Like probably every other progressive in the country, I've made scathing comments about the Democratic Party from time to time. So I wondered how I'd react to hearing the executive director of the Missouri party at Wednesday night's meetup.
Corey Dillon is a slim, thirtyish woman with short, dark hair. Her youth and earnest, unaffected manner would get her booted out of smoke filled back rooms. Which is fine with her. She and her colleagues are not interested in being deal makers. They are interested in getting the grassroots of Missouri organized as quickly as possible.
They have a lot of ground to make up. The "State Party" sounds impressive, but it's basically been pretty pitiful. In fact, before 1992 it wasn't even staffed year round. After Mel Carnahan was elected, at least there was staff even in nonelection years, but they were just an extension of the gubernatorial office holder or candidate. Over time the focus of the state party was to get democratic governors either elected or re-elected, with little attention paid to other races or democratic causes.
After Matt Blunt defeated McCaskill, Corey and Jack Cardetti--the only two people in the Jeff City office--took stock of the situation and made some crucial decisions. The first was that as of January, they went into "Attack the Republicans" mode. (Details tomorrow!) The second was that they began contacting every Democratic group they could find in the state to begin talks about what those groups needed and wanted to accomplish in their part of the state. The third was tracking down Howard Dean soon after he was elected DNC chair. Corey and Claire McCaskill drove to Kansas, where Dean was speaking, and wangled a private interview. They explained that the party would either have to close its doors in a couple of months or it would start building, and money would be the deciding factor. Missouri's state party was the FIRST to submit a plan to Dean, and it was among the first four targeted by the DNC. With the money they received from the national party, Corey and Jack were able to begin hiring staff.
They inherited a large data base of people who volunteered to help Democrats in the last election. However, most of those people consider some place other than the party to be their political home base, having correctly concluded that the state party was weak or irrelevant. Change for Missouri, ACT, MoveOn, Progressive Dems, and various other groups have been sticking many fingers in the dike, trying to hold back the Republican flood. These groups would be more effective if they weren't duplicating efforts and tripping over each other. The state party is offering to coordinate.
What they are not offering to do is direct the various groups. Corey says the state office can crunch numbers for local groups, but only local people have a feel for how to make the most productive use of the information. For example, in a given county during the previous two elections, Democrats might expect to garner 63 percent of the vote, but in the last election, they only won 50 percent. Local folks are best equipped to make sense of the discrepancy. Do they need to register more Democrats, or do they first need to go door to door and ID exactly where the Dems are? Jefferson Township, for example, is IDing Democrats and creating a pyramidal communication structure, with one communicator for every thiry Democratic households. Most other areas in the state are not, unfortunately, so well organized--at least not yet.
Coming up with a plan for the state is uncharted territory, and Corey will be the first to tell you that nobody knows exactly what the organizational map will look like six months from now. The staff in Jeff City is feeling its way, contacting local people, looking for liaisons, and offering to coordinate local efforts.
I just assumed the state party, like the national one, was headed by bureacratic insiders, mostly indifferent to my opinions. Turns out, they're more like the Wizard of Oz, desiring to empower us so we can take our state back.