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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Precinct Organizing: The Path to the Promised Land

NOTE: This is crossposted from MyDD and DailyKos. The material here applies to our efforts to rebuild Florida's DECs - precinct by precinct.

The path to a Democratic majority and possibly subsequent realignment will be paved with the work of precinct captains and the volunteers they are so key in bringing into the process. However, this post isn't completely focused the importance of precinct captains and precinct-level organizing. This post is mainly focused on the question I've been asked over and over again: how are precinct-captains recruited and therefore how are precincts organized?

As a prospective precinct captain for precinct 3230 in Marion County, Florida, I have a few ideas.

First, a little background information. Late President Harry Truman once said that being a precinct captain was the most important job he ever had. It's up to a precinct captain to get members of their respective political party (for our uses Democrats) as well as independents to get out and vote for their party's slate of candidates. Put simply, precinct captains often make or brake elections for candidates.

Democrats cannot expect to truly build a strong majority and realign the public toward progressivism until it has precinct captains in as many precincts as possible. We already know what happens when Democratic precinct captains are nonexistent. West Virginia (as discussed in this Hotline article) is a perfect example.

However, building a strong precinct organization is a lot easier said than done. I know in my home county, Marion County, Florida, has 140 precincts. The local county party (what is called a Democratic Executive Committee or DEC here in Florida) has only managed to have at least 1 precinct captain in just roughly 50 of those precincts. Among that group of folks, roughly 30-40 are active and at least come to monthly meetings (though I have to confess, even though I'm friends with all of them, they do little else.) Just organizing a single precinct can be a taxing activity for a local party (if they're even engaged in this important responsibility at all.)

Here's how I believe a precinct should be organized:

1.) Get a list of all the registered Democrats in the targeted precinct (from your local supervisor of elections, or whoever managed elections in your county - in Florida the state party has provided each county party a way to access this information quickly and easily.)

2.) Take the list of registered Democrats, and pull out those Democrats who have voted in 4 out of the last 4 elections (including primaries.) These are committed Democrats.

3.) Get a team together (hopefully a county party's precinct committee or whichever person or institution that should be dealing with this, again if there is such an entity.) Find a central meeting place and prepare for a meetup.

4.) Send out a snail mail invitation (preferably hand-written, sorry, but this is far more likely to get read) to all the "4/4" Democrats to the meetup.

5.) Coordinate a phone bank to call all of these active Democrats to coincide with the arrival of the snail mail and encourage them to attend.

6.) At the meetup, discuss the need to organize the precinct and how it figures into the larger Democratic strategy. Set some dates for a few (3-4) more meetups.

7.) At the subsequent meetups, discuss local issues and ideas on how to solve them, invite candidates to come speak - and always have free food. Hopefully, some leaders might emerge.

8.) At the final county party sponsored meetup, ask the group to elect a captain and turn over control of the small organization to the captain. But don't just walk away! Always have something there for the precinct captain to fall back on and get support from within the county party.

However, I don't think anyone would argue that the best way to organize a precinct is for someone interested to come forward and agree to stop complaining, and start leading.

We in the blogosphere should take note. To all the bloggers who only blog and haven't given a dime to a campaign, or more importantly, your local or state party (or even the DNC), or haven't volunteered, or who aren't a precinct captain: you should change your ways.

We all want to see the Democratic Party succeed in 2006 and beyond. However, there's a difference between those who talk about victory (or complain about existing inefficiencies) and those who work to make victory happen. I hope that we in the blogosphere will take a closer look at what's happening in our communities (though I don't want to diminish the efforts of those in the blogosphere who blog as well as work for change at the local level) and be the change we want to see.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

DEC Evaluations: Defining Progress and Direction

The other day as I was filling out the traditional evaluation forms for my professors (an end of the semester ritual), I began to think about how this idea of evaluations could work for DECs.

Currently, DECs march forward without a real plan of action, either for the short term election cycle, or for the long term. DECs tend not to have sets of goals to shoot for, and even if they've defined goals (for instance, "elect more Democrats to office"), they don't provide a way to meet those goals.

I believe regular (quarterly, every half year, or every year) evaluations of DECs by the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) will give DECs badly needed focus and direction.

DECs should be evaluated in 4 main categories:

1.) Organization:
  • How many active precinct captains are available to the DEC versus how many precincts exist in the county?
  • Are precinct captains doing their job and are communities truly organized?
  • Are precinct captains being trained, if at all? Are they trained regularly?
  • How many volunteers are available to the DEC?
  • How many donors are on the donor list?
  • Are there volunteer and donor lists at all?
  • Does the DEC have a headquarters or office space.
  • Does the DEC completely rely on volunteers, or has it hired staffers to coordinate central operations?

2.) Fundraising:
  • How much money as the DEC raised in comparison to the local Republican Party?
  • How much money has it spent and what has it spent it on? Is fiscal responsibility being applied?
  • Has the DEC created a budget and distributed it regularly to its membership?
  • Has the DEC established fundraising goals and defined where it needs to spend money in order to win (budgetary priorities)?
  • Has the DEC created a recurring donor program? How effective is it, and what has been done (or not done) to make it effective?
3.) Communication:
  • How (or if) has the DEC interacted with the press?
  • How well has the DEC communicated its message to the public? Does it even have a message to be communicated?
  • Has the DEC promoted positive stories, or incurred negative ones?
  • How well does the central leadership communicate with its precinct captains, volunteers, and donors?
  • How well does the DEC communicate and coordinate with candidates and their campaigns whether in terms of planning or in the field?
  • Does the DEC have someone or a committee assigned to be a liason with the press?
4.) Electoral Performance
  • How well has the DEC and the Democratic Party done in recent elections (this can be as small as municipal races or as large as a presidential race) in the county?
  • Have there been improvements from election cycle to election cycle?
  • How many Democratic candidates are running for office? Are Republican incumbents sufficiently being challenged? Are there Democrats running for open seats?
  • Has progressive legislation and ordinances been successfully implemented at the county level, or has legislative gridlock taken hold? What has the DEC done to promote progressive ideas and legislation at all levels throughout the county?
I'll leave it up to the FDP to decide how to score all of this. Obviously, there are some aspects of a DEC which should be valued more than others. The score should be simple to understand however. DECs should be graded just like a standard test: a percentage (1-100%) indicating a certain letter grade (A-F). Obviously, the grading scale would be the same as any school's: 90-100% is an A, 80-89% a B, 70-79% a C, 60%-68% a D, and 59% and below an F.

Once again, I believe such evaluations will give the DECs needed focus and direction. If a DEC scores well in fundraising, but poorly in communication, then this tells a DEC that their communication apparatus (or lack thereof) needs to be reevaluated. And more specifically, if a DEC scores poorly in communication because they don't have a press secretary/spokesperson or a public relations committee, then the DEC will know clearly that they need to hire a press secretary and/or create a public relations committee.

The FDP, in addition to providing a critique of a DEC through an evaluation, should also provide some ideas on how to solve the problem. By that point the FDP should have an array of programs and options to help and enhance DEC performance (more on that to come in a later post.)