This week, Bob Geary of The Independent wrote that Democratic Party Chair Randy Voller should step down. He also acknowledged that Voller won’t because he sees himself as a transformational figure. That summarizes Voller’s delusions and utter lack of understanding of power and influence.
Voller and his band of wing-nut supporters believe, because of party by-laws, that they have the power to shape the Democratic agenda and that elected officials are responsible to them. They have no sense of history to help them understand their misguided perceptions. In fact, the power of party officials comes purely from their ability to raise and distribute money and their relationships to elected officials.
The by-laws that Voller’s supporters cite ad nauseam on this blog and in other places hinge on rules that were written in the days of patronage. The party itself held power because virtually every government job, from street cleaner to department manager, was a political appointment. Party functionaries doled out jobs that were ultimately the decisions of elected officials and those functionaries, precinct captains, county chairs and executive committee members, owed their positions within the party to those elected officials, too.
Once patronage disappeared, the broad-based party structure became largely obsolete but the rules remain in place. Participation in party activities went into serious decline. Increasingly community and business leaders opted out and were replaced by party activists, most of whom were loyal to certain politicians at either the state or local level. Regardless, they understood that their influence rested with their relationships to elected officials and their organizations.
However, the Dean revolution in 2004 brought in a new brand of activists. They were more issue oriented than electorally focused. Some used the platform committee to push narrow agendas and naively thought that candidates would be forced to adopt them. Instead of building relationships, they tried to force their will.
But relationships, not party rules, are the foundation of politics. People give money to the party because they know and trust the people who will spend it. Elected officials listen to party officials because the locals are their conduit to the community. Without relationships and trust, the party officials have nothing to offer.
And that’s where we are today. Randy Voller and his followers have built no trusting relationships with elected officials or with the people who fund politics. Instead, they rely on an obsolete set of rules as their foundation of power. In fact, their influence only extends to about half of the 700 or so people who make up the State Executive Committee. They can keep the titles. They just have no power.
As long as Randy Voller is state party chair, the party’s over.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >