Home Virginia Politics DPVA Central Committee Members Respond to My RNC/DPVA Comparison Piece

DPVA Central Committee Members Respond to My RNC/DPVA Comparison Piece


The following analysis of the state of the Democratic Party of Virginia was written by a DPVA Central Committee member, in part responding to an email I received (which I shared with him) critical of this article, “Is the RNC Chair Election More ‘democratic’ than the DPVA’s?” Note that the critical email was unusual, in that 99% of the feedback I’ve received on that article has been positive. Also, I welcome anyone – including the individual who sent me the private email – who wants to post a diary defending the DPVA’s performance the past few years, its process in selecting a new chair (and, for that matter, 1st Vice Chair), etc. That should be fascinating. 😉  With that, here’s the Central Committee member’s take on the current state of the DPVA (bolding added by me for emphasis):

The governance structure of DPVA is very bureaucratic and hierarchical. The personality profiles of the members of the DPVA Steering Committee (as distinguished from the DPVA Central Committee) are very well suited to taking orders and carrying them out. Many of the members of the Steering Committee have been members for 8, 12, 15 years or more. The type of person who makes doing this a career, generally speaking, is not a risk-taker, but rather what I would call a “minder”: someone who gets a lot of gratification from the limited power of minding the store.

In the last decade, with two Democratic governors in a row, DPVA’s culture got even more entrenched in taking orders from the Democratic governor on major issues–for both good and ill. When McDonnell beat Deeds, this group of “followers/minders” was left at sea, but they did not change their personalities.

Enter Senator Mark Warner, a former DPVA Chair, who decided that he would “hand-pick” the new Chair and line up all other major Democratic leaders (Saslaw, Whipple, Armstrong, Webb) before anyone else…even knew there was an opening. Warner’s reasons for annointing Brian Moran may have been complex, but insuring that DPVA got the best Chair available, or a Chair chosen in a truly democratic process, certainly was not a paramount consideration. Mark Warner himself wants DPVA to do things that are in his own complex mosaic of interests. This is why…it is never good to have a Democratic committee–at any level–overly dependent on any one individual.

If Mark Warner had really wanted the best person to be chosen as DPVA Chair, and if he had wanted that decision to have been made by the end of 2010, he would have orchestrated a process under which Cranwell would have announced in March or April of 2010 that he was resigning, effective December 31, 2010, and he would have encouraged the minders at DPVA to set up a multi-month process of encouraging multiple candidates to run, and having candidate forums around the state at which the real grassroots of the Democratic party could have asked questions.

Alternatively, if Cranwell himself and DPVA really were a democratic and grassroots-oriented organization, Cranwell himself, without Mark Warner, would have made that announcement on his own in March or April of 2010, and Cranwell would have organized such a process. (Precisely because DPVA is not such an organization, the latter course of action would have been impossible.]

We all know that there were several other candidates for DPVA Chair who feared for their political futures if they stepped up to challenge Mark Warner’s choice of Brian Moran, and therefore were unwilling to do so.

While there are, indeed, quite a number of true grassroots activists on the DPVA Central Committee, any characterization of that Committee itself as a grassroots organization is simply absurd. It is an organization very hostile to change.

…Cranwell’s shocking decision to inject an auction into the middle of the {DPVA Chair} election highlighted the woefully inadequate state of DPVA’s finances, showing that a 21st Century political party in a major swing state depends on “bake sale” financing to try to keep its ship afloat.

{this final paragraph has been significantly edited to protect peoples’ identities)

Because of their background supporting progressive candidates and their experience in grassroots politics, at least one DPVA Central Committee members fancies himself as a grassroots activist–which he used to be at one time. But now, in 2011, he definitely has left all that behind in fact though not in rhetoric, and is now part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

  • Another area on which we (strongly) disagree is the issue of Brian Moran’s work as a lobbyist for the for-profit “education” industry.  Frankly, until I hear Brian’s supporters address this crucial moral/ethical/legal/political issue, instead of just brushing it off or ignoring it, I see the prospects of having a respectful, serious dialog on issues pertaining to the DPVA election – and DPVA operations, for that matter – as well nigh impossible.

    Finally, with regard to DPVA, I’m not sure what you’re intending to defend exactly. I talk to a lot of people, including DPVA Central Committee members, and I know MANY who are unhappy with this organization’s performance over the past few years. For starters, just to pick a glaring example, we went for a full YEAR without a communications director, in the aftermath of the devastating losses we suffered in 2009. That’s inexcusable. I also find it striking that, in the aftermath of those losses, the reaction by DPVA was not to change anything in a serious way, but to circle the wagons and stick with the “same old/same old.” Perhaps you’ve been impressed with the DPVA’s performance the past couple years, but I most certainly have not been, nor have many other Virginia Democratic and progressive activists.

  • The Richmonder

    approach DPVA with a great deal of fatalism.  They don’t want to get mired down in fighting for control of an organization they perceive as not really doing anything.  Their attitude is “DPVA is useless, so why expend political capital fighting for control of an organization that isn’t going to do anything?”

    Offending Warner would be a tremendous downside.  Having control of DPVA would change nothing because DPVA is a nullity.  Why fight?  That’s the calculation many make.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    The places to start changing the climate and effectiveness of Democratic politics in the state have to be local committees. Nothing will come from Richmond. Nada. The DPVA is a “club” that is calcified in its past. If enough change comes to local committees, the membership of the central committee and even the steering committee will change over time. It’s a long slog, but I don’t see any other way. That’s the only reason I stay active.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    A while back I received a survey from the DPVA person ostensibly involved in grassroots outreach. The survey wasn’t asking for suggestions for improvement in how the DPVA interacts with the grassroots, etc. Nope. It wanted my “opinion” on how long the central committee meetings should be, whether the locations were comfortable enough, etc. I didn’t bother responding….

