Will Rogers was spot on when he famously said he wasn’t a member of an organized political party. He was, after all, a Democrat.
For a contemporary example, take the situation in Kansas.
Democrats will meet Saturday in Salina, where they’ll pick their third state chairman in six months, which is not exactly a formula for success heading into 2016. The next chair is expected to be longtime party activist Lee Kinch, a Wichita lawyer.
The wonder of it all is why Democrats are picking a new chair in the first place.
Democrats ran their last chair, Larry Meeker of Lake Quivira, out of the party on a rail after Meeker had the audacity to try something a little different.
He proposed the not-so-radical idea of rebranding the Kansas party as the “red state Democrats.” Meeker looked around at a party that holds nary a statewide office, nary a U.S. Senate seat and nary a congressional office and decided that something had to be done.
His idea was that Kansas Democrats are a little different from, say, Democrats in California or Massachusetts, where liberal this and liberal that is part of the lexicon. Meeker understood that anything far left doesn’t sell in one of the nation’s most conservative states. So he went about promulgating a new image.
“We’re looking to re-message how we speak about our party and our issues,” he told The Wichita Eagle. “At the end of (an) election cycle … we are Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Obamacare, Obama, anything bad they can figure out going on in Washington, and the Republicans brand us. That’s not who we are.”
Paul Davis, the party’s competitive 2014 gubernatorial candidate who ran as a red state Democrat, as did Kathleen Sebelius before him, was in sync with that thinking. He told Politico recently that the national Democratic Party’s image made things tricky for heartland Democrats.
Well, Meeker made his pitch, and longtime party stalwarts went nuts. Losing streak or not, they interpreted Meeker’s remarks as a willingness to go soft on gay rights and Medicaid expansion and other bedrock Democratic values.
They overlooked Meeker’s real message, which was an attempt to be more inclusive and grow the party, not scare people away. That’s what good party chairs do.
Part of the issue, insiders said, was Meeker’s inability to effectively sell his plan. In the grand tradition of politicians everywhere, he talked more than he listened, and that annoyed people.
Maybe so. But even Republicans admit that Meeker was on to something. Kinch should remember that.