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Susan Montee’s plans for the party, Part 1

In case you don’t know how we got four years of Baby Blunt in 2004 instead  of Claire, it happened partly because of how the Democratic party was organized–and I use that word “organized” with one raised eyebrow. The party has usually been simply an extension of the campaign of the highest elected official, so in ’04 that meant that it was run at the behest and for the benefit of Gov. Holden. Then McCaskill beat him in the primary. Since the party organization that year was full of Holden volunteers, Claire depended on the Kerry organization for workers. Three weeks before the election, Kerry pulled out of Missouri, leaving Claire without any boots on the ground. She lost by a little less than three percent.

So when she ran for the Senate two years later, she did the smart thing: she made the party self sustaining, separate from the highest elected Dem official, and put Roger Wilson in charge (for no salary). He set about fundraising for the party and telling Missourians what Democrats stood for. Those were the days when Jack Cardetti badgered members of the Missouri press daily to print the Democratic point of view.

But after Wilson left in 2007, the party reverted to arm-of-the-highest-elected-official status and has gradually turned into a nonentity. This last cycle it did next to nothing to get an effective message out either to party members or to the populace in general. Furthermore, the party is broke. Susan Montee, the new chairman, hopes to change the dismal performance and the financial picture. At Rea Kleeman’s condo in St. Louis week before last, she discussed her plans with a group of activists who want to improve the quality of the message Missouri Democrats put out and who want to put one out–which would be a refreshing change.

Montee talks to Rea Kleeman and Marty Walsh

That group, Progressive Dems–STL (it adopted its new name at the Sat. Jan. 8th meeting) was pleased to hear what Montee plans. For starters, she wants the party to be independent of the top elected official again, in this case Nixon. And she points that, oddly enough, the lack of campaign finance limits makes doing so more practical. When the governor was limited to taking $1250 from a given individual, people who wanted to give him more routed the money through the party coffers. Since that is no longer necessary, no state official needs to tie the party to his apron strings.

Montee wants Democrats to see her getting our message out effectively, and she figures that when they realize that is happening, they’ll be willing to contribute to the party. She’ll have to work from the ground up, though. Here’s how pitiful the party organization is: there isn’t even a list of contact info for the State Party Committee members. Her first task is to put that together. Then she plans to make local party leaders aware that she’s on the job by reaching out to the county chairs immediately about the ballot initiatives that are already getting revved up.

Another way to get the attention of Democrats is to cover what’s going on this legislative session. The state faces a $700 million budget shortfall, so there will be plenty to report, as the legislature wrestles with where to make the cuts. Montee told the Progressive Dems that the party has a huge e-mail database, and that she plans to make the most of it to spread the word about doings in the lege in the upcoming months. Furthermore, she will send info to party officials in St. Louis and Jackson counties and ask them to forward it to the people on their e-mail lists.

Still another step in reviving the party is to urge county chairs to set up web pages and keep them current. Since she will be sending them articles about what’s going on in Jeff City, at least some of the content for those web pages will be ready made for them.

Montee believes … No, Montee knows that this state has plenty of Democrats. They’re out there, but they were fed up last election by the Walter Mittys in our ranks who were afraid to stand tall and speak out proudly about Democratic achievements and values. She’s not afraid to stand up to the Republican message machine, and she expects that the national party is waking up as well to that necessity. Indeed, the national party has set up a rapid response team to respond to an expected surge of lies and misunderstandings about the new health care law.

Could it be that we have a new party chairman who has some fire in her belly? Rea Kleeman hopes it is so and said that, for the kind of dedication Montee is showing, Montee should be paid. Right now, our new chairman is working part time for a law firm in St. Jo to pay the bills so that she can spend the rest of her work week (and, no doubt, burn lots of midnight oil) trying to give this party new life. Kleeman asked if Democratic Party chairmen in other states work for free.

Montee said that right now, given the recent, uh, less than stellar performance of the state party, she doesn’t feel as if she could ask its members to come up with a salary for her. She’s more intent on getting it reinvigorated. That said, though, she admitted that in other states it is a paid position. In fact, in some states, candidates for the office have spent up to $100,000 to campaign for the job. You can bet that when Ann Wagner chaired the Republican state party, she got paid.

I have no idea how much Susan Montee ought to be compensated for her organizational and political expertise. What I do know is that she’ll need wisdom and energy for the task she’s taking on. So I thank her for taking on the challenge–and hope that eventually she gets monetary thanks commensurate with her efforts.

And by the way, any progressives interested in joining Progressive Dems–STL may do so by contacting Rea Kleeman: (314) 727-7374, beckkleeman@charter.net