DPO Question #3: How do Oregon Democrats keep the win streak alive?

Editor's note: Today, we've got the third and final question that we posed to the four candidates for DPO party chair. Their emailed answers are posted after the jump, in the order they were received. We encourage you to join the conversation, ask follow-up questions, and debate their answers. The election for Democratic state party chair is on Saturday in Salem. Check out Question #1 and Question #2.

Here's Question #3...

All four candidates for DPO Chair have argued for changes in the strategies and tactics that Oregon Democrats use to win elections.

But Oregon Democrats have held the Governor's office since 1986, the Secretary of State's office since 1984, the Attorney General and State Treasurer's offices since 1993. No Republican has been elected to a partisan statewide office in over a decade. Democrats have held the State Senate since 2002 - and previously from 1956 to 1994. In 2006, Oregon House Democrats had a historic pick-up of four seats in a non-presidential election year - and took back the majority. We currently control four of five seats in Congress. We've held the 1st District since 1974, the 3rd District since 1954, the 4th District since 1974, and the 5th District since 1996. Senator Ron Wyden has been easily re-elected twice.

The only strong suits for the Oregon GOP are Senator Gordon Smith and control of the 2nd Congressional District since 1980.

Given our extraordinary historical dominance in partisan elections, why should Oregon Democrats change anything about our electoral strategy? And, if you're planning changes, how will you ensure that we don't move backwards and start losing? Why fix what ain't broke?

After the jump, answers from Dan Carol, Carol Voisin, Mac Prichard, and Meredith Wood Smith...

Dan Carol:

Dancarol_1The electoral “dominance” you postulate in the question papers over the thin margin of successful, real life, policy outcomes we have been able to deliver to Oregonians. Or persuade voters to support on the ballot. Anyone who has had their kids in public schools, seen the demise of the land use planning system, the drop in health care quality and coverage and so on is not jumping for joy. They are just happy to see the bleeding staunched with the electoral wins in 2006.

So it’s really about keeping up the momentum because Republicans are already doing negative push-polling and attacking newly-elected Oregon House and Senate members with well-funded, out-of-state groups operating under deceiving names like Freedom Works.

I am running to make clear to the DPO how it can lead in creating the master plan to take down Gordon Smith, and creatively connect those efforts to the critical tasks of building stronger County and grassroots capacity, winning open statewide races and keeping our gains from 2006 protected.

Simply put, we can’t risk another Groundhog Day 2002 scenario where we wait too long for anyone to decide. The DPO needs to lead.

Carol Voisin:

Carolvoisin_1The strategy that Jim Edmunson and Neel Pender refined and fine tuned for eight years works. Our thanks and gratitude are warmly sent their way.

The goal is to get Democrats elected to office.

The strategy is to develop a grassroots get out the vote that reaches all Democrats. This is ever changing. Building and revising the neighbor to neighbor campaign is needed so that each county can adopt it again or to develop what works for them with the support of the DPO. The chairs of the counties need to think quickly and deeply about GOTV. The infrastructure needs to be repaired and restructured county by county.

Recruiting of candidates needs to begin now. Every elected office in the state from school board to U.S. Senate should have at least two Democrats running for each office. Primary races strengthen our party. Campaign committees have their work cut out for them. All candidates will have the support of the DPO.

A new strategy needs to be developed with haste. A strategy to woo the non aligned voter to the Democratic candidate and party is needed in every county. We do this voter by voter and county by county.

Mac Prichard:

Macprichard_1We Democrats have accomplished a great deal, but we can’t rest on our laurels. We only have to look at the money and effort Republicans put into Oregon’s presidential, gubernatorial, and state legislative campaigns to know that these races remain very much in play. And in recent years we’ve seen a decline in Democratic voter registration caused in part by new residents from out of state with conservative views on taxes and social issues.

What should the DPO do going forward? I think the state party should stick to what it does best: organizing at the grass roots to mobilize volunteers to turn out the vote for our candidates at all levels across the state. We need a 36-county strategy that builds Democratic organizations in the five counties -- Grant, Harney, Klamath, Morrow, and Sherman -– where we have no county chairs. And we need to invest in increasing voter turnout and boosting voter registration, especially among the young. We also need to support our county parties and local candidates by always updating and improving our organizational infrastructure, such as voter files, web sites, databases, and communication services.

Meredith Wood Smith:

Meredithwoodsmith_1I don’t pretend to speak for the other candidates, but I don’t recall “arguing for fundamental changes in the strategies and tactics that Oregon Democrats use to win elections.” (Although heaven knows something suggesting that might be hidden in the bowels of Blue Oregon!)

Actually, I believe we need to keep doing, and doing more of, what we’ve been doing!

Since I became Vice Chair we have increasingly emphasized grassroots organizing, direct contact with voters, concentrated and targeted GOTV, and offering carefully crafted, sensible and well-articulated policy proposals put forward by individual candidates relevant to their races.

