My Political Hiatus and Our Party Problems (Part 4)

February 7, 2013

My initial plan was for this to be a four-part series. However, Part 4 turned out to be far too long so I am presenting it in two segments. This post will focus largely on issues and problems related to the Kansas Senate races. Next week in Part 5, I will outline concerns that relate to all races and the party as a whole.

As I have continued this series, I have been contacted by a number of folks cautioning me about engaging in this discussion. Some were earnest, caring folks who agree with my perspective but wanted to make sure I realized that I could receive substantial anger and blowback as a result of voicing these issues. Some simply think it’s wrong to talk openly about issues. Others were subtly trying to get me to go easy on certain folks and not burn any bridges.

As I have said, my intent is to bring to light issues and problems that need to be understood and addressed. Throughout my life, I have been committed to fighting for what is right. My honesty and integrity are not negotiable. My goal is not to burn bridges but, if some are burnt as a result of my posts, I hope the resulting fire will light the way toward positive change.

Two final disclaimers:

  1. I have provided a detailed outline and links to sources in cases where statements relate to documented facts. Aside from these facts, I am honestly relaying my own experiences, providing my personal opinion and analysis, and asking what I feel are important questions.
  2. Please understand that I wanted all of our Democratic candidates to win in 2012. I will be discussing what I feel are questionable decisions regarding resource allocation and investments in certain races. But please keep in mind that I am not saying that I did not want these Democratic candidates to win their respective races but rather that we cannot lose sight of all races that are important.

The Travesty of 2012: No Senate Coalition

We were unable to prevent a conservative Republican supermajority in the Kansas Senate. Sadly, we had seven Senate candidates who received between 45–50%:

Former 5th District Senator Kelly Kultala 48.4%
1st District Candidate Steve Lukert 49.3% (lost by 396 votes)
7th District Candidate Kyle Russell 46.9%
8th District Candidate Lisa Johnston 45.6%
21st District Candidate Juanita Roy 46.8%
25th District Candidate Tim Snow 45.3% (lost by 263 votes)
28th District Candidate Keith Humphrey 47.3%

If we as a party had done everything we could to support all these candidates, this result would be easier to accept. However, this was not the case. Some of these candidates received substantial support while others received little to none. I believe, if the leadership had made better decisions about resource allocation, we could have won more of these races.

Monumental Over-Investment

Given that our resources are limited, using them wisely is critically important. This requires devoting resources when they can make a difference, not using them when they are not needed, and using just enough for races that need a boost or an insurance policy. In the most recent election cycle, there are a handful a races that I believe drew over-investments.

One such race was in the 6th Senate District. Senator Pat Pettey was facing former Senator (and former Democrat) Chris Steineger. Given that Wyandotte County is far and away our biggest Democratic stronghold in the state, Democrats usually win and sometimes do not even have Republican challengers. This often means that party resources are not needed to win. However, this race was a bit different as our candidate was the challenger and was running against an incumbent who was formerly a Democrat.

According to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Reports, Pat Pettey contributed a total of $30,100 to Democratic committees. In contrast, looking at the reports from all groups who provided support (Senate Democrats Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Kansas Democratic Party, and the Bluestem Fund), Pat received approximately $93,504 in campaign support. These expenditures total $63,504 more than her campaign invested.

For those who are interested, I have detailed information about contributions and support here. Total support can only be an approximate figure because of the way expenditures are reported. In some cases, the total amount spent for a group of several candidates is all that appears on the report. I personally think this is a bad practice because it prevents a full disclosure of candidate support as we do not know the exact amount invested in each candidate within the group.

Pat Pettey won this race by 24 points (62% to 37.9%) which is well beyond a safe margin of victory. This result clearly shows that the leadership substantially over-invested in this race. We did not need to spend $93,504 ($63,504 more than Pat contributed) in order to have a victory in the 6th District. I frankly wonder if we needed to spend much if anything beyond Pat’s investment. For a group that claims to make reasoned decisions based on polling, this appears quite illogical and unwarranted. If we were winning this race handily (as some have told me we were), many of these resources should have been used to support others in more competitive contests.

Unsuccessful Investments & Lack of Equity

Senator Pat Pettey was certainly not alone in receiving support far beyond her own contributions. At this point, some of you may have the impression that all candidates who make contributions and “buy into the coordinated campaign” receive this level of support. I assure you they do not.

To illustrate both these facts we need only contrast two Johnson County Senate races. Our candidate in the 21st Senate District, Juanita Roy, contributed $44,000 but received approximately $89,337 in support while Kyle Russell who ran in the 7th District contributed $56,500 and received approximately $57,209 in support. So, Juanita was given approximately $45,337 of support beyond her own contributions while Kyle received support that was virtually equal to his contribution. Detailed data are outlined here. You will noticed that Kyle contributed significantly more than Juanita or Pat but received by far the least support of the three.

