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.