Sunday, June 04, 2006

Defending the Nebraska Democratic Party

by Kyle Michaelis
In a comment down below, I argued (rather unprovoked) against attacks on the Nebraska Democratic Party. Before launching into any sort of defense of their efforts, however, I should share the letters to which I referred, both of which express frustration and anger that I've often witnessed on the part of disgruntled Democrats but have never really understood.

The following appeared in the Omaha World-Herald's Public Pulse last month:
At a time when Democratic prospects nationally appear to be brighter than they have been since the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress, the Nebraska Democratic Party appears to be stuck in a rut.

As a Democrat, this is painful to say, but I think the Nebraska Democratic Party is the most ineptly run state party in the nation. It's inept because its candidates for statewide or federal office are virtually unknown, with the exception of U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson.

For example, very few people know the name of Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Hahn of Lincoln, and hardly anyone expects him to win in November. Although I didn't change my party registration for the primary election on Tuesday, the fact that some Democrats did speaks volumes.

Some will no doubt say this is a Republican state. Yet Ed Zorinsky, Jim Exon, Bob Kerrey and Ben Nelson won elections for governor, senator or both.

With President Bush's approval rating at an all-time low, this ought to be a most opportune time for Democrats, even here in Nebraska.

If the party loses everything, state Chairman Steve Achelpohl ought to be fired. And if the party loses everything but Nelson's Senate seat, Mr. Achelpohl still ought to go.

Herb Vermaas, Omaha
- - - - - - - - - - -

As a loyal Democrat who has worked as a volunteer often in the past, I thought Herb Vermaas couldn't have said it better regarding the Nebraska Democratic Party.

With the incompetence of state party Chairman Steve Achelpohl, it's no wonder why we as a party have been steamrolled by the other side. Maybe Mr. Vermaas should run for chairman.

Emily Jean Convey, Omaha

I don't know Mr. Achelpohl personally, but where these individuals get off making such exaggerated and personal attacks on the Chairman and the state party in general I can hardly even imagine. Nevertheless, I know for a fact these are not the only two folks who hold such a negative impression of the state party and its efforts.

Sometimes a matter of decades-old resentment, sometimes a matter of simple frustration at Democrats' limited success, I don't mean to imply that the party apparatus and its leadership are above criticism. But - let's be frank - most of those who so persistently make these sorts of complaints really don't have much of a leg to stand on. With the condition of the Democratic Party in recent years, all it has taken to get involved in actually righting the ship have been the will to dare and the passion to actually back up your words with actions.

As I stated below:
The Nebraska Democratic Party is in better shape today than it has been in eight years. That's no rave about their performance - trust me - but it's my honest assessment and I stand by it. Those who don't see that - and continue to point fingers and write Letters to the Editor about the Party's "recent" collapse obviously weren't paying attention when things really turned sour.

That they now allow their ignorance to poison and obscure the very real and very substantial progress that has been made is unfortunate, to say the least.

Now, I'll admit it's embarrassing that Nebraska Democrats don't have candidates for State Treasurer, Attorney General, and State Auditor. Some of the fault for that no doubt rests at the current leaderships' doorstep, but the odds and the adversity that keep potential candidates from entering Nebraska politics are hardly their doing. These are failures that have developed over the course of decades, blame for which rests on every Democrat who has not challenged the stereotypes and who has not been willing to put their own name - their own blood, sweat, and tears - on the line.

A great leader knows that the buck stops at his or her desk; he or she is willing to take responsibility and ready to be held accountable. But, the notion that this in any way absolves rank-and-file voters from their own responsibility to do more than vote - to actually be engaged and to fight the good fight - is dangerous and destructive.

The Nebraska Democratic Party is not some monolithic entity - for those willing to put in the time and the effort there's every imaginable opportunity to get involved and make an immediate impact. Now, having been born and raised in Nebraska, I have little basis for comparison between Nebraska Dems and their counterparts across the country. But, in recent years, I have seen an honest attempt on the part of the NDP to be more accessible and more proactive than in the past. I appreciate that effort.

There was a time when the NDP had sunk to a point where it was good for little else beyond poorly-conceived press releases attacking Republicans. It was obnoxious and no doubt alienated many Nebraska voters to whom such partisan games were just as much an insult as they were an annoyance. Still, I see flashes of such mentality in the occasional press release or blog post, but at least it is now backed up by a very real effort to build a party infrastructure that will take on Republicans in the streets and on the issues rather than relying on oftentimes pathetic soundbytes and hit pieces of no real substance in lieu of an actual message.

Running advertisments for Ben Nelson in the Party's name. Recruiting a candidate of Maxine Moul's stature to run for Congress in the First District. Finding candidates with Jim Esch's work ethic and Scott Kleeb's raw natural talent to run in Nebraska's Second and Third Districts. Putting a free-thinking maverick like David Hahn up against two titans of the status quo like Dave Heineman and Tom Osborne. Developing an online presence second to no other party website in the country. Remaining committed to the technology and its potential for community-building even when the new level of accessibility entailed some hard-learned lessons. Democratic mayors in the state's two largest cities. Democratic gains in the nominally non-partisan state legislature. 25 more Democratic County Conventions in 2006 than in 2004.

The record speaks for itself. These are signs of progress. These are accomplishments to be rejoiced that hold great promise for the future even if the Party yet runs the risk of backsliding into oblivion.

Now, I don't credit this progress to any one individual. And, I'm not saying that more could not have been done or that we might not be standing in even better position with someone else at the helm. I don't do well at speculation and, to be honest, I could give a damn about inner-party politics. What bothers me are the needless distrust and negativity targeted directly at the state party, along with the unsupported accusations of incompetence.

It's time for it to end. It's time for personal responsibility that entails a whole lot more investment in the future and a whole lot less complaining about the present. If the above were just two slightly misinformed but unmalicious Letters to the Editor, they would not be worth mentioning. But, they speak to a long-standing trend and an all-too-common bias against the state party from those whose toes have been stepped on or who have felt marginalized in the past. My advice: get over it.

The Democratic Party has been hemorrhaging for years. To stop the bleeding, to truly get on the road to recovery, people are going to have to set aside their hurt feelings and wounded egos. Don't do it because it's best for the Democratic Party. Do it because it's best for Nebraska - for the families we love and the communities we hold dear. They need and deserve a legitimate political alternative. If you can't work together to help make that a reality, then shut your mouth, put down the keyboard, and - for God's sake - get out of the way to make room for someone who will.

Please trust my assurance that the above is not directed at anyone in particular. It is more a personal reaffirmation and an attempt to level with those who do me the honor of reading NNN than anything else. In the interests of disclosure, I must admit that I have, in the past, volunteered with the NDP - half-heartedly helping them with their blog while they were without a Communications Director. Now that they're squared away on that front, I'm happy to again be in a position to responsibly criticize and praise them and their candidates at will - hoping to serve the vague (and less partisan) notion of progress that guides this site and sustains its self-indulgent author.


Anonymous Vince Powers said...


Folks are unhappy with the direction that state and the country are headed so they want immediate change. Some become frustrated when it does not appear on the surface that the NDP is as healthy as it is in actuality. One cannot see a house's foundation, but we all know that no home can built with out one. The NDP is building a foundation throughout the state and when the house appears, all will admire it.

Anonymous BlueMonkey said...

The most recent TV ad I saw for Ben Nelson wrapped up with a disclaimer: "The Nebraska Democratic Party is responsible for the content of this ad..."

This was the ad in which Ben professes his continued and solemn oath to end the "death tax" and also touts his voting record of going along with the Republican tax cuts.

"The Nebraska Democratic Party is responsible for the content of this ad..."


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