Michael Cook: The Democratic Party Discusses Rebuilding Efforts

by Michael Cook ([email protected]) 219 views 

The Democratic Party of Arkansas held a state committee meeting on Saturday making it the first time the committee has met since the November elections and the subsequent political sea change it brought to Arkansas politics.

The official purpose of the meeting was to elect party officers for the next two years. However, the only contested race this year was for Party Secretary, which featured two former party officers, Karen Garcia and Jason Willett, along with newcomer Dan Sims.

Garcia served as Party Treasurer for many years until she resigned last year to run for State Treasurer, ultimately losing to Republican Dennis Milligan. Willett’s candidacy was seen by some committee members as a quixotic attempt to return to party leadership after his 2005-2007 tenure as DPA Chair. Willett’s tenure as Chair was mired by various controversies and financial problems and he was ultimately forced to resign soon after Governor Mike Beebe’s 2007 inauguration.

After the secret ballots were counted, the overseer of the election, Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane, declared Karen Garcia the winner.

In addition to speeches from Party candidates and officers, the committee heard from John Burkhalter, their 2014 nominee for Lt. Governor. Burkhalter encouraged committee members to keep up the good fight and called for vigorous party primaries and not simply have nominees selected by a chosen few.

A few weeks ago, I outlined suggestions on what the DPA and Democrats should do after their crushing defeat last year. I received positive feedback at the state committee meeting and additional suggestions on what Democrats can do to rebuild. I’ll share some of those ideas in a future column.

One radical suggestion I made in the article was calling for eliminating all but two of the Party’s twelve Party’s caucuses. I was pleasantly surprised that many folks I spoke with on Saturday approved of the general thrust of the idea and agreed that the Democratic Party has way too many auxiliaries. Some didn’t believe we could knock it down to just two, but felt twelve caucuses had become a bit ridiculous.

Toward the end of the meeting, DPA Chairman Vince Insalaco, unopposed in his re-election, outlined his five main goals for the Party:

1. Never forget that the first goal of DPA is to elect candidates to office;
2. Completely revamp the Party Rules to coincide with 21st century realities;
3. Rebuild the County Committees;
4. Revamp the Party Caucuses and increase their accountability; and
5. Improve the Party’s fundraising.

Since the mid-90’s I’ve either closely worked with or closely observed every DPA Chair. I believe Insalaco is probably one of the best chairs the Party has ever had and Democrats are fortunate he is serving another term.

State Democrats were realistic about their current standing in Arkansas politics, but they were also energized about rebuilding the state party and excited about getting Democrats elected in 2016 and beyond.