Which Democrat Will Represent OHD-39? Should The MCDP Push An Endorsement Or Let Primary Voters Decide?

There are five Democrats vying for the party’s nomination for OHD-39 and next Wednesday, December 11, the Montgomery County Democratic Party Screening Committee will meet and interview these candidates and will vote whether, or not, to make an early endorsement.  The filing deadline is December 18. Any recommendations of the Screening Committee will be voted on by the Central Committee at the December 12 meeting.

Ohio House District 39 is an open seat. The nomination for this seat is great political plum because any Democrat on the ballot for OHD-39 is a shoo-in. Fred Strahorn first was elected in this gerrymandered Democratic district in 2012 with 83% of the votes. He received 77% in 2014, and received 100% of the vote in both 2016 and 2018. Now, Fred is term limited.

The five Democrats who have pulled a petition for OHD-39 are:

  • Joe Barnes,
  • Willis Blackshear Jr.,
  • Derrick L. Foward,
  • Walter James Hickman, and
  • Jo’el Thomas-Jones.

This possibility that the MCDP might once again make early Primary endorsements inspired me to review my DaytonOS articles from the last twelve years — since I started writing on this website — so this post is lengthy. I’m sharing this material hoping many new members of the Central Committee will become informed about this background information.

I have opposed the party’s endorsement practices since first being elected to the Central Committee in 2006. I oppose the endorsement of Primary candidates mainly because the Central Committee seems incapable of independent action. The MCDP Constitution is admirable in that it requires a super majority for endorsement (2/3) — but, in the past, the 70, or so, members who generally have shown up to vote have been mostly party insiders — elected officials and their employees — and these members have their own agenda of loyalty. They fail to represent the rank-and-file county Democrats. Now, thanks to the on-going efforts of Allison and Tim Benford, the Central Committee now has over 240 members. If 200, or more, members would show up next Thursday at the Central Committee meeting and if two-thirds would agree on endorsement, then I might feel differently. I also oppose endorsement as it historically has been practiced, because there never has been transparency or accountability.  I especially oppose endorsement action before the filing date since the main purpose for early endorsement is to suppress participation of potential candidates.

The most recent MCDP endorsement debacle was in 2018 when two highly qualified Democratic candidates — Rev. Daryl Ward and Rev. Darrell Fairchild — sought election to the Dayton City Commission. The party endorsed Rev. Ward — a very controversial decision — but there was no record made of how any Central Committee member voted, or which members even were in attendance. It was an embarrassment for the party when Rev. Fairchild won. Here is the May 9, 2018 DDN report:

“Darryl Fairchild on Tuesday won a Dayton City Commission seat by beating the candidate endorsed by the Montgomery County Democratic Party, a feat that has happened only a couple of times in the last 25 years.

Fairchild defeated opponent Daryl Ward by garnering 51.99 percent of the vote in a nail-biter of a race in which he trailed early but took the lead late Tuesday as votes were counted and the numbers were updated by the Montgomery County Board of Elections.
Endorsed candidates usually prevail in Dayton municipal races, but Fairchild became the first Democratic city commission candidate to notch a victory without the party’s official backing since Dean Lovelace did it in 1993.”

The party aggressively supported Ward. This from David Esrati on November 2, 2017:

I got a mailer today. “Darryl Fairchild refused to support an issue that would provide many quality neighborhood services to Dayton residents” – a hit piece, from the Montgomery County Democratic Party.

Problem is — Darryl is a Democrat. He’s such a loyal democrat that he dropped out of the commission race 4 years ago, so they could give Jeff Mims his seat. They had told him, “it’s not your time” and we’ll let you run for the next seat- and then they picked Chris Shaw instead. Doing deals with the devil- will always get you burned. A party that will do this to their own, doesn’t deserve the right to call themselves Democrats.

In October 2007, new to the MCDP organization, I made a motion that no endorsements should be made prior to the filing date. I write about it here:

Both the Executive Committee and the Central Committee of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, at our October meeting last night, defeated my motion concerning endorsement procedures. Chairman, Mark Owens, discouraged the tabling of the motion and encouraged a thorough discussion. In the discussion, one Central Committee member said that she had been active in the California Democratic Party and that one of the by-laws of the California Party agreed to not make primary endorsements.

Another wrong-headed endorsement made by the MCDP was in December 2007. The party decided to make an early endorsement of Roland Winburn for OHD-40 — a dominant Democratic district before reapportionment in 2012. (The filing deadline was in January.) I wrote about here: The Montgomery Democrats Decide to Suppress Democracy — Just Like the Republicans

At the Executive Committee Meeting last night, I moved that the endorsements for primary candidates be delayed one month until the January meeting so that the endorsements would be made after the filing deadline for primary candidates, which is January 4.

