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To Reform Our “Political Class” System, We Need A Grassroots Movement To Reform Our Political Parties

I’m back.

Martin Gottlieb, writing in today’s DDN, “Massachusetts phenomenon visible early in Dayton,” makes a comparison between the defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts and the defeat of Democrat Rhine McLin in Dayton. Writes Gottlieb, “The city of Dayton is far more Democratic than Massachusetts … Yet a Democratic mayor just fell here…. The discontent with the Democrats was and is clear.”

The defeat of Democrats Coakley and McLin, within heavily concentrated Democratic areas, shows discontent not just with the candidates, but also with the Democratic Party.

Voters slapped down both Coakley and McLin, in part, because both projected a sense of entitlement.

Andrew Romano of Newsweek says that Scott Brown got votes by successfully framing Coakley as an arrogant elitist. Romano writes, “The key moment came in the Jan. 13 debate, when moderator David Gergen referred to ‘Teddy Kennedy’s seat’ and Brown stepped in to correct him. ‘With all due respect,’ Brown said, ‘it’s not the Kennedys’ seat, it’s not the Democrats’ seat, it’s the people’s seat.’”

“It’s the people’s seat,” is a powerful concept at the heart of our representative democracy. Our history rejects the notion that power belongs to an aristocracy, and holds to the idea that power should belong to the people. Voters don’t like politicians who project an air of entitlement and voters increasingly are identifying politicians as a “political class” aristocracy that deserves to be slapped down.

More and more voters are convinced that our democracy is not working. We have a Democratic President, a Democratic congress, yet things still are not being accomplished. The rejection of Coakley and McLin, in part, can be seen as a protest against the dysfunction of the system.

The emergence of a “political class” aristocracy, with its sense of entitlement, I believe, can be rightfully blamed on our clique dominated, antidemocratic political parties. To reform and vitalize our democracy we need to reform and vitalize our political parties.

A Montgomery Country Democratic Party member was recently defending the Party’s antidemocratic policies as, “WE think this, WE want that, etc.” Yes, the clique always thinks they are right. But a political party, by law, cannot simply do whatever it wants. A political party is not free to set its own rules, as if it is a private club. It is not free to organize and operate oligarchically. It must follow the law. And the law says that it must organize and operate democratically, based upon free and open elections.

The reason our Montgomery County Democratic Party operates as a cliquish, antidemocratic group — see articles listed below — is that Montgomery County Democrats have allowed this to happen. In 2006, at the last reorganization meeting, only about 18% of precincts were represented. Creating a vitalized, democratic Montgomery County Democratic Party would simply require more Democrats to become involved in the local party.

if Montgomery County Democrats want a vitalized, local democratic party, a revolution in local politics, they don’t need to storm party headquarters. They simply need to follow the law and elect sufficient reform minded Democrats to the Central Committee. Every four years there is a precinct by precinct election and, now, 2010, this is the year for Montgomery County Democrats to reorganize. The deadline is February 18, 4:00 PM, to get one’s application to the Montgomery County Board of Elections, in order to get one’s name on the ballot. And, this year, all that is required is one’s own signature on this form. (In previous elections, a candidate, was required to get five additional signatures.)

In Dayton, regardless that it was obvious that many Daytonians wanted a replacement for Rhine McLin, the Montgomery County Democratic Party early on gave McLin its wholehearted endorsement and actively suppressed any primary competition to McLin. The endorsement was not an effort to empower Dayton voters, nor was it an effort to help Dayton solve its problems. It was simply an effort by insiders in the Party to keep McLin in power. It was an expression of a sense of entitlement.

Similarly, two years ago, the Montgomery County Democratic Party for the 40th OHD, to replace Fred Strahorn, endorsed Roland Winburn. Because of the Republican gerrymandering, the 40th OHD regularly votes 70% Democratic. A small clique of Dayton Democrats leaders showed a big sense of entitlement to the right to name Fred’s successor, rather than allowing an honest and open Primary. This small clique pushed Roland Winburn, and justified their actions by saying that Winburn was entitled to the position.

The rejection of Coakley and McLin may deliver the message that voters are sick of the sense of entitlement projected by a political aristocracy, it may deliver the message that voters want a vitalized democracy.

But the current cliques in control in either political party probably won’t hear that message. What is needed are citizens who hear the wake-up call for reform. We need a grassroots movement centered on reforming our political parties. We are empowered by law. Between now and February 18, I plan on working to help grassroots Montgomery County Democrats hear the message.

  1. The Montgomery Democrats Decide to Suppress Democracy — Just Like the Republicans (December 14, 2007)
  2. Victor Harris: Surprised That Local Democratic Party Wanted To Suppress Primary Competition (February 25, 2008)
  3. How Gerrymandering Defeated An Outstanding Candidate And Sent a Weak Candidate To Columbus (March 5, 2008)
  4. How Can The System Known As The United States Be Made To Work To Provide “Liberty and Justice For All”? (February 5, 2009)
  5. Mark Owens Says Most Montgomery Dems Approve The Party’s Suppression Of Primary Participation (April 8, 2009)
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3 comments to To Reform Our “Political Class” System, We Need A Grassroots Movement To Reform Our Political Parties

  • Eric

    Once upon a time, we could ask. “Can those who seek to represent us pass high school civics.”

    Now we must ask ourselves, “What is high school civics?”

    Any thoughts on whether Ohio schoolchildren should graduate knowing the duties and responsibilities of elected officeholders?

    Ought voters exercise a “wholesome discretion” rather than tarring all “politicians as a ‘political class’ aristocracy that deserves to be slapped down.”

  • Patrick

    It’s a shame I cannot share this on Facebook.

  • Mike Bock

    Eric, Of course I believe public education should prepare thoughtful, knowledgeable, independent minded citizens, well practiced in and committed to effectively participating in a democratic community. This goal goes well beyond simply what might happen in a high school civics class, but getting the curriculum right for such a class would be a good start. My book I’m determined to write this year will attempt to show a structure and system that will be a big improvement in public education in every way — including civic education. I’d like to encourage you to organize your thoughts about civic education, about Ohio’s new civic curriculum, etc — and begin posting on DaytonOS.

    Patrick, I put a link to this article on Facebook, as part of a new group I am starting, Dayton Democrats.

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