Saturday, December 31, 2005

''Race for leader of state Democratic Party heats up'' (UPDATED)

"The campaign for chairman of the state Democratic Party has descended into intraparty bickering amid the sorts of accusations party members usually reserve for Republicans.

One candidate for chairman dropped out this week largely for personal reasons. But he said he also was stung by what he called nasty and homophobic attacks from fellow party members. Another is getting in the race at the behest of a supporter who says the front-runner is racially insensitive.

Greg Rodriguez, the former King County party chairman, dropped out of the race Wednesday. While he said he did so largely to give himself more time with his son, Rodriguez said he was bothered by whisper campaigns and blog traffic that raised questions about his decision to take his partner's last name and whether he could lead the party as a gay man.

"It's sickening that there are people in this party that will use that," Rodriguez said.

He said "there is an element of homophobia" to the questions. He said some party members also questioned his management of the King County party, while others were angry at him for switching his allegiance last year from presidential candidate Howard Dean to eventual nominee John Kerry.

Longtime Chairman Paul Berendt is resigning next month, a year short of finishing his current term. The Democrats' state committee will hold a special election to select someone to complete the term.

Rodriguez said he had heard some of the same talk about him in early 2005 when he challenged Berendt for the post.

"To this day, I do not know what I have done to some members of this party that make them so fearful and sometimes downright undermining in my quest to help make this party stronger," Rodriguez said in a letter to supporters.

Berendt said he had not heard the sort of negative tactics Rodriguez complains about and said, "I don't think there's much to it."

"This is a liberal bunch, and it would offend people if this was the kind of suggestion that was being made out there," Berendt said.

Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, said she had heard questions about Rodriguez's name change — but not in terms of an attempt to hide anything. "People always say, 'Oh, he's not a Latino, his partner is.' "

Quentin Mitchell is one who questioned in a posting on a local political Web log called washblog whether Rodriguez was the best candidate. He says he is an active Democrat in the Everett area and has not seen any organized campaign against Rodriguez. He is not a member of the state party committee that will select the new chairman next month.

He said he was curious about the name change but says he thinks it is irrelevant.

But, he said in an e-mail interview, "I am more than curious about the sexuality question."

Mitchell said sexual orientation is an insignificant factor in most jobs, but not in selecting someone to lead the state Democratic party.

"The party needs, I believe, to appeal to that vast group of uncommitted and middle-of-the-road voters in order to make its future more attractive," he said.

Given "the nascent conservatism one hears so much about, I simply do not feel that the party would benefit from Mr. Rodriguez's stewardship," Mitchell said.

The candidate most active is King County Councilman Dwight Pelz. Also running are Pierce County Democratic Chairwoman Jean Brooks and Bill Harrington, a Pierce County legislative-district chairman.

Former state Rep. Laura Ruderman also is contacting state committee members, Berendt said. She raised her name familiarity with party regulars across the state when she ran for secretary of state in 2004.

Phil Talmadge — a former Supreme Court justice, state senator and 2004 primary candidate for governor — entered the race this week after Prentice began an effort to draft him.

Prentice said she recruited Talmadge because she thinks Pelz is racially insensitive. Some of that comes, she said, in part because he has had campaigns against five African-American opponents. He lost this year to City Councilman Richard McIver, an African American, who Pelz said benefited from Seattle's liberal guilt.

"He has a history," said Prentice, a Hispanic who has long been active with ethnic party organizations.

Pelz says he has not heard those criticisms as he has campaigned for the chairmanship. He says that though he has had primary opponents who have been minorities, he has always had a good working relationship with the community.

"I live and work in a community of color, and I'm very popular," he said.

Talmadge said that until he heard from Prentice, being party chairman was "the last thing I would have decided to do."

He says he will begin to contact party members. But first he is waiting to hear what Gov. Christine Gregoire thinks of his candidacy.

Talmadge dropped out of the governor's race because of medical issues. He was a tough critic of Gregoire's. During his campaign, he shared opposition research on Gregoire with key allies of Gregoire's opponent, Republican Dino Rossi.

Talmadge said he asked Prentice to check with Gregoire personally to make sure the governor approved. "I wouldn't be foolish enough to do this if the head of the party in effect was someone who couldn't work with me," he said."-from the story in Saturday's Seattle Times.

I am curious about Berendt's reaction to Prentice's comments.

Update: Chad Shue, who is Vice-Chair of the 38th LD Democrats and General Secretary of the Sno-Co Democrats Progressive Caucus, has a few choice comments on this story:

"In addition to the list of candidates for State Chair you mention, please add the name of
Snohomish County Democrats Chair, Mark Hintz who announced his decision upon the
departure of Greg Rodriguez from the race. As to Mr. (Quentin) Mitchell saying, "he is an active Democrat in the Everett area..." please note that he is a Stanwood resident with no
Democratic attachments to the Everett except, perhaps, in a global way (much in the same way we Everett types are referred to as "Seattle area this and that" by the national crowd). We have enough problems in Everett without taking on Mr. Mitchell too. For the record, the 38th LD (Everett) endorsed Greg over two of our own Snohomish County residents (Kat Overman and
Bill Phillips) in January. Finally, having read the blog entries your article refers to, I can't imagine Greg actually basing any part of his decision to depart this race on such baseless drivel."
Update II: Noemie Maxwell, writing on Washblog takes the author of this article, David Postman, to task for this sentence concerning Phil Talmadge:

"During his campaign, he shared opposition research on Gregoire with key allies of Gregoire's opponent, Republican Dino Rossi." The Washblog post clarifies the meaning of the word "share" as it is used in this article: Talmadge is quoted as having said, "'He just gave me some information. Running for governor, you get information from all sorts of interesting places."

Update III: The April 3rd article, cited in the Washblog post, also says, "Yet the two recently shared opposition research files on Gregoire at a recent meeting at BIAW headquarters." I will let you decide whether meeting with BIAW to compare notes on a Democratic candidate for governor is an appropriate activity for a future state Democratic party chair.

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