Brian Zuzenak was recently appointed Executive Director of the Missouri Democratic Party. I spoke with him last week at the state party headquarters in Jefferson City:
Show Me Progress: So, you’ve started your tenure here just a few days ago. And you, you’ve had previous experience in Missouri politics?
Brian Zuzenak: I have. I start, I actually started my career in politics here. Actually, while I was still in college down at Missouri State. And worked on my first legislative race in 2000 for a, it was a, open seat, open state House seat in Springfield that we were probably not, I, it was, it was, very, one of those toss up districts, this was before redistricting. It was a decent seat for us, but were running, unfortunately we were running against the former incumbent who had come back to take the seat back. And, and, you know, I didn’t really, [laugh] I didn’t really know what I was doing at all. I was trying to finish college and I had done an internship up at the capitol for Representative Liese in the, during session. And had gone back to school and really enjoyed politics and sort of got bit by the political bug. Probably not for the first time, but sort of the first time I really became engaged in politics. And went back and had the opportunity to run that, that House seat, We were unfortunately, came up short by a couple of points…
…And from there I actually up to Jefferson City and worked for the legislative caucuses in ’02, which was the big, it was the big redistricting year. And, of course, that was the first year that term limits were in effect, so I think of the hundred and sixty three members I think we lost more, eighty-three just due to term limits. So it was a very, it was a very busy election cycle. Of course we had, Senator Carnahan was running for reelection at the top of the ticket. And it was a very busy year. And, unfortunately, a very unsuccessful year for Democrats not only in the Missouri, but all over the country. We, we ended up losing the House, had lost the Senate the year before in a special election after, after Joe Maxwell had gotten elected to Lieutenant Governor.
SMP: In, in more recent history you, you did a congressional campaign. [crosstalk]
Brian Zuzenak: I, right. I went, went, took a leave of absence from Missouri, went to Nashville, Tennessee for about five years. Did some legislative work there and then went to work for the administration for about a year. And really decided that I missed politics and missed the campaign life. And the opportunity to work with Judy Baker in the Ninth [Congressional District] came and I jumped at it. And could not have been happier for the decision I made. I was a little hesitant because I had sort of planned a life around getting, not necessarily around getting out of politics, but creating a little more stability in my life. And, but the, you know, it’s, it’s as most political folks understand, it’s a tough thing to walk away from. And there’s really not another job out there that makes you feel like you’re having an impact on peoples’ lives. And feeling like you’re making a difference. And I think that’s what’s so addictive about this job and this career.
So I came back and ran Judy’s [Baker] race and we won the primary. Probably most folks did not expect us to win the primary. But ended up winning the primary by thirteen points and went into the general with high hopes came up just a little short. Two points, eight thousand votes…
…And had gone back to Nashville and was sort of pondering other life paths and when the opportunity came to be Executive Director of the, my home state, I jumped at it and said, “Absolutely! I would love to do that.”
SMP: With the, the 2010 cycle, there are gonna be a lot of races and, you know, obviously at the, the top of the ticket would be the Senate race…
Brian Zuzenak: Sure.
SMP: And the State Auditor. But there are, you know, obviously the state House of Representatives is going to be very, very important and it’s close.
Brian Zuzenak: Sure.
SMP: So the, the state party is obviously going to do a lot to try and, you know, to turn the House.
Brian Zuzenak: We, we are. The Governor has, has sort of made that one of his big goals for the election cycle. Certainly we want to elect a Democratic Senator in, in Robin Carnahan and, and most certainly we want to reelect the State Auditor. But I think sort of the Governor sees the legislature as, as something that very much impacts him on a daily basis in terms of his ability to get legislation passed. So I think that’s why he has set this out as one of his big priorities. And, and so we’re gearing up in that effort. Starting to recruit candidates starting to raise money, do all the things we need to do in ’09 so that ’10 can be a successful year for us.
SMP: …With changes and everything else, you have to deal with new staff, and everything else. Do you feel that you’re, you’re able to attract good, qualified people?
Brian Zuzenak: Oh, I think so. I mean, you know, I think Missouri gets a bad rap sometimes nationally for not being the most exciting place in the world, but certainly, as the 2010 election approaches there’s not, there’s not very many states out there that you would say have more going on. You know we do have this top tier U.S. Senate race, which I think in and of itself is a huge draw for folks to come in and start working in state. But also, just the sheer volume of, of state legislative races that we have going on, there’s lots of ways for people to get engaged who have never been engaged before, and, and take an opportunity to run a state House race or be engaged that way. In ways that they would not have been able to be engaged on a top level race like, like the Secretary of State’s race for Senate. And that’s why I encourage folks to get involved on the state lege…, level because you, there are benefits to that like being, having a lot of time with the candidate and sort of learning lots of different aspects of the campaign. I mean as a campaign manager for a state House race you end up having to do everything ’cause you’re usually the only staffer. And so I think it is a great opportunity to for folks to get involved in the process initially. And, and they learn a lot and they figure out quickly, “I like to do this. I don’t like to do this.” And then they can go from there and sort of hone their skills in a specific area.
SMP: What do you think are the prospects for success in 2010?
Brian Zuzenak: Well, it’s, it’s always tough to say this far out. For sure. But certainly, at this moment we’re optimistic. The initial fundraising reports from the Senate race are very favorable. I think that Robin outraised Roy Blunt two to one. Which is great. And I hope she continues to keep it up. The Governor’s numbers continue to be very strong. And, and so I think that, you know, nationally Democratic numbers seem to be strong, the President’s numbers seem to be very strong. I think at this moment we, we feel very optimistic. But, everybody knows that can change in a heartbeat. And so, that, that, to sit here and make predictions about what the environment is gonna look like in November of twenty ten is, is not really a, a very productive thing to do. But we’re, we’re hopeful at this moment. We think that things are, are headed in the right direction and we hope they continue…
SMP: Well, thank you very much.
Brian Zuzenak: Thank you.