My argument to the Executive Committee to delay endorsement was the same as before. I said that the Democratic Party should take no actions that would give the appearance that, in any way, it wanted to suppress democracy. I reminded the group that the Republican Party had made endorsements in July and had been roundly ridiculed for their antidemocratic action by the Dayton Daily News in an editorial illustrated by noted cartoonist, Mike Peters. …

I said that I felt strongly that taking action designed to suppress primary activity was against the values that most Democrats believe in, and that if we were to act as a representative body we needed to take those actions that would represent the values of most Democrats. I said I was trying to speak up for — as Dean had said — “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”

Most of the Executive Committee members attending the meeting are also members of the Selection Committee and were involved in making the endorsement choices. I was asking them to change their minds, but they were set in their decision, and, my motion went nowhere.

Roland was a loyal party worker and had made many friends in the party. I heard more than once, “It’s Roland’s turn.” His Democratic opponent, Victor Harris, was new to the area. As I wrote: Victor Harris: Surprised That Local Democratic Party Wanted To Suppress Primary Competition:

Victor Harris does not strike anyone as being naive. On the contrary, Vic shows a firm grounding for his thinking. But who wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the local Democratic Party discourages primary competition? Isn’t the purpose of a Democratic primary to give Democratic voters the chance to make the choice of who will be the party’s nominee? The DDN quotes Harris: “I didn’t know the party would select in a primary. I thought the party would take the view … to encourage people to run so voters would have a choice.”

Victor Harris received multiple endorsements from the Dayton Daily News. I write here: DDN Gives Harris Two New Strong Endorsements; Democratic Insiders Attend Winburn’s Fund Raiser:

Democratic Chair Mark Owens must be gritting his teeth. Today’s Dayton Daily News, on its editorial page, gives Victor Harris — the candidate not endorsed by the Montgomery County Democrats — two new and very strong newspaper endorsements.

These endorsements are in addition to the newspaper’s strong Feb 8 endorsement of Harris. The editorial headline states, “Few Candidates Do the Basics Before Running, Victor Harris is Notable Exception.” These new endorsements for Harris come in the wake of a big fund raiser for Victor’s opponent, Roland Winburn, attended by many local Democratic Party insiders. Wednesday, about 100 attended $50 plate fund raiser dinner for Winburn. The event featured Chinese food, and by all appearance was a big success. To get 100 people out on a Wednesday evening to pay $50 each is a big achievement for any campaign. It looks like it owes its success to the big support of the local Democratic Party. A partial list of those who attended are: Mark Owens, Fred Strahorn, Debbie Lieberman, Karl Keith, Tom Roberts, and Nan Whaley. I don’t know whether Clayton Luckey, the unopposed Democrat who represents the neighboring 39th District, attended.

The party defends its practice of early endorsement for the Democratic Primary. I write here about the MCDP Chairman answering questions at a South of Dayton Democratic Club meeting in 2009:  Mark Owens Says Most Montgomery Dems Approve The Party’s Suppression Of Primary Participation

I wanted to be polite to Mark, our guest, but I also thought it important to ask the County Chairman directly to respond to issues that, I feel, long time, loyal Democrats — as those in attendance at this Democratic Club meeting — need to be aware of, and need to discuss. In the question period this evening, in answer to my questions, Mark was unrelenting in his defense of the endorsement actions of the County Party. I was surprised to hear that in his opinion that in the matter of endorsements, the majority of county Democrats, if asked, would approve of County Party’s actions.

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.

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.

The Party has an effective technique used to suppress Democratic Primary participation. To suppress participation, the Party makes its endorsements before the deadline for submitting petitions to the Board of Elections. Potential candidates, who have already gathered enough signatures to qualify their name on the ballot, almost always withdraw when they don’t get the Party’s official endorsement. They don’t want to run against the Party, for fear that will not only lose, but that in the future, the Party will retaliate. The end result is that usually only one name is left on the Democratic Primary ballot — the endorsed candidate. Vic Harris bucked the Party and kept his name on the ballot and ran a great campaign — but he proved the rule that, even a highly qualified and dynamic candidate, finds it is very difficult to win against the officially endorsed Party candidate.

I pointed out to Mark that because Winburn got the Party’s official endorsement, Democrats in the 40th OHD were cheated of an opportunity to experience a meaningful campaign. Assured of a primary win because of the County Party’s official endorsement, Winburn refused to debate Harris. Winburn refused to have joint appearances with Harris. Why should he? The fix was in. The opportunity to elevate the process to engage Democrats in the 40th District into a meaningful discussion of issues was lost. The chance to give 40th District Democrats a meaningful choice was lost.

An official policy of discouraging candidates from running in your own party’s primary, I feel, is a despicable antidemocratic action. Obviously, others disagree. …

At the June 2010 Reorganization Meeting, I again made a motion to change the MCDP Constitution to Prohibit Primary Endorsements. I write about it here:

The point of a Primary is to empower regular Democrats, and, it seems to me that the current endorsement practice of the MCDP is anti-democratic. The point of the endorsement process, as traditionally practiced by the MCDP, I discovered, is to suppress primary participation.

