Raleigh, NC — In my last piece, I promised to shed light as to why some Democratic leaders—who probably know some of the history and backstories of the NCDP—find it necessary to play political games, both behind the screens and in the media.
A convoluted mess is hard to sum up in a fifteen hundred word blog post, so I’m compelled to cherry-pick information for brevity. But, in order to connect the dots, you must first start at the beginning.
The Howard Dean 50 State Strategy—
When former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean became chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in early 2005, one of his main efforts was to undertake a “50-state strategy,” a bid to build up party infrastructure and candidate recruitment at every level and in every state — even in solidly Republican bastions. from governing.com Click here
In a nutshell, the 50 state Strategy was grassroots—designed not only to build the Party from the ground up—but to raise money at the local level, relying on small donations from a vastitude of people. Obama used a form of this strategy in 2008, but back in the year, 2005 (way before Barack Obama was a household name)—this was a totally new idea.
Democratic chairs loved it, but on a national level the concept was considered risky.
One pundit called it tantamount to:
“…hiring a bunch of staff people to wander around Utah and Mississippi and pick their nose.”
What the 50 state Strategy did do, however, was take power away from the DNC and put more control into the hands of leaders at the state level. From the state level it put more control and power into the hands of local county and congressional organizers.
In the end, Dean’s Strategy fizzled out—not because it didn’t work, but because the big donors that fuel the Democratic machine didn’t want to give up power. They didn’t want to share power, either. So, they cut back on the money.
The Democratic Machine—it’s who you know, not what you know—
Now, before we go any further, I want to share with you a question I asked on a social media site: “Was Randy Voller ever “suppose” to win the NCDP chair?” I further clarified the question by saying, “pleased don’t give me a canned response. You know what I’m asking here.”
I was looking to see if others would acknowledge that—within the North Carolina Democratic Party—there is a “Democratic machine.” A machine fueled by big money donors and defended by North Carolina’s top elected Democratic officials and statewide consultants.
This was the best and most honest response:
…as an SEC member, I will answer that-NO. There were others that were being pushed to take the position. From former state senator Mansfield to former congressman Brad Miller to Bob Etheridge.
These (maybe a few more I forgot about) were being pushed and advocated for by several groups of people.
Randy was the only one as I recall who was strongly advocating for a return to grassroots activism as a way to reenergize a party who had its collective ass kicked from 2009-12.
When I walked into the SEC meeting that Saturday morning in Durham, I was swamped by several young people asking me to vote for Etheridge, which shocked me since the man had never bothered to step up to the plate in the weeks leading up to the vote. Although he was in the hall before the meeting started, he left saying he had a prearranged family event that he needed to attend (we found out later it was a grandson’s BB game). In the minds of many who did not want Randy as their chair, they thought that they had things lined up to prevent his ascension to the office.
I am not going to get into the middle of all the muck that has been going on for the past eight months. I voted for Randy and do not regret that vote. We had to move on from being knocked off the proverbial mountain top for the first time in 120 years, and way too many are still sitting, in Jewish terminology, Shiva and mourning for what they use to have. So instead they attack some members of the staff like Casey M. Mann and others who have been busting their asses to keep the ship afloat. We have serious problems within the party apparatus that will never be fixed as long as we keep pointing fingers.
Along the same lines, here’s another response to a similar question:
From the beginning I sensed that there were old school Dems who resented Randy simply because he wasn’t one of them–he wasn’t a country club Dem who wore preppie clothes and was content with moving forward one little step every ten to twenty years or so. Times are changing, our population is changing and if NC Dems don’t fit the needs of the future we won’t exist.
Some resent him and want to derail anything he does just because of who he is. They, like our current crop of Repubs, are willing to sink the ship to get their way. I don’t go for that.
Despite the North Carolina Democratic machine, Randy Voller did win the NCDP Chair. Voller began to implement a plan to take the NCDP back to grassroots and to organize and recruit from the ground up. Power began to shift away from big money, away from “old school” Dems and away from the Democratic elite otherwise know as the “country club Dems.”
As Voller held his ground and fought the Machine, the country club Dems fought back with an onslaught of misinformation and prevarication. They planted landmines, not only to derail Voller’s strategy to elect Democrats, but to squelch any attempt to take power away from the machine, now and in the future.
This latest scandal is one of many examples of how the machine manipulates information within the media, the members of the SEC and, in general, among rank and file Democrats at the local level.
Last summer, Dr. Chavis was the guest speaker at a SEC meeting in Greensboro. That meeting, as the story goes, is one of the reasons Voller fired the former Executive Director. In the accusations, the ED supposedly questioned the money paid to Chavis at that event. Voller is said to have fired the former ED in retaliation. This diatribe led to questions put to Voller and an answer by Dr. Chavis himself.
I have heard some discussion that Dr. Chavis spoke to the State Executive
Committee in the late summer or early fall and received compensation from the
Party for that speech. Can you provide some insight on this? I was told there was
some internal party conflict over the payment, for example, that Dr. Chavis charged
$9,000 and it was settled for $4,500 after Mr. Dempsey raised questions about it.
