Will The MCDP Learn From The Winburn / Harris Contest And Choose The Strongest Candidate — Not The Strongest Insider?

Victor Harris with Governor Ted Strickland at MLK Day in Dayton, 2008.

In 2008, Democrats controlled two Montgomery County House Districts, OHD-39 and OHD-40. After redistricting in 2012, OHD-40 became OHD-43, with lots of Republicans added from Prebble County. The Democrats retained two districts for one more House term. But in 2014, incumbent Roland Winburn lost in a rough race with Republican, Jeff Rezabek.

Winburn was first elected to the Ohio House in 2008 and at the time, he got the job because he was the choice of the MCDP insiders. If there had been an even playing field in Democratic Primary in 2008, Victor Harris would have won. It seems likely that, given the opportunity, in 2014 Victor would have defended the OHD-43 seat much more forcefully than Roland was able to do. It seems likely that if Victor had been elected in 2008, he would have amassed a more progressive record in Columbus than Roland was able to do.

Roland Winburn was very well liked in the MCDP. His friends who pushed his candidacy would say things like “It’s Roland’s turn,” or, “Roland has done so much for this party.” Fred Strahorn was term limited. In 2008, OHD-40 became an open seat and everyone knew that whoever would win the Democratic Primary would be a shoo-in for the general election. The MCDP Screening Committee brought the motion to the Central Committee to endorse Roland well before the deadline for Primary petitions to be submitted to the Board of Elections. There were OHD-40 Democrats who were still getting signatures on their petitions. The goal of the MCDP establishment was to coerce all candidates — except Roland — to drop out of the Democratic Primary and to not file petitions with the Board of Elections. Potential candidates were threatened that disobeying the party’s wishes would harm the chance for future opportunities in the party.

Retired OHD-43 Representative, Roland Winburn, and County Auditor Karl Keith

As it turned out, one Democrat — a newcomer to the region, Victor Harris — defied the party bosses and kept his name on the ballot. Victor’s defiance motivated a big push-back from the party insiders. Amazing, to me, was the huge effort extended by the MCDP to maintain its absolute authority to appoint buddies to plum positions. The MCDP raised a lot of money for Roland and activated a lot of volunteers — and sent every registered Democrat in the district a voter card telling them to vote for Roland. When the votes were counted Roland Winburn beat Victor Harris by 56% to 44%.

In 2010, Victor didn’t make a second attempt and Winburn had zero competition in the Democratic Primary. In the general election, Winburn got 72% of the vote. After the 2010 census, OHD-40 became OHD-43 and it was clear that OHD-43 would be a more competitive district. Roland won re-election in OHD-43 in 2012, but with the low voter turn-out in 2014, Roland lost to Rezabek.

I like Roland and twice I’ve donated money to his campaigns. I’ve got to think, however, that if Victor Harris had won the nomination in 2008, OHD-43 would have remained Democratic.

History repeats. Fred Strahorn once again is being term-limited in a strong gerrymandered Democratic House District — OHD-39. In 2020, OHD-39 will be an open seat. Will The MCDP Learn From The Winburn / Harris Contest And Work To Find The Strongest Candidate — Not The Strongest Insider?

 

