Can we all just get along?
Sixteen people (fourteen in the room, two on the phone) met in Rapid City Saturday to talk about how to elect more Democrats. These citizens discussed how to organize a quadfecta of political action committees that will recruit and support local and legislative candidates. The discussants included Pennington County Democrats, a former legislator, tribal members, a registered Independent, and LGBT advocates. Tentatively calling themselves South Dakota Progress, the group agreed enough to endorse a mission statement:
To elect Democratic Candidates to public office in South Dakota by drafting, implementing and following a cohesive plan that will support and facilitate the election of candidates for local offices up to the state legislative level.
They also agreed enough to schedule a second meeting for December 6 in Rapid City. The ball is rolling.
Friend of the blog Tasiyagnunpa Livermont is acting as steering committee chair for SD Progress. Livermont says she got involved with this project because she feels "disenfranchised" by the existing party mechanism. She saw great organization and outreach from Rick Weiland's Senate campaign, and she found a place for her desire to help in Robin Page's District 33 State Senate campaign, but she didn't see the SDDP making a similar effort to engage new, young volunteers across the state.
Echoing that sentiment is MRC Miller, a metallurgical student at School of Mines, LGBT activist, and former Page volunteer:
I'm involved out of anger.... Republicans didn't win 2014, Democrats didn't fight. Half the time there wasn't one on the ballot. What few candidates could be found were generally weak, because they were unsupported by what passed for a party [MRC Miller, South Dakota Progress, press release, 2014.11.19].
Some Democratic candidates and organizers may take Miller's and Livermont's criticism personally, making it difficult for SD Progress to live up the intention Livermont states of working in parallel with the South Dakota Democratic Party. But Bajun Mavalwalla, who helped build the Page campaign convened and advised Saturday's meeting, says the group assembled Saturday consists of "professionals who will lay down hard feelings and use their passion to further mobilize their constituents in a precise, organized way." In a sign that Democratic Party members can do the same, Pennington County Dems invited SD Progress participants to their regular meeting Tuesday night to further discuss how the groups can work together. Rapid City Police received no reports of shots fired.
Prior to Saturday's meeting, SDDP exec Zach Crago cautiously welcomed the new group's effort:
“Our state party welcomes input from any Democrat or others from across the state,” Crago said. “These kind of discussions with folks like Bajun are healthy for the party.”
But he defended the SDDP’s work raising money and recruiting candidates for local races — even if it hasn’t borne much fruit in elections the past few years [David Montgomery, "South Dakota Democrats: An Idea to Rebuild," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.14].
Former SDDP chair/exec Ben Nesselhuf dismisses the group as unnecessary:
“Everything that he’s suggesting there is (already) being done through the state party,” said Ben Nesselhuf, the former chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party, after reviewing Mavalwalla’s proposal. “I think Democrats would be much better served by putting their time and energy into the state party structure than dividing up their resources with competing organizations” [Montgomery, 2014.11.14].
There seems to be a difference of opinion as to just how much support the state party is offering to local and legislative candidates. We'll let Crago address that in his speech tomorrow at Democratic Forum.
There should not be a difference of opinion about what to do with South Dakota Progress. Democrats, a group of over a dozen activists want to help us win elections. Our immediate response should be, "Yes, please!" Party leaders should have open, thoughtful conversations to help South Dakota Progress develop a plan that is truly complementary to and not wastefully redundant with existing party efforts. But as long SD Progress does nothing that hinders the SD Democratic Party's efforts to raise money and recruit volunteers and candidates, we should welcome the help.