In November Colmon Elridge became the first black man to chair the Kentucky Democratic Party.
He takes over at a time when America is facing a racist reckoning.
The Georgetown, KY resident granddaughter of a housekeeper who was never allowed to use the front door she worked on is now a welcome guest at the governor’s mansion. It’s a journey he takes with him every day.
However, Elridge also inherits a party that suffered multiple losses in the last election, meaning the job is cut out for him.
An interview with the new Kentucky Democratic Party leader Colmon Elridge.
Editor’s Note: The following interview contains questions and answers that have been edited for clarity and timing.
I think there are a couple of things. I think it’s one that will reconnect with voters. There has been an interruption … if you look at the 2020 election vote, the Republicans are not getting this without the Democrats voting directly for the Republicans … Second, we need to make sure we get the necessary votes across the board Party have successful, so not only do we have to recruit candidates, we also have to train them … And finally, I think it will regain our voice. For too long we’ve allowed others, the Republican Party and others, to openly define who we are as Democrats … We brought cupcakes to knife fights, and I don’t care.
Where does it start for you? Because I think someone outside of politics would assume that politicians are trying to talk to voters at every election?
I think you hit the nail on the head. These talks will take place around election time. They are not constant conversations. They are not conversations that are not transactional. If my only interaction with a politician is that you need my vote and I give you that vote and you go away for another two, four, six years, that’s one problem … the only other thing I would add is this Concept of voter registration. We’re treating this as something that only happens in the primaries and general elections, rather than taking it on as a 365-day-a-year operation.
I remember Rep. Charles Booker, and we, him, are facing a pretty formidable primary challenge against Amy McGrath in the Senate race this summer, based on a progressive message. How do you integrate that into a winning strategy?
We know we can bother some of this because that’s us when we were at our best. Charles really took something we’d done before and said, “Wait a minute, we’re not so pale that we can’t reconnect with people and do it in a human way.” I think how we as a party are turning to reject the moderate versus progressive versus conservative label in some ways. The things Charles is talking about, the things I believe link Democrats and frankly people across the Commonwealth, are about high-paying jobs. It is about the dignity of education and the dignity of health care. It’s about the fact that in 2020, almost 2021, in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, there will still be places where there is no access to safe, affordable, and clean drinking water. This is unacceptable.
In recent years, several Democrats in traditionally red states have carried out impressive campaigns. Stacey Abrams in Georgia or Beto O’Rourke in Texas come to mind. If you are looking at this, where can you find inspiration that you want to bring back to the bluegrass state?
So first and foremost, it is about voter engagement and registration. The reason voter apathy continues, as I said earlier, is that voters are not stupid. And they’re actually pretty savvy. So if you look at voter engagement as an endeavor every few years, you basically become an ATM for voting … There are things I’ve heard since I chaired: “Just steal what they do in Georgia , and do it here. “Well, Georgia had some other great things available. They’ve had a growing demographic shift, not just in the suburbs, but in Atlanta and other metropolitan areas … We don’t necessarily enjoy this in Kentucky … I think there will be places where strategically what happens in Georgia will be is and some other places that we can use in their entirety for effectiveness. But this commitment to the voters, the connection to the people, to ensure that it is not an isolated incident but that we are building relationships, we are listening to the people, these things, in my opinion, will be crucial to turn the tide.
Can you talk about your personal story and why is it so much more important to have that position now?
That’s an important question … My father committed suicide when I was three years old. And when I look back on it now, part of it was that I often tried to put myself in his shoes and he saw lynchings firsthand. It wasn’t a historic event for him, it was something he saw growing up in Birmingham. He had aspirations that went well beyond where colored people born in the south and born in poor families should go … My father’s death meant my mother became a 28 year old single mother. We lost everything to pay off his debts. So we went from what we thought was a fairly stable upper-class Middle Ages to three boxes of clothes and toys, trying to find our way from California to Texas and eventually Kentucky. I carry this trip with me every day. And I think what it means to me in the roles I’ve had is that I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to at least move the ball forward so that future generations don’t live so badly.
Race remains a focus of Kentucky politics. In recent years, Republicans Jenean Hampton and Daniel Cameron have won national office. At the same time, we saw the Black Democrats in the Statehouse say they felt left out by the majority. Do you see this as the beginning of a fundamental change in Kentucky politics?
Let me start with the first part of your question. I’m still mad and mad at a place where I can’t tell what I feel on the radio about how disappointed I am with my own party. There were so many people of color worth running for national office that our party should have hugged and not given the opportunity. I think we, as people of color, understand the need to earn what we get. But the fact that that still hasn’t happened makes me sick. And trust me when I say that I understand that more than many people realize how easy it would be for people of color all over Kentucky to say, “What the hell? If we’re not even worth it on a ticket to be, there are. ” seven offices. At least one? “And then the fact is that the Republicans beat us … So what I would say for my party is that we’re going to do better.