After nearly a decade at the helm of the state Democrats, Dwight Pelz has decided to retire. His tenure was marked by some impressive successes (holding the governor’s mansion from several strong challenges, building and maintaining a modern voter database) and a few disappointing failures (losing control of the state Senate, losing the newly redrawn 3rd Congressional District).
He brought his bombastic style to every aspect of his work, often meddling in primaries to support the candidate he thought was stronger for the general election, however, he wasn’t a prophet. When Dave Quall retired in the 40th, Pelz favored Tom Pasma over Kris Lytton, but time has shown Lytton to be a cagey and effective representative. Despite this, I liked his work.
Currently, there are several candidates striving to fill his shoes, but in my eyes the field has narrowed to two major players: Dana Laurent and Jaxon Ravens. Both of them attended a candidate forum earlier this month in Whatcom County and spoke about their goals for the party. The only people who can vote in this race are the two official Democratic party members sent by every county and legislative district in the state.
Jaxon Ravens is the de facto incumbent as the current executive director of the Washington state Democrats. In that role, he has overseen the day-to-day operations of the state party, coordinating conferences and fundraisers. He spoke about building on the work we have done over the last decade and, of course, recapturing the state Senate. While my interactions with him have been brief, he has been a steady and reliable presence within Democratic politics for many years.
Dana Laurent comes from a different background. I got to know her work as the political director for Planned Parenthood Northwest, where she turned what could have been a single issue group into a potent political force. She has drawn some big name supporters, including Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff, the Washington State Council of Firefighters and locally, Sen. Kevin Ranker and Rep. Kris Lytton . . . and the Political Junkie.
I whole-heartedly endorse Dana Laurent for party chair. While I respect the work that Pelz and Ravens have done over the years, it is time for a fresh perspective and Laurent brings the right approach. She is pushing for a “39 County, 49 District” strategy, echoing Howard Dean’s “50 State” strategy that includes serious investment in local leadership and training, such as a “sister county” program where party volunteers can share best practices.
The political calculus of Washington state is changing. For many years, the answer to winning races was to dress up Democrats as Republican-lite in difficult districts and then bombard the opponent with ugly attack ads. While this is part of a winning strategy, Laurent understands that the Democratic party must stand FOR something, not simply exist as the “not racists.” As she says on her website, “We must be champions of real progressive change, fighting for policies that protect the poor and the vulnerable, grow and strengthen the middle class, and hold accountable those who selfishly seek personal advantage at the expense of the common good.”
I couldn’t agree more. While I am not one of the select few who get to decide this race, I stand with Dana Laurent for a better state Democratic party.