Hiram did a great job accounting for the GOP’s failure to govern responsibly in DuPage County, but it comes at a time when others are (quite justifiably) raising questions about the Democrats’ failure to contest= the vast majority of county races (the Tribune had similar coverage). I’m a local party official, so I certainly share in some of the blame on that front: I’m neither running for elected office this cycle, nor did our township produce any candidates. The latter is a big problem.
Participating in local government is a critical part of civic life, and I’m terribly worried that we haven’t identified more people willing to run for office. I’m certain that they’re out there — but our inability to reach out to those potential candidates is a huge limiting factor. It takes money — lots of money (by local standards, at least — I’m thinking in the neighborhood of $10-15k per year) — to do regular mailings to everyone on the voter rolls in our township who’s either voted Democratic in the past or attended an event. That’s never been done. Not once that I’m aware of. (State filings will tell you that we currently have about $2500 in the bank, which, while better than the $300 that was in the bank when I took over the party a few years ago, is still abysmal.)
Furthermore, there’s is no concerted effort at a state-wide level to develop an infrastructure that would solve this problem. Could Mike Madigan single-handedly solve this problem? No, definitely not. But could he help? Absolutely. And he’s not, nor is anyone from the state party as near as I can tell. (And if I, as the township chair, can’t tell, chances are it’s not happening.) What does that mean? It means no guidance on the basic blocking and tackling of growing a party. No leadership on fundraising. No coordinated communication when party officials pass through town. (The Governor’s been in Naperville at least twice in the past two years, his wife once, our Attorney General a handful of times, countless other examples exist… and we always, always hear second-hand. I once fielded a call from the press asking what we planned to do with the Governor in town tomorrow. My response: “The Governor’s in town tomorrow?”)
This has a cumulative effect. When the party’s not visible, the voters — even when they believe, often passionately, in Democratic ideals — remain hidden. Why would they go out of their way to seek us out when it’s not obvious that we, well, exist? If they haven’t heard from us, aren’t seeing the impact of us advocating on issues that matter locally, they’ve got plenty of other things to keep them busy. Why contribute time to an effort that seems lackluster at best?
I’m by no means excusing our local group in this. I take full responsibility for the failure to grow the party beyond its limited effectiveness today. My explanation? Being a parent of three, a husband, and an exec at a company in hyper-growth mode that’s consuming 16+ hours a day of my time. I don’t have a lot to give… but I’ve been unable to find anyone who’s willing to step in and take a more active role, which leaves us rudderless. It’s frustrating.
I got re-engaged in politics in 2002 when I got concerned about the direction President Bush was leading us in. (And this was before warrantless wiretapping, an unprecedented number of signing statements, prisoner torture, domestic surveillance, and a desire to amend the Constitution to institutionalize bigotry, but I digress.) At the local level, I’m amazed that the Republicans have such a poor record locally and are so dismissive of genuine efforts by Democrats to get involved. It’s beyond patronizing when Kirk Dillard accuses us of wanting to “screw up” what the Republicans have built, when I and others are expressing a genuine desire to participate in local government. What’s he afraid of?
And I’m hopeful that we’ll find more candidates to run… but hope alone won’t cut it. We need a concerted, well-funded effort to find the candidates, groom them, and contest races that need contesting. Pinning all our hopes on Tammy Duckworth (as suggested in the Herald and Tribune articles) is disingenuous — we shouldn’t have all our eggs in one basket, and we shouldn’t be waiting around for the problem to fix itself.
Personally, I’m annoyed I don’t have more to contribute to solving the problem. It takes a considerable amount of time — time that I simply do not have right now. If anything, this discussion means I’ve got to redouble my efforts to find the people who do. If this sounds like you, drop me a line.
Meanwhile, you’ll be happy to know that the DuPage County government — you know, the one that’s 100% Republican — is on the front page of today’s paper making sure that county computers are safe from Solitaire. I, for one, will sleep more soundly tonight.