Home Virginia Politics Interview with Catherine Read, Potential Candidate for DPVA Chair

Interview with Catherine Read, Potential Candidate for DPVA Chair


I had a chance to chat this morning with Catherine Read, potential candidate for Democratic Party of Virginia Chair. Prior to our discussion, I had listened to Catherine’s radio interview on WRIR Radio in Richmond, which is what’s referenced in my first comment. Catherine Read felt that our conversation might work well, with a bit of editing, on Blue Virginia as an “interview.” I agreed, as it lays out a number of ideas for reforming and building DPVA which Catherine and I strongly agree about. Enjoy!

Lowell: Nice job with Paul Goldman, etc. on WRIR radio.

Catherine: Thanks Lowell. For me, this goes beyond the narrow issue of a single nominee. I would like to keep the party intact and move forward. I was saying to Tom {Greeson} last night there should be a resolution presented at the meeting on Saturday that states the commitment of the DPVA Chair to the core values of the party. And it should apply to EVERY Chair – not just this one. The position should have certain obligations that go with it – regardless of the person holding it. Perhaps with the commitments to the Party’s core values spelled out, we won’t have this issue in the future. It’s just a wild and crazy thought, and I’m not the only one suggesting that.

Lowell: Good idea. You said, “I would like to keep the party intact and move forward.” I’m more concerned about making the party more effective. As you pointed out in the WRIR interview, we picked up a net of ZERO seats in the House this past year despite sweeping all three statewide offices. What can be done to fix that situation?

Catherine: I’m passionate on this subject. Doing more of what’s not working is not the answer. We are actually focusing too much time and energy on a secondary issue. Namely: WHO is Chair is actually secondary to the fact that he or she will be sitting at the head of an organization that needs to evaluate if it is accomplishing what it was designed to do. I wish there was as much interest across the Commonwealth in figuring out a better way of organizing the state party as there has been in blocking the Jones nomination.  

Lowell: Agreed, but would a sitting Virginia governor ever have any interest in that? Seems like the governor normally wants to keep the DPVA under his or her control, rather than let it develop into a stronger, more independent organization.

Catherine: I’d say you are absolutely right. But much of this comes down to the money. Unless there is a mechanism for raising large sums of it so the organization is self-sustaining, it will be tied to whoever is raising it. Money drives the bus.

Lowell: Right, so is that even theoretically possible? Or should we just throw in the towel on DPVA and accept that it will always be the way it is (e.g., weak, ineffective)?

Catherine: I’ve never really been involved with the DPVA. I just do what I can for the candidates. If it is going to be self-sustaining, it has to be run like any other non-profit or association. It needs a strong Executive Director who is going to stay on more than a couple of years, a professional staff who are paid market based wages and will not turn over on a yearly basis, and a board of directors to offer governance and oversight and will also help raise money. That is a board of about 15 people – NOT a 42-person steering committee. Then you have to raise money like any non-profit does – beef up your donation campaigns, find sustaining donors, apply to other PACs and national organizations for money around issues/causes, and get people to leave money in their wills for the organization that can be set up to provide sustainable funding for operations. Produce an annual report so people can see the clockworks, tell the stories of how resources are being used to win elections. Hold conferences that make money as well as educate members. Good events sustain the energy of the membership and draw in new members. Look at CPAC for example. What we do over the JJ weekend is nothing compared to what they set up. The DPVA could do more with that annual event than they do now. It has to reach beyond the “Party insiders” to be sustainable. It also has to have some energy and juice to attract the YDs into the larger organization and not just tack them on as the junior members. Virginia has awesome colleges and universities with Democratic organizations, but how are we bringing them into the statewide organization in a meaningful way? On the other end of that spectrum are the people who leave office, or retire, and simply fade away instead of mentoring, supporting and advocating for the up and coming Democrats in their local districts.

Lowell: Awesome ideas, but I must say I’m highly skeptical any of that will ever happen. Perhaps I’ve grown cynical in my old age, or maybe it’s just hard experience.

Catherine: I’m always reluctant to put my energy into something that isn’t making an impact. It could change if there was leadership with both the influence and the political will to completely restructure what’s there. With almost no staff on board right now and a new incoming Chair, this is a moment where it could happen. I’m just a grassroots activist myself. I believe the DPVA can be re-invented to be more effective. Probably the greatest irony of this situation with the Chair nomination is the realization that if it all this time, effort, energy and coordination were directed at evaluating the organization instead of just the head of it, we would come out on the other side with a better and more sustainable organization for electing Democrats. Something has to change before 2020 and the next redistricting.

Lowell: So what do you think will ultimately happen with the Dwight Jones nomination?

Catherine: There are limited options Lowell. Mayor Jones will need to convince the LGBT community and the Central Committee that he will support the core values of the Party in an unwavering manner. We are all entitled to hold our own personal beliefs, but if they interfere with the ability to lead an organization based on the stated values of that organization, it’s a non-starter.

Lowell: So will you run for Chair? Have you filed yet?

