On January 3, Fairfax Democrats elected a new leadership team heading into a crucial two years for Virginia. First, of course, we have the presidential and U.S. Senate elections this November, with Virginia potentially deciding control of the White and U.S. Senate. Then, in 2013, the governor’s mansion will be contested, very possibly between Terry McAuliffe and crazy Ken Kookinelli. In all of that, Fairfax will play a huge role, as it has a population of 1.1 million, one-seventh of the entire Commonwealth, and often racks up big margins for Democrats. If Democrats are to win Virginia in 2012 and 2013, we’re certainly going to need Fairfax firing on all cylinders.
That’s why I was interested in talking to newly-elected Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) chair Cesar del Aguila, and finding out what he’s got on his agenda. Also, I heard from several Fairfax Democrats that this was a heated race, and I wanted to get a feel for how well FCDC was doing in terms of reuniting and revving up for this crucial year.
First, there’s background on Cesar is available on his website. Here’s a key passage that jumped out at me:
I grew up believing that Democrats are the party of the people – all people: including those who have a small voice, no voice or a voice that speaks in a language other than English. You don’t need a blood test to be a Democrat. One of the core values of the Democratic Party is our inclusiveness – we have a big tent and all that believe in our core values are welcome here. I have not simply espoused that belief all my life, I have lived it.
I couldn’t agree more. I also couldn’t agree more that “the primary objective of the FCDC is to identify, cultivate, include and empower local Democrats,” and that FCDC should “be a place where diversity means welcoming those who are new to our committee, to politics and to being a Democrat.” That’s exactly right, and should be obvious, although sadly it isn’t to every Democrat, including at least one high-ranking leader (not to name any Dick names Saslaw – heh).
With that, highlights of my interview with Cesar are on the “flip.” Of course, thanks to Cesar for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak with us!
1. What motivated you to run for FCDC Chair?
I had gotten involved in Herndon, with a group attempting to change the town council’s anti-immigrant stance. (Note: For more on that, click here.) Although I lost my race for Town Council by a few votes, my side captured the majority and made needed changes to the policy. This experience convinced me that acting locally could be effective, and also demonstrated the extent to which local politics affected our lives. I then got involved with the Dulles Area Democrats, the Brigades, and the Dranesville Dems (serving as Vice Chair of Dranesville). About a year ago, I was asked to run for FCDC chair by various people within FCDC. I spent many months learning what I’d be getting into, traveling around the county to attend district meetings, getting to know people, etc.
2. This reportedly was a divisive race. How will you bring FCDC back together again now?
I don’t feel that it was contentious between Barbara Caputo (the other candidate for FCDC chair) and me, as we are good friends who share a love for “new oak barrel-fermented Chardonnay.” For a few people, it got personal, but Barbara and I did our best to tone that down. I compare this election to my large family (50 or so first cousins). This was like a family feud over Thanksgiving dinner, and certainly no worse than a primary election. Bottom line: we’re here to elect Democrats, that’s what I’m focusing on. I had my first steering committee meeting last week, thought it went great. I plan to follow Roberts Rules of Order, stay focused and professional in meetings.
3. How do you plan to make FCDC look like Fairfax County in terms of diversity?
I believe there’s definitely a need to make FCDC look like Fairfax. That starts with messaging. The first thing to remind people, when they talk to potential volunteers, is to drop any reference to “committees.” Nobody wants to join a “committee,” but they do want to join the Fairfax Democrats. It’s Marketing 101. People have gotten accustomed to doing things the same way and expecting different results. Instead, we need to talk to people about issues that are relevant to different groups of people – for instance, affordable housing, Have to relate to people not just in terms of politics, but in terms of religion, culture, etc. It’s not enough to just say we’re Democrats, that’s a failing approach. We’re not going to talk like Democrats have in the past. We’re going to answer the question: WHY should you vote for us? We’re going to tailor the message to different groups of people. We’re going to enable the districts to take this new brand and deliver it. We need to be a little more business like in capturing precious volunteers, who ultimately will become our poll workers, precinct captains, because ultimately it’s a precinct-by-precinct battle. A good precinct captain can bump up performance by 2%.
