How Gerrymandering Defeated An Outstanding Candidate And Sent a Weak Candidate To Columbus


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. These lists of officially endorsed candidates were mailed to Democrats, and, on primary election day, Party workers were also passing out these slates to voters at the polls. It’s hard to run against the machine.

The results for the 40th District shows Roland with 10,000 votes, Vic with 8,000 votes and, this is surprising, 8000 blank votes. 8000 people made it to the polls to vote for president, but then skipped voting for either Roland or Vic. If Vic could have reached just a fraction of these blank voters, he would have won. I am dismayed that the 40th OHD Democrats chose a weak candidate, Roland, and rejected a very outstanding individual, Vic, and I keep analyzing how and why this result happened.

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. On my last post, someone commented, about the Party’s endorsement that “Endorsement comes from the decision of the Party that one candidate is better qualified than the other.” This is the view of endorsement that a lot of voters who selected Winburn must believe to be true. But, this view of endorsement is out of touch with the reality of what endorsement really means.

In any endorsement, it is important to consider the source of the endorsement and the motivation of the endorser. If I endorse my brother-in-law to you as being a good real estate broker, you might wonder if my endorsement is motivated by an honest evaluation of my brother-in-law’s skills or simply by my desire to help a family member. When ordinary Democrats see that the Montgomery County Democratic Party has endorsed a candidate, they need to consider the source. A Party endorsement is not the result of an objective democratic process involving the deliberation of many MCDP active members. Far from it. The “Party” really boils down to a small handful of insiders who know how to get their way.

The explanation of why these insiders chose Winburn over Harris has to do with the concept of playing by Party rules, the concept of waiting one’s turn. It has to do with insiders seeking to advance their own political careers. Endorsement does not come from a fair analysis of who would best serve the people. Those Winburn supporters who know both Vic and Roland will admit that this analysis is true. These supporters do not claim that Roland is better qualified, or that Roland would be a more effective representative. They are loyal to the MCDP and feel that the Party should have the power to advance whomever it thinks most appropriate — for any number of reasons.

It seems, usually, the biggest factor in endorsing one potential candidate over another is “electability.” For example, a person is seen as an attractive candidate if he or she can show the capacity to raise money, because the capacity to raise money greatly impacts electability.

But in the 40th OHD, electability is not such an important concern, because the 40th OHD usually votes 70% Democratic. If the 40th OHD District was a competitive district and if the MCPD had anticipated that a strong Republican would run for the 40th OHD seat in the general election, then the matter of electability would have been the deciding factor. If the 40th was a competitive district, playing around with insider politics to the point of advancing a weak candidate, like Winburn, could well have meant losing the 40th OHD.

So, one way to look at it, Vic Harris is a victim of gerrymandering. In a competitive general election race, there is simply no question that Vic would be a much stronger candidate than Roland. There is no question that if given the chance, Vic would be a much more effective and energetic representative of the people than Roland. But gerrymandering gives a Party a monopoly, and monopolies have little motivation to innovate or produce quality.

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 without the fear of penalty.

Clearly our democracy is not working as it should. There are fundamental faults in our democracy that conspire to keep the best leaders and the best ideas from emerging. This experience with Vic’s campaign has emphasized to me how gerrymandering undermines our political system and how gerrymandering empowers political corruption.

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12 Responses to How Gerrymandering Defeated An Outstanding Candidate And Sent a Weak Candidate To Columbus

  1. Terrell says:

    It is just plain wrong for the party to endorse before the primary. Party leaders can endorse as individuals but not an official party endorsement. That negates the purpose of the primary and makes second class Democrats out of those that disagree.

    It is just plain wrong to gerrymander. It undermines Democracy and … creates second-class citizens out of the out-group.

    We need a plan to address these wrongs.

    Thank you for spreading the word.

