Now that the latest need to fake a kind of Democratic unity for the sake of winning a common victory has ended, can we take this time to deal with the real issues that hold us back as a party, a state and a city?
This is a conversation that has been put off for far too long. First, for the sake of winning Missouri for Barack Obama in 2008 (which we lost). Then, for the sake of winning the U.S. Senate for Robin Carnahan (which we lost). And, most recently, for the sake of winning a bid to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention (which we also lost).
Unless we take this moment to seriously discuss the issues that helped doom those previous efforts, we risk losing the next fights in 2012.
First, the leadership of the Democratic Party, both on the state and local level, are out of touch with where their votes are. This is seen most clearly on the local level. In the city of St. Louis, the Democratic Party, under the leadership of Chairman Brian Wahby and Mayor Francis G. Slay, relies on African Americans for more than 60 percent of its votes in general election contests, yet none of the leadership decisions are made by, or even with, African Americans.
The end result: city Democrats don’t know how to maximize African-American voter turnout – and do they even want to?
The old joke in strongly Democratic St. Louis city politics is that there are indeed two political parties: black Democrats and white Democrats. All politics is local, but for too long, this local reality has stood in the way of larger statewide victories, as one side feared what an empowered other side would mean in the next local election.
Second – and this goes to what may have been a factor in St. Louis losing its bid to host the DNC convention – urban Democrats and rural Democrats are not on the same page. This dysfunction can most notably be seen in the adversarial relationship between the mayor of St. Louis and the governor of Missouri.
On all issues “progressive” and on most issues “St. Louis,” Gov. Jay Nixon has been AWOL. And because of his position on issues like historic tax credits and local control of the St. Louis police department, Nixon has butted heads with the mayor. Slay has further antagonized Nixon by using these cases as an opportunity to publicly praise and effectively endorse Nixon’s main rival, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.
Add to the equation Nixon’s weak support of President Obama (even going back to the campaign of 2008), the fact that Missouri Democrats were nowhere to be found to defend Obama from the embarrassing Proposition C health care reform attack (which passed by 70 percent across the state – even winning over 40 percent in the city), and the fact that even at the height of his popularity Obama did not win Missouri, and you can see why Obama set his sights on the South.
These are the political realities. And unless local and state Democratic leaders face them, our party is destined to continue to lose.
On the local level, leadership should be reflective of the electorate. If the vast majority of Democratic votes come from black Democrats, then African Americans should have a greater leadership role in the local party, possibly through a weighted voting system modeled after the way Democrats fill candidate vacancies. A committeeperson’s vote for chairman or treasurer should be weighted to the number of Democratic votes their ward produced in the previous presidential election.
On the state level, new party director Susan Montee has an opportunity to lead by example and try to bridge the gap between Obama Democrats and conservative Democrats ahead of the 2012 election. Montee also has the chance to put into party leadership roles African Americans who represent that large, voiceless contingent of the Democratic Party. And not just black political operatives who, while they may add some color at photo ops, represent the interests of their former employers more than the black electorate.
Missouri wasn’t ready to jump on the “Change” wagon in 2008. And unless the Democratic party embraces change today, I fear the results will be similar in 2012.