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Thursday, February 07, 2008

(Updated) NM Dem Prez Caucus: My View on the Blame Game

Update: I've been informed that Sen. Jeff Bingaman did indeed donate significant funds for the Caucus and also did outreach to get other constituencies to do the same when he was asked to help.
This post is very long but I hope you'll hang in there with me. First, go read Heath Haussamen's update about the problems associated with New Mexico's February 5th Democratic Presidential Preference Caucus. Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairman Brian Colón explains what happened with the three Rio Arriba ballot boxes and asserts that the results on the top two candidates were called in to the Party in Albuquerque before the boxes left the caucus sites. Colón then takes responsibility for problems associated with handling the massive turnout on Caucus day:

Pointing out that turnout on Tuesday was much greater than the 105,000 who showed up in 2004, Colón said the story could have been about how the two Democratic presidential candidates inspired New Mexico Democrats to vote.

“What we can write about is how two candidates came and lit the state on fire in less than 10 days, and that’s amazing,” he said. “I regret that I allowed this other situation and the party’s organization to become the story instead of that.”

Colón has taken responsibility for the problems and apologized in other statements to local media as well. Why? Because he's an incredibly hard-working, sincerely caring, principled individual who doesn't have a habit of creating convenient scapegoats. Don't take my word for it -- ask other people like me who work within the Party structure. I'm a precinct chair and a member of the State Central Committee and I've seen the Party improve in leaps and bounds under his leadership. It's been like night and day.

New Energy in the Dem Party
In my view, Colón as Chair has been a huge breath of fresh air within a Party that was sluggish, lazy, anti-outreach, anti-transparency and downright nasty at times to rank and file Dems when John Wertheim was in charge before Colon. Wertheim was the kind of Party Chair who seemed to resent an influx of new faces into the Party as volunteers, ward and precinct chairs and elected members of the SCC. (Google his name within this blog to read about some of the epic battles activists had with Mr. Wertheim.) Colón has been just the opposite in my experience. Has he made mistakes dealing with an often raucous Party with a variety of factions and complex political alliances? Sure. But I think the Party has been operating incredibly well compared to how it functioned previously under Wertheim. It's a tough and time-consuming job for anyone.

How We Got Here
Certainly Colón and others were caught flat-footed when turnout surged on Caucus day. Although there was excitement about the presidential primary in other states where early contests were held, there wasn't much here until we got barnstormed in the week or so before our Caucus. Before that, with Richardson in the race and no interest at all in our Caucus from the other candidates, it was assumed there'd be no real contest here. After all, Bill Richardson insisted until the day he dropped out of the race that he was in it until Super Tuesday. Many of us believed him and figured the turnout would be rather light and made up mostly of those loyal to Richardson in the state.

By the time momentum picked up in the race, which really happened when Obama started being perceived as a serious challenger to Clinton, it was very late in the game for our caucus process.

The Role of Richardson and Other Dem Powerhouses
Even though Colón appears to me to be falling on his sword for Richardson, I want to point out that there are many within the Dem Party who should be held accountable in my view -- including Richardson himself. I'm especially appalled at what I consider to be a pompous, selfish, spin-loaded statement by the Governor about the situation, one obviously designed to protect his "national standing" and transfer the blame to someone else.

Everyone knows the early, Party-run and paid-for Caucus was Richardson's baby and part of his presidential run strategy. He "urged" the SCC to approve his plan to institute the Caucus and was heavily involved in the 2004 version. Contrary to what he says in his statement, that year's Caucus also had its serious problems, but the positive spin applied by his forces that year was strong enough to head off most negative media attention.

In addition, the '04 Caucus was clearly better funded by Party bigwigs and benefited from an influx of volunteers and other help steered to the process by the campaigns of Dem prez nominees like Howard Dean, as well as interest generated by a presidential primary debate held at UNM. Richardson's wide-reaching political network was also central to the process. That help wasn't there this time. That kind of money and attention from the top echelons of Dem power in the state wasn't there this time either.