  • Montgomery County Republicans Take Action That Effectively Suppresses Grassroots Democracy (July 20, 2007)  From a DDN editorial: “The leadership of the Republican Party — at both the local and state levels — is doing everything possible to avoid primaries, on the grounds that intra-party contests sap resources from the general election. … This will give the party leadership the opportunity to encourage the candidates who aren’t endorsed to seek other, lower offices and it will discourage contributors from giving money to people who aren’t going to be campaigning with the party’s blessing. … Setting aside the timing of the party meetings, the Republicans aren’t proceeding in a noticeably different way than the Democrats would. The Democrats , too, have districts that they dominate. (They are actually more dominant in them, because the Republican map-drawers have tried to concentrate Democratic voters in as few districts as possible.) And the party typically picks its own candidates and gets them nominated and elected easily.”
  • The Montgomery Democrats Decide to Suppress Democracy — Just Like the Republicans (December 14th, 2007) The central issue is not who to choose to endorse. The central issue is how to suppress the primary process. … Candidates have been waiting on the party’s endorsement and, because of the party’s endorsements last night, most un-endorsed candidates simply will drop out and will not make an effort to run as un-endorsed primary candidates. …What this process should be called is a process of discouragement. The Party simply doesn’t want more than one Democratic candidate in each primary race. And therefore, all potential candidates, other than one, are discouraged from filing. It is really sort of amazing.
  • The Dayton Daily News Criticises “Lackluster” Dems — Endorses Victor Harris for March 4 Democratic Primary (February 8th, 2008)  The Dayton Daily News today in an article entitled, “Our Recommendation: Harris offers Democrats much needed life,” endorsed Victor Harris as their choice for Democratic candidate for the 40th District Ohio House seat. The primary to determine who will represent Democrats in the 40th District is March 4. Roland Winburn is also seeking the Democrats’ nomination. … Particularly significant about the DDN’s endorsement of Harris is the fact that Harris is not the officially endorsed candidate of the Montgomery County Democratic Party. Winburn was officially endorsed by the Montgomery County Democratic Party and, at the time, the Democratic Party discouraged Harris from filing to run. But Harris decided to buck the party and decided to file regardless that he did not have official party support.
  • Victor Harris: Surprised That Local Democratic Party Wanted To Suppress Primary Competition (February 25th, 2008)  As early as last July, and certainly by September, the decision as to who should be the endorsed Democratic candidate for the 40th House District was already determined. The choice was Roland Winburn — not because all possible candidates had been fairly vetted, but because key players in the local Party decided that it was Winburn’s turn. … Winburn, a dignified and reasonable man, I feel, would be a reliable bureaucrat who would faithfully vote Democratic and would be accessible and responsive to his constituents. But what Victor Harris offers is much more. It is not appropriate for a few power players in the local Democratic Party to deny voters in the 40th District the right to decide. It seems very obvious to me that the position taken by the Montgomery County Democratic Party to suppress primary competition is untenable. It is not a position that most Democratic voters support.

  • DDN Gives Harris Two New Strong Endorsements; Democratic Insiders Attend Winburn’s Fund Raiser (February 29th, 2008) The DDN says, “Winburn waited his turn, but seems to have spent considerably less time thinking about what he might actually do to represent the district.” …The DDN, in praising Vic Harris, took a deserved slap at the Montgomery County Democratic Party. Mark Owens and the entire local Democratic Party leadership have a lot of explaining to do. …
  • The Empire Strikes Back: The Ohio Democratic Party Spends Big Bucks on Lieberman and Winburn (March 2nd, 2008)  In the 40th Ohio House District the state Democratic Party is distributing a full color, great looking handbill urging 40th District Democrats to vote for Roland Winburn. The headlines say that Roland is the “Endorsed Democrat,” and that “Democrats Endorse Roland Winburn for State Representative.” … The handbill includes the boxed statement, “Paid for by the Ohio Democratic Party, Chris Redfern, Chairman.” …The $50,000, or so, that the state machine is pouring into Montgomery County for Winburn and Lieberman is wasted money. This money should be used to help elect Democrats in marginal Districts.
  • How Gerrymandering Defeated An Outstanding Candidate And Sent a Weak Candidate To Columbus (March 5th, 2008)   Vic Harris lost to Roland Winburn for the 40th OHD Democratic nomination yesterday by 44% to 56%. I noticed that some voters walking through the parking lot in the rain to the polling place were clutching their Democratic Party Endorsed Candidate slate in their hands. … What gripes me is that many people voting for Winburn were simply wanting to be good Democrats and felt that the way to be a good Democrat was to follow the Party’s endorsement. … Because of gerrymandering, the Party has a monopoly in the 40th OHD. Because of gerrymandering, the Party knew it could play insider politics, and could advance a weak candidate, rather than a strong candidate, without the fear of penalty.
  • Mark Owens Says Most Montgomery Dems Approve The Party’s Suppression Of Primary Participation (April 8th, 2009)   …Mark was gracious and said that he was glad to discuss the matter and that, in his judgment, the County Party’s endorsement of Winburn over Harris, in fact, was not an antidemocratic action — because the Selection Committee and the Central Committee were chosen democratically and made their decisions democratically. Truly, a breathtaking defense. I pointed out that in the old Soviet Union, the Politburo also decided issues by voting. … Mark agreed that Vic Harris is well qualified to represent the 40th OHD in the State Assembly, but, Mark said that the Selection Committee members resented the fact that Vic was a newcomer, who hadn’t paid his dues to the party; they felt Vic hadn’t worked his way up in the organization, but, felt, on the other hand, that Winburn deserved endorsement because he had contributed a lot to the local party.
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