Neel Pender and the 50 State Strategy

[Editor's note: This comment by Jason Leon is buried over here, but it's a critical one - so we're bumping it up.]

By Jason Leon. Jason is the Deputy Political Director for the DNC - directly responsible for the 50 State Strategy. Jason is a life-long Oregonian and long-time activist with the DPO.

I've seen a few comments here and there where people have questioned whether or not Neel Pender "is really on board with Governor Dean's 50 State Strategy."

Working for Governor Dean as his Deputy Political Director directly responsible for overseeing the 50 State Strategy, I can shed some light on this. Without hesitation, Neel is on board. I don't think many in Oregon understand how crucial Neel's leadership has been in building our national strategy.

Neel was helping us even before the DNC headquarters was fully staffed after Governor Dean's election as chair. Neel was one of our team who conducted site visits into other states, meeting with state party staff, allied organization and candidates who won and those that lost (who might have had something to say about the support they did or did not get from their state party.) He then worked with us in to come up with staffing recommendations that we took to Governor Dean for approval.

In his role as the head of the Executive Directors, he has been a driving force in our planning and implementation with state parties. We have hosted several working retreats with all of the state parties to work on phase II of the 50 State Strategy. Guess who leads those work sessions? Neel.

Funding staff in all 50 states to build infrastructure and run voter contact programs year round is the right thing to do for the health of the party and has changed the outcome of races from the top of the the ticket down all over the country. This is something we are committed to.

The DNC staff in Oregon - Justin, Jesse, Autumn and Cyreena - are easily among the best in the country and this is not only a testament to their skills and dedication but also of Neel's day-to-day guidance.

Often before making crucial decisions, politcal and programatic we call Neel for his perspective. I know that many things in states can be done better and that coordination and communication with county parties, PCP's and the grassroots can improve, but from where I stand the DPO is one the best state parties in the country.

If anyone has further questions about this or anything else, send me an email, LeonJ -at-


Jason Leon

P.S. Good luck to all of the great candidates running for chair!

  • Neel Pender (unverified)

    Thank you Jason for providing some additional context. Truly one of the greatest personal honors was being selected by Gov. Dean to help formulate and implement the 50 state strategy into actual nuts and bolts programs beyond the rhetoric. And it's still evolving and full of untapped potential for sure.

    Keep in mind though that from state specific strategic plans, field organizers in every state to a new national voter file - everything that the DNC and state parties have been doing over the past three years is completely new and has had to be built from scratch. And frankly, it takes more than a blog post to dig in and make it work.

    The irony of the tired saws from the righteous "kick up and suck down" crowd is that Jim, I and many others in Oregon were pushing these reforms long before Dean made it fashionable and have shared a lot of the same frustrations. But it took Gov. Dean's leadership and force of will as a change agent nationally to begin breaking down all these counterproductive rivalries.

    Rather than arguments, we now have daily strategic conversations with bright, talented "outside the beltway" DNC staff like Jason and Brad Martin (former MT ED) about how we can strenthen our partnership and advance our respective goals - electorally and otherwise.

    And in that vein, I'm going to suggest that this thread focus not on individual personalities but on the future. The Democratic Party has never been about one person - it wasn't about Bill Clinton and it certainly isn't about Jim or me. Future challenges and opportunities will fall to the new leadership team that we'll be electing this Saturday and their views are far more important.

    So instead, let us have a constructive conversation about how best to continune to evolve the 50 SS from an exciting concept (that paid some immediate dividends in '06) to a permanent, robust program built around a whole new way of organizing and doing business.

    Remember Governor Dean's tenure as DNC chair is finite as well, and the question remains open what the legacy will be of investments made in the 50 SS? Will it become the dominant paradigm or will it gets scuttled by the next personality based big idea. I'm rooting for the former.

    The 50 state strategy is more than a feel good slogan. It's a powerful message that every volunteer is part of something bigger and that you can make a difference no matter where you live. It's not state party this, DNC that and Future Pac the other.

    At the end of the day, it's about you and working together to build capacity and create synergies at the local, state and national levels. And, it's my strong believe that the 50 SS is only sustainable if the investments made promote and yield greater financial self sufficiency for local parties, more grassroots Democrats getting excited, active, and engaged, and yes, actually elects more Democrats - by building effective, electioneering infrastructure that a candidate at any level take advantage of and win.

    And I would be remiss if I didn't point out that everyone has an opportunity to help the new DPO leadership get off to a strong start by buying a ticket to our St. Paddy's Day Auction.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments and I wish you all the best of luck!

  • (Show?)

    maybe the thing to look at, taking Neel at his word, is why the perception is widespread that he did not back the Plan. the DPO is falling well short in a number of areas, and the criticisms of Neel (and Jim E) reflect the frustration felt around the state. with fresh leadership coming in soon, these problems can addressed in new ways. hopefully whoever (ie, Mac) takes over (sorry i couldn't resist) will begin by talking to as many activist Dems around the state as possible -- especially those who are feeling left out, ignored, etc. with a new start, these issues can be addressed productively so we can move on to whupping more GOP butt.

  • Mary Jane LaBelle (unverified)

    As a County Chair who has worked with Neel, I can say that anyone who questions Neels dedication to the 50 state strategy is either uninformed or has another agenda afoot. It has been such a priviledge to work with one of the best state organizers in the country. Oregon was a machine. I just learned of Neel's resignation, and besides being sad, I am hoping that whoever replaces him can carry on Governor Dean's strategy as well as has Neel. Good luck Neel. You've made a huge difference to our process.

  • (Show?)

    why the perception is widespread that he did not back the Plan

    That's an easy one. Neel's not a credit hog. He doesn't spend all his time patting himself on the back and seeking glory for what he does. He just quietly goes about his work, building bridges, solving problems, and giving other people the credit.

    We could all learn a thing or two from Neel's humble approach. (Me, most of all.)

  • alan bluehole (unverified)

    It's still strange to me that Neel and I went to high school together in Virginia and now we both live in Portland and we're both blue.

    I worked for his dad one summer -- really nice man.

  • Neel Pender (unverified)

    Alan - email me some time at [email protected], but do it sooner than later! It'd be fun to catch up.


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