    Shame on the Democratic leadership in Montgomery County.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    I did some blogging on gerrrymandering, but more on Congressional side, comparing how districts are drawn in Ohio vs Kentucky

  3. Long time reader, first time responder, says:

    I have been reading your posts intermittently over the last couple weeks often with bouts of disgust, tongue clicking and head shaking. Now I feel compelled to respond.
    Many posts on DaytonOS and have been critical of the ‘powerbrokers’ of the Montgomery County Democratic Party. I have no power, little influence and many people would categorize me as a political hack. I have worked in local, state and national politics including campaigns here in Montgomery County, other counties in Ohio and even in other states. I feel compelled to respond to the charges that you have made aimed at local party leadership especially insinuating that Tammany Hall style politics are practiced as it pertains to ‘secret’ party meetings, rigged party endorsements and special favors done for preferred candidates regardless of their perceived electability or charismatic leadership.
    Americans have agreed to live in a civil society where actions have consequences. Many people involved in politics that I know, but not all, understand that to collect the rewards that they want, or following the ambitious pursuit to a desirable end, is garnered through hard work, following the rules and putting their time in as a loyal soldier. We have read about the politicians who pursue their desires with devious means, but those people rise as fast as they fall. In the time that I have written this and you have read this, you have already thought of three names of people who meet that description. Only the true soldiers, those hard workers, are still around to tell the cautionary stories that if you reach too high too fast a la Larry Householder the house of cards will come crashing down. I do not know the candidates that you supported, but I do know that if candidates want to work and show loyalty to the party then the party will work ie endorse you. Conserve resources for the most desirable end. I am sure that Vic Harris is a nice man, but why extend any effort on him, if 1. He expects it 2. Takes it for granted and 3. does not appreciate the resources extended to him. This goes for all candidates. Being a candidate is not easy, nor being a party hack, so if I am going to make sacrifices, this candidate better appreciate it and better remember who helped him or her.
    It all comes down to motivation and what motivates us to do what we do. When it comes to civil society we are motivated in ways in which we want others to act as well. Those of us who have chosen to work in the spirit of cooperation to benefit the party do so because there are some basic truths that we accept. You condemn us for not being these do-gooding, altruistic democrats because we must somehow abhor gifted, youthful leadership and prefer controllable groupthink followers because we are driven by our lustful pursuit of power and corruption. I am probably putting words in your figurative mouths, but I want to explain to you what our motivation is.
    We are motivated by collective pursuit of winning and strength. Our numbers, or interests, are preserved only by loyalty to each other and to the goals that we support. When it comes to issues, none of us spend too much time discussing the nuances of policy for we are too pragmatic. Our roles are that of soldiers and generals in the hopes that someday our rewards will be reaped. The statement that ‘these candidates should have to wait their turn’ or ‘it is not their turn yet’ really has to be interpreted for you. I have paid my dues. I have scars on my body. I have lost valuable time with friends and family that I will never get back. But when we say one has not paid their dues, what we should say, but we cannot, is that that person has not sacrificed. They have not walked miles and miles for candidates that cannot remember their names or even know the extent of their support. I have worked tirelessly for friends who later forgot about my contributions and me. I have worked for people who would easily throw me under a bus if the right person asked them to do so and wrote a big enough check. But I continue to wait my turn. For What?
    Politics is neither for the weak nor idealistic. Cynicism, distrust and betrayal are rampant. If it is so nasty, then why do I and others still participate? Because we know that change is not a big brand that one pulls out and implements overnight. It is incremental and it is personal. The greatest highs I have ever experienced in my life were not while running nor ingesting chemicals, but when I had the ability to affect change on the micro level. When you explain to a person how to vote, why to vote, where to vote and maybe who to vote for in such a simple, sweet, straightforward manner, all the garbage and the dues-paying and skid marks from being under the bus disappears. The greatest moments in my life have been this simplistic. I was fortunate enough to assist a blind man, an immobilized women and a young girl with information on the simple act of voting on Monday. I did not give them a candidate, or a cause, but a tool and that is what the party is really about, it is a tool. The party is not democracy. Voting is Democracy. Federalism is democracy. The party is a collective tool. Democracy is about the paper being completed correctly and the ballot being sealed in the envelope. Democracy is about voting and collecting those votes. The party is a tool to get that done. I pay my dues to be a part of that simple moment and that pure high and the hack job come in handy too.
    I love Election Day like Christians love Christmas and can do without the other 363 days of 2008. I challenge you to stop complaining on the sidelines, but to get in the trenches. Rather than complain in your Ivory IMac, get off your couch, pitch in and then maybe you will be taken seriously, but as long as you complain about the few of us who work long days and nights doing data entry, stuffing fundraising mailings for the party (most of the money is conserved for a party slate card in November) and listen to your uneducated ramblings while making food for the fundraisers, you will not be able to convince us that what we are doing is wrong nor get our sympathy because we know we can out hustle you and out work you with signs, mailing and calls when it really counts. I will let my work speak for me.

