Giving the inmates the asylum

by | Mar 10, 2014 | Democrats, Editor's Blog, NC Politics | 16 comments

I really don’t want to write about the North Carolina Democratic Party and had decided that I wasn’t going to, regardless of who was chosen as the new executive director this weekend. However, with the news that the party only has $60,000 cash on hand and is considering giving up the Goodwin House, I need to get a few things off my chest.

I don’t know the new ED, Casey Mann, so I don’t know if she’s competent or not. But I saw that less than half of the 53 members of the executive council showed up to choose her. I’m not appalled that so few came to the meeting. I’m appalled that we have 53 members on the executive council. Why are more than a handful of people overseeing this process? And why aren’t they the people who have the most at stake–the Council of State and legislative leaders?

I also saw calls for elected officials to engage and strongly demand that Randy Voller step down. They tried that with the previous chair. It didn’t work out so well. The outdated party rules give them almost no power to choose staff or officers and Voller, like David Parker before him, would almost certainly thumb his nose at them. This is truly a case where the inmates are running the asylum.

However, instead of trying to save the asylum, the people who fund campaigns and the professionals who run them are going to let the inmates have it. There are now other ways to achieve the same goals without the vehicle of the state party. The Citizens United ruling has made it easier to run communications campaigns separate from party organizations. The Obama for America campaign proved that it’s possible to build broad-based field operations outside of the party structure.

The influence of state parties has been in decline for decades but accelerated with the court rulings. Participation in traditional civic organizations, including political parties, has been dropping since the 1960s. The current generation of young adults is not likely to join either party even though philosophically they identify more with Democrats. Parties need to be leaner and meaner, not bigger and broader.

For a political party to stay relevant in this environment takes skilled leadership with the ability to build trust and alliances among people with divergent interests. The NCDP needed a leader who could work with elected officials, interest groups, wealthy donors and the party rank-and-file to modernize the rules of the party. And the leadership needed keep a narrow focus on electing more Democrats and protecting those already in office, the points that could unify everyone.

We don’t have that. Instead, we have a leadership that has dissed the “electeds,” as they call them, and accused the wealthy folks, the people who fund the party, of being corporate shills or DINOs. And now these “leaders” are mad because nobody will give them money.

Instead of forcing the party and its candidates to move to the left, they’ve effectively taken the state party out of the political game for the foreseeable future. There will still be organizations that support and elect Democrats. They will just operate outside the scope of the state Democratic Party.


  1. barbdant123

    Thanks, Chris Telseca, for speaking up. I agree with you about misinformation being rampant and that grassroots efforts are strong and we will end up winning in the end. Thanks for putting into words what others are thinking about.

  2. Andy Dedmon

    Thomas you have it the nail on the head. Not only have the quote” check writers” been told they are not real Dems but those of us who are moderate to conservative and have run and been elected as such are no longer welcome. If anyone believes that folks run on a state or federal platform they truly don’t have a firm grasp on running for office. Until this party wakes up and welcome people like myself back we will be a back benchers for a long time. The sad part is some people like it that way.

  3. Catherine Evangelista

    Wonderfully astute piece! Like you, I’ve wondered why our state executive council size was so excessive. It would appear such a large group would be prone to factional divisions and apparently it is. Part of our problem as a whole is the dearth of meaningful, organizational communication. We don’t…..

    – vet internal candidates seeking state party office

    – educate our party actives about who’s doing what specifically. Our websites hold very little information and is extremely secretive about who is on what council or committee within the party (why is this information so hard to find???)

    – survey our party actives to learn what issues and topics will draw out volunteers and contributions in support of the state and county parties (can be done online quickly, efficiently and cheaply!)

    – partner strategically with our statewide auxiliaries

    Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to set a few term limits inside the bylaws on higher party officer positions if only to keep from getting complacent. Just a few thoughts. We can only be this disorganized because we really do not care about being efficient and effective.

  4. Jimmy Rouse

    I remember when Chairman Voller was elected and the story came out how he was well past due in paying his state and federal income taxes. My dear old Aunt Agnes said, “Is he the best we could find to run the North Carolina Democratic Party?” At age 93 dear old Aunt Agnes has never met a Democrat she did not like……..until Chairman Voller.

