My Political Hiatus and Our Party Problems (Part 2)

January 24, 2013

In this second installment of what will likely be a four part series, I will discuss two of our party ailments – Royal family syndrome and Perfect candidate syndrome. Those who missed the first post can read Part 1 here.

Royal family syndrome

In our current climate, those who are related or connected to prominent party figures have the red carpet rolled out for them and receive substantial support while those who may be equally strong or stronger candidates but who are not part of the ingroup are left out in the cold. Those who are left out hear a lot of excuses about why they aren’t getting support (e.g., they’ve never run before, they haven’t held office before, their district demographics are unfavorable, the donor in question already gave to too many other candidates, etc.). But when a “connected” individual is running for office all of these concerns mysteriously seem to vanish.

Candidates should be evaluated on MERIT not on connections. Some of those with connections fail on some or all of the four of the criteria mentioned in part 1 and therefore have no business running for office in today’s climate. For example, if someone is a fair to poor public speaker, they should not be given a pass simply because they are connected to the “right” people. We are the Kansas Democratic Party not the British Aristocracy. People should not rise to power by birth, marriage, or relationships.

Having said this, people should not be discriminated against because of political connections. I’ve seen this happen too but this usually comes from outside the party rather than within. I am simply arguing for a level playing field with all potential candidates being evaluated on their individual merits.

Nepotism doesn’t work. Professional skills and knowledge are not inherited nor are they environmentally absorbed due to marital or family exposure. For example, my husband is a web designer but I would never try to claim that because of this connection I can automatically take on a position as a web designer. It is true that in some cases friends and family members do learn a great deal from being involved in campaigns. However, only some within these inner circles have the skills and experience to become a strong candidate themselves.

Part of the reason the Royal family syndrome occurs is because fundraising is also driven by these connections. Those who are so and so’s spouse or the child of friends of prominent party figures may get money and support thrown at them without question.

For example, in this most recent election cycle the parents of one candidate-to-be were having dinner with well connected Democratic party friends. This candidate-to-be was fresh out of school and it was decided at the dinner that this individual should run in one of the more competitive districts. A plan was crafted to arrange to move this person into the demographically favorable district, ensure the race was a priority, and muster a good deal of financial support. My concern in this scenario is not about the candidate as a person but rather the level of orchestrated support received because of who the person’s parents knew. How many of you who have run for office received this level of support (especially your first time running)? Did anyone create a plan to move you to an ideal district? Did some of the notable big party donors write you a sizable check almost immediately after the filing deadline? Probably not.

So, if you think the playing field is level – think again. Some people get the royal treatment with high level players making sure things fall into place while others get the shaft and are left to struggle on their own.

Perfect candidate syndrome

Particularly in higher profile races, many within the party get attached to an idea of one person who they think would be the ideal or perfect candidate to run for a specific race. When or if that person isn’t interested, as is sometimes the case, some in the party stay entrenched and refuse to entertain other potentially strong candidates.

For example, I talked to many individuals who wanted WyCo Mayor Joe Reardon to challenge Kevin Yoder and run for the 3rd Congressional District in 2012. Clearly, Mayor Reardon would have been an excellent candidate if he wanted to run for Congress. However, it had become clear at the time these discussions were occurring that he was not interested in pursuing that race.

After this point, in the late summer of 2011, I expressed my potential interest in running for 3rd District to several folks in Johnson County as well as to some at the KDP. I had just run statewide in 2010, all voters in the 3rd District would have seen my name on the ballot and many may have also seen some campaign ads. So, my thinking was that I would at least have a bit of name recognition going into the race which could be helpful. However, I was rebuffed by many who were still attached to the idea of Mayor Reardon running. One person even said that he was the only one who could have a chance against Yoder. Quite a narrow and unfortunate view.

(There were some other unfavorable exchanges related to the 3rd District race that occurred during this period but I will include these incidents in a future post about party leadership.)

Sadly, in the end, we ended up with NOBODY to run for 3rd District. And, even more disappointing is the fact that we had a chance to be competitive this year after Yoder’s skinny dipping scandal broke. The vote totals showed a clear disdain for Yoder with the Libertarian candidate receiving 31% of the vote and around 10% of voters refusing to vote or writing in a candidate. If we had a credible Democratic candidate in the race, we might have been able to win back the 3rd District.

