Bob is a much nicer person than me, and has my respect for being so. But I think the comments he made regarding the direction of the Utah Democratic Party (as well as my own) are not only timely and relevant, but the beginnings of a necessary conversation.
Lets take a look at what we're seeing/hearing from party leadership the past few weeks.
- An announcement from the Vice-Chair that he will be running for a more local office as Davis County Chair, urging Utahns to "get local."
- Several aggressive and well written posts by Craig Axford via Utah Amicus and the party website. (Go Craig!)
- A quote in the Salt Lake Tribune from Chairman Holland and Tracy Van Wagoner reminding Utahns and future candidates that Democrats don't win in Utah.
- Right now, on the recently redesigned UTDemocrats.org page, there is a lovely picture of Donald Dunn and James Carville.
In summer 2008 I visited the office to pitch an event idea, which I was willing to volunteer my time for, if accepted. I suggested, in a friendly tone, that maybe, just perhaps, as a mere idea to be considered, we don't treat 2008 as just business as usual. Host a few unique events for candidates to interact with the public, get some grassroots fundraising going. I was met with a glare, and a declarative statement that we had the Eleanor Roosevelt event coming up, and that would be the end of the conversation. We're underfunded underdogs, they tell me. True enough. But underfunded underdogs are making gains in Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho. What are they doing that we aren't? My guess is they're actually fighting back with more than push polls, attempts to buy moderate Republicans as candidates, disenfranchised candidates who feel ignored by the party, and thinly veiled attempts to co-opt religion for electoral gain. Aren't we supposed to be different from Republicans, not following their lead?
In the spring of 2008, I criticized the lack of creativity going into the party convention, as I watched Mr. Cantrell and volunteers turn the Republican convention into a very impressive online extravaganza -- one which even my fellow Cache Valley politico's could be a part of through streaming video and frequent web updates to a dedicated page. Rob Miller called me out (to his credit) on my criticism, and handed me the video from the Democrat's convention to cut up / upload to youtube. While getting the video, I spoke to Mr. Holland about how behind we were compared to Colorado, and even Idaho's party efforts in using online resources to reach out (a factor I don't think is unrelated to the fact both states saw Democrat gains in 2008, while we lost ground) and engage the public with candidates. Mr. Holland challenged me to pitch him a "business plan" that he could use to "sell" to large donors. I never did. How can you explain to someone the importance of something so vague and unpredictable that you see working in neighboring states -- across the nation, in fact -- if they aren't seeing it themselves. So instead, we got a large donor and "Utah Common Values." Never heard of it? I'm not surprised.
But my criticism isn't so much in what Holland is doing with the party, but what he isn't doing. In the outlets I get my information from (using a process which matches the statistical models of almost every other 18-35 year old out there) Rob Miller and Craig Axford and Todd Taylor come through as the only voice of the party. Rob Miller's leaving, and Craig and Todd are but two people in a state of millions.
I've sat on many opinions, to give them a chance. And I don't claim to have all the answers, or to know every aspect of the nuts and bolts of running a state party. I'm sure there are more subtle successes flying under the radar (House Democrats produced the first joint budget proposal in a decade this session, for example). My understanding is limited, I admit. But what I do understand is that what is happening isn't working. There seems to be no fight. Silence, followed by a quote in the local rag, again, reminding candidates that Democrats don't win in Utah.
The party has no identity, and with all due respect, Mr. Holland, I'm beginning to question your ability to give it one, and lead the Utah Democratic Party forward.