A Democratic activist in McKinney recently asked me on the CCDP Facebook Group:
If elected /re-elected, what are the first three things you will do that will have a bottom line and immediate impact on accomplishing our mission and goals in Collin County?
To put my answer in context, the party’s top goals are getting as many Democrats as we can to the polls in November 2018, and laying the groundwork for that in 2020. Hand in hand with those is recruiting, training, and developing more candidates. If there’s something I can do that will have an immediate impact on those goals I’m working on it right now – I’m not waiting until next June. So, I prefer to respond to this request by talking about my top three priorities for the 2018-2020 term that will help us achieve those goals.
1 – Expanding the Base
Turning nonvoting Democrats into voters continues to be a better opportunity for us to expand our base than trying to persuade Republicans to do switch, though we should be working both.
Turnout continues to be our biggest challenge. In 2014 Texas was 51st in turnout out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Collin County is better than the rest of Texas, coming in at about the national average of roughly 2/3 of registered voters in Presidential years. But we can do much better. We didn’t do much better than California’s worst performing county in 2016 (Fresno at 66.67%), and we’re far behind their best performing county (Marin at 89%). We ought to be voting somewhere around where Orange County voted last year, at 80.7%
In addition to reinforcing the initiatives of the Texas Democratic Party in creating a culture of voting, I would like to see us continue the odd-year field work we started this year, with an increased emphasis on registering and engaging voters in underperforming neighborhoods. With an increasing number of younger voters moving into apartments in Plano things like house parties, direct mail, and focused social media may be effective ways to reach them. Another essential piece of the puzzle is our revitalized Community Outreach Committee, with a particular emphasis on setting up listening sessions with under-represented racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. There are also opportunities in continuing and fully implementing the initiative we’re starting this year to welcome new residents to the county through greeters and direct mail.
Targeted social media advertising with the appropriate values and issues messages may help us start converting people with weak ties to Republican values and policy positions, who vote Republican based mostly on social pressure and identity.
2 – Fundraising
Most of us would like to get money out of politics. But until we elect Democrats who will enact meaningful public financing and other reforms we have to be competitive in raising money. Collin County is one of the wealthiest and highest income counties in the state, and there is a huge potential for increasing our fundraising. Our fund raising opportunities are in sustaining donors, events like the Ann Richards Dinner, focused appeals for specific expenses, and major donors.
Right now we are starting to put in place a new donor management system that integrates with our volunteer and voter systems. This system will make it much easier to identify and reach new donors and target existing donors for new giving. Fully implementing this system will be a priority for the next term.
In addition, we started a new major donor initiative in recruiting sponsors for the 2017 Ann Richards dinner. This needs to continue development well into the next term.
3 – Hiring Staff
Few people realize that the county party has mostly been kept going on a day to day basis by a small series of mostly retired volunteers, working part to full time, serving as de facto office managers and Executive Directors. We’ve been very fortunate that these people have been willing and able to do this, but it’s not reasonable for us to plan on continuing to be so fortunate. In addition, there’s a limit to the responsibility that we can ask volunteers to take on. Most county parties larger than us have employees and it’s time for us to make the transition.
The types of positions we can create and how many will be entirely dependent on the amount of money we can raise. But my idea of our ideal staff at the end of the next term would be:
- Executive Director, part time – This person would assist the County Chair and Vice Chair with many of the executive responsibilities of the offices, including dealing with community groups and media. This would free these officers for building relationships with community leaders, potential candidates, and donors.
- Office Manager, part to full time – This person would relieve officers and committee chairs of many of tasks associated with routine party operations, and oversee office volunteers. This would allow officers and committee chairs to use more of their volunteer time for higher level planning and coordination.
- Development Director, part time – Fund Raising is enough of a specialty that we could benefit by hiring at least a part time person to take a disciplined approach based on best practices in nonprofits and political organizations.
Like everything else we do, these three priorities reinforce each other and all contribute to our mission of electing Democrats. Expanding the base can increase our fund raising, which allows us to hire staff, which further can increase our growth and fund raising.
We’re in the midst of doing what is probably the hardest thing to do in retail politics – flip a county from one party to the other. Focusing on these priorities next term can put us into a self-reinforcing cycle, building our momentum, finishing the job of turning Collin County blue, and keeping it that way.