Catherine: I haven’t filed yet. I was approached and asked if I would run to represent the voice of the LGBT community. I said I would if there were no other candidates to do that. I feel strongly about this issue. Along with that, I have strong feelings about the DPVA in general. It’s an organization that could be more and do more. I will likely feel the same way when they elect the next Chair after this one.

Lowell: Bottom line, how do you think next Saturday’s DPVA meeting will play out?

Catherine: I don’t know. I may be standing up there giving my 4-minute pitch for why people should consider another option to the Governor’s nominee. One of those options may be to simply vote “no candidate.” I believe there is a precedent for doing that. What I would like to see happen is to find common ground with the Governor’s choice for Chair and pour all of this amazing crackling high voltage energy in to making the DPVA a better organization.  

  • Tom Greeson

    Thanks for posting the link to the broadcast, Lowell. I had not heard it. I think it is a good listen for those who are interested in this important issue that is before the DPVA.  

  • Dan Sullivan

    Representatives from the LGBT Democratic Caucus and Equality Virginia will meet with Mayor Jones on Monday.

    However, opposition to Jones continues organization efforts in the event Jones can’t bring them to terms.

  • fwdprogress

    The most important issue is not who is running but the fact that there is a CHOICE of who is running…the core problem with DPVA and the entire party is the lack of engagement and opportunities for leadership.

    Catherine understands this and would be the best choice for EVERY community across the grassroots spectrum…and we need that choice.

  • ToddSmyth

    I think we all want DPVA to be stronger and more than it has been but the reality is it was largely overrun in 2012 by OFA and in 2013 by the governor’s campaign and it wasn’t really anyone’s fault. I believe most state parties got overrun in 2012 as was the DNC, which is now bankrupt.

    I think you have to go back to 2004 and Meetup.com, which allowed people, who were passionate about the disastrous move to invade Iraq a way to connect and build capacity for campaigns they believed in and led to Howard Dean raising $25 million in small donations and revolutionized the way we organize and raise money. The use of Meetup.com happened completely outside the campaigns and party structure but it changed everything.

    How the Internet [Meetup.com] Invented Howard Dean


    In 2005, the DNC (chaired by Howard Dean) introduced ‘Neighbor to Neighbor’ which was a pretty good tool but it did not connect you with other volunteers in your area. It had no way of collecting and storing institutional knowledge, best practices etc. In 2007  MyBarackObama.com (MyBO) copied Meetup.com but took it several steps further giving Obama’s campaign a way to harness the power and steer it in productive ways. But then after the campaign it all went away like a wave crashing on shore, leaving a few things on the beach and then disappearing into the ocean.

    In 2012 OFA tried to introduce “Dashboard” but it never got used because most people couldn’t figure out what it was and it had limited functionality. OFA tried a major re-design at one point and that didn’t help. It was just too late in the campaign to introduce such a complex tool. It also did not allow FO’s to add people who did not sign up online, so they were only able to report on part of their volunteers.

    The bottom line is there is a clear need for user friendly tools that connect our volunteers, help them organize better and build capacity that also builds our party at the local, state and national levels. But we need to combine the best qualities of the tools that have come before and roll it out under the DNC, administered by state parties so that our volunteers have time to learn the tools, work out the kinks and get everyone on the same page and rowing in the same direction. We also need to be able to manage that data at the local level. At the end of 2012 the DNC was bankrupt in large part because OFA had all the data.

    There are at least 4 good functions I can think of that we could offer people (volunteers) to encourage them to sign up in such a tool. The first one is social networking, connecting people with other like minded people in their area. Sorting people out at the precinct level. It could also include constituency groups (which could be rather powerful if done well). A second function would be the very best polling location information with maps for every precinct as well as important information about each precinct. This could be compiled and maintained by local admins (precinct captains). The third function would be the ability to submit and vote on best practices with a resource library of Top 10 Best volunteer recruitment script, persuasion script, call to action email, house party checklist, precinct ops manual, election day checklist etc. The forth function would be a universal commit to vote (and already voted status) that would spare our SD’s the onslaught of mail, phone calls and door knocks if they do actually vote every year and check, update and confirm their contact info so we can remind them to vote just before election day. This would also allow the campaigns to better refocus and conserve their resources.

    During primaries it could be handled more as a bulletin board with filing deadlines, ballot petition info, voter registration  and campaign website addresses, once they have filled (as a Democrat). In order to get campaigns to play along, you would have to give them control after primary/caucus, for the duration of the campaign and once they have field organizers on the ground. As a swing state, with competitive races every year and near the DNC, Virginia is a good place to build these tools. I think if you can design the tool and get buy in from both the DNC and DCCC, the money could be raised separately for this kind of tool. And I don’t see Mayor Jones being able to help us with this.

    The main objective is clear, we have to win back and keep control of the US House and that means we have to win in places we have not been winning. The same is true for winning control of state houses. As Joe Biden has said, the American people agree with us on every major issue but the will of the people is being blocked by big money propping up the Republican party. We have to harness the power of the American people to over come that obstacle and if anyone can help us do that it’s Catherine Read.