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

Interview with Catherine Read, Potential Candidate for DPVA Chair

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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.