Thursday, November 16, 2006

Let’s Talk about the Democratic Party of Virginia

The Maven rarely admits that there is something he doesn’t know. Mavens are supposed to be all-knowing experts. So saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” is particularly embarrassing. Besides, it’s bad for business. Who wants to use a maven that doesn’t know? Despite the risk, I have to admit that I have no idea what the Democratic Party of Virginia does.

I know it has a website. I know it has a staff. It even has a platform, adopted in 1995. But what does it do?

The first paragraph of its platform, entitled “Statement of Common Purpose”, says,

"We exist as a party to elect Democratic leaders of character, integrity, ability and vision at all levels of government in Virginia."

This is an admirable mission statement, but what does it have to do with reality? I’ve been watching, and I don’t think the Democratic Party of Virginia elects anybody!

But Maven, didn’t the Democrats elect Jim Webb to the Senate this year?

I’m not blind (yet). I know Webb won the election. But the Democratic Party of Virginia did not elect him. Webb had his own campaign organization, composed of professional political marketers and volunteers. It raised the money, it decided on strategy, it ran the TV ads (except for those from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee), it staged rallies, it canvassed voters, in short, it won the election. The only party involvement in the campaign that I saw was a “paid for by the Democratic Party of Virginia” on a Webb lawn sign.

But, what about the Democratic Representatives that were reelected to the Congress?

I’m sorry. They too were reelected by their own campaign committees, not by the Democratic Party.

But, what about last year? The Democrats elected Tim Kaine as Governor.

Wrong again! Governor Kaine was elected by his own campaign committee.

But, Maven, if the Democratic Party of Virginia doesn’t elect candidates, what does it do?

Please don’t answer a question with a question!

Let me tell you about political parties. I grew up politically a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (Brooklyn, N.Y.). In New York, we had a Democratic Party that was organized from the bottom up. In every precinct there was a precinct captain who lived there. When he or she came to your door asking you to vote for Democratic candidates, it was one neighbor asking another neighbor for a favor. The basic organizing unit for the party was the state assembly district. Each assemblyperson was responsible for getting out the vote for all party candidates in every election. We didn’t have candidates with their own campaign committees; every candidate relied on the party to get him/her elected. Even in assembly districts in which the incumbent was not a Democrat (I prefer not to use the “R” word), the local political club ran the campaign. The party campaigned for slates. The name of every candidate from governor down to alderman or sheriff was contained on every piece of campaign literature distributed.

But, Maven, you’re not suggesting we do things that way in Virginia, are you? It would never work.

Maybe you are right. But think of a Democratic Party that is organized from bottom to top in Virginia, from the delegate level up to the state-wide level. Think of a party that campaigns on behalf of all candidates, not letting a particular candidate lose because of poor name-recognition or lack of money. (It was outrageous that the party did not do more for Leslie Byrne last year.) Think of a party that can elect candidates not only at the state-wide level but in local elections all over the Commonwealth. Think of a party that never concedes an election but nominates and campaigns actively for candidates in every congressional district, in every state senate district, in every House of Delegates district, in every county supervisor district, in every city council district. Think of a party that operates full time to get its message to the people of Virginia. Think of a party that relies on the sweat of volunteers rather than the money of corporations and interest groups to get candidates elected.

Maven, wake up!

I must have been dreaming. What were we discussing? Oh yeah…

Does anybody know what the Democratic Party of Virginia does?

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