Monday, January 19, 2015

The Democratic Party: Early 2015

If the Republican capture of the House is, in part, a story of hard work, it is also in part a story of the other side’s decline.  The Democratic Party lost touch with its base.  It neglected to promote its most talented, ran out of new ideas, and in recent years sounded too much like the party of “no.”  Disoriented after long lapses without a compass, the party lost its capacity to foresee the present, much less the future, as it mistakenly took for granted a winning margin.

It can bounce back, in time, but:  as Confucius said, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.  Three things that need naming:  first, the Democratic Party is no longer the default party.  Three of the past five governors were Republicans.  In 2018 the governorship will have been held by Republicans for 20 of the past 32 years.  The last Democratic governor with a truly distinguished record for advancing governance was Jerry Apodaca, 1974-1978.  The Secretary of State is Republican, as is control of the House.  The Senate leadership was picked by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats.  While the party has local momentum in most counties, margins are slipping, for many reasons.  After Toney Anaya (1982-1986), who tried, but failed, at policy reform, the party settled for protecting its most powerful constituents—labor, the petrified school and higher education system—at the expense of good governance, while favoring narrow business interests under the guise of economic development.  With hardly a peep of dissent while state government declined, party leaders gifted their moral authority to Uncle Bill, tolerated the vultures of corruption, and then rode a long surf-wave of ostrich-like denial.  The public is aware of this and, no, it doesn't trust; the default position is gone.

Second, inclusiveness is a concept the party needs to revive.  New voices, some dissident and unpopular, should be encouraged, not stifled; channeled, not driven out.  Lack of inclusion has contributed mightily to the mass denial of obvious failures in recent party history, and to defection at the polls. Without it, re-establishing connections between leadership and the base will be impossible.

Third, the party needs a big-picture policy game plan.  What needs fixing?  How will we fix it?  Thousands of citizens, city councilors, county elected officials, legislators, desperate to tell their story, already have the answers.  The party needs to tap this strength.  With a credible agenda, mobilizing—recruiting, training, and rewarding a cadre of young and earnest workers—will be easy.  Without one, credibility will lag.  Democratic House members, now in the minority role, have a special responsibility to identify things that need fixing, and communicate these with the public.  The best role model I know is outgoing Majority Leader Rick Miera, who always understood the bottom line was better government, who fought with both grace and passion, and never forgot where he came from.  Others, like Ed Sandoval, Jim Trujillo, Lucky Varela, Sheryl Williams Stapleton, come to mind as well.

None of this is too much to ask; the Party has faltered before and recovered, and it might even be fun.  Ask Nick Franklin, Tim Kraft, Chris Brown, or Brian Sanderoff.  They were the Jay McClesky’s and Rod Adairs of the early 1980s, architects of modern party organization in New Mexico, moving election practice  to data-driven, media-led campaigns—they gave it hell and had a blast.  And in the best dreams they dream at night they can still feel the nervous rush of the clock ticking down, they can smell the gathering crowd, and savor the aftertaste of hard-won success.

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