Thursday, November 17, 2016

DPG Will Never Change RJ. Why bother?

Some have told me it's hopeless to try and change DPG. Last time I tried I had so many State Comm. members who went back on their word and voted for status quo. "See nobody really wants it to change. Why does it matter? It's GA, the party can't do anything anyway. Not even worth it."

Here's my answer to that:

You're cynicism is understood. You don't believe it will get better and you can't envision a different state party. Still, without major 3rd party ballot access reforms, DPG is our door just to have a CHANCE at electing public servants who will represent our concerns as Dems. Right now the door is partially open, partially working. I feel we have a duty to oil the hinges and kick that door wide open.

I fight not for what the party is today. I fight for what it could be. Against the odds I keep at it, because I know there are many others who feel the same way.

Yes, as a former party Officer, I know its not all bad. It's not all bad. It's not all bad, but we know it could be so much better. Here are the problem areas I have tried to call out.

1) Metro Atlanta has too much control over party affairs and it blocks out the needs/views of other areas.
2)Little accountability or transparency for party affairs at the top and this trickles down to county parties.
3)Communication systems are poor and lack coordination
4)Organizational planning is near impossible because of #3

All of these can absolutely be fixed, but you need leaders who want to fix it. DPG Chair Porter has always said this party is about raising money, raising money, raising money. You can google that. We had a rough patch with the last Chair and I saw it as a chance to really take a hard look at ourselvs. A chance to evolve. But many at the party fell in line because of the money. The Treasurer doesn't have to show us any regular reports but I guess he's done what he promised and that's good. Absolutely money is an important thing for the party, but its not the only thing. Planning, inclusion and communication count too. These things have been sorely lacking and are much needed in party leadership.

Closing, I've already been called every name in the book so really - save it. Any energy used to come at me could be used to fix what you know is broken. Listen, I was an Officer and I know. Under the current party structure, if there's going to be a major change, it MUST come from the very top. Reset. Rebuild. #vacatethechair rj

Sunday, November 13, 2016

New DPG Direction: So if you gonna do it, then get to it

While there's talk of new party leadership at the national level, many want to make the same move here in Georgia at the state level. I agree. Chairman Porter, at least, maybe others too, needs to step down and give the party a chance at a fresh approach. This cycle, his chairmanship has mostly been about making Georgia into a national player which was never going to happen. As usual the national candidates came in to extract their fundraising dollars and left us with nothing more than a Facebook pic. Meanwhile, here at home our local/state candidates and Democrats outside of Atlanta metro were left to fend for themselves with very little coordination or support. The election results map really tells the story and mind you Chairman Porter, from Laurens County, was touted as a new voice for rural Georgia Democrats. There were near daily emails from DPG leading up to and including Election Day. Almost a week later and we have not seen any communication from Porter or his Executive Director. Where do we stand now? Will there be postmortem events? How/When will we plan for the road ahead? Silence.

UPDATE: After posting this to facebook, Chairman Porter sent out an email to address where the party stands. No postmortems. More talk of being a battleground state. Question: Even if we acheive that, (we won't) what does that do for our local/state races ahead? That's great for the political elites, but how does that help the rest of us?

There will be an election for a new DNC Chair in March 2017. This only happened because Debbie Wasserman-Schultz resigned after WikiLeaks released some of her emails relating to the primary. Of course, the shocking election results would have led to calls for change at the DNC anyway, but nothing would happen if DWS stayed put. Eventually things would cool down and everything would have gone back to normal.

Thankfully, we don't have any scandal here like the DNC. However that doesn't negate the need for change in our party leadership. What we have been doing, and how we have been doing it, is not working. If something isn't done now, memories/emotions will fade and nothing will be done to set the party on a new path. You may have other reasons, but the changes I'm speaking of would push party activities out beyond the Atlanta metro to really reach and connect with other types of Georgia Democrats. I also want to see more accountability and transparency in party activities, less scrutiny-proof measures built into the bylaws/charter. As I noted in my last post, there are ways of using the existing bylaws and either the State Committee or Executive Committee to create a more inclusive, transparent DPG. However, the current leadership has not shown the desire to develop, communicate and execute a plan to move us forward.

So if you've ever thought of turning the whole DPG apple cart over, it has to start with a vacancy. A party officer, preferably the Chair, has to quit or be asked to leave on his/her own. It's not something that is easy to go through. These are volunteer positions, but lots of effort goes into securing an Officer spot and the organization isn't suited for such turnover. Seriously, the last time an Officer spot was vacated, the guy was just moments away from handcuffs. Even then, party loyalists stood by and looked the other way until the right person called for a change. In the state party, it's not enough to call for changes, as I did often. You have to be the right person. Someone with the stature and tenure established where others party leaders will feel safe to call for a different direction. Yes it shouldn't be that way, but that's the state of our party. In this case, it took a former party Chair to get the vacancy moving.

