Nov 26 2008

A Thanksgiving Message from Vibinc

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

Thanksgiving is, perhaps, my favorite cold holiday besides New Years. It involves two of my favorite “deadly sins” sloth and gluttony, and ultimately leads to a great deal of imbibing once the family finally leaves.

This year, will be the third year my mother and uncle have come over for Thanksgiving. I like this because I get to cook, which is one of my secret loves. In fact, I’ve been preparing for this for about two weeks (in my head), coming up with side items, thinking about my grocery list, etc.

As is the usual case with Thanksgiving, we are having turkey, though ours will be slow smoked over hickory and charcoal. I’m making my Grandmother’s dressing, which ultimately ends up with a couple dozen “stuffin muffins” (dressing poured into muffin tins that make great TCS (Turkey, Cranberry and “Stuffin”) sandwiches.

We don’t do actual “stuffing”. I’ve never understood “stuffing”, possibly because it was never something my family ever engaged in. I also don’t do stuffing because there’s only so many times I can stick my hand up a birds ass before it stops being “special”. I’ll save that for retrieving the giblets and turkey neck.

We’re also having “green bean glop” (S.Mac’s specialty), garlicy mashed potatoes, and asparagus. I love asparagus, as a general statement. Add this to my mom’s deviled eggs (her best dish), the pie we didn’t make because we’re lazy, and whatever Uncle Frankie brings and well, we’ll be asleep by 2pm.

There are a lot of things that I’m thankful for this year; S.Mac, and the Bruiser pup, and all the friends I’ve made in the past several years. My health which keeps holding on despite all the dumb things (like smoking) I do. All in all, we’re pretty lucky, and I’m thankful for that too.

Happy Thanksgiving folks, enjoy this special time with family. I intend to, and remember, they drive you crazy because they’re just like you…unless they’re not.

Nov 26 2008

Winning Where No Democrat has Won Before

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized
Tags: | 4 Comments

We have less than 2 years. 2 years to contest 10 Republican held Senate seats, and defend 7. Think it’s too early to start on this? Think again.

That plan I posted yesterday is just one part of a prescription for the party that includes a seismic shift, from being the party of here and there, to EVERYWHERE in Tennessee.

In 2006 we fielded NO candidates for State Senate in Districts 3,5,7, and 9. In districts 1,11,13,17, 23 and 31 we did field candidates, but lost, despite a hotly contested and close statewide election for US Senate, and a runaway win by Governor Bredesen. In 2008 we actually did a good deal better in terms of fielding candidates, leaving only one seat uncontested (32) and two others with no Democratic challenger (4 and 8).

On the House side, we have a lot of challenges. This year we left at least 26 seats uncontested, or with no Democrat in the race to Republicans. That’s a lot of seats left on the table. Democrats have to do better at putting people out there, even if the chances are long. If we don’t compete, we can’t win.

I want to thank those candidates who chose to contest those red seats for putting yourself out there. I’m interested in your experience, what support you received from the state and local party, and some key insights about the districts and any other information that might be helpful for a campaign in 2010. If you’re interested in making a go at it again, I’d like to know about that too.

In 2010, we may not have the benefit of a sitting Governor running for office, or a Senate campaign, but we still have to work to contest all of these seats. I understand that east Tennessee is Ruby Red. I understand that there’s a very good chance we won’t win. I also know for damn sure that if you don’t play you can’t win. Tennessee Democrats have to start working now, to be able to play everywhere.

Believe it or not, there are Democrats in East Tennessee. State House District 2 used to be held by a Democrat, and Democrats hold House Districts 10 and 11. That may not seem like much, but it’s a start.

As red as East TN is, there have to be Democrats in City or County Government somewhere out there. These are the people who we need to approach to run first. Ultimately, this is a trust building exercise. The TNDP and County Parties have to put a good faith effort forward well in advance to convince our friends in the east of the state that they can compete and will be supported by the party at all levels. In some cases, the local party may be suffering from malaise or lack of leadership. While the State party can’t necessarily directly fix this problem, it can work to create conditions where the problem can fix itself by training up motivated and interested area Democrats.

Ultimately, that’s the root of my criticism for the TNDP. I understand that a state party can’t go into every county and make the local parties better, but it is the job of the state party to create conditions and opportunities where the local parties can make themselves better, involve more people, and ultimately play a role in bringing the party back to a majority in the state House, Senate, as well as in the local contests.

We can build a strong and inclusive party apparatus here in Tennessee. It may take a while in some areas, but if we focus on building from the ground up, we’ll build a foundation that can help turn all of Tennessee bluer. Ultimately that’s the goal of Democrats throughout the state. That’s what we should be working for.

I’m glad to see that one of the candidates for chair is thinking this way. I can’t wait to learn more of the details as of his and other candidates’ plans as we go forward.

Nov 25 2008

It’s About the Plan

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized
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Last night GoldnI posted about the NCDP’s Plan of Organization. GoldnI notes:

At the top of the page, in one of the drop-down menus, are links to the contact info for every single county party.