I wonder how many percentage points the additional $45,337 in resources spent on Juanita Roy’s race afforded her on election night and if these resources might have given us success in other races. Sadly, this investment turned out to be a failure. I find it difficult to believe that these ample resources would not have pushed us over the top in other races, particularly in those that were lost by an extremely small margin, such as Steve Lukert in the 1st and Tim Snow in the 25th.

Withholding Support When Warranted

I don’t expect others to run my campaign. My preference is to be extremely independent (much more so than some would prefer, in fact). I crafted my campaign plan and my team and I marched forward executing the plan. By early October, things were going extremely well. Responses at the doors were very good and I was receiving a great deal of cross-party support.

Because of this, I decided to pay for a poll to see where I stood. By October 16th, I had the results which showed I was 3 points ahead (margin of error +/-4). This, of course, meant I was either slightly ahead or the race was a dead heat but certainly winnable.

Shortly thereafter, I shared these results with Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, Tim Graham (Chief of Staff for Senator Hensley), and KDP Executive Director, Jason Perkey. I knew that every race was vital during this election cycle. I thought everyone would be pleased to hear about the poll and might want to make investments in my race to preserve my lead, in order to give us a much needed win on November 6th.

I was asked by both Tim and Anthony what I wanted. Not knowing exactly what was being done for other candidates, I suggested the possibility of some support for my final two mailers and GOTV or persuasion calls. I was not aware that some candidates were receiving paid field operations or I probably would have added that to the list. They were fairly non-committal and referenced our “limited resources”. I was also told that it would cost $5000-6000 to do calls for my whole district. At that point, I said I would be happy to provide a smaller targeted list to fit whatever resources could be devoted to calls. I was completely flexible and willing to work within whatever parameters were necessary.

After a bit of time passed, I was told that they talked with State Party Chair, Joan Wagnon, about getting KDP support for one mailer. I did receive $1800 of support for a mailer with a total cost over $8,000. Unfortunately, this was not enough to counter the barrage of mailers sent out for my opponent shortly before the election.

Some skeptics might say I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth and should be happy that I was given something. I will concede that I received more than many others who got absolutely nothing. However, this small amount pales in comparison to the $45,000–63,000 devoted to other candidates. And, yes, I can’t help but wonder if I would have emerged victorious on election night if I had received this level of support. But, I am not upset because I didn’t win. This is not about my race in particular. I am upset because I believe we could have won more races and prevented the supermajority if better decisions had been made about how resources were utilized.

Leaving Money on the Table

We hear constantly about our limited resources. It is certainly true that we are not in a position to outspend the Republicans and their supporters. But when the stakes are so high and the outcome is tremendously important, leaving money on the table is not acceptable. I’m not going to belabor this point but will simply say that every group had thousands of unspent dollars that could have been used to support more candidates.

All Kansans Suffer

I was not privy to exactly who was involved in each of the decisions I have mentioned. If these decisions were based on polling, then I think we need to ask if the quality of our polling allows us to make the best decisions. However, if these decisions were made for other reasons (emotional, personal, royal family syndrome, etc.) as many might argue they were, then clearly those who made these decisions carry the weight of our failure to block the supermajority on their shoulders. Those who made these poor decisions now have to suffer through the agony of the right-wing supermajority. And, if they were the only ones who were negatively impacted, I could stand back knowing that they were receiving warranted karmic retribution for their actions. Unfortunately, they are not the only ones who will suffer from their missteps – every citizen of our state is affected. Because of this, it is important that every Democrat knows about the poor decisions that led to the disastrous 2–4 years we are about to experience, that we hold these individuals accountable, and that we do whatever we can to try to make changes that will prevent this from happening again.

Next: in part 5, I’ll discuss concerns that relate to all races and the party as a whole.

  • I can completely understand frustrations with the party. I’ve felt that frustration many times and wish we would do a lot of things different, but personally I have to disagree about the monumental over-invest when referring to Pat’s race. As you know I ran her race, as well as a few others, and we by no means had it in the bag. There were many different circumstances at play in that race and based on the information we had at the time there was no guaranteed win. We worked hard and thanks to the help of the 3rd party investment we were able to secure the district. The GOTV efforts in that race were key, at the end of the day we just turned out all of our voters which ended up giving us a huge point spread. I’m not saying that if investment choices were made differently we wouldn’t have seen success in others areas but I can’t say we would have either.

    • Colin – let me first reiterate that I wanted Pat to win and am glad she did. She certainly had an excellent team around her including you and many others. I would never suggest that her race didn’t warrant investment. But, the 24 point spread does indicate that all the resources were probably not have necessary to secure the victory. To use a term from chemistry, we need to titrate the amount of support necessary to win any race because our resources are limited. This cycle was just crushing since we didn’t get the 14 we needed. You can say I’m being a Monday morning quarterback on this issue – and that’s fair. I just wish some things could have been done differently so that we could have elected more of our Democrats.