That said there is a formal removal process hard coded into the bylaws, but the acceptable reasons for removal are a little vague and it's kind of like a trial process that takes some time. Barring some terrible, obvious action, most party leaders would just opt for leaving things as is until the next scheduled election rather than go through a formal removal.

The reason you want to push for a vacancy is because, with the current bylaws, it's really the fastest way to force a meeting. See the only way the body can approve any changes in the organization is with a meeting. If the Chair doesn't call the meeting and set an agenda, it's not going to happen. People may fuss/cry that State Comm. hasn't met and there are other ways for a meeting to be called (see previous post), but truthfully if the Chair/Executive Director doesn't call it - forget it.

With any Officer vacancy, the party has 10 days from when the vacancy occurs to call a special election and invite nominees. Then the election must happen between 60-70 days after that. Yes the state party has been known to overlook a bylaw or two, but this one is glaring and hard to sweep under the rug. Anyway, we don't have proxy voting so the State Comm. will have to physically assemble for that election. 

The current DPG system is not designed for meaningful change that would improve communication, inclusion and planning. Anyone who believes they can work within the current structure and effect meaningful change is deluding themselves. The current system is designed for top down control by an unaccountable leadership. So all of the Progressives, Bernie supporters, disenchanted Conservative Democrats, etc. here are your options for real change in the state party:

1. Storm the Gates
Use every outlet you can, from every channel you can muster to directly and indirectly call for the Chair and/or Officers to step down. It would have to be public and you're gonna get called out for not working with the existing party structure and being the problem, not the solution. You'll have to ignore the ton of rationalizing that will be thrown against you. Also watch out for the opposite effect. You're likely to become a unifying force for the existing structure to remain exactly as is. It's called circling the wagons. You'll need to find groups with similar grievances to unify with and make your assault. Again it would have to be public enough to get people talking about it on their networks. Without that there would be no pressure to respond to a call for leadership change. Then you hope it's enough to get someone, preferably the Chair, to step down.

2. Find the "Right" Democrat(s)
There are a number of figures within the DPG leadership who could probably make some public statements and/or some calls to get enough people to say "It's time". If you successfully attempt #1 for long enough, eventually that person will rise up to quell the storm. Then you go to work on that person to promote change for the good of the party. Elected officials, former party leaders, Chair appointees, DNC reps. These are good categories to consider. You'll have to get a current list of State Committee members to consider this approach. Interesting side note, we use to make the State Comm. list available on the DPG website. It's not that easy to get hold of anymore. I wonder why.

3. Be Patient and Wait
The next Officer elections will take place in January 2019. You could just ride it out and wait until then. The current members of State Comm. will make the selection so you could start working on them now in support of your candidate. See my comment above about finding who these State Comm. members are. Be careful here though, bylaws give the current chair a ton of State Comm. appointments and they can be appointed right up to the election day. No one will really know upfront who those appointees are so you can likely expect close to 40 votes against your candidate right out of the gate. The whole Chair appointee thing absolutely needs to go or be severely limited. It's a very effective tool for protecting the status quo. It's an approach, but my least favorite because we need to make changes and get moving before 2018.

4. Alternative Approach?
There may be another way to get your issues heard and acted upon without burning the whole thing down. You could wait for the next scheduled meeting or force one (see above). Then address State Comm. with your concerns. You could try subset meetings with the Officers and/or Chair and/or Exec. Comm, but it's too easy for stuff to get swept under the rug. There needs to be a hearing or at least the start of a hearing with the ultimate decision making body of the DPG and that's State Comm. Don't expect you will be invited formally on any agenda, but you could organize to address members on their way into the meeting. Perhaps with a willing leadership, you can force bylaws changes that will set things up for approach #3. Takes time and emotions are running high now, but it could be another way to go.

So let's say one or a combination of these approaches meet with success. Then what? What are the specific changes that need to be made? I don't think changing leadership goes far enough. I'm for a major change in the underlying structure and setup of the state party. This can be accomplished with bylaws/charter changes and an active effort to move away from an Atlanta metro focused party. I'll talk about that in a future post. rj

Friday, November 11, 2016

Backdrop for a DPG Revolution: Things you should know going in

Before you start down this road of trying to replace everyone and rebuild DPG from the bottom, there's some things you should know.