Learn from this, Democrats!  A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush – as the old saying goes. Don’t turn your nose up at someone just because they are not your “perfect” first choice. And, don’t burn bridges with folks who are willing to run for office because of rigid, outdated beliefs about the need for someone to have been a career politician to run for federal level offices. Sometimes being a political outsider as well as having an established career in a favorably viewed field can be an advantage. Just as Voltaire said we should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. When we do, we run the risk of ending up with nothing.

Next Time in Part 3 – Fundraising problems and our information/education deficits.

  • Janice Norlin

    I am very concerned about WHO we’ll recruit for the Big First (Huelskamp ran unopposed in 2012) and  Governor!
    Janice Norlin

    • Matt_Otte

      I want to see a primary fight for the job for the message it sends to the electorate about the vulnerability of Huelskamp.

  • Thank you for your insights

  • The infighting is what suprised me the most

  • Matt_Otte

    There is a simple fact that I think is being overlooked.  There is a small amount of resources available to Democratic candidates and the people who have that money have a right to decide where they spend it.  Candidates should not expect a free ride because they are pretty enough or smart enough.  Candidates need to impress the electorate that they are honestly working hard to win votes. 

    • I was never arguing for a free ride. The example in the royal family syndrome section is an argument against a free ride and support not being given based on merit. To clarify, candidates need to work hard to run a credible campaign. That is a given. In my experience, most candidates (unless they have simply filed to be a placeholder) do make a very earnest effort. The reality is that if we as Democrats want to elect more Democrats we have to support them. Yes, resources are limited and not every candidate will receive high levels of support. But if we don’t come to the table to support people, they won’t stand a chance.

  • Richard Pinaire

    In the USA  one who meets the fundamental requirements to run for a particular office needs anyone’s permission to do so. All one needs to do is pay the filing fee. I have seen many newcomers file over the years and get the support of the party when they run. The bottom line is that many people who have not involved themselves in the process before they decide to run have an unrealistic view of what their party can do for them. In the case of the 3rd district and for that matter any other one in Kansas it has been difficult to field candidates in the past few years, but I know that where there is the will there is usually a way. I do think that we need to do many things to be competative. In order to win you have to have a rational for one’s candidacy and support. Both go hand in hand and when you get a major party nomination you are in a place where you have only one opponent from the other major party. In otherwords, you are in the running  with an opportunity  to finish 1st or 2nd in a race.That is a significant thing. I think a retreat of Kansas Democrats to discuss what we need to do would be a good first step to lay the ground work for the next round.

    • There is a difference between who CAN run (obviously anyone who meets the legal requirements can) and who SHOULD run. If we want more Democrats elected in this state, we need to focus on recruiting candidates who are as electable as possible. This is a primary point I am making. We need to analyze the variables and use them to our advantage whenever possible. And, by the way, how are you defining support? Lip service is not support in my view. Many people will talk a good game but, when the rubber meets the road, resources are not being devoted to some winnable races.

  • Vickie Thornton

    There are many things that can be done within the Democratic party to support any candidate in any race. These things are not being done now. People need to know this in order to understand why we’ve been failing. When a republican runs for office they are likely to receive the following: An opposition report: if the competitor is an incumbent it would include voting record, weaknesses and strengths, Demographic information on the district, suggested messaging, help with artwork and the ability to tweak message, Ground troop support, organizational tips, e-mail reminders of important dates and so on. We are failing on this front. If we could establish a much better support mechanism (totally doable) to attract better candidates and give them a much better chance of winning irrespective of finance.

    In regard to how the money is distributed one of the problems I’ve always had is that they keep candidates waiting around too long before letting them know their race is not targeted. Candidates are given the hope that they will receive money and help and even told not to worry about key aspects of the campaign only to find out later that the help is never coming and their race is done. In most cases they don’t even get word until October, way too late in the season. This leaves candidates with a sour taste in their mouth and then word gets around that the party is not going to deal with potential candidates honorably. Much of this can be fixed fairly easily. We can also create buying power in the market for political goods that candidates can take advantage of. This has been attempted in almost every election but key factors were missing because of a lack of knowledge of the market and how to best utilize it. It would take too long to explain that component but suffices to say it would be an easy problem to solve. The main component missing in this is the willingness to work harder on the part of leadership. A component the republicans have beat us on plain and simple.