  5. Robert Kellogg

    We have a crisis in leadership. True leadership unites instead of divides. it invites scrutiny instead of pointing the finger. It seeks other opinions instead of rubber stamps. It places the group ahead of the individual and it doesn’t demand respect it earns it. Leslie may have gotten some of the facts wrong, but the story of continuing lackluster fundraising and less than competent leadership are right on target. I long for the days when leaders called us all democrats instead of slicing and dicing us into groups of good dems, bad dems, elected officials, rich donors, grass roots, the old guard, activists, consultants etc. For being the Chair of the NCDP, Mr. Voller has sure done a fine job of expanding the gulf between the various factions instead of bringing them together!

  6. Leake Little

    In all my years of priding myself as a NC Democrat I certainly wonder what has happened to the party… Clearly, as indicated by a detailed post to this forum there is infighting, name-calling, and mistrust. A party must be a big tent, it must be tolerant, and it must be effective. Purist ideals and platforms do not win elections. Regardless of your sources the words you speak echo truth to the empty results and lost opportunities of the last several election cycles. A mainstream response must be found that can win elections. Thanks for your courage in speaking up!

    • Thomas Mills

      Hey, Leake. Thanks for reading.

    • Thomas Mills

      Thanks, Sheila.

  7. Kerra Bolton

    I nodded in agreement through the entire post. Thanks for writing.

    • Thomas Mills

      Thanks for reading.

  8. Paula Wolf

    Well said, Thomas.

    • Chris Telesca

      not well said at all. Laura Leslie’s stories were so factually incorrect that many people who attended the meeting wondered what this mole could have been smoking.

      There are no plans to give up Goodwin House. In fact one of the things Randy and other Ex Council members were talking about was the need to be leaner and meaner when so many Voller haters are doing so because they long for the old days and old ways of doing business. But those days are over – even if you don’t know it or won’t admit it.

      This stopped being the Party of the Establishment Dems when Jerry Meek won in 2005. After a brief hiccup from 2009-2011 when the Establishment Dems teamed up with OFA for a very unsuccessful 2009 and 2010 election cycle, the grassroots Dems have taken over.

      Granted, we had nothing to do with the election losses of those two years – but we sure have had to deal with the set backs. Big money donors mostly moved over to the GOP since they are the party in power. And no amount of selling out to big money is gonna get that money back.

      We could have raised a good deal of money from small donors on a recurring basis, but staffers blocked that from happening. Happily those staffers are gone now, along with the bad attitudes, disrespect, insubordinate behavior, incompetence and – in some cases – sabotage. It might take a few cycles to become the lean and mean fighting machine that can take back the General Assembly and the Governor’s mansion – but we damned sure won’t get it back by letting the inside the beltline, establishment Dems run the show by virtue of their big checkwriting skills.

      What Thomas is referring to with the moneybags working outside of the Party is something that’s been taking place in Wake County for years – the privatization of the Democratic Party. In other words, party officers are nothing more than rubber-stamps for the big money donors and their consultant friend. Officers and delegates have no real function. It’s not really democracy anymore than elected public officials selling themselves out for big money donations they can use to con voters to electing them to office so they can further enrich their big money donors. Your big problem is that the party officers and delegates are waking up to this scam – and they don’t like being part of it. That’s why Parker’s forced resignation was rejected in May 2012, and that’s why Voller won even in the face of proxy irregularities by former party staffers who had a vested interest in anybody but Voller.

      We will win in the end – because there are more of us grassroots Dems than their are of you establishment types. And eventually when we can get back to the work of building the party to elect Democrats who will work to turn our party platform into public policy, we’ll take back the majority in NC and elsewhere. Too bad you won’t be able to come along for the ride at that time – since you have spent so much time fighting us do you really expect us to share the wealth when times are good?

  9. Chris Telesca

    Gee Whiz Thomas. When you get your facts about the attendance of this meeting from Laura Leslie (who got that and so many other things wrong according to many people who were actually there – like me), I don’t know what there is to really say.

    There were more than half the Exec Council there. In fact, 93% were there. Laura got this info from her Exec Council mole, and no one really knows what they were smoking that day.

  10. Someone from Main Street NC

    It is unbelievable that in a state that’s been devastated by the Tea Party, the NC Democratic party is comatose. I don’t understand the incompetence here.

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