Yes, I think Richardson should own up to his share of the responsibility for the kinds of problems that arose with the Caucus this year. Busy with his presidential run and sucking up virtually every spare dollar in the state to fund his presidential campaign, Richardson obviously paid little attention to the 2008 Caucus or helping to make it a success. It was left almost entirely in the lap of Colón, other already hard-pressed State and County Party officers, the tiny State Party staff and hundreds and hundreds of volunteers around the state -- all of whom worked like dogs under very trying circumstances to run what amounts to a state election on a shoestring and a song.

This is a poor and sparsely populated state. We don't have thousands of big donors and experienced political operatives to help make something like this work like a charm. Our Party doesn't possess state of the art technology or highly skilled people paid to design and run its systems. Yet what happened here is being compared by many -- like the Albuquerque Journal's political reporters -- to state primaries that are run by state governments and caucuses in states where the Dem Party is flush with cash, much of it generated by the presidential campaigns.

Richardson, however, isn't the only one I think needs to step up and be accountable. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish has built up a personal warchest of more than a million dollars for a gubernatorial campaign that won't happen until 2010. Where was she in this process? Her email list must be in the thousands and her political network is large. Did she strongly urge her supporters to volunteer to help put the Caucus together and staff the Caucus sites? Not to my knowledge.

Where was Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez? I notice he was quoted in the paper today badmouthing the Caucus, but I don't believe he or his minions lifted one finger to try and ensure its success. How about Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Tom Udall? Were their people out there urging supporters to help and donate for the Caucus? If so, I didn't notice.

I could go on.

Party Bigwigs vs. Party Grunts
The lack of interest and participation in the Caucus by most of the powerful officeholders, poobahs and big donors within the Dem Party has been palpable in my view, as it generally is in terms of anything to do with the grunt work of the Party. These faces are almost never seen at Party events or business-related meetings, or when work is to be done to make Party efforts a success. About the only time we see them is when they are running for office and seeking volunteers, donations and petition signatures. Or when they want to make a speech and get a big round of applause at big Party gatherings. Then they do their star power thing and leave before the, you know, boring business of operating a political party begins.

I want every bigshot in the Party -- including the Governor -- to publicly apologize for not doing more for this Caucus or anything else to do with operation of the Party. I want them all to apologize to the incredibly hardworking volunteers, county chairs and others who donated innumerable hours to this process under very trying circumstances -- and who pulled it off admirably in most locations despite the massive turnout and lack of support. I want them all to apologize to the 150,000 or more Democrats who turned out to vote on Tuesday and stayed the course to do so despite the lines, the weather and the chaos in some places. I want them all to apologize to the Dems who showed up to vote but never got the chance because of problems in the setup.

Ordinary Democrats are doing just fine. Grassroots and netroots interest and participation in Dem politics is exploding. More people are taking the time to be better informed than ever before. More people are donating time and money. More and more citizens are engaged and responding to the myriad of emergencies we face in our nation with passion. Many have even decided to run for office. The problems, in my view, originate in the business-as-usual, insider segments of the Party -- with the public officeholders and candidates and power brokers who believe they're rock stars and VIPs too high and mighty to get their hands dirty with mere Party matters. Too many concentrate solely on their own political expediencies, their own campaign fundraising and big donor asskissing, their own narrow interest in making personal political gains. Too many could care less about building the Party or serving the real interests of the people. They're much too involved with their own private empires.

Bottom line: I believe the problems with the New Mexico Dem Caucus reveal more about the disdain for the Party evident in its upper echelons, candidates and people who hold higher offices than they do about the failures of those forced to actually put it together and run it. We're tired of the massive egos and private agendas of too many of our candidates and those who are supposed to be representing the people.

This situation is just another example of the disconnect between those who inhabit Governor's mansions, statehouses, the halls of Congress, and other niches of privilege and the ordinary people who are the real backbone of the the Party and the nation. We're tired of doing all your dirty work for you and having you show up only to get your egos stroked or to blame all the wrong people for your own failures. Ask any ordinary Dem.

