PDHblog This is a place for members of Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i to express their thoughts, hopes and exasperations about political happenings.

March 22, 2017

Is the Democratic Party “Progressive”?

Filed under: DNC,Elections,HI Politics,Legislature,strategy — Bart @ 9:23 am

Someone asked on Facebook if the Democratic Party of Hawaii is more aligned with the progressive views of Bernie Sanders or the more corporatist views of Hillary Clinton. This was my response:

It depends upon what you mean by “the Democratic Party.” Yes, 70% of those who voted in the caucuses last march voted for the more progressive candidate who supports those policies. So if we take a snapshot of that moment and define the “party” as those who showed up then, that would say “yes.” But slightly less than half the delegates to the state convention were Bernie supporters. Democracy is not just about showing up and leaving. It is about sticking around and doing the follow up work.

To be fair, some of the Clinton supporters also support “universal healthcare and free college and a robust education initiative and raising of the minimum wage.” So it is not just Bernie supporters within the Party who hold those views.

Delegates to the state convention elected people to the State Central Committee, which is the top policy group, the “board of directors” for the state party. Unfortunately, Bernie supporters, and progressives generally, are a minority of the SCC. For the party to become more progressive, we must elect more progressives, whether Bernie or Clinton supporters, to the SCC and other party positions. It is the SCC which pushes, or not, for the party to be more bold in pushing for progressive policies AND encouraging participation of progressives within the party.
We have plenty of Regressives within the party. Some can legitimately be called “corporatists, but many of them are more “careerist,” looking for jobs, using politics to advance their careers, feel important, reward their friends, sometimes their employers.

Also at the state convention, the party adopted a very progressive platform. The party adopted support for single-payer healthcare a number of years ago, with the prodding of stalwarts of the Americans for Democratic Action-Hawaii. I remember George Simson, in particular, being an early advocate, insisting we had to use that term. So even before the massive “Bernie Enrollment,” in many ways, the party’s official position on many issues has been very progressive.

This year, the Legislative Committee of the SCC has adopted a very ambitious legislative agenda, trying to turn those “official positions” into legislation, lobbying Democratic legislators to pass them. Our lobbying effort is only as strong as the effectiveness of our ability to persuade lawmakers to support such legislation. That requires we mobilize and train an army of party members as citizen-lobbyists. We are moving in that direction, but we are not there yet.

On paper, we have nearly 100,000 party members, meaning people who not only vote Democratic but who took the extra step of signing a party card. We need to engage those members in party activities, especially in lobbying legislators. There are 51 House districts. So, on paper, we have about 2,000 party members in an average district. Can we develop a dozen party members as citizen-lobbyists in each of those districts, responsible for developing effective lines of communication with their representative? That will mean volunteering to help their campaigns, maybe even attend their fundraisers (or bartend at one). It means watching what they do, asking them questions and become a “player,” a potential ally (or a potential critic, if necessary) in their district.

Because we have vestiges of genuine democracy left in our electoral system, one of the most effective means for “persuading” reluctant legislators is to support another Democrat as a challenger in the primary election. A word here, some new party members think there is value in running a challenger against any and all incumbents. That is naive thinking. Progressives have limited resources and must set priorities, Not every incumbent deserves to be fired. Those who have not only voted “right” but who have proven effective in getting progressive legislation passed, or junk legislation blocked, DESERVE to be re-elected.

Some party members, impatient at the gap between the progressive platform of the party and the legislation coming out of the Big Square Building, despite six decades of Democratic control, want to use the Rules of the Party as a cudgel for punishing Democratic lawmakers who vote contrary to the party platform. In general, that is not a good idea. THAT is worthy of another discussion in itself. The problem is a POLITICAL one. And we must create the political conditions, in each House and Senate district, that “allows the better angels” in each legislator’s heart to flourish, to dominate their calculations. Or, we have to have enough support in that district to replace them with someone better.

The upcoming county conventions provide an opportunity for party members to become more active, to learn the rhythms, the personalities, the forces, within each county party, as well as to network with like-minded people so we can strengthen our political and social ties and become an effective team. It would be VERY helpful if we can elect a progressive, or at least a FAIR chair on each county. One who is transparent and who encourages participation from those members who want to get more involved. There is a lot of energy, a lot of progressive energy, available, waiting to be tapped. But it also has to be trained, guided. So long as that “training” is not intended to stifle initiative and slam the door in the face of new members. If a district or county leader consistently says your help is not needed–and we saw a LOT of that last spring as Bernie supporters tried to volunteer to help with the caucuses–that leader should be replaced by someone who is able to find a way for you to get engaged. And to learn.

So the “Democratic Party” has the potential to be progressive, has strong progressive tendencies inherent within it, but we have to do the hard work to actualize that potential. We ARE growing.

NOTE: the original FB post can be found here, along with comments from others and further remarks by me:

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