Tuesday’s election was simply a confirmation of what many observers already knew was coming. The only question was how large Republican gains were going to be. The relegation to minority status of the Democratic Party was a long time in the making, and I don’t expect it to change anytime soon. The failure can be summed up in one word: leadership.
I’ve said for a while now that it seems no one takes a long view when it comes to planning for the Democratic Party. In doing so, we end up getting our butts handed to us on a regular basis. We have no bench and there is no effort to build one. Democrats seem to think that if they build a bench, such as getting candidates elected or appointed to boards and commissions, they are growing their own opposition.
Talk about short-sighted.
If you are afraid of growing your own competition, you are willing to hand over everything to the Republicans, who have no such problem. Republicans get that they need people in the wings, ready to run for the next higher office. Democrats are always looking around at the last minute, trying to find someone willing to run.
That’s no way to build a party.
And even if they could find a candidate, there was no money to help. On the day that the Bob McDonnell was elected governor, Democrats needed to raise as much money – both as candidates and collectively – as possible. It is as if they somehow thought the money would magically appear. Um, no. There was no one to help raise the money – Democrats no longer controlled the governor’s mansion, so where was the money to come from?
When I saw the balances in some of the incumbents accounts, particularly Senators, I knew it was a problem. Three years in office and you haven’t raised any money? Is it any wonder that Republicans felt emboldened to challenge as many Democratic Senators as they could?
It’s not as if the Democratic Senators had emptied their accounts in the 2009 elections – because they didn’t. I was told that the Senate Caucus specifically decided not to contribute to the House Caucus in 2009.
Are the Democrats in the General Assembly one party or two? Have we replaced the two Republican parties in the GA – one in the House, one in the Senate? Seems that way.
Because when redistricting rolled around, Senate Dems got no support from the House Dems for their redistricting plan. As I said at the time, every Democrat in the House should have voted against the House redistricting plan. It would have passed, anyway, but it may have demonstrated to Senate Dems to hold firm on their plan that the governor vetoed. Didn’t happen, though, and Senate Dems backed right down, creating a plan that did not protect the majority.
Senate leadership should have never put forth such a plan. This ain’t beanbag – Republicans in the House delighted in drawing a plan that took out white Democrats, while placating black Dems, which they can’t touch anyway because of the VRA of 1965. Senate Dems, on the other hand, played nice. And look where it got them.
Perhaps the biggest leadership failure in the Democratic Party is the use of the caucus system. In order to be effective, the caucus system requires strong leadership, something the Dems haven’t had for a while. This is what fellow Dems should be blaming my friend, Brian Moran, for, not for his being chairman of the DPVA.
The Democratic Party of Virginia is not the organization that decides what is done by Democrats in Virginia. That organization is basically a shell, acting as a conduit for funds. They don’t set policy – that’s literally in the hands the caucuses. Sorry State Central members – you guys vote on what is presented to you but in terms of real power, it doesn’t rest with you. The Democratic Party of Virginia long ago gave way to being candidate-driven instead of party-driven, with the caucuses in charge of the candidates.
As House Caucus chair, Brian basically engineered its fall, although I doubt he realized it at the time. The replacement of Frank Hall as minority leader removed from the caucus a major fundraiser. When coupled with some other issues, including retirements, the caucus saw its sources of cash disappear. Go back four years and see where the caucus contributions came from versus where it comes from now – it’s there for all to see. Armstrong was the wrong choice as minority leader, in that he would never be in a safe seat to raise money for the caucus the way Hall was.
Brian’s resignation from the House to run for governor – a really bad move – resulted in an ineffective caucus chair, who did nothing to try to mend the fences within the caucus and bring some of those who felt slighted earlier back into the fold. It’s an “every man for himself” mentality there. And that’s why Dems are down to 32 seats.
So what’s next for Democrats in Virginia? If there is a silver lining in all of this, it is that I expect the Republicans to overreach. They understand that they have, at most, two years to accomplish all of the things they haven’t so far and with control of the entire government in Virginia, they are going to shoot for it. It’s going to cost them – watch what happens in 2012 as the independents swing away from the Republicans back to the Democrats.
That’s not going to solve the long-term problems within the Democratic Party of Virginia, though. Because just as soon as the indys swing towards us in 2012, they are going to swing back in 2013. And with redistricting being what it was – and what it will be on the Congressional side – Dems are in for a long, long time in the minority.
What the Democrats should be doing is building for the future. It’s beyond time to scrap this candidate-driven philosophy. It’s beyond time to scrap this caucus approach. It’s beyond time for the DPVA to be more than a shell of an organization.
Democrats in Virginia need new, visionary leaders who are not stuck in a time warp, partying like it’s 1998.
Or we can be the minority party – in more ways than one – for the next 30 years.