  • Dan Sullivan

    An able politician with his advantage would have seen the opportunity to build a state organization, employed finesse, let it appear he was not too involved, but end up with a grateful, loyal, and unified organization. Instead, he stumbled in and made a seriously flawed effort at a power grab, and demonstrated zero leadership.

    Now he is letting his plaything wallow.

  • Mike1987

    The DPVA is simply not relevant. I have never had dealings with this organization. I have never seen anything from it and simply don’t care.  I deal with my local democratic members (and one republican because he’s very good), my Congressman, and one Senator. DPVA is a dead end run by amateurs. They don’t get my money nor time.

    I mean, central committee? Really, with identifications like that, you know you are dealing with tone deaf amateurs

  • that never stopped Ol’ Cleetus from offering an opinion.

    Ol’ Cleetus served 30 years in the USofA Army, rising to the rank of XXXXXX.  Ol’ Cleetus has commanded organizations as small as a 40-soldier infantry platoon and as large as a 5,000-soldier infantry brigade.

    I don’t want people working for me who are “very bureaucratic and hierarchical.”  I fire staffers and commanders who are “minders,” just minding the store until their next assignment comes along.  

    I want risk-takers, initiative-takers, hard-chargers, hungry people who will take on the mission as a Holy Crusade, walk the battlefield to see what we’re up against, get down in the mud with the troops, and kick as many asses and take as many names as needed to get ‘er done.  (Can I say “kick asses” on Blue Virginia?)

    Maybe that’s why Ol’ Cleetus never went into politics.

    Pardon the interruption.  I’ll go back to watching football.

  • cvllelaw

    Lowell, I have been on the State Central Committee for about 6 years, and I have never seen it actually do anything. The only hotly contested issue that I can remember actually coming to a vote was a proposal to amend the bylaws to address the question of who gets to censure a Democratic Party or elected official who endorses a Republican.  And I don’t even remember the outcome (I think we courageously voted to table it…)  A classic example of the irrelevance of the Central Committee comes every year when we approve the DPVA budget.  We do not receive a copy of the budget ahead of time; copies are passed out to the Committee members during the meeting, we are allowed to look at the papers for a few minutes, then we vote and they collect (and COUNT) the copies to make sure that none of these top-secret documents fall into the wrong hands.  Obviously, we were not permitted to look at the budget from last year, because we were not permitted keep a copy of the budget from last year.  And because the meeting was public and we didn’t want Republicans to learn that we were spending money, there was virtually no public discussion of the budget.  On the other hand, I guess I should be glad of one change that Dickie Cranwell instituted — at one point a few years ago each Congressional District Committee would be given about 3 copies (for 20 or so members); it was obviously impossible for most members to even look at the budget.  Now they at least hand out enough so that everyone can look at his or her own copy, though we still have to hand them back after the vote.

    Clearly, the management of the Party is intended to take place in the Steering Committee.  Clearly, the Central Committee is not intended to actually have a voice in the operation of the Party; we are a rubber stamp that votes on the Party budget only because the National Party Plan requires that we do so.  

    But that sort of misses the point of the Central Committee.  The Central Committee is the coming-together of all of the District Committees, which is where things actually can get done.  The Central Committee is not a place where things get done.  For one thing, in many Congressional Districts, no more than 4 or 5 members of the 20-25 member Committee have any clue about what’s happening at the DPVA.  And there isn’t really any good way to disseminate enough information to the entire Central Committee that the Committee members can know and understand the issues of management of the DPVA.  I don’t mind that I am not sufficiently in the loop to be able to make decisions about budgetary issues.  But I wish that I were confident that the people actually making the decisions were on top of things.

    The fact is that the sort of ossification that is described here is fairly typical of political parties.  They are run by the insiders — the people with the ability to bring money to the Party.  The larger and the more diverse the state is, the more inevitable that ossification is.  The fact that it is typical doesn’t make it desirable.  

    I wish I had an answer, but at this point the only thing that I really want out of DPVA is the voter files on VAN.  As long as they maintain the VAN, I don’t much care what else happens.

  • ValerieInRke

    In the Roanoke City reorganization in 2007 long time members were ousted including former Senator Granger MacFarlane and his wife. Long time Democrats like Mayor Bower’s mother were left out as well. Bower’s later ran as an Independent and won.

    In a reorg at the Roanoke City Democratic Committee in December 2009 the rules were passed out with an attachment. The attachment had a list of “suggested” members who should be voted into the committee. The new Democratic chair is Roanoke Commonwealth Attorney, Don Caldwell.

    The districts were reduced from eleven to six which left fewer membership openings in the heavily diverse Northwest district. The predetermined list left no room for nominations from the floor.

    There were a few exceptions. Mayor David Bowers made it in as a member-at-large.

    Greg Habeeb then Chair of the Salem Republican Committee (now in HOD) was baffled by the Democrat’s process. Habeeb said the Salem Republican Committee had no maximum membership limitations. Anyone who wants to join is welcome. Calls for a quorum are rare if ever and business is conducted with members present.

    So much for “inclusion” in the RCDC. Because of the infighting many, many Democrats have been lost.

    I just now had a call from the Vice-Chair of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors. She wanted me to come to the re-election of officers for The Farm Team because she expects a takeover attempt by a power-grabbing Central Committee member. The same will happen as the split in the RCDC. She and many others will just quit the group if that happens.

    The Republicans at least here are united and inclusive. I wish I could say the same for the Democrats. We eat our own!