Also check out recent coverage on the Caucus at New Mexico FBIHOP, which includes many first-hand accounts of what went on at the Caucus sites, as well as m-pyre. Previous DFNM posts on this are available here and here and here.

February 7, 2008 at 10:31 AM in 2008 Presidential Primary, Democratic Party, Local Politics | Permalink


Fantastic piece, Barb. This puts a lot in perspective for me as an outsider, and I always value your opinions.

Posted by: > | Feb 7, 2008 10:39:35 AM

I agree, this piece is very enlightening. For me it shows the defective nature of our party system. Where does the power reside, and how can accountability be ensured? As ever, those at the grassroots are co-opted, taken for granted, and/or simply screwed.

Posted by: | Feb 7, 2008 11:13:40 AM

Awesome, Barb. Thank you. I guess it would be fair to mention that the legislative session is also going on at this time, and a lot of energy is in Santa Fe. Most of our elected officials, as you also mention, do precious little to support the grassroots, except when they need us to volunteer on their campaigns.

I say it again, Brian and the county party folks are volunteers just like the rest of us. I am not going to beat up on them for what is a thankless job that everyone tried their best to do well.

COUNT THE VOTES. Um, I believe the people who are being paid the most money in terms of the cost of this caucus is the company counting the votes. Let's hope that all parties concerned are doing everything possible to make sure the votes are counted. That is what they are paid to do, not to find excuses and mistakes made by honest people as a means to disenfranchise people, because it is just "too hard" to do the job they are being paid to do. The ballots must be counted.

Posted by: bg | Feb 7, 2008 11:23:05 AM

TU (thumbs up,) Barb. I was bummed to read all the rancor over this election.

I've never thought much of just working the short time before an election and this caucus allowed our ward to put together a group of 40-50 volunteers - - we can all work together from now until the Nov election. That's better strategy than a Hail Mary pass thrown in October...

Posted by: suz | Feb 7, 2008 11:52:30 AM

What an incredible piece Barb. You should post this at Kos if you haven't already.

FYI. The party needs volunteers to count today and tomorrow. Interested volunteers can sign up by calling Robert Adams at 975-8780.

Posted by: JaciCee | Feb 7, 2008 12:14:28 PM

Here, here to a wonderfully written post and the right-on comments above. I've been sitting quietly, ruminating over what I personally learned/gained through this process. I'm an old time activist from way back. Name a social justice issue and I've been out there in the streets for it. I've always voted Democrat, in spite of my disdain for our limited two party corporate system. What I have NEVER done is become active in the "party." This year, BEFORE the caucus, I joined my County's Democratic club, went to a couple meetings, and after I voted (i.e. stood in line for 4 hours) I volunteered at my polling place until 10:30 pm. On March 1st I'll be at the pre-convention conference and on March 15th I'll be at the state convention. I know I'm just one person, but my sense is there will be a whole lot of new faces plugging in. And that can only be a good thing! This old time activist is ready to lend her grassroots hand to revitalizing the NM Dem party!

Posted by: hbbean | Feb 7, 2008 12:28:22 PM

Laid out beautifully, courageously, and to the point ! Yeah, let's get those rock stars out for a little real work..um, who do they work for again ? While grassroots democracy is under attack at the legislature in many ways it's also on the rise. Here's to everyone who helps that cause along.

Posted by: david | Feb 7, 2008 12:46:42 PM

Laid out beautifully, courageously, and to the point ! Yeah, let's get those rock stars out for a little real work..um, who do they work for again ? While grassroots democracy is under attack at the legislature in many ways it's also on the rise. Here's to everyone who helps that cause along.