Yes, I think the Chair and Officers can set the right direction for the party, a tone that is transparent, organized and inclusive. However, it's pointless to try to villify or lay total blame with any one Chair or set of Officers. These are unpaid, volunteer positions that are fairly underappreciated. The problem is that we have an organizational structure that mainly protects the Chair from questioning, discourages regular internal debate and doesn't really hold anyone accountable to the overall body.

That said, unless the current slate of Officers (or at least a majority that includes the Chair) are willing to promote wide scale change, any change will have to be forced from below by the State Committee. Under the current bylaw structure, it's very difficult for this body to effect change against the will of the Chair.

So the State Committee consists of approx. 332 elected, appointed or designated members from around the state. In order to make anything happen, this body has to meet. Under current bylaws, they have to physically meet, no teleconference. The Chair is supposed to call at least one meeting of State Comm. each year, but it doesn't always happen. State Comm. can only call a meeting, without the Chair, if 20% or around 67 State Comm. members deliver a written notice to the Chair. These 67 would also count as a quorum so if they could all come together and give proper notice, they could vote on organizational changes.

The problem is the Chair is allotted 37 appointments to State Comm. and there's no review of who/when those appointments are made. Appointments can be made, with no oversight, right up to and/or on the day of any meeting (I've seen both occur). So any challenge would have to overcome that block of votes immediately. Also you've got well over 50 elected officials, former statewide Democratic candidates, party Officers, District Chairs, DNC reps and Affiliate Chairs on State Comm. They typically aren't looking to rock the boat or go against the Chair so you can't rely on those votes. Long story short, you have to go around the state to locate at least 100 State Comm. members favorable to change AND you've got to get them to a specific location on a particular date/time AND you've got to make sure they don't get cold feet or pressured to change their mind. Not easy!

Now there is a smaller group called the Executive Committee.This group consists of around 40 elected officials, party Officers, District Chairs, DNC reps, and Affiliate Chairs. This group can act outside of State Comm to make organizational changes BUT they cannot elect new state party leaders. You only need around 20 members to set a regular meeting without the Chair and it only takes that many for a quorum. With little more than 10 Exec. members (25%), you can call for special meetings to deal with urgent matters, but it still takes a majority of the full Exec. to pass any changes. In addition to smaller size, these meetings can be done by telephone, so that's one less hurdle to manage. However, 7 of the members are appointed by the Chair and most of the Executive Committee will lean toward loyalty and maintaining the status quo. During the difficult years under former Chair, now convicted felon Berlon, I was often berated and put down by the Exec. for trying to raise legitimate concerns about his chairmanship. Smaller number, no physical meeting required, but still not easy!

Finally, if you go down this path of trying to change the structure and/or leadership of DPG, you're going to face opposition. You're going to lose some friends (or folks you believed were your friends). You're going to be painted as if you are the problem. If you try to talk publicly, you'll be chided for putting the party's business on blast and for not working within the system.

Don't feel bad. Don't question your motives. The "system" (charter, bylaws, rules, etc.) is not setup for scrutiny or accountability. It's time for a new approach and I thank you for taking steps toward a more responsive, inclusive party. rj

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

DPG State Committee: Are you ready now?

Open letter to all DPG State Committee members:

Almost 2 years ago exactly, I asked you to stop focusing on the dream of being "in play" and really get down to rebuilding our organization. On two separate occassions, I implored you to place your attention squarely on local/state races, decentralize operations/activities well outside of Atlanta and resist the distraction of national players that could care less about Georgia.

I wanted us to sit down and develop a real plan that we all could see and act upon. Unfortunately, it all fell on deaf ears and when I look at last night's results, not THOSE results but OUR Georgia results, I'm compelled to make another call to action.

This cycle is done, we have to move on and look ahead to 2018. Now, today, you MUST hold DPG leadership, and that includes yourselves, accountable for the road ahead with an actionable, communicated plan. Ive talked to you about this before. Planning, communication and engagement

I know you may not want to face it, but our structure and bylaws need to be scrapped and rebuilt for the kind of party we need. Look at the election map. Look down south, up north. Our top down structure is leaving large swaths of voters out of the process. There are ideas out there about how to address this, I offered a few, but you have to be willing to hear it and act.

After a decade of involvement with DPG leadership, I know it's a thankless job. Still, you have a duty to fix what you know, and can see, is not working. Trust me, you will have those who will stand in the way because doing nothing is more comfortable for them.

Search your feelings on this morning after. Do you want to experience this again? Are you going to let anything stop you from demanding the necessary changes in our organization? Answer with action. rj