This is the news report that broke yesterday regarding the “brokered” deal between several of the state’s elected officials and the TNDP Chair, Chip Forrester. Some have claimed that this makes Forrester a figurehead. In yesterday’s conference call, Forrester indicated that the arrangement is not substantially different from last year’s situation. The difference is that now the party is more focused than last year on grass roots organizing. I’m still waiting on a real live press release detailing the arrangement before I pass judgment.
Really, it’s kind of interesting. I had a post ready that detailed the good things that have come, or are coming from the TNDP leadership in the past 3 months. This revelation (I had heard there was a “truce” coming, this was not what I was expecting, nor what I would call a “truce”) kind of threw a monkey wrench into that post. Now that I’ve had time to sleep on it, I think we should acknowledge the positive steps and the challenges going forward, so here goes. First with the pluses:
1. Communications – This is simple, in 3 months I’ve received more press releases, emails and information from the TNDP that I had in the previous 4 years. Aside from losing, that was one of the biggest complaints coming into the Chair’s election. I’m glad this is fixed.
2. Web Site – The new web site is more than I expected. The ability of people to organize themselves online, to form groups, to form alliances despite living on opposite sides of the state, is a pretty big damn deal. This thing is only going to evolve more as time goes on.
3. Training – The upcoming Summit at Monteagle shows a dedication to training future ground troops to support the party and candidates. This is a HUGE deal for Tennessee. We need more people that are trained volunteers. Further, programs like this allow people to take the knowledge back home with them, and train up even more people. There’s a viral element to it that, if harnessed correctly, can be awesome.
4. Access – Forrester is the first chair to recognize that progressive bloggers can be your best friend, your worst enemy, and sometimes both. The outreach to people all over the state, keeping us informed when he can, and treating us as stakeholders in the process, is potentially transformational. We’re an unwieldy group, to be sure, but God knows that we’re not going away any time soon. Working with us is far better than ignoring us. He’s taken more steps in that direction than any member of the Tennessee Democratic establishment, ever.
Of course, not everything has been a bed of roses. There have been some mistakes, errors of omission, and a few outfight screw ups.
1. Messaging – Newscoma has a good post up about this. The TNDP hasn’t managed the news cycle very well. Yesterday’s response to the AP report referenced above is a prime example. This particular instance may have more to do with the actual terms of the agreement, but the silence until 4:30 PM yesterday was deafening. Currently the TNDP is looking for a Communications Director. The addition of someone whose sole responsibility is dealing with the media/bloggers/messaging will make it more likely that these uncomfortable silences happen less. Hopefully, someone will be in place soon.
2. Fundraising – I think just about everyone, with the possible exception of Norm Coleman and Al Franken, who are still engaged in a court battle for the MN-Sen. race, has seen a great deal of weakness in fundraising this year. It’s hard to get people to give money when they’re worried about their economic future. That said, there haven’t been that many public requests for funds from the Chair. Sure, he’s making phone calls to donors, but one of the things that the DNC and the Obama campaign mastered was the ask. Every single communication involved an ask, and it worked. This may not bring in big lump sums of money, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Something is better than nothing.
3. Owning it – From achievements and enhancements to foul ups and foibles, one of the most irritating things that the TNDP has been struggling with is publicly owning all of it. The mistakes need to be acknowledged publicly and promptly so that the news cycle moves beyond them more quickly. The achievements need to be included, in some way, in every official communication to the public. This reinforces the good and minimizes the bad, while not totally dismissing either. It’s putting your best foot forward, even when a mistake is made, to own everything you do. Lots of folks think that only talking about the good stuff is the way to improve your image. I believe that if you own all of everything you do out in public, you do a lot more to improve both the public perception, and the credibility of your reports.
There are a lot of good things that can happen with all this. Building a grass roots network is an investment in Democratic candidates that will pay off not only tomorrow, but also 20 years from now. If successful, these people can be an invaluable resource in the run up to next year’s election. On the down side, the folks at the TNDP are sorely understaffed, due in large part to the financial position that the party was in after last year’s election and fundraising challenges that have been a reality for both parties over the past few months. Hopefully the plan that emerged yesterday will allow the TNDP to focus on the grass roots and have to worry less about raising scads of cash.
In the end, I know there are a lot of people who feel put off after three months, but think about the volunteers who have been living it. They still get up every morning and bust their butts, regardless of what the detractors say. I understand that the pissing contest directed at the chair has been disheartening, but nobody said politics was pretty. I see why this feels like surrender to some, but are we going to win back the House with one faction working to undermine the other? Think of the alternative. I don’t want to live through 20 years of Republican rule of the legislature, that’s for sure. It may still happen, but we have to do everything in our power to prevent it.
Ultimately, that’s all I can think about right now.
So if the War of the Roses is over, let’s stop worrying about who won and get to work. 2010 is right around the corner. We don’t have any time to waste.