THE BUZZ 3: Dem Distress

By on November 15, 2016

Local and state liberals speculate what’s next for the DNC.

161116buzz3_origJACKSON HOLE, WY – Donald Trump’s election shocked some and did not surprise others. The results triggered an avalanche of mixed emotions ranging from elation to devastation. This overshadowed the fact that the Democratic Party is in for an internal mix-up. Without a Democratic POTUS, the party is now open for serious change. Within days of the election results several groups started jockeying to take control. But DNC politics can be distant from Wyoming Democratic Party needs. What’s clear is that major changes are on the horizon, but cohesive plans have yet to materialize.

Several progressives won local races, which could push Democrats in a more progressive direction. Gary Trauner, a two-time Democratic candidate for Wyoming’s sole congressional seat, cited a younger, more progressive voter turnout, which could signal creative changes and progressive policies he hopes will “put people first.” As far as the national election, Trauner said Democratic leadership was playing too much insider baseball and missed the national pulse. Clinton was the wrong candidate for this election, he said.

Ryan Greene, Democratic nominee who challenged Liz Cheney for U.S. Congress and lost, said the focus must be on the Wyoming Democratic Party moving forward and building unity from within. The work starts now and requires a “solid infrastructure of messaging, communications, resources, marketing, etc.,” he said. Greene also cautioned: “If Trump fails, then the country fails.”

National Delegate for Clinton, Ken Chestek, ran for Wyoming House District 46 and lost. He received more votes than the Republican winner two years before, but there was a 50 percent increase in voter turnout, largely chalked up to Trump voters. Chestek says he has been energized by these losses and intends to fight even harder.  Overturning Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that essentially allowed corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions, will be a main focus for him.

Chestek cited fear, anger, confusion, and lies as reasons for Trump’s win, but  he cautioned against “demonizing” Trump supporters. He said the Republican Party has managed to effectively denounce Democrats and accordingly they need to find a counter message, to keep values front and center, and “get dark money out of politics.”

Newly elected Wyoming National Committeeman to the Democratic National Committee, Jon Gardzelewski said, “Everything is up in the air.”  Trump won in part due to the left not coming out for Clinton. Even though Trump lacked decency, “he connected with his voters on issues that are important to them.”

Gardzelewski believes the only way to move forward is by rebuilding both parties from the ground up. “There are some nice details, but the foundation has eroded out from under us,” he said.

Citing the lack of incentive for Republicans to work with Democrats in Wyoming, Gardzelewski says it is imperative Democrats not be “brash, bullheaded, or arrogant, or unhelpful,” but instead liberals must reach out and offer something new and less focused on partisan politics. He said the changes needed are, “on us, not on the president,” and Democrats should be active leaders. “If you hate Trump, forget about it… If you hate your Democrat neighbor with her angry climate change bumper stickers, forget about it. We all want to make Wyoming a better place,” he said.

The Wyoming Democratic Party assumed a different focus on election night. This year the number of Democratic challengers doubled in state races. House minority floor leader from District 11, Mary Throne, narrowly lost. In a statement released Tuesday the WDP wrote, “In some instances we had very near misses with two races being lost by less than 75 votes. We believe that these close races indicate there is an alternative narrative that is not being represented by our Republican leadership.”

At the national level, former local Democratic Party official Joe Albright predicts two factions will persist in the Democratic Party: a progressive wing led by Elizabeth Warren and a more moderate wing led by Tim Kaine. Albright said he suspects the two groups will paper over differences through 2018 when many Democratic incumbents are up for reelection in staunchly red states, such as Senator Manchin in West Virginia and Senator Tester in Montana. Albright sees Representative Ellison as the future DNC Chair.

In response to election results, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the progressive who came reasonably close to grasping the Democratic nomination, said in an email the people of the United States are tired of politics, economics, and media as usual. “That means the Democratic Party needs to look itself in the mirror and work tirelessly to become once again the party that working people know will work for their interests.”

Representative Keith Ellison announced his candidacy for DNC Chair on Monday. Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer endorsed him. Long time Democrat and former chair of the DNC, Howard Dean, whose 50 State Strategy was very popular, has also indicated he will once again vie for chair.

The Clinton campaign affirmed some of the reasons offered by the Sanders’ camp for the loss, but cited Comey’s FBI letter as the final nail in the coffin. The campaign’s head of opinion research Nevin Nayak wrote in an email this week, “We believe that we lost this election in the last week. Comey’s letter in the last 11 days of the election both helped depress our turnout and also drove away some of our critical support among college-educated white voters—particularly in the suburbs.”

Months before the general election, Sanders’ campaign shifted their momentum into the 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Our Revolution. The group supported more than 100 progressive candidates nationwide, including Wyoming House Representative Charles Pelkey. The organization circulated a petition supporting Representative Ellison for DNC chair and within 24 hours it had amassed more than 250,000 signatures.

In the coming days, weeks and months, it should be clear who will take the reigns of the Democratic Party nationally, locally, and statewide. PJH

[Jessica Sell Chambers is Wyoming’s national committeewoman to the DNC. – Ed.]

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