PART THREE: ORGANIZE
While Democrats have a lot to be proud of in terms of victories in Congressional and State elections, we continue to underperform in local elections. Our voter guides may call these races nonpartisan, but we know they’re anything but. Local governments, like school boards, county supervisors, city councils, and even water districts make crucial decisions that impact people’s lives. These bodies can hinder or overturn progressive legislation, turn irreplaceable open space into suburban sprawl, and fail to meet the basic housing and services needs that people need to live a dignified life. Republicans take advantage of low-information, nonpartisan ballot designations and local "good old boy" networks to continue representing heavily Democratic constituencies. This has to stop.
The CDP can do much more to link these local races to better funded, higher-profile campaigns and create "one-stop shopping" opportunities for activists. The early Primary means that scores of counties, cities, and special districts will be electing people in just a few months, and we have to be ready. Our baseline should be a Statewide coordinated field campaign, funded in partnership with our Congressional and Legislative campaigns, that provides information about who and what the Democratic Party supports to every Democratic and Democratic-leaning voter and household. We have the tools, the statewide database and the activist core to do much more than we already do.
In addition, the Party should identify a handful of areas around the State, rural, suburban, and urban, coastal and inland, in which there are nested or overlapping opportunities to flip multiple races in the same area, from Congress all the way down to City Council. We should fund organizers, in partnership with all the relevant campaigns and County Committees to build massive voter ID and GOTV operations with an eye toward converting top ticket victories into top-to-bottom sweeps.
1.A PARTY-DRIVEN CAMPAIGN IN EVERY COUNTY
As a former County Party Chair, I know that the work done by our local parties is both the most important and the least glamorous work in Democratic politics. Volunteer-driven, often thankless--I like to say it’s like herding cats...that also carry switchblades. Under the leadership of Chair John Burton, the CDP began doing more outreach and capacity building with County Chairs and other local party leaders to make sure there was a clear line of communication and that it operated as a two-way street.
We have so much more to do to make counties feel supported without being controlled. We also have to take special care when a County finds itself with a targeted legislative or Congressional race--we can’t let the top of the ticket campaign run roughshod over the down-ticket slate, often winning at the expense of those good Democrats running for City Councils and School Boards. There are so many different flavors of Central Committee, and listening and understanding those differences and meeting folks where they’re at while helping them evolve is critical.
Simply put, my goal will be to ensure that every County has a program for 2020 that puts the local Party at the center of a collaborative effort by all the local campaigns. It is the Party’s job, not individual campaigns or consultants, to coordinate campaign activity and provide that “one-stop shopping” experience for activists. I will prioritize providing resources, training, and support to make sure every County Party is up to the task.
While there is no one-size-fits-all model for Central Committee organizing, statewide leadership and staff should provide current and future County Chairs with an up-to-date handbook outlining best practices for financing, organizing, and maintaining coordinated campaigns, coalition-building, leadership development, training activists and interacting with elected officials. Meetings of County Chairs should be more interactive, practical, and driven by the needs and concerns of grassroots leaders.
Additionally, Democratic Central Committee elections in most counties are coming up in the March Primary- let’s use our GOTV machinery to also educate Dem voters about the role of the County Party and the fact that all Democrats have a say in their local Party organization.
2. A CDP “OWNER’S MANUAL”
Our Party’s structure is highly complex, decentralized, and often counter-intuitive. Even many of our elected officials and longtime political professionals are unclear about our processes and finance system. We need a serious program of internal education about how the Democratic Party works. I will organize workshops, training sessions and instructional videos for all of our members and leaders.
In addition, we should develop an “owners manual” for the Democratic Party, which could take the form of an interactive website or application, which would allow any Democrat to enter their address and be provided with information on local meetings, clubs, activities, and opportunities to get more involved. This tool should educate members about the Party structure and their role in shaping our platform and deciding on endorsements.
3. A MORE UNIFIED PARTY
United we stand. Divided we fall. Activists, Party leaders and elected officials are all part of our Party, and it is when we work together that we are the most successful. It is essential that Democratic legislators have a voice within the Democratic Party. But it is also crucial that legislators respect the dedication and hard work of the activists who make up the majority of the Party’s membership, and that we all respect our democratic procedures.
This is why I strongly opposed Assembly Bill 84, which would have allowed Legislative leaders to create their own “Party” campaign committees, bypassing the endorsement process as well as our restrictions on corporate donations. It is also why I worked for more than a year along with representatives of the Legislative caucuses and party activists to reform our delegate appointment and endorsement rules to find a compromise that balanced perspectives from grassroots activists, caucus staff and Legislative leadership.
This balance must be maintained, but more importantly, the working relationship between elected officials and activists should be deepened. When activists’ only interaction with their representatives is in competition over ADEM delegate positions or contests for local Party offices, we miss opportunities to understand one another better, and this tends to foster long-term divisions. Across the State, there are elected officials who regularly work with and consult grassroots activists. We should lift up those examples, and encourage better communication across the State.
4. FROM DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS TO DIGITAL ORGANIZING
To be a 21st Century Party, we have to up our digital game. Using new communications technology isn’t just about passive communication over social media- it should be about engaging people and encouraging them to take action. Whether its mobilizing for elections, increasing participation in ADEM and Central Committee elections, or advancing our legislative and political priorities, we should be using tools that allow distributed organizing, encourages networking, and helps unleash our true power: millions of California Democrats.