4. What are your plans for fundraising? How much does FCDC need to raise this year, and how are you going to do it?
Strong messaging will drive membership increase, and also how we raise money. Money this past year came primarily from campaigns. It’s always been the same people, which is not sustainable long term. Instead, I want to get donations from all 50 states. We can sell it as “you can help President Obama carry swing state Virginia and win in 2012 by helping Fairfax Democrats.” FCDC definitely needs different sources of revenue. We’ve got ambitious fundraising goals, need to strive to increase our budget.
5. Candidate recruitment: How are you going to help us beat Hugo, Rust, Lemunyon, Albo & Comstock? What about building up the “farm team.”
I guarantee we will have someone running against Tom Rust in 2013. We need to have a commitment from the state level. Also, we need to find people in the community. Every time I go speak, I tell people they should identify folks in their community to potentially run. In Herndon, I’ve recruited 4 diverse new people to run for council in May 2012. We’re helping them with media training. We haven’t been actively recruiting at the right levels. We tend to talk to people like ourselves. In my run for FCDC chair, I called every single member. There was a theme that emerged when I talked to people – that they didn’t see any value belonging to a committee that they didn’t see as being effective and doing things important to them. Why do we spend time arguing about font size? I’m about recruiting newer, diverse, first-time members to our group. What we’re doing now is not sustainable. In the recent election, fortunately, we decreased the average age of FCDC leadership by 10 years. It’s now the youngest, most diverse leadership team in our history.
There’s a group of people who have quashed grassroots candidates. Friendship has trumped capability. “Well Cesar, I know you’d be great, but I’ve been friends with so and so for 20 years…” Instead, we need to be the party of inclusion, that loves and welcomes diversity. That’s who we are. We’re Democrats, we’re not the party of fear. I despise the mentality of “anointed candidate.” We’re Democrats – noone is entitled to anything. I had people tell me “it wasn’t my turn.” I strongly disagree with that attitude.
6. What’s your vision on precinct ops? My understanding is that FCDC doesn’t have precinct captains in half its precincts.
We’re hurting in terms of precinct captains, especially in the southern end of Fairfax County. We’ve been doing the same thing for a long time and scratching our heads. It’s got to be a combination of message and messenger. We have a better product with our candidates, but we have to market them. I’m certainly not trying to gut everything, we do things very well, but we need to tweak things. I call it FCDC 2.0. Again, it comes down to messaging. We need to answer the question for people, why should I give up 2-4 hours of my life to hang out with you guys?
7. How are you going to make sure the Obama vols stay involved? After 2006, the Webb the “ragtag army” largely went away, and after 2008, the Obama volunteers largely went away (hence, what happened in 2009).
It takes less effort to retain a volunteer than to capture a new one. While we have all this activity at the national level in 2012, I’m instructing people to go out wherever you see a campaign, help them but also help us by establishing relationships that will be here after the Obama campaign has packed up. We have to provide value for people to stay engaged in politics. We’ll be there at the campaigns’ beck and call. They’re our customers. If they’re Democrats, we help them.
8. Should FCDC stay away from policy and ideology, or should it be an active voice in that regard?
Some electeds are strongly for passing resolutions on policy issues, some are strongly against. I’m not there to embarrass our elected officials. I’m going to ask people to really put thought into what they’re doing. How does it bring voters to the polls? But I’m not going to do it if it’s going to embarrass any of our elected officials.
9. What’s your view on the grassroots/netroots?
We’re going to leverage all the different channels we can. We need to strengthen our connections to other groups. I’m going to reach out to all the activists, grassroots communities, help them understand the synergy – all these groups will be seeing me.