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From The Vaults

The MCDP Must Transform Its “Political Boss” Organizational Structure — In Order To Engage And Empower Loyal Democrats


They say that how an enterprise is organized is the key to its success. I’ve been involved in three MCDP Reorganization Meetings — 2006, 2010, and 2014 — and in these meetings there was no reorganization. The status quo was simply ratified. I hope this year will be different, because the MCDP truly needs reorganization. This quadrennial Reorganization Meeting is scheduled for June 7.

With the rise of Trump, the polarization of politics, and the emerging majority of voters who identify as Independent, there is pressing urgency for the Democratic Party to discover how to become a stronger and more successful organization. For this Reorganization, 68% of precincts in Montgomery County had no Democrat to step forward to be elected to the MCDP Central Committee; this means that, going forward, 220 out of 360 precincts in Montgomery County will have no elected precinct leader. MCDP is falling far short of being the strong organization it could be.

MCDP Reorganization must address the fact that regardless that the county has about 60,000 Democrats — maybe 3% of whom periodically work for Democratic campaigns — only a tiny percentage of county Democrats are engaged in the party organization (maybe one-half of one percent). Many loyal Democrats have never been inspired to be engaged in the MCDP. How can MCDP be reorganized to engage and empower loyal Democrats?

Looking honestly at the present MCDP structure is to recognize the traditional “political boss” organizational structure that emerged from the nineteenth century — yes, the nineteenth century. At one time this system was effective, but now it is not working and has not worked for some time. What made it effective at one time was the elaborate system of patronage that empowered local party leaders to reward party workers with all kinds of government jobs. At one time, some Democrats were eager to work for the party because they hoped to get a patronage job. The power of patronage that supported the political boss system has largely vanished, but the system remains.

In addition to the loss of the patronage system, super PACs and candidate-funded and directed campaigns have changed the whole system. Parties are trying to adjust, but the“political boss” organizational structure that once delivered Democratic votes now is a major impediment to going forward. The MCDP should be restructured as a twenty-first century organization — transformed from a pyramidal to a more flattened grassroots structure, from a hierarchy to a community.

Size matters. Vinton County has 13,435 citizens and although it is a strong Republican region, there is a Vinton County Democratic Party organization — with website, officers, a Central Committee, etc. The population of Montgomery County is forty times the population of Vinton County, yet the MCDP has pretty much the same structure as the VCDP.

In Vermont, known for its traditional “town halls,” political parties are organized at the town level. Democratic Town Caucuses in Vermont are reorganized every two years — officers are elected, new plans made. These Democratic Town Caucus deal with politics in the local town and work to nurture and empower new Democratic leadership. At their biennial reorganizations, they choose representatives to serve on the County Committee.

Democrats in Vinton County have the opportunity to act as leaders in a population that is less than 3% the size of Montgomery County. Democrats in Vermont have the opportunity to lead and to be meaningfully engaged with other Democrats in their local communities. I don’t have the statistics, but I’m betting that the percentage of loyal Democrats who are active in Vinton County and active in Vermont far exceeds the minuscule percentage of Democrats active in the MCDP. I’m betting a political party with a flattened organizational structure has much more success than a pyramidal one.

Montgomery County is divided geographically into five Ohio House Districts. In those districts are a total of sixteen political jurisdictions — each with a local board of education and a local city council. I’m developing a motion that calls for the formation of five district Democratic caucuses — one for each Ohio House District — a OHD-39 Democratic Caucus, an OHD-40 Democratic Caucus, etc.

The motion I am preparing for the MCDP Reorganization Meeting will call for approval of an Ohio House District Constitution. I’m working on a rough draft. The proposal will call for the elected precinct leaders in each OHD district to act as the Executive Committee for that District Caucus. It calls for the membership of each OHD Caucus to be all interested Democrats registered to vote in that Ohio House District. Each OHD Caucus, in turn, will have the discretion to form City Caucuses for the political jurisdictions (of the sixteen) within their Ohio House Districts

Key to the success of the Democratic Party in Montgomery County is inspiring many more loyal Democrats — young and old — to become actively engaged and to be leaders in the MCDP. There are tons of unused potential. We must make room and opportunity for leadership to emerge. We must provide a positive path for passion. The “political boss” system is out of date. We need to think through a twenty-first century organization structure that supports a vitalized MCDP. Between now and June 7, there is a lot of work to do, a lot of consensus to build.

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