Home Virginia Politics So, Your “Team” Just Went 42-120, 42-120, 42-120? Now What?

So, Your “Team” Just Went 42-120, 42-120, 42-120? Now What?

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At the outset of this piece, let me just apologize for doing what I thought I’d never do: pull a George Allen. No, I haven’t suddenly decided to deny climate science, shill for fossil fuels, advocate ultra-simplistic “answers” to complex world problems, pander to extremists, worship at the altar of crony capitalism, or live in a bizarre, mythological past something like the “Father Knows Best” 1950s meets the late-19th century/early-20th-century Robber Baron Era. However, I have decided to borrow one of George Allen’s favorite ways of explaining the world, through sports metaphors. In George Allen’s case, football is the sport of choice for this exercise. For me, it’s baseball, which even great intellects like George Will (ok, maybe not) have compared (favorably) to life itself. Heh.

My baseball metaphor is a simple one, actually, not metaphysical or “Field of Dreams”/George Will mystical in the least. Instead, it’s a simple, basic way of understanding how things go badly wrong in an organization, and what to do about the situation when they do. In this case, the analogy is between your favorite baseball team and the Democratic Party of Virginia. Specifically, imagine if your favorite team had just suffered its third 120-loss (out of 162 games) season in a row, sort of like the 1962 New York Mets (40-120) repeated in 1963 and 1964. Essentially, that’s just what happened to Virginia Democrats, with 2009 (Deeds disaster, major losses in the House of Delegates); 2010 (Tea Party wipeout, goodbye Perriello/Nye/Boucher); 2011 (major losses again in the House of Delegates, loss of the State Senate majority, wipeout losses in Prince William and Loudoun Counties). If that’s not the political equivalent of three straight seasons of ’62 New York Mets’-style 42-120 records, I don’t know what else would be.

So, if DPVA were a baseball team, what would now happen, assuming its owner had a clue (and some backbone)?

1. The first thing to do would be a thorough “After Action Report” — a rigorous, top-to-bottom analysis of what went right (not much in a 42-120 season, or in this case with the Virginia Democrats) and what went wrong. Clearly, this analysis MUST be performed by external, unbiased, independent auditors/analysts who would examine the organization from top to bottom and make recommendations, preferably binding. The organization also might conduct whatever internal reviews it wanted to conduct, but unless that analysis were vetted and critiqued by outsiders, then it would be untrustworthy and essentially worthless.

2. There would be numerous possible outcomes from the after-action report. One would be a finding that the team’s (or, in this case, the Virginia Democratic Party’s) management needed a major shakeup. Typically, you’ll see a baseball team, after a horrendous season or two (or three), firing its manager, replacing its general manager, hiring new coaches, etc. Of course, this will only help matters if management truly was a major, root cause of the problem (e.g., the management was incompetent, had the wrong ideas to be successful given current baseball – or political, in this case – realities, etc.) Also, changing management probably won’t help much if the real problem is at the very top, with flawed/incompetent/cheapskate ownership; or if it’s due to other, broader problems like a decline in the team’s city/region economically, demographically, etc. Still, moving to shake up management after three straight 120-loss seasons is not exactly rocket science or anything that requires hours of head scratching.

In fact, the opposite would be the real head scratcher: that after three straight 120-loss seasons, that the general manager, manager, and coaches would all stay gainfully employed, with no threat whatsoever to their job security. That would be bizarre, almost inexplicable. Sort of like what’s (not) happening, right here, right now, with the Virginia Democrats’ “management.”

2a. Note: There are those who would excuse Brian Moran by saying he’s only been on the job a year, that we should give him more time to turn things around, etc. That would be profoundly mistaken, as both a bad signal to the “organization” and the “fans,” as well as a counterproductive move in and of itself. The fact is, Brian Moran hasn’t been successful for many years, including his disappointing pickup of only 4 House of Delegates seats in 2007 (when Tim Kaine was predicting as many as 15 seats, and when the proverbial wind was howling at our proverbial backs!); his utterly disastrous (in every way – messaging, management, final results) 2009 gubernatorial campaign; his failure this year to fulfill a promise to recruit candidates in every House district (he didn’t even come close!); his abandonment of his own pledge to make redistricting reform a top priority (in the spring of 2008, at a now-infamous blogger dinner, Brian Moran told the 20+ people there that without bipartisan or nonpartisan redistricting, all else would fail, so this had to be the top priority); his conflict of interest as head of the for-profit “education” industry; his failure to be an effective communicator or motivator for the Virginia grassroots; etc. Clearly, no matter what else happens, Brian Moran must be replaced as DPVA chair, that’s the no-brainer of all no-brainers. If not, why even bother with the rest?

3. The after-action report clearly would look at the players on the field, and would recommend which ones to trade, which ones to let go, etc. Most likely, a team that just finished three straight 120-loss seasons would have major problems with pitching, hitting, defense, you name it. In addition, it might have an aging roster of players well past their prime, prone to making errors and striking out, resting on their laurels, no long caring about winning, etc. Basically, it would be a team made up of players that have lost their burning desire to win, as well as their ability to win. That would almost clearly call for a plan to replace the current cast of characters with a brand new, younger, hungrier one in the shortest possible time.