The TNDP has it’s problems, but getting someone’s contact information isn’t one of them. In fact, I downloaded just about every single Democratic Official’s contact info to an Excel spreadsheet this morning. Be warned, I just might use it!

That said, knowing anything about what the state party or any of the various county parties are doing or how they’re structured or any of that, yeah, you’re better off asking someone, the TNDP site doesn’t even have an “about” page. How the hell do you make a web site without an “about” page?

GoldnI’s overall point is spot on about having a plan, and making it known. How can an organization that relies on people getting involved expect people to get excited about said organization without communicating an overall strategy? I’m not saying give anyone and everyone every single tactic you may or may not employ, not that those tactics are any real secret either, I’m talking about an overall strategy that gives people something to do and keeps them involved for the long term.

This is, perhaps, the single greatest failing of the TNDP in the last election cycle. More than anything else, the TNDP did a crappy job of communicating a plan. I don’t put this responsibility on Communications Director Wade Munday as it was his job to communicate the message, not craft it from the bottom up. I put it on the entire governing apparatus of the TNDP, and the general belief in old school “Trickle Down” politicking.

“Trickle Down” or “Top Down” politicking is just like it sounds; people at the top make decisions, those decisions “trickle down” through the ranks to the people. Just like “Trickle Down Economics”, few at the bottom of the information stream ever get wet. At some point, the information gets soaked up closer to the top and never makes it to the rest of the people.

Elected officials and political parties have used this method for years, and to a certain degree it’s worked. It can work, as long as people never age, have any personal crisis, or organized opposition. The problem with “top down” is that you never build any bench players to step in should the starter have to step out. The people at the top hold all the cards. When that person leaves, he/she leaves a vacuum in their wake, a prime target to be exploited by the opposition, which is exactly what happened.

The “Groundswell” method addresses the issue in a very different way. Groundswell campaigns actively enlist as many people as possible, making those people stakeholders in the campaign. Groundswell campaigns give people activities and information to keep them a part of the process. We saw this, on a national level, with the Obama campaign. They had scads of volunteers working, building an organization all over the country. They built this network by informing, and in some cases, bugging the crap out of donors and volunteers with email and print marketing.

But this method can’t originate in a vacuum. There has to be some kind of organization to build from, and the Tennessee had several strikes against it from the beginning; being a traditional “Red State”, a weak state party largely organized around personalities rather than principles, and a largely rural population made it impossible for the Obama campaign to sink enough resources throughout the state to really make a dent in the state. Add to that the effective attacks of the TNGOP, coupled with a decidedly anemic response from the TNDP and well, Gov. Bredesen, Chairman Sasser, you have no one to blame but yourselves.

So, how do we correct this? We start with a plan from the state party that includes training and outreach, consistent communication, coherent organization, and activation of the field. We build an organization around principles rather than politicians. We spread the field and give as many people as possible a voice so that collective voice will carry the party forward instead of a single voice, or a group of single voices dragging the party along.

Here’s how it works:

1. Build a Curriculum
– In order to build an organization you have to be willing to train them. Put together a curriculum that teaches people how to organize their neighborhoods/communities into smaller community groups.

2. Go out and Train
– Start with areas that have been traditionally competitive, as well as old standby’s like Shelby and Davidson Counties. These areas probably already have more of a bench that can be utilized than anywhere else. Use this opportunity to connect people with their Execom members and other local party functionaries. Building this relationship now will pay off big time come election day.

2.5 – Go Local – In areas that Democratic candidates sometimes have more difficulty, or areas that are VERY rural, train up the county party. Give them tools to help organize people, encourage activities that engage others. Visibility is key. Visibility breaks down barriers and minimizes objections.

3. Communicate to the Masses – Using the mailing list that you have collected through these training exercises, communicate frequently to your new army. Give them somewhere to go or something to do that’s trackable (a page on the site, a general activity). Encourage them to forward the email to new people, offering a means for these new people to get on the list and sign up for eventual training. ALWAYS ask for money. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Encourage small or recurring donations.

4. Expand the Field – Once you have your core group, team them up with a State Execom member or two and send them into less “blue” counties to train up the base. Remember, you’re building constituents not candidates. The candidates will come, and if they’re smart they’ll see what’s going on an work to duplicate.

5. Keep the Mo – Once you get this started, you can’t stop. Any interruption in this plan will yank the foundation out from under the base you’re creating. Don’t let personalities get in the way of progress. Remember, this is about expanding the field not concentrating power. Some old timers may have a hard time with this. Newbies will sense this and react negatively. Keeping it about the constituents is the key.

6. Mine for Gold – Use the resources you’ve built to find out what concerns your constituents most. That’s your platform, and many of these new people will eventually be your candidates.

7. Build Candidates/Organizations – Start training people to be good candidates and build good organizations that further support Democratic ideals and principles. Remember, this isn’t about creating a specific line of succession, it’s about building a bench of potential candidates, from local office up, any of whom could step in and move the ball down the field.