      • I completely agree that I wish we could have elected more of our Democrats and that’s something that we need to continue to work at. I think at this point, being 3 months after the election, that it’s easy for all of us to find reasons for our loses. But really none of us can say for sure what different investments in different areas would have yielded. During the campaign you have to go with what you know and make the best decisions you can at that time. It’s easy to look back and say if only there would have been x number of things done slightly differently the results may have tilted our way. I’ve probably done that at least a couple hundred times on Kelly Kultala’s race alone, but at the end of the day we made the decisions we did because of what we knew and what we thought needed to be done. I don’t blame the 3rd party support for us losing that one, actually I don’t really blame anyone. Kelly and I worked our asses off and it just wasn’t in the cards for us.

        That all being said I think your blogs on these topics are important. I may disagree with aspects of them but that’s ok. What’s important is that we, as Democrats in Kansas, over come our differences and learn from our mistakes then move forward. Ad Astra Per Aspera, right? We’re just going through a whole lot of Aspera right now.

    • thomaswitt

      Colin – The biggest “circumstance” in that race was the feud between Hensley and Steineger. This was score settling, pure and simple, and it likely cost us a couple of other seats that could have been won with some resources.

  • levihenry

    I think frustration with the Democratic Party is not only par for the course, but it’s a healthy dose of vitamins that makes our party able to change with the times. I noticed you referenced Keith Humphrey briefly in your line items of candidates. Just to be clear, I nor Keith hold no ill will towards Senator Hensley, Tim Graham or the Senate Democrats. We worked out a plan, executed that plan, and it just came up short.

    I’ve talked to Keith several times about what we could have done differently since November 5, but most recently over coffee this morning. Keith doesn’t hold any ill-will and he doesn’t blame anybody except the donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars in last minute mailers, television and radio ad buys, but he certainly doesn’t hold ill-will towards Anthony Hensley and the Senate Democrats.

    One thing you didn’t mention in your blog, Lisa, is how many doors you knocked. Senator Hensley and Tim Graham laid it out for us from the get-go, because we wanted them to. Tim and Sen. Hensley made it very clear to us: “If you meet the benchmarks, you’re going to have our support.” We exceeded our benchmarks on every target date and they kept their word. Really, at the end of the day, it boils down to some personal responsibility — it’s your race to win and it’s your race to lose. I lost Keith Humphrey’s race. I don’t blame the Kansas Democratic Party, the Senate Democrats, Senator Hensley nor Tim Graham. Part of taking the credit for winning races is also taking the full credit for losing races.

    “There is an old joke that campaign veterans toss around war rooms, bars and BS sessions. We say there are people who have worked in campaigns who say that they have lost some – and we call those folks operatives, managers, strategists, consultants; and then there are people who work in campaigns and say that they have never lost, and we call them liars.” –James Carville, Aug. 14, 2007, “How Karl Rove lost a generation of Republicans”, Financial Times (FT.com).

    • @levihenry:disqus
      We held our own in terms of door knocking. This was one of the things that Tim asked me about at the October meeting after I had my poll. Between all our volunteers, Kyle, and I, we had covered half our precincts and had several more started by the time the meeting occurred. Tim told me at the meeting that this met their benchmark. And, by the way, we continued on knocking doors until we switched to GOTV calling in the days leading up to election day. So, if you were wondering if we worked hard – yes, we did.

      I was ok with being left alone to run things. All I was hoping for by the time I had the poll showing me up by 3 points was $5,000-10,000 of support for persuasion and GOTV calls. No one will be able to convince me that this couldn’t have been done if the right folks had wanted it to happen.

      In the end, I send out seven mailers which I paid for out of my campaign account except for the $1800 of support on one mailer I mentioned in the post. I also received a $1000 contribution from the Senate PAC which arrived the day before the election (i.e., only in time to defray other costs). And, that’s all the support I got.

      So, please don’t try to dismiss me with a comment about personal responsibility when (although I haven’t added up the numbers) I can tell from glancing through the reports that Keith received thousands in support from the party. Which again, I felt he deserved. However, I don’t think you can compare our two campaigns when I was running in a +28 Republican district (49% R, 21%D) and received next to nothing if we are being honest.

      Just because someone does right by you doesn’t mean they have made the best decisions in every case.

    • @levihenry:disqus

      One follow-up question: Did Tim and Anthony actually tell you and Keith what the benchmarks were that you were supposed to meet? If so, that’s more information than I had. Every time I asked about the benchmarks for support, they were going to need to “wait and see” and hadn’t really decided what the benchmarks would be. So, it’s a little difficult to be sure you are meeting benchmarks if no one tells you what they are.