4. How to do that? One option, if money were no object, would be to dive into the free agent market, snatching up high-priced talent in an attempt to turn things around as quickly as possible. Of course, in real life, money always IS an object. Also, this would be an expensive, risky strategy that would not address underlying, structural problems with the organization, and in my view would be highly unlikely to succeed, certainly not in the long run. In the end, you can’t buy your way out of problems like this one, nor can you hope for a white knight to come riding to the rescue.

5. Another option, which to my mind would be BY FAR the smarter one, would be to bite the bullet, realize that the problems run deep, and start addressing them methodically, forcefully, tenaciously, even ruthlessly. I’d start with phasing out (as rapidly as possible) the high-priced veterans and launching a major investment in developing a “youth movement.” That means investing in a farm system, in scouting for talent at the high school and college level, and in developing an overall system to develop that talent to its potential. That system would teach the organization’s way of doing business — attention to fundamentals (e.g., strong defense, mastering crucially important skills like hitting the cut-off man, executing the hit and run properly, bunting, etc.), attitude, professionalism, best practices in general. The key would be developing a structure designed for long-term success, one that is sustainable and robust, with a clear organizational ethos (e.g., vision and mission) that meshed well with the specific economic and other realities facing that team in the short-, medium-, and long-runs. With a solid structure set in place, all else would flow out of it, including an increased chance of success – namely, winning, fan enthusiasm, flush coffers, and did I mention WINNING?!?

6. In the end, what you’d want to end up with is an organization fundamentally solid from top to bottom (or perhaps better stated as “bottom to top,” as the resources should never be concentrated at the top of the organization), with a strong scouting department to identify and recruit talent; a “farm system” (from Rookie League to AAA ball) to develop and nurture that talent; a powerful and coherent organizational ethic committed to professionalism, best practices, a clear vision, getting the fundamentals right; a management structure fully bought into the organization’s overall mission/vision, ruthlessly effective in carrying it out, and focused like a laser beam on what’s best for the organization; and finally, a public relations/communications department to solicit feedback from the fans, as well as to keep them informed/engaged regarding what’s going right, what still needs work, where the effort to resurrect the organization is at overall, and what  (realistically, honestly) to expect moving forward (as well as a real sense that there will be rewards for success and accountability for failure).

7. No, I didn’t forget “winning” in all this. The idea is that success in terms of wins/losses would flow naturally out of everything else outlined above (and the opposite is true as well – failure to do take the measured listed above would perpetuate failure, lead to fans abandoning the team, revenues collapsing, a vicious cycle accelerating…), the solid fundamentals/recruiting/management/development/communications outlined above.

Sadly, right now, we have essentially none of those things in the Virginia Democratic party, broadly speaking. Instead, we have an aging roster, an almost non-existent farm system, a lack of cohesive mission/vision, a management structure that’s byzantine at best, too many individuals focused on their own personal successes than on the overall success of the organization/team as a whole, an almost complete disconnect between team ownership/management and the fan base, little if any accountability (rewards for success, consequences for failure), etc. The result: we’ve now suffered through three straight disastrous seasons for Virginia Democrats, with no particular prospect in sight of turning that situation around (barring a deus ex machina, which is what too many people seem to be counting on, just as they blame uncontrollable, external forces far too much for our problems now). Unless, that is, you believe that repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a sound strategy, not just another definition of “insanity.”

  • truthteller

    Lowell, while most of your assessment is spot on, I don’t think we can  describe our performance along the I-95 Corridor of PWC and Eastern PWC as a wipeout. Barker outperformed his 2007 performance, winning several precincts and in fact even getting over 40 in ruby red Old Bridge…. His worst results were not in PWC as anticipated but instead around Clifton.

    Garces won the Prince William segment of his district and as a result Toddy only narrowly lost PWC, with ample room for recovery to a 55 45 victory in the Fairfax part of her district. And Colgan won 55-45 as well though it was more nerve wracking than it should have been. So at the State Senate level we were NOT wiped out in PWC….

    We were however wiped out in Loudoun and in Stafford and our results for Langhehr in Montgomery and Abbott in parts of her district were disappointing to say the least.  These, as well as far Western PWC deserve serious consideration in an after action report

  • fwdprogress

    Lowell is right in the fact that winning is all that matters….we’re achieving progress or not.

    And no matter how well the manager did in past years and his charismatic press conferences if the trend is downward without proper explanation you need to change personnel.

    We need a leadership team that has an ability to create RELATIONSHIPS with entire voting electorate not just a core supporter base….we need to step back and recognize the big picture.

    If you don’t even ATTEMPT to build relationships with nearly half the electorate on the House side then that is a clear failure.

    And anyone who condoned strong-arming candidates as nominees and tactics that represent the antithesis of the “Yes We Can” Movement of unity and inclusiveness should be removed immediately.

