Politics is not a beanbag.
– from a 19th century novel
It’s true. If you want to get involved politically, there are times when the tactic may be less polite. And most seasoned political actors have a sense of when something is part of the “no beanbag” practices and when it is exceeded.
Still, it’s worrying to see this happening in your own state, involving people you either know or respect. And when it is people in your own party who are attacking other people in your own party, not only is it disturbing – it is destructive.
It was with a feeling of sadness that I heard that Governor Beshear had a list of candidates he was pushing to be elected to the State Central Executive Committee (SCEC or EC or simply “state Central”) of the Kentucky Democratic Party (KDP.) ).
But the news was made worse when I was told by more than one person that there was also a “counter list” of people the governor was working to get out of state headquarters.
I reached out to someone whose name was associated with this effort to see if that person could comment. I haven’t heard from this person yet.
However, I have spoken to many sources across the state, including elected officials, members of State Central, and political activists. They confirmed that there is indeed a slate and that people will be contacted to either attend or vote for it.
Before I go into what I have learned, however, we need to explain the somewhat obscure process of “party democratic reorganization” to those who are unfamiliar with it. If so, please skip ahead.
The four year old Dem reorg
The PDK goes through a “reorganization” every four years. This is a process in which every unit of the party, from districts to legislative districts and counties to the state level itself, elects new leaders. There are rules such as that one man, one woman and one youth are required from each unit and that elections are held at each level to send delegates to the next level.
The process culminates in the State Congress, which usually takes place in the summer before the presidential elections. (The 2020 Congress was delayed due to COVID, so the entire reorganization process is happening now.) At this congress, delegates in six groups representing the six congressional districts of the state meet to elect the representatives for this CD in State Central. They also elect six other representatives.
I attended the 2016 convention as a delegate and can testify that a “list” of candidates was distributed on paper at that convention. There were only names of people to vote for; there was no indication of where it came from, but it was common knowledge that it came up from people in the party.
As the loyal Democrat that I am, when I was presented with the paper, I said, “Fuck it – I vote for whoever I want,” and did just that.
This year’s slate
So the news that there is a slate for this year’s reorganization was disappointing, but not shocking. If a Dem is in the governor’s office, that person is supposedly the party’s titular leader. So if they want to push the people they want, then I guess they can. I would have a lot more respect for a plaque like this if it clearly said “From Andy Beshear’s desk” at the top and if the governor himself came to Congress and explained why he wanted these people in State Central. But of course it’s politics, so we have to do things in the background and without attribution.
Nobody I’ve spoken to saw the current 2021 slate on a piece of paper or in an email. They just know different names that are on it. If it was handled as in the past, it will not be displayed until convention time, i.e. in a few days.
One thing that worried me, however, was that the slate was mostly made up of people who weren’t going to make waves; who would go to get along and focus on what the governor wanted. Could I be wrong? Naturally. The ones I’ve named aren’t bad people at all; In fact, some of them are my friends and people I respect. But I wouldn’t say I’ve heard many of them question the status quo.
That brings me to the real reason I’m writing this article: the anti-slate.
This year’s anti-slate
Like I said, the fact that there is a governor’s slate for State Central is a little too backroom for my tastes, but not unprecedented. What surprised me that year was that there was also a list of people who those in power specifically wanted from State Central.
Who are these people who are such a problem for leadership? Here’s the thing: it’s people who have asked questions, who have challenged the status quo, who have called for more transparency and more accountability. You would only be considered a “troublemaker” if you don’t like uncomfortable questions.
What questions? Well, such as this:
- Why does our executive director make $ 10,000 a month, which is more than the executive director of a state around us?
- If the finance committee wants to see the contract for an expensive bill, why can’t they?
- Why have we asked for training for years and our board of directors never received the training we wanted?
- Why in the world do our own candidates have to PAY to use the voter register?
- Why don’t we follow our own statutes?
These and other questions were raised more than once by some people on the anti-slate, and instead of addressing the issues raised, some in the leadership decided that THESE people were the problem. And they wanted them to be gone.
One person on the anti-slate list specifically designated for deportation had spent many hours volunteering in their part of the state, helping other counties organize and rebuild the party. Instead of being thanked for their services, they have now been removed from all leadership positions.
So here we are, we urgently need to keep our seats in Frankfurt, urgently need to rebuild the party, urgently need a new direction for the KDP – and instead we are laying off committed workers because they ask too many questions.
Comments from sources
As I’ve spoken to people across the state, here are some of the comments they shared in the interviews.
“There is an unspoken understanding that this is coming from the governor.”
“It appears that a number of the people on the slate are actually employed in the state government.”
“This is obviously an attempt by those in power to keep things as they are.”
“They seem to want to get rid of the progressives.”
“We’re not getting anywhere because we keep going back to old patterns.”
“The rules are only enforced if it benefits the individual.”
“How can PDP employees also be delegates to the Congress? You can choose your boss? “
“The Republicans are running a golf scramble to raise money for 2022, and we’re arguing over who is on a piece of paper.”
The REALLY bad thing about all of this
If all of this strikes you as old-style politics and an attempt to keep certain people out of the levers of power, then I am with you. I find it bad and a bit shabby and destructive to the party – but nowhere near the worst political crap I’ve ever seen. (They are looking at you, Republicans.)
But on top of what I think is the REALLY bad thing about it all:
It does not matter.
Why does it matter? Because in the grand political plan of this state, the KDP in its current state is powerless, ineffective and irrelevant.
Impotent – How many races were won in 2018, 2019 and 2020 because the KDP was heavily behind the candidates? How much money has KDP raised for itself (not candidates) over the past four years? How much has KDP done to rebuild the Dem brand across the state?
Ineffective – A measure of a party organization at any level is how much money they raise, how many candidates they have in their bank, and how many of those candidates are running and winning. Has the KDP been successful in these matters? Did you have a strategic plan and did you implement that plan?
Speaking of reorganization: how strong is the KDP from top to bottom? According to one source, the leaders of the PDK were pleased that 84 districts had functioning party organizations at the district level. This means that there is NO democratic organization in 36 counties! In 2016, the first congressional district had only four districts without a district-level organization; this year it’s 13.
Irrelevant – I recently attended a meeting where some exciting grassroots organizational plans were exchanged. After the meeting, I spoke to one of the people involved and asked them why they weren’t working with KDP on this project.
“We gave up the PDP,” said this person.
I’ve heard something similar from other sources. One person said, “Each candidate and each county party is separate.” Another said: “I don’t care anymore what the KDP does and what doesn’t. I concentrate on my country and my candidates. “
I am sure that by writing this article I will likely be put on an “enemy list” in Frankfurt. But here’s the thing: I really want the KDP to be successful. We need a functioning state organization that is ready to spend the next twenty years making this state blue again.
But I’m tired of waiting years and years for our state party to become the party it has to be. And this kind of clumsy, old-fashioned approach by the party leadership is not only unhelpful, it is destructive. You don’t want men and women when the boat sinks; You want people who both work hard and challenge the leadership to do the right thing.
If Andy Beshear and Colmon Elridge and the others “in power” really want to make a difference, then they have to do things differently. Otherwise it will be like an old time activist told me:
“They’re fighting over who should rearrange the couches on the Titanic.”