8. Encourage Constructive Primary Contests – This will probably piss more people off than anything, but it’s vital. No team can win without competition. No team can grow without opportunity. The current system of discouraging primary contests thins the bench, and leads to people checking out. If a primary contest weakens a candidate they were weak to begin with. Primary contests should be focused on the issues and be civil. People who break this rule should be called out. Some feel that they should be given a pass because they have been serving a community for a long time, but how can we build a great party organization and stifle competition? It defies logic.

9. Rinse and Repeat – After each election, bring people together, on a statewide and a county level. Talk about what worked and what needs work. Be honest and open. Listen to people who feel disenfranchised and talk openly and honestly about how to better include them. There will always be people who fall through the cracks, your goal is to minimize the number as much as possible.

As we move forward to the selection of a new TNDP chair, we need the potential candidates to talk about their plan. If I was chair, this would be my plan, but different people may have differed worldviews/priorities. In any case “A PLAN” is better than the “NO COMMUNICATED PLAN” we seem to have been operating under. If candidates for TNDP chair can’t lay out a plan then they will suffer the same fate of the current chair, and the state will suffer along with them. No matter what, doing what we’ve always been doing isn’t working, it’s time to try something new. Hopefully the candidates for Chair see this, and will respond accordingly.

Update: I recognize that my site does not have an “About” page either. The irony is not lost on me. I’m working to correct it, so no one can say I’m just another “Annonymous Blogger”.

Nov 18 2008

Revenge Vs. Reward vs. Accountability

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

This is my third and last Lieberman post of the day.

On the Big Orange Devil there’s a post by Argyrios that argues the Lieberman vote is the “Change We Need”.

I get what the author is saying. I argued about a week ago that Obama may want Lieberman to keep his post for many of these very reasons. But let’s not confuse what this vote is about. This vote is not about revenge, it’s about accountability.

Instead of holding Lieberman accountable for his actions, Senate Democrats have chosen to reward Lieberman for working for Republican candidates in the elections. As I said earlier this morning, he would have been booted from the party in just about any other country in the world for his actions.

So, Democrats have chosen to not hold their members accountable for working against the party. What does this say about Democrats’ dedication to Democratic principles? Sure Lieberman has been a democrat for 45 years, but his actions in the past several years have effectively undermined Democratic Principles. We’re supposed to feel good about rewarding that? We’re supposed to feel good about not holding someone accountable for their actions? Are you kidding me?

Here’s the real question going forward. How will Lieberman act toward his detractors? Sanders and Leahy spoke out against him in the caucus meeting. Anyone want to be Lieberman works against those three? See, if Lieberman actually feels bad about any of this, other than that fake “politically” bad, he’ll go out of his way to work with those three in particular. In reality, I think we’ll see Senator Lieberman go out of his way to obstruct these Senators, and anyone else he deems to be on his “enemies list”. That’s “Change we can Believe in”.

Below is the press conference after the vote.

Nov 18 2008

What We Have in Common

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

I’m probably going to get yelled at for saying this, but I’ve been thinking about it off and on for a long time. Hell, I may have said it before and I just don’t remember, but today’s events brought it back up in my mind, so here we go.

What do the liberal left and the religious right have in common? Frustration.

The religious right worked for years to attain a majority for the Republican Party in the House and Senate, spending countless hours working for people that purported to share their views, giving money and all that stuff. They did this to get rid of “activist judges” so they could get their own “activist judges” that reflected their views. They were faithful warriors in the “Cluture Wars”, fighting for their long-held beliefs. What did they get in return? Nothing.

The majority of conservative legislation that passed had more to do with the real power holders of the Republican Party, the Club for Growth guys than anything the Religious Right ever really pushed for. Gays are still in the military, abortion is still legal, and the 10 commandments still can’t be displayed in courthouses.

If the Republican Party is wondering why they lost their asses the past two elections, blowing off their “boots on the ground” base may, just may have something to do with it.

On the flip side, since 2001 liberal activists have been working to help build a Democratic Majority. The loss of the White House under dubious circumstances in 2000 ignited the liberal left. While the party may have taken a hard right turn in the post-911 environment, by the end of 2003 the liberal left was working it’s way back into the hearts and minds of Democrats, still fearful of the term “liberal” but willing to use us when it benefited getting the Party back into the majority.

While our gains in 2006 were largely attributed to dissatisfaction with the Bush administration’s handling of the war, it was the liberal left that led the charge on that front. Criticizing the Bush Administration was something that struck fear in the hearts of rank and file Democratic candidates. By September of 2006, the chorus was growing, and it was fashionable to be critical, finally.

Since 2006, with a majority in the House and a slim majority in the Senate, Democrats have flipped and flopped their way on issues of great concern to the liberal left. By and large, we on the liberal left, while unhappy, have still gone out of our way to make sure that Democrats get elected. In some cases we worked to primary candidates deemed too far to the right. Still ultimately, we worked for Democrats.

Liberals aren’t exactly getting what we want either, but we’re still working for Democrats, for now. Eventually, we’ll get tired of not getting what we want, or getting mocked, and once again the Democratic Party will be wondering where their base went, just like the Republican Party is doing right now.

Religious Right, we may disagree on just about everything, particularly as it relates to policy, but we know how you feel. It sucks, but the reality is, it’s not gonna change for either of us anytime soon.