Posted by: david | Feb 7, 2008 12:47:45 PM

Barb ,you disappoint me . The buck stops with Colon. You helped elect him , now you make excuses for him ? He should RESIGN IMMEDIATELY, the E.D of the state Dem party Laura S. has resigned.Colon asked for her head to save his own ass, this is the kind of Party LEADERSHIP that you defend? Being a good leader means preparing for the worst! What kind of excuses will you make for him when we lose CD 1 to Darren White ? Maybe Colon will pull up the FREE Burrito Train like at the 07 convention and get us some extra free burrito votes !( he spent 10 grand on his State chairmanship campaign ,he bought his position !)Face it, party loyalists were duped by Colon , there were two other candidates on the ballot for state chair with real and tested electoral experience. Yet you hired a Chairman and a Executive director with no experience at running an electoral campaign. This is a consistent problem in NM politics, its called nepotism, and its from the top down and DEMS buy right in . The most talented young political operatives in NM have been driven off by the Nepotism of Dave Contarino and Amanda Cooper and now they work for Obama or Clinton. Observe the staff changes of our major DEM candidates and state party as we move forward. The same people that bungled the Governors Presidential campaign and lined their pockets with 22 million dollars will be selectively placed on the staff of our DEM party and major DEM candidates. NM DEMS are in bad shape, we have no leadership ! but we have plentiful nepotism. So please Stop making excuses and show some leadership Barb, your all we got.

Kisses :)

Posted by: I cant Believe it ! | Feb 7, 2008 12:58:41 PM

Exactly! Governor Richardson, Lt. Governor Denish and all of the other current office holders and candidates who would be office holders suck up all the money and all the volunteers into their personal campaign efforts, leaving inadequate funds and volunteers for the Party to adequately staff elections. They--the candidates--seem to forget that they actually need votes more than they need money, and that one sure way to drive down voter turnout is to make voting an unpleasant voting experience--long lines, screwed-up voter lists, a convoluted registration process which pushes people into provisional ballots, not to mention traffic and parking problems and, as for access for handicapped voters--forget it. Instead of sending their volunteers to sit and observe at voting sites, the candidates should have sent them to work. DUH!

Posted by: anne kass | Feb 7, 2008 1:02:44 PM

So Anne, did you volunteer?

Posted by: A Volunteer | Feb 7, 2008 1:13:09 PM

To I Can't Believe It: Yeah the two other candidates for State Party Chair were terrific choices - a corrupt lobbyist for the payday loan industry and a rich kid who thinks he knows everything and hasn't done a single thing for any candidate or the party since. Maybe his views come from the fact he was fired for being disruptive.

Posted by: another democrat | Feb 7, 2008 1:16:57 PM

(to another Democrat)you work for Dave Contarino and Amanda Cooper right ? Did they promise you a cushy job on a big campaign? Keep sniffing the throne and maybe they will let you drive the Burrito Train next year !

Posted by: I cant Believe it ! | Feb 7, 2008 1:28:03 PM

Jeez. Great post!

Posted by: Scott Hale | Feb 7, 2008 1:53:06 PM

Did I volunteer? Yes I did. From 11:30 am to 9:30 pm...and you???

Posted by: anne kass | Feb 7, 2008 1:56:03 PM

I have many contacts who either voted at caucus sites or volunteered at them. Almost all of them said they were crowded by large turnouts but that everything went very well considering and that those voting were upbeat, having fun being with other Democrats and excited about the candidates. Don't let mistakes at a handful of sites hide the fact that the caucus was very successful for the most part.

We are gonna win big in November!

Posted by: PG | Feb 7, 2008 2:17:08 PM

Thank you Barb for your wonderful post. As the smoke begins to lift I see the number of providional ballots due to names missing from the voter list. I believe that was provided by our Secretary of State. Didn't she contract the purging of our voter list to E S & S? Could that have been a problem? Maybe we all need to take some time and figure out what happened.

I worked hard to get Brian elected as our chair. I am awfully glad that he stepped up to take the post and I am glad that he won the election.

You may say that he fell on his face. I say that at least he was moving forward!

Terry Riley

Posted by: Terry Riley | Feb 7, 2008 2:29:58 PM

I called it. Colon pulled a Romo. Couldnt handle the big show.