I was enlightened about what MCDP is all about during the short debate that occurred in response to my motion.  One insistent person demanded that the discussion be stopped and the question called.  I thought there was a lot more to discuss about the whole matter of MCDP endorsement policies and didn’t appreciate the steam roller parliamentary action to suppress discussion.  The chairperson of the MCDP, Mark Owens, is an elected official, the Clerk of Courts.  My AHA moment occurred only later, when I learned that the insistent person demanding discussion be stopped is an employee in Mark Owens’ office. (Russ Joseph)

This tactic of a Central Committee member — who is an employee of an elected official — trying to shut down my participation was repeated at the March, 2019 meeting, by an employee of Karl Keith. I write about it here.

I did not seek election to the Central Committee in 2014, but decided to give it another try in 2018 and at the 2018 Reorganization Meeting, once again, the topic of endorsement policy was debated. I write here:  At The MCDP Reorganization Meeting, The Central Committee Votes To Make No Change In Endorsement Policies

Last evening was the quadrennial MCDP Reorganization Meeting. My five proposed changes to the MCDP Constitution (see below) received strong support by some members, but in the end all proposed changes were all handily defeated.

The most revealing part of the evening happened when a long-time member of the Central Committee said that she was insulted that anyone would dare to take away her right to a secret ballot. She had quite a head of steam expressing her indignation. She said that she was totally opposed to requiring her to sign a ballot. In the discussion that followed, several members reminded her that the Central Committee is a representative body and the Democrats in her precinct who elected her to the Committee have a right to know how she votes.

This member is mistaken, because the Central Committee must abide by the rules stated in the Ohio Revised Code. But it is understandable, however, why she feels she had a right to a secret vote. That’s the way the MCDP operates. …

These proposals to change the MCDP Constitution stem from the disastrous decision of the party to make an endorsement in the Rev. Ward vs Rev. Fairchild contest. This endorsement needlessly divided Democrats, needlessly divided the party, needless spent money. This audacious decision on the part of the Screening Committee and the rubber stamping of this decision on part of Central Committee follows an established history of unwise and unproductive endorsements. I believe if transparency concerning endorsements was required by the MCDP Constitution, many unwise endorsements would be avoided. Secrecy empowers bad decisions. In practical terms, the Ward / Fairchild endorsement decision was a secret vote — there was no record kept of who voted for endorsement, who voted against and who didn’t vote — and, as the indignant Central Committee member pointed out, some members of the Central Committee feel pretty entitled to secrecy.

So, that brings us up to the present and I hope the Screening Committee decides to allow the Democrats in OHD-39 to make their own decisions concerning who should represent them in the Ohio House.

In closing here is the first article on the topic — from October 2007. It remains my point of view:

The Big Questions Facing Our Democracy Are Too Important To Allow Political Parties to Decide

The biggest questions our representative democracy must answer are: Who should we choose to legislate for us? Who should be our leaders? Political parties should empower our democracy to effectively answer these big questions, but empowering democracy is simply not the focus of political parties.

The force driving political parties is a passion to win, not a passion to advance democracy, not even a passion to solve problems. The July 27 edition of the Dayton Daily News, gives a telling example of how political parties often operate. The newspaper reported that the Montgomery County Republican Party met to anoint Republican primary candidates for the Ohio House, particularly primary candidates in the three Montgomery County House Districts that, because of gerrymandering, regularly vote Republican. The paper reported that, for the 38th Ohio House District, Terry Blair was chosen as the Republican primary candidate by a vote of 25 to 21.

The Dayton Daily News stated confidently that the choice of these 25 voters would be final and that Blair, in fact, ultimately would be the new State Representative for the 38th District. The newspaper cited the following reasons why Blair would be elected: 1) Republican voters will follow the Party’s dictates 2) The Republican Party will successfully suppress any primary competition , and 3) In the 38th District, because of gerrymandering, Republicans always win. So, according to the newspaper, if you are one of the 110,000 voters in the 38th District, your next Ohio House Representative has already been selected, not by a majority of the voters in the District, but, by 25 District Republicans.

The newspaper in the article decried the actions of the Montgomery County Republican Party as undemocratic, but the newspaper took the opportunity to criticize the Montgomery County Democratic Party also, saying that The Montgomery County Democratic Party, when given the opportunity, does the same thing.

The newspaper said that in Montgomery County both political parties, historically, have adhered to a strategy of suppressing primary battles as a means of conserving resources, and as a way of uniting the party, and, that both parties feel that this anti-democratic strategy increases their chances of winning more elections. However, this year The Montgomery County Democratic Party has not yet endorsed any Ohio House Democratic Primary candidates, and, hopefully, Montgomery County Democrats, under the leadership of the new chairperson, Mark Owens, will carefully examine its endorsement practices before making any endorsements at all.

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One Response to Which Democrat Will Represent OHD-39? Should The MCDP Push An Endorsement Or Let Primary Voters Decide?

  1. Chet Bauch says:

    Thanks for your efforts, MIKE. True democracy in action. Keep at it. Gerrymandering must be changed.
    Warm regards, CHET

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