I believe we should continue in that direction, and if elected Chair will do all I can to see to it that we do.

The one “strategy” I hope all four candidates agree on is our need to be present in every county in Oregon, but I don’t consider that a new or different idea—we have been working in that direction for some time in sync with Dean’s 50 state strategy. I am also stressing transparency, diversity, and emphasizing close working relationships with our elected officials.

  • Mari Anne Gest (unverified)

    Good question. Yes, we have done a good job - at the grassroots level, at many levels and held our own in maintaing Democratic control at the state level. But at the policy (outcome) level we have not been as successful - see health care, campaign finance reform. land use, education and environmental issues. (Oregon still is the home of many superfund sites after all of these years of Democrats control.) I appreciate that Dan Carol - visionairy extrordiaire - caught that important difference.

    We need to get ahead of the game and not only keep control but change public policy to make Oregon a leader once again!

  • Courtney Dilard (unverified)

    One of the most important things we can do to keep winning elections at both the state and national level is to build a united party. Sharing a common vision of what makes for the best way forward is essential. With this in mind, I was heartened to see Mac Prichard endorsed by current elected officials like Jackie Dingfelder and Bill Bradbury. Hearing from people currently holding office AND in a position to impact policy carries weight in my mind.

    Courtney Dillard

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    Interesting responses. I think Dan has articulated a more clear view of what the real situation is vs. the "overselling" if you will of the "dominance" of the Democratic party in Oregon. I also liked Carol's statement about building and expanding the neighbor to neighbor approach in party building. The "viral network" type activity is a key component to building real change in state, county and yes, campaign focus.

    I wish she, and other candidates were more specific about what they see as real, and concrete ways to help facilitate not just county parties, but individual activists to "plug into" campaign efforts. I have some specific ideas in my mind, but would like to hear what sort of ideas (actual proposals) which the DPO can help county parties facilitate and provide the tools to enable viral networks for communication and fundraising to build robust and non-hierarchical networks for activists, which support Democratic campaigns (I am thinking mainly about US Senate and Oregons CD-2, as well as ballot measures).

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    This is an important issue because as we see on the state level with the Rainy Day Fund and on the national level with the Iraq War debate having a slim majority just isn't good enough. How do we expand our successes in the districts just outside of Portland to the rest of the state? Keeping the pressure on is the only way we can have so called moderate Republicans vote with us. When the Republicans have the majority these same moderates are enablers for the hard right extremists. Developing great candidates is all 36 counties is key.

  • (Show?)

    Part of what we need to do is work a bit harder to win the remaining R seats in Multnomah County.

    After Minnis spent $1M+ to barely win the seat last year, its doubtful she'd be able to pull together that money again to win in 2008. So the HD 49 seat is one we should be able to take in 2008.

    There's also the HD 50 seat, which we lost in 2004.

    That is two seats right there that are fully within Multnomah County and in districts with a Dem registration edge.

    I know many of those in other areas of the state don't understand it, but crossing I-205 in Multnomah County is almost like crossing over the Cascades -- it is a whole different place. And as such, it's been regularly labeled as red, republican, and not worth the time and effort. If Minnis had just been a state representative, and not Speaker of the House, I don't know that we'd have been able to get the effort out here that we were able to in that race in 2006. We weren't able to in 2004 -- it was thanks to Rob and all those who did help in 2004 that we were able to get some support out in east county.

    I think we need to look at all the areas where we have traditionally not been, and go there. Do the research this year to find the areas we need to concentrate on in 2008. And which areas aren't quite ready yet, but it would be a perfect time to run a candidate so he/she gets the name recognition in 2008 and the experience running so we could take the seat in 2010. Howard Dean definitely understands that sometimes you have to run more than once to get the name recognition needed before you can run and win. As someone who's been through that process (in Texas, and am hoping to start again here in 2008), I understand it as well.

    But you have to realize that the DPO can't do it alone. They need you. They need your time, your support, and quite frankly your money. While the Party relies heavily on volunteers, there are still things that cost money like rent, electricity, staff, food for volunteers, printing, traveling the state, etc.

    Start by taking an in-depth look at the numbers for your county, legislative district, etc. Look at registration numbers, turn out, democratic performance, etc. Put together a report showing which areas you've done well in, which areas you haven't, and where you need to work. Start putting together a plan of attack for 2007 and 2008.

    After all, no one knows an area better than the people who live there. And it's always easier to get help on something when you already have some idea and plans on where you need to work, what needs to be done, etc. than when you just throw your hands in the air and yell help.

    It's a partnership -- the county parties and the state party. We all have to work together to succeed.