Dr. Chavis’ statement to that question:
This is completely false! I was invited to speak to the State Executive Committee on
August 17, 2013 in Greensboro, NC. I did not charge a fee nor receive any
compensation for my speech. This is another blatant lie! that is apart of the
orchestrated slander campaign against me and Chairman Voller.
The media loves a good story—
The Democratic Machine fights back against Voller in conventional Democratic fashion: covertly. An army of established mainstream media and independent North Carolina consultants circle Voller like hyena’s after a kill.
Both the machine and these consultants have an axe to grind. During Voller’s first eight months as Chair, he has resisted contracting with consulting firms that had longstanding experience with previous NCDP Chairs. Voller knew that in order to take back the Democratic Party and return it to it’s grassroots, he would have to do business with a totally different set of people. Secondly, since the one dollar tax check off ended, money hasn’t been flowing into the Democratic coffers, so the ability to afford consultants has become an issue.
In retaliation, often consultants leak information, obtained from the machine, to the media. And, sometimes the machine leaks the information itself to the various media outlets.
I’m not saying that individuals within the media are conspiring to take Voller down; what I am saying is that the media loves a story. To start an inquiry all a reporter needs is an accusation leaked by a credible source. The question becomes, how do you define credibility?”
There is a quote I often use to describe media outlets. I relate it to the fact that news is entertainment. A reporter is only as good as her last story and the last story is only as good as the public interest it generates. Public interest is only as good as the advertising dollars it brings forth.
“Don’t just teach your children to read…
Teach them to question what they read.
Teach them to question everything.”
― George Carlin
Rumors of cronyism has plagued Voller since the beginning. The current matter involving Dr. Chavis is but one good example of the nature of the machine’s intent and the intent of some consultants willing to do it’s bidding . Questions regarding a consulting firm and the involvement of Dr. Chavis in that firm has provoked this response:
Could you please describe for me Dr. Chavis’ involvement in CC Associates? It’s my
understanding that the organization was working as a consultant for the NC Democratic
Party until June, when an agreement was reached to resolve a party disagreement in
which the contract was to be terminated. Can you please describe what Dr. Chavis or CC
Associates did for the party? Did the entity perform any additional work for the party or
services following the termination in which it or Dr. Chavis was paid?
Response from NCDP Chair, Randy Voller—
CC & Associates, LLC is a limited liability company organized pursuant to the laws
of the State of North Carolina and is operating in North Carolina. Dr. Chavis and
Michael Carmichael are the Members/Managers of CC & Associates. However, Dr.
Chavis has not been actively involved with the work of CC & Associates. The work
performed by CC & Associates has been performed by Mr. Carmichael. CC &
Associates was a political and community organizing consultant to the Party until
June 2013. All work performed by CC & Associates on behalf of the Party was
performed by Mr. Carmichael, a long time veteran of North Carolina
statewide electoral and political campaigns. Dr. Chavis had no involvement in
activities of CC & Associates related to the North Carolina Democratic Party. Dr.
Chavis has received no compensation from the North Carolina Democratic Party,
either directly or through CC & Associates. CC & Associates has preformed no
work for the Party after termination of the contract.
So, in the end, the real story comes down to money and power. Powerful people within the NCDP manipulate the media to advance their own agenda. And, right now, the agenda is to put enough pressure on Chairman Voller to either make him resign as NCDP Chair or render him useless and only a figurehead. A figurehead, according to some within the NCDP, is what Democratic leaders wanted anyway. For the past year, I’ve been told by several sources that Mansfield was suppose to get elected Chair and Nina Szlosberg –who apparently has the talent for raising big money—was to take the Vice Chair position.
Mansfield pulled out of the race citing his mother’s health but Szlosberg was elected Vice Chair. Interestingly, Szlosberg resigned as Vice-Chair less than six months after being elected by the SEC, referring to differences with the Chairman. According to Nina Szlosberg’s Facebook page she is President of Circle Squared Media. I’m still scratching my head over that one, but I can certainly understand how Nina Szlosberg and Voller had differences.
As collateral damage last week, a civil right leader and North Carolina native was slaughtered in the media and by some within the NCDP. But, the Chavis issue goes much further and much deeper than that. Although African-American Democrats have a caucus within the NCDP, often their voices are muffled within the Democratic hierarchy. I know of at least a couple of white Democrats who have had more bad press and arguably a somewhat more tarnished track record, that have taken leadership positions within the NCDP throughout the years—I didn’t hear a peep from the media on those.
Again, having gone over my cardinal rule word count limit—we’ll pick up these issues in Part III of NC Democrats—This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.
I’ll wrap up the Chavis matter, discuss how this issue relates to the 2014 election and perhaps shed some insight on where the party needs to go to achieve it’s goals. But, more importantly, I’ll discuss where the party is most likely to go.
As a side note I was told that if I spoke of these matters I would no longer be relevant in the North Carolina Democratic Party. My question is: when the hell have I EVER been relevant in the North Carolina Democratic Party?