  4. Greg Hunter says:

    Overall I want to thank you for this “insider” view of the party and why “it does what it does” It is evident that your soldiering has paid dividends. However, if one looks at Vic Harris, why does his soldiering in defense of our country mean less than soldiering around some lower level office for the Dem or Rep machine? This goose stepping with the party may have worked when jobs and people stayed in the area, but people that consult or travel the world gaining experience about things that may make a difference here. However, licking stamps and ass at the Party is what counts. OY – This country and town deserves the leadership it receives.

    I love Freud as there is always a truth that resonates.

    You condemn us for not being these do-gooding, altruistic democrats because we must somehow abhor gifted, youthful leadership and prefer controllable groupthink followers because we are driven by our lustful pursuit of power and corruption.

    I would also like to thank you for reminding me of what makes my day – Enlightening people.

  5. scurrvydog says:


    Lets put this thing to bed. Winburn started campaigning last summer. He came to my house and introduced himself, gave me his background, reasons for running and asked for my help. I introduced him to some of my neighbors. He came to the HH Dems club picnic, our fundraiser, and a few of our meetings. he always made it a point to speak to me whenever we were in the same room. He prepped the battlefield, doing the grassroots thing, just like they show you at DFA Training Academy and Camp Wellstone. (Don’t know if you have attended any, they are excellent Progressive learning tools.) What did YOU have the Col. do? He burst upon the scene 3 weeks before filing deadline, I recieved a robocall from him, and a letter from his wife. Kinda like a banzai charge.

    As a liberal progressive I was embarresed by your invective. I supported your “no endorsement till after the filling deadline”. We lost. Suck it up and bring it up another time. I learned in the military after many PCS’s that you don’t go to your new duty station and tell them how fucked up they do things. You alienate a whole lot of potential supporters when you do. I just hope to god that Vic Harris will stay involved and that you haven’t ruined him for future office. No more of these frontal assaults. Do your reconnasance, Prep the battlefield, get your intel, and cultivate allies. AND GO TO SOME GRASSROOTS TRAINING.

    Dave Richards

  6. T.Ruddick says:

    Speaking as someone who has a high degree of disdain for the two-party system, this talk about “working in the trenches” and “soldiering” does little to brighten my perspective.

    It seems that many are more concerned with party loyalty than with service to the public in general–Abner Orick comes to mind, in his last campaign for Dayton city commission, claiming that he should get elected because, otherwise, the Republicans in Columbus would be less disposed to help Dayton. That sort of rabid partisanship and toe-the-party-line loyalty litmus testing is, frankly, selfish and indicative of poor citizenship.

    And Long-time-reader–howsabout displaying the integrity of posting a positive identifier instead of hiding behind anonymity? Not proud of what you’re doing???

    Terrell asked for solutions. Here’s one. Eliminate all districts. In each election, all open seats are up for any candidate in the state, and each voter gets to vote for one candidate for each office.

    Thus, if Ohio is electing 18 to the US House of Representatives, each voter could choose to support one candidate. The 18 with the highest state-wide totals would win. Note that this is already the way US Senators are selected (albeit only one is elected at a time).

    This system would permit minority viewpoints that are currently excluded from government to achieve representation. It would also weaken the two-party system, tho’ I expect the Dems and Reps would exploit their organizational advantages to retain control for some time.

    Unlikely? Sure, but in debate, one must permit fiat.

  7. Mike Bock says:


    Thanks for sharing your ideas of why Roland Winburn won the 40th District — the fact that he worked hard and smart to develop grassroots support. I agree that he deserves credit for his campaign efforts. And he deserves credit for the fact that he is a likable, well meaning person who people want to support. However, it seems indisputable to me that the reason Winburn won was the fact that the Party took sides in this primary, passed out slate cards, and that many voters chose Winburn simply because they reasoned that as Democrats they wanted to support the MCDP endorsements. My conviction, in my thinking as a liberal progressive, is that it is simply wrong for the Party to take sides in a primary. If, as a liberal progressive, you have an argument that might dissuade me from my conviction, I would like to hear it. I acted on that conviction when I decided to help Victor Harris in his primary election campaign.

    It is obvious to me that on any number of measures, Winburn is a much weaker candidate than Vic Harris, and, it simply makes sense that, if the 40th District was a competitive District, the MCDP necessarily would have found a stronger candidate than Winburn to endorse. My point is that the situation in the 40th District illustrates how gerrymandering undermines our political system and how gerrymandering works to produce ineffective leadership.

