the thought of turmoil and division among Arizona Democrats, and the potential for this letter to the editor to cause tension certainly is pretty high also.
Of course, the Republic MIGHT have had altruistic motives and simply wanted to give Arizona Democrats the chance to change our ineffective ways. Hmmm… right.
Yeah, I think the Republic simply printed this thing because it was so provocative!