  • Peter Rousselot

    Lowell,I agree completely with your analysis and with the very easily understood analogy it draws between a baseball team and the DPVA. Not only is DPVA not doing (or doing badly) many things people expect it to do, but it is also not doing many things it OUGHT to be doing that many DPVA “old timers” do NOT believe it ought to do. An external audit or review by outside experts, drawing on best practices for state Democratic parties around the country, is needed. To poke some fun at Donald Rumsfeld, there are a lot of good “known knowns” out there, but they are just not known–or not done–by the DPVA.  

  • Jim W

    The Farm System is where you build skills.  This is extremely important.  If you have precinct workers for every election you don’t need to skip assignments when the major games are on the calender.  This is why the state party needs workers supporting every election.  It’s a full time job.  You can’t parachute a team in at the last minute and expect the perfect team work of balanced team with seasoned veterans and new talent.

  • Teddy Goodson

    This diary hits the nail on the head in a compelling way. When I turned my coat and became a Democrat in 2004, I knew I was joining a sprawling, disorganized big tent of independent-minded folks (I sure got tired of hearing that Will Rogers comment repeated so often, about not belonging to any organized political party because he was a Democrat). It’s not just dis-organization, it’s bad management, poor administration, and an utter lack of any real accountability.

    I could not find a sensible table of organization and equipment for the Democratic Party, and without a chain of command there is no accountability. So, we have no effective accountability. In 2009 immediately after the Deeds debacle, I wrote what Lowell here calls an after action report, and much of what it said holds true still, so I’ve put it up again on bluevirginia.us:

    http://www.bluevirginia.us/dia

  • Quizzical

    The blog post by Vivian Paige on the recent election says that the caucuses are really the ones running the “team.”

    http://blog.vivianpaige.com/20

    Assuming that’s so, does that affect the analysis of how best to proceed in rebuilding the team?

  • NotJohnSMosby

    Of course, his salary is $0.00 per year.  With that, you’re going to get just a few types of people to do the job.

    1) Part-timers with a name and political connections who still have a full-time day job to support themselves.  They don’t have the financial freedom to make it a full-time volunteer position.  This prevents them from being very effective or efficient at the job..  That’s Brian Moran.

    2) Part-timers with a name and political connections who are retired, but don’t really have the energy or desire to make it a full-time volunteer position.  This prevents them from being very effective or efficient at the job.  That’s Dickie Cranwell.

    3) Part-timers with a name and political connections who are using it as a stepping stone to bigger things.  They have the energy and desire, and are wealthy, but still can’t make it a full-time volunteer position due to businesses to run. This prevents them from being very effective or efficient at the job. That’s Mark Warner.

    4) Part-timers with a name and political connections who are doing it simply because no one else stepped up, and they give it as much attention as possible but have business or other political duties which prevent them from making it a full-time volunteer position.  This prevents them from being very effective or efficient at the job.  That’s guys like Ken Plum.

    So, we’re looking for a 5th guy.  Someone who can treat being Chair as a full-time volunteer position.  They have a name, and political connections.  They are financially independent, and don’t have to work any more.  They are not currently elected to any position, so they are not hamstrung with conflict of interest/conflict of time issues.  They see being Chair as being a job unto itself and not a stepping stone to something else, so they’re free to do what’s needed without worrying that it will be used against them in some future run for office.  And, they are young enough to have all the energy and drive needed to do the job full-time, and to do it with intense passion and dedication.

    So, who are some candidates that match up with this 5th guy?

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    Many of the comments here, while very informative and helpful, strike me as a “savior search,” i.e.,”If we can only find the right kind of chair for the DPVA, the rest of the team will get straightened out magically.”

    To continue the baseball analogy, you can hire the best field manager and general manager that exist in the entire sport, but they will fail to get results if the players they have been dealt are not capable of playing above the Class A level. The day-to-day work of the party is done by the paid staff in Richmond, not the chair. Plus, the team is composed of those people and the local and congressional district committees all over the state.

    Teddy, a while back, cogently noted that at the DPVA grassroots summit the weaknesses of the local committee members were obvious. Those committees often are the same people doing the same things they always have. They are chronically underfunded because, unlike the Republicans, Democrats don’t attract that those wealthy people willing to contribute huge amounts and have never understood the greater power of getting big numbers of small contributions. (Let’s say the DPVA could find 200,000 Democrats willing to give the party $10 per month through automatic credit card deduction. That’s $24 million annually available for running the party, giving contributions to candidates, advertising party positions, seeking candidates. etc. That’s the way Howard Dean financed his campaign. Barack Obama has lots of big money donors, but he also has more than one million small donors.)

    Local committees in all parts of the state should right now begin a search for 2013 candidates for the House of Delegates, candidates who fit the culture of that area. But, we all know none of that has begun or will begin until the time line will be so tight that we find ourselves in that old situation of finding excuses for why we don’t have candidates to run. (Expecting the caucuses to find candidates is like asking blind men to tell you what an elephant looks like, Their track record has shown that they are not the people to turn to.)