  • Thomas Ware (unverified)

    I think it's important to remember all of those who put you there. A sizable population of non-party and third-party affiliates lent their support to the dems in the last election cycle as a declaration to the end of status-quo - we're tired of the way things are and the dems are the only party with the infastructure in place to (perhaps) institute change. Out here on the High Desert it seems like levying a pair of taxes on the backs of many of that population is kinda' like pissin' on those that brung 'ya. Your welcome.

    To my note taking, and I am willing to give 'yawl a freidman unit, the dems at both state and federal levels have done little to demonstrate that they're not just the other wing of a raptor.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    It is interesting to compare and contrast those four responses. As a rural county guy, I note that only two of the candidates are in tune with the County level in these comments: Carol Voisin and Mac Prichard. Oddly, Mac states we need a 36 County strategy focused on finding 5 county chairs. (I don't know what I can do in Crook County to find a County Chair in Klamath County!)

    Of the two, Carol invites teamwork to come to the end point of a locally effective method of getting Democrats elected, and Mac is prescritive telling us we need, "updating and improving our organizational infrastructure, such as voter files, web sites, databases, and communication services." I for one don't think that those particular items are broken, in fact they work just fine. What's lacking is an appropriate strategy to use these tools within.

    Only one candidate out of the four points out that we need a new approach, "A strategy to woo the non aligned voter to the Democratic candidate and party is needed in every county. We do this voter by voter and county by county." -- And that candidate is Carol Voisin.

    I hereby endorse and announce my intention of vote for Carol Voisin for Chair as the only truly comprehensive and visionary candidate for the position.

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    I completely understand the rural-urban divide. Having come from a rural town in Texas, I understand it from a personal level.

    Many of the kids I went to school with went home each day and worked on the family farm or ranch. There were probably five cows (at least!) for every resident in the town, and who knows how many horses, chickens, and pigs.

    I grew up learning how to cool off a horse after a run and muck a stall. My grandmother, who lived next door, owned a small ranch, breeding Appaloosas. I can't tell you how many all nighters I pulled, helping keep watch on a horse about to give birth.

    Those kids whose parents weren't farmers or ranchers typically worked over in Texas City at one of the many oil refineries.

    Our town was an oddity in the county. Many of the cities bordered I-45. As such, they were much more urban. The business done in their towns often revolved around retail or professional offices. In our town there was probably more feed and tack stores than there were non-grocery retail shops.

    I made extra money each summer feeding livestock for various neighbors or friends of the family when they were out of town. Horses, pigs, sheep, chickens -- the only thing I didn't take care of around there were cows.

    With the exception of the few people I've told about my time cleaning horse stalls, most of you probably never knew that about me.

    We had vacation days from school on the major days of the county fair & rodeo. Why? Because more than half of the school had animals entered and/or were in the rodeo. After a few years of dealing with large levels of absenteeism on those days, they found it was better to close the school.

    Because of the difference between our town and the surrounding towns, I saw first hand the difficulties with the rural-urban divide.

    The county was predominately Democrat; however, our town tended to be the more conservative Democrats. They were all for prayer in schools, anti-immigrant, pro-segregation, etc. They regularly felt left out by the government, didn't see their fair share of the tax revenues come their way, etc.

    But now that I've lived in an "urban" area for a few years, people always want to assume that all I know are urban areas. I've seen the same assumption around this board about others. Don't assume that based on a person's address now that they must not know or care about somewhere else. A person living in rural Oregon now may have spent the bulk of their life in an urban center. Someone living in an urban area now might have lived most of their life in a rural area.

    Instead of making assumptions based on where a person lives, talk to them. Ask them questions. Find out their experience, thoughts, etc. They can only get so much into a statement when it has a limited amount of words (especially when the topic is fairly open ended).

  • PartyLurker (unverified)

    Saying "more of the status quo" and talking about continuing to be "in sync with Dean's 50 state strategy" is easy. And popular. And meaningless. An important distinction exists between words and the ability to deliver and make them actually happen.

    And by the way, if Ms. Wood Smith had had her way, we'd be talking about Chairman Donnie Fowler.

    What happened to this promise by Meredith:

    Posted by: Meredith Wood Smith | Mar 5, 2007 2:25:20 PM

    I will respond to some of the questions/concerns expressed here (and to the Chair job? Kari posed) later today but I want to ask if any supporters on mine are participating in negative, insulting comments to please stop and keep the conversation about which one of us will provide the most effective leadership for the Democratic Party of Oregon.

    Does "later today" mean 3 days later or never?

    Speaking of which, here's another impressive Meredith project. What a wonderful example of communication and transparency and follow-thru.

    Bottom line: Who has shown the ability to take on large, complex projects? To lead a team? To raise money? Saying something's a good idea or showing up at a meeting is not the same thing as following through and getting things done.

  • Your Nuts (unverified)

    I gotta say, after reading the glbt thread and now this, I'm starting to think that "party lurker" is a little nuts. What's with this obsession with Meredith Woods-Smith?

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