    I don’t understand what you mean when you say, “As a liberal progressive I was embarrassed by your invective.” The dictionary definition of “invective” is “insulting or abusive language.” I don’t think I have written anything that comes close to meeting that definition. I don’t think that you can point to anything that I’ve written that might back up that accusation. If so, I would like to know what you are referring to. And I don’t have a clue as to how anything I’ve said could be particularly insulting to liberal progressives. Your accusation, so far as I can tell, is simply an expression of your anger toward what I am saying, maybe anger at the fact that I helped Victor’s campaign.

    And you seem to want to give me credit for a lot more influence with Vic’s campaign than what I actually had. You ask, in terms of doing grassroots work, “What did YOU have the Col. do?” And you write, “I just hope to god that Vic Harris will stay involved and that you haven’t ruined him for future office.”

    The fact is, I had never talked with Vic until after I read in David Esrati’s blog, in January, that that Vic had filed to run in the 40th District. I met with Vic shortly after that and told him that I wanted to do whatever I could to be helpful in his campaign. But, Vic organized his own campaign and defined his own message. I was very impressed by all the aspects of the campaign he developed. My point was to encourage him and to help him implement his ideas. I felt that he needed and deserved encouragement and I’m glad to know that I did just that. One benefit to my efforts is that I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Victor and his wife and child. They are very impressive, very authentic in their thinking and motivation. I spent quite a bit of time campaigning door to door for Vic in Northridge, where I grew up. I know I got him a number of votes there. I also made a big effort in putting out yard signs. But Victor ran his own campaign.

    Yes, if we had worked on the campaign for nine months rather than two, we could have developed a more grassroots approach. I wish I would have known Victor last summer when Winburn was already out campaigning. I think in the summer it was clear to Victor that the Party would endorse Winburn (that’s why Winburn was already campaigning last summer). I think it simply took some time and some soul searching for Victor to determine that, regardless of his lack of endorsement, it would be the right thing to file to run — to give 40th District Democrats a choice. I would like to say that I influenced him in making his decision to file, but I didn’t have an opportunity to do so. His delay in announcing his candidacy, as you point out, may have made the difference in the campaign’s outcome. He didn’t have the time to effectively create a grassroots approach.

    I don’t feel there is any reason to think that I’ve done anything that would ruin Victor’s chance to seek a future office. I certainly hope not. On the contrary, by helping his campaign, I feel that I’ve help Victor establish himself. Victor did not attack Roland’s weaknesses, nor did he embarrass the MCDP Party by attacking their ridiculous endorsement procedures. Victor ran a very positive campaign that focused on his strengths and ideas. He burned no bridges. He obviously made a big impression on he editors of The Dayton Daily News and established himself with a lot of Democrats as a very credible and desirable candidate. Far from ruining Victor’s future political opportunities, his campaign for the 40th OHD nomination, I feel, has propelled him to a good start to develop future opportunities to seek elected office. A lot of effective political leaders have lost their initial election efforts.

    It seems obvious that Vic has a lot of potential — potential for effective leadership and potential to bring many more Democrats into active participation in the Party. Vic is exactly the kind of leader that Montgomery County Democrats should encourage. I’m thinking as the aftermath of this primary evens out, the MCDP certainly will do just that. Remember, you, and many other like minded Democrats who agree with you, have influence in the MCDP about this matter of Vic Harris.

  8. Vic Harris says:

    I have been made aware that my name has been used in postings on this site, so I will, for the first time, speak for myself.

    First, I want to use this site to publicly congratulate Roland Winburn for winning the Democratic nomination for Ohio’s 40th State House Seat. I have the utmost respect for Mr. Winburn and will support him and all Democrats in this year’s general election. I’m proud that I ran a positive campaign that was issue oriented and focused on what I had to offer the people as a potential State Rep. In the campaign I said nothing negative about Mr. Winburn nor about the Montgomery County Democratic Party that supported him.

    This leads to my second point: I ran my own campaign!!! Some postings have insinuated that Mike Bock ran my campaign. This is not true. I not only ran my campaign, I was nearly a one-man show. Had I had more help, I may have won. I say this not to take anything away from the wonderful friends, Mike Bock included, and family who volunteered for me, particularly at the polls on election day, but only to make clear that I was absolutely in charge and responsible for all the numerous successes and failures of my campaign effort.

    Third, I’m not responsible for Mike Bock’s blog comments. I’ve heard complaints about his comments, but Mike’s comments are entirely his own and he received no input, consent, or approval about his comments from me.