Posted by: | Feb 7, 2008 2:52:46 PM

Guess you didn't read the facts above. It was Richardson's show and he abandoned it just like he's abandoned the state government for months. He doesn't care about NM only DC and the big time. Everybody knows it but you I guess.

Posted by: Bodie | Feb 7, 2008 3:02:43 PM

Great post, Barb. Well done. I agree with you 100%.

To "I can't believe it": You might have more credibility if you used some approximation of your name. Take personal responsibility for your flames and I might listen to your whining. Otherwise, you're just another backseat quarterback with an ax to grind. Stuff your ad hominem attacks in the dark hole you crawled out from. Show up or shut up, you cowardly troll.

FYI, it was the County Chairs' responsibility to find polling places. Certainly the Sandoval County Chair, Jim Moran, dropped the ball on this one. He should at least have had two different sites in Rio Rancho for CD 1 and CD 2, if not 6 or 10 sites. Yes, the state party should have caught the mistake, but Rio Rancho is not normally a hotbed of Democratic activity, is it? Let's at least be honest about whose responsibility the error was in the first place. You can't expect the state party chair to micromanage everything. If you throw Brian Colon under the bus, you're going to throw hundreds of hard-working volunteers under the bus with him. I'm sure that would please you to no end, but we're not going away. Except for a few well-publicized instances, it went quite well, all things considered.

I worked for months as the DPBC Caucus Committee Chair to find volunteers to staff this caucus and to make sure that it was not the complete and utter clusterfuck the last one was. They didn't even attempt to count the provisional ballots in 2004 for pity's sake, and the lines were every bit as long as they were this time. I walked 7 precincts putting a flyer with the location of the polling place, complete with map, in every accessible door. My volunteers walked the other 7 precincts in my ward. Then I was the site coordinator in one of the busiest polling places in the county.

My father was a refugee from Nazi Germany. The rituals of citizenship, like voting, were the closest thing to a religion in my house when I was growing up. I am heartbroken that so many voters were logistically disenfranchised by our caucus, but we did our best. Please recognize that Brian Colon did his best, too, with human and financial resources that were less than in 2004. He has been far more active than any state party chair in recent history. Nobody could have worked harder or done a better job than Chairman Colon. We owe him our gratitude, not blame nor contempt.

Donald F. Schiff
DPBC Ward 18B Chair

Posted by: Proud Democrat | Feb 7, 2008 3:07:59 PM

When you consider that Colon had one hand tied behind his back because there wasn't enough funding, and his other hand tied behind his back because of a shortage of staff and willing volunteers then you have to give Colon credit.

Instead of trying to tear Colon down for making the absolute best of a tough situation, how about celebrating the strong Democratic turnout and the valliant efforts of those who particiated as staff and volunteer?

On to victory in '08!

Posted by: | Feb 7, 2008 3:19:33 PM

Time to figure out where the money went. Why wasn't this caucus funded adequately by the state?

Posted by: JaciCee | Feb 7, 2008 3:42:40 PM

Comment removed because I don't allow comments in ALL CAPS, which indicates yelling in on online forum.

Posted by: | Feb 7, 2008 4:05:55 PM

JaiCee - the state (and taxpayer money) didn't pay for a penny of this caucus. It was paid for and operated entirely by the State Democratic Party and the County Parties.

It was run by unpaid volunteers from the chairs to the site managers, except for the exec. dir. and a caucus coordinator. All the money had to come from donations.

Posted by: | Feb 7, 2008 4:25:46 PM

I agree with Don Schiff above. The place I voted was packed and line was long but it moved quickly. The people working the site were wonderful, helpful and working hard. It was great to be at an election site with all Democrats. There was such positive energy in the air and nobody seemed to mind the wait. We were all pumped that so many were turning out.

There were mistakes in a couple places. Even when the state runs a statewide election there are mistakes. Let's give everyone a break here.

Posted by: Renee | Feb 7, 2008 4:30:45 PM

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