Posted by: sweeneyblog | January 21, 2014

Fighting for the Soul of the Democratic Party

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).

Last time I can use this image

Last time I get to use this image

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

Jaxon Ravens

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.

Dana Laurent

Dana Laurent

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.



  1. How rare that you and I would disagree, Riles. While like you, I have been marginalized by the Democratic Party and don’t have a vote in Vancouver, if there were a top two, I’m not sure Dana would even make it in my book. Perhaps I would endorse her in the primary because she does have progressive values, but I would urge everybody to vote for Jaxon in the finals. I worked with him on the platform committee for four years, and I can assure you that he is a progressive, though not suicidally so. He is a known and proven commodity and not bombastic like Dwight. While it would be nice for Democrats to follow the lead of the Republicans and have a woman as State Chair, I would like to see Dana further establish her credibility as a Democrat first. In short, she should pay her dues. Jaxon has paid his.

    Voters in Vancouver, heed my call. Reward party service and LOYALTY, Vote for Jaxon

  2. Dana has been volunteer that has given a decade of service to our 36th District Democrats. As our Political Vice Chair, she built a grassroots operation that years later is still driving the highest voter turnout rate in the state. In the 2008 election, Dana ran our presidential caucuses with 18,000 participants in 30 locations. She worked 30-40 hours a week of volunteer time – on top of her actual job – in order to pull this off. That’s why I and many other members of the 36th District Democrats are criss-crossing the state with Dana to help her meet face to face with as many delegates as possible. We’ve seen first hand what she has done in our community and we know what she could do as the chair of the state party. Finally, please know that Dana has served as our state committeewoman for the 36th District for the past three years. So she’ll be in Vancouver not only as a candidate, but as one of the 176 people who has a vote in this race.

  3. I recommend everyone who cares about the future of the Washington State Democrats to look at the 2014-2015 Party Building Priorities on They clearly illustrate the vision, experience, knowledge, drive, relationships in and outside of the party, and media savvy needed in our next Chair, and the fact that Dana has what the Washington State Democrats need to move our party forward. Dana Laurent is a tested leader who not only shares progressive DEMOCRATIC values, but WINS ELECTIONS. In a time where we have lost House seats every year, and when most state Democrats want to know how we will retake the Senate, it is time for a change.

    Dana Laurent is the leader the Democratic Party needs. To see just a bit of her ability to empower local organizations to build capacity, check out the trainings tonight on the Progressive Narrative ( and tomorrow on Voter Contact Strategies (

    I’m proud to be on #TeamDana.

  4. Dana Laurent has the energy, ideas and commitment to lead the Washington State Democratic Party to a new level of success. Having been a county chair, state committeewoman for too many years and resolutions and platform co-chair for four years, I know that the role of State Party Chair is more than maintaining an organization. It requires leadership, strategic thinking and connections to important allies. Dana has these attributes. The Party needs a new perspective. I couldn’t agree more with the political junkie..

  5. Again, just 170 or so people will vote on this, and I don’t think many of them read this blog. Polling of those voting members indicates that Jim Kainber has surged in support, with swing potential for a suprise upset first ballot majority. i would hate for history to show Riley talking about a two horse race, like the way that Seth Fleetwood’s mayor campaign showed a chart comparing himself to Dan McShane and Don Keenan, but failing to mention … wait for it… Dan Pike (the guy who won). If Kainber runs away with this race and the chairship, at least this will be a nice time capsule extolling Dana’s virtues.

    • That would be an interesting turn of events. As I frequently say on this blog, my predictions for the future are not prophesy. The nice thing about being a political pundit is you can be wrong and wrong and wrong, and people will still read you (paging David Brooks)

  6. Hoping you can explain to me why (I already know how) the DNC is shoving Hillary Clinton down our throats. It’s jaded and manipulative. I’ve been a fan of hers for years and a lifelong democrat. I will never vote for her for POTUS. I will be writing in Bernie Sanders no matter what the DNC wants. The Republican Party is not the only one with a credibility gap. Please tell them to knock it off or they will lose an entire generation.

  7. Thanks for this. I have no time for Clinton politicians whether in office, the DNC leadership or as superdelegates. I’ve never met Jaxon, he’s probably a decent man but any superdelegate voting against the party membership as a whole is out. I find the DNC (national level not local) an embarrassment of jaded old school pork politics with my legislators spending half their time at dank call center like a telemarketer making fundraising calls to keep this dinosaur alive. It’s a new day… tv ads and news media are not trusted or a productive use of my money now they have been so resoundingly discredited.
    Everything is changing and though the Republicans are taking their last gasps… our own DNC is now viewed as the enemy by many of us.

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