    Finally, there have been some postings questioning my decision to run — questioning why I did not wait my turn, questioning why, over the years, I’ve not done more for the local Dem Party before seeking office. I respectfully disagree that these are valid questions. I’ve not been available to help the local Dem Party because these last years I have been serving in the Army defending our democratic rights. Upon retirement from serving in the Army, I had the naive notion that I would exercise the democratic freedoms I had spent so much time defending. Regardless that these last years I’ve not directly helped Democrats here in Montgomery County, the fact is I’ve been a member of the Democratic Party my entire life and I’ve always helped elect Dem candidates at all my state-side assignments. For example, I was the volunteer coordinator for a Democratic U.S. House candidate in Kentucky. Questioning me on why I’ve not directly helped the local Democratic Party makes no sense. I’m proud of my service to my country in the Army and the idea that it is appropriate to penalize me or any veteran for not being available locally is a notion that is simply not acceptable to the vast majority of voting citizens.

    I do intend on volunteering a lot of my time this summer and fall to help our local Democratic Party in its efforts to elect Dems this November. I’m committed to helping Dems in this coming general election, not because I’m looking for some payback for my efforts, because I know that the people are better served by Democrats. I desperately want our party to maintain the majority in Washington, and win back the majority in Columbus, and I intend to do my part to help. May God bless us with this outcome in November.

  9. Jeffrey says:

    good post!


    “….I say this not to take anything away from the wonderful friends, Mike Bock included, and family who volunteered for me, particularly at the polls on election day,”

    This reminds me of an election many years ago in Kentucky that I was working in. It seems that the guy I was working for, who was sort of a local political character, was running for state rep, but had a primarly challenger. It turns out this primary challenger had a pretty big family, or extended family, so was able to do pretty good poll coverage on election day.

    He lost that primary, but came back later, won the primary, and ended up winning the general election.

    So it starts out small like that.


    …& its good to hear you are still keeping involved, Vic.

  10. Larry says:

    I’ve met Vic Harris a couple of times a good man and good candidate. I met his family during the campaign.. great people. He did a great job considering this was his first run. I’m certain he learned a lot of things that will surely help him in the future. Campaigns are either won or lost. Great people lose sometimes. But there will be other opportunities for Mr. Harris. I voted for Mr. winburn this time around. A good man, smart and thoughtful. I am certain that I will be voting for Vic in the future. He is not a sore loser and will most certainly be heard from in the future.

  11. gary staiger says:

    That the MCDP endorses candidates before the Primary is only part of the problem.

    The other 80% is the issue of who is on the Screening Committee and how they got there.

    David Esrati posted a list of the people on this committee @

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why “insiders” have the power in the MCDP.

    3 people, Karl Keith, Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie [afscme] have appointed nearly half the members of the SC. Then add Matt Heck and Judy Dodge for another half dozen appointees. Which is not to say that appointees are mere puppets, but surely, when you are handing someone the combination to the safe you want to know that they can be “trusted”.

    Is there any wonder left about the choices made by the SC?

    Questions arise. Who appointed the appointers? What are the criteria for a seat on this committee? Where does this committee fit into the hierarchy of MCDP?
    If the Central Committee, the precinct captains, by law, is the ultimate decision making body, what role do they have in deciding who is on the SC?

    As for the qualifications/ability of the losing non MCDP endorsed candidates, esp Vic Harris and David Esrati,it would be relevant to know the actual cost per vote that these candidates had as compared to winners R Winburn and J Mitakides. Granted, it’s a crude measure, but it gives some indication of their viability as candidates.

    The essential point is that power wants to hold onto power, it’s the nature of the beast…

  12. Ann E. Siefker says:

    I was the Republican candidate in the 40th District for the 2008 election, running against Mr. Winburn. The concept of “safe districts” is evident. Although I know I could have done an excellent job in behalf of my neighbors, I would rather have run against Mr. Harris. I did not see in Mr. Winburn the passion, energy or desire to pro-actively do good for our area. We’re suffering and need a strong voice in the Assembly. Mr. Winburn touted only a “wait and see” attitude. Unlike Mr. Harris, I did get my Party’s endorsement, but then, no one else from the Republican Party wanted to even try for this “safe” Democrat stronghold. As district lines are drawn based on population, we may see some dramatic changes in 2010. Dayton has undergone a devastating loss of population over the last few years.

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