Q&A with Martin Frost
by ByronUT, Wed Jan 26, 2005 at 07:48:59 PM EST
Here are the questions by Texas bloggers for Martin Frost in his campaign for DNC Chair. I must credit Charles Kuffner of Off the Kuff for his help specifically with several questions, and all of the Texas Tuesdays patron blogs for their input.
Feel free to repost any of this, just cite the Burnt Orange Report (BL = Byron LaMasters, MF = Martin Frost):
MF: Thank you for these questions. They are an important opportunity to communicate with Democrats and other progressives throughout the country.
The Q&A after the jump...
BL: Why are you running for DNC Chair? What distinguishes you from the other candidates in the field?
MF: All of the candidates agree that the Democratic Party needs to undergo fundamental reforms. I strongly believe that the next Chair must pursue a 50-state party-building and campaign strategy, focus the DNC around winning elections (instead of its own internal politics), make long-term political plans and invest in local and state races, and energize traditional Democratic constituencies while at the same time bringing in new voters. To accomplish these goals, from Day One the DNC must be professionally managed and accountable to the Chair personally. That is the only way to ensure it can afford to become the modern, integrated and nationwide party structure we need to defeat the GOP. The DNC must fund and build professional state parties in every state; empower local and state Democrats to carry forth our message and convince their neighbors to join us; and create a Strategic Communications and Research Center to provide Democrats with unbiased, scientific and long-range message guidance. Finally, the Democratic Party must challenge this dishonest, corrupt and elitist Republican Government at every opportunity, and we must organize, organize, organize.
Here's how I'm different: I am the only candidate for DNC Chair who has actually accomplished these goals - reforming, funding and successfully managing a national party committee, investing national resources in state and local party structures, organizing at every level of politics, and most importantly, devising creative strategies to win for Democrats in the most difficult areas of the country.
Taking over the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee after Newt Gingrich's "revolutionaries" took the House of Representatives in the 1994 elections, I completely revamped the committee - shifting our focus to organizing, and pioneering new programs like the DCCC's first investment in minority turnout; expanding the playing field by aggressively targeting Republicans in even the toughest territory; investing in state and local parties; running localized campaigns; and creating new fundraising methods that shattered all prior records. As a result, Democrats netted 14 Congressional seats in my two cycles as DCCC Chair - and drove Newt Gingrich out of Congress.
Additionally, my political experience is unmatched in this race. My personal experience in the nuts-and-bolts of campaigns and party politics dates back to the voter registration program I ran in 1972 for Democrats in North Texas - a program that registered 50,000 new voters by knocking on the door of every minority household in the county twice. Since then, I've been a successful candidate who has won in a Red State while defending core Democratic values like civil rights and a woman's right to the privacy of her own health care decisions. I've had to be a disciplined national spokesperson, taking on Republicans on TV in Washington, and then campaigning for Democrats in tough races in their home districts in every region of the country. And I've had to be a political party leader at home - where I began a serious commitment to my state and county parties decades ago, long before it became a fashionable campaign promise.
BL: How does your experience as chair of the DCCC prepare you for the job of DNC Chair? What skill sets do you bring to the job that other candidates lack?
MF: In addition to what I've written above, I'd add a couple of other points.
First, at the DCCC I proved I know how to successfully reform and manage a major national political party organization, and that I know what it takes to succeed on the only scale that matters -- against the GOP. (That is experience that no one else in this campaign has.)
I learned how to make the hard decisions -- like firing consultants, distinguishing between promising new ideas that can help win elections and expensive gimmicks that simply make you feel good, stretching a budget to make long-term investments, saying "no" to a candidate you like so that you can say "yes" to someone the Party needs to win.
This is crucial because today's DNC is a huge political operation that can and should raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars during the next chair's term. Democrats deserve a DNC Chair who can hit the ground running and manage an operation of that size -- making the hard decisions to effectively and efficiently deploy resources to win now (in 2005 and 2006), and to invest for the long-term (by focusing, for instance, on the down-ballot races in 2006 that will determine which party has stronger gubernatorial candidates in 2010). Democrats who invest in our Party deserve to know that their money will not be wasted.
Second, I know the importance of challenging conventional wisdom, rethinking the "way it's always been done," and embracing new ideas and bringing in new talent. When I took over the DCCC, Democrats were out of power in Congress for the first time in 40 years. Almost every "smart" Democratic operative and political pundit -- including some of my predecessors -- advised me to hunker down and just try to survive. Newt Gingrich and his "revolution" were on the ascendancy, the old ways of operating were no longer available to us, and others didn't see that we had any other options.
Well, I did. So, I completely revamped the committee: changing our strategy to emphasize energizing base Democrats as well as reaching out to swing voters, adjusting our targeting to challenge Republicans in even the most GOP-trending states, investing in new fundraising methods, expanding the field staff, and creating new programs to directly spend national resources on grassroots efforts.
And because it paid off -- we netted 14 seats and drove Newt Gingrich from Congress -- ever since then, I've never had to heed the voices of conventional wisdom when they claim that Democrats can't win or that "we don't do things that way."
Third, I proved I can take on the nastiest Republicans in Washington on national TV -- and can also campaign for Democrats in tough races in their own homes districts in every part of the nation.
Fourth -- and this is related to the third point -- I learned that a Party Chair must never become the dominant story himself or herself. Your job is to help other Democrats win, and that means ensuring they get the spotlight when they need it. So you have to be willing (and able) to step aside and put other Democrats in the spotlight -- sometimes because they have special credibility, and sometimes because that's one of the ways you help them win.
BL: What did you learn from your race against Pete Sessions? How will that experience make you a better chair than any of the other candidates?
MF: It reinforced for me two principles that I have long held -- and that will guide me as DNC Chair.
First, no matter the odds, it is worth it to stand and fight. As many will recall, Tom Delay and Karl Rove had lost so many fights to us in Texas that when they finally won mid-decade redistricting in 2003, they didn't mess around, putting me in a 65% Republican district.
Instead of walking way after 26 good years in Congress fighting for Democratic values, I raised more than $4 million -- with significant help from the online community -- and built an unprecedented grassroots operation. We organized every precinct, contacted Democrats in some of the most GOP-dominated precincts in Texas -- many of whom hadn't heard from a Democrat in years -- and more than doubled Hispanic turnout. The result: We held my Republican opponent, Congressman Pete Sessions to only 54% (11 points below the district's GOP performance), and turned out enough Democrats to elect four Democratic officials in Dallas County. (News accounts focused on our history-making election of Lupe Valdez as Sheriff, but overlooked the fact that Democrats had not elected a county-wide official in the prior 20 years.)
The second principle is this: Democrats should never cede any issue to Republicans, and should never be afraid to challenge them on their so-called "home turf." In my race, our research found a vulnerability -- Sessions was one of only a few Members to vote against airline security -- and we hit him hard, pointing out that he was so far out of the mainstream that he'd opposed even other Republicans (like Bush, McCain, etc.). Not only did it throw him on the defensive, it gave tremendous energy to our grassroots program when Democrats in North Texas saw that a Democrat was challenging a Republican on security.
BL Do you believe that the Democratic Party is in need of sweeping changes in terms of message and strategy, or just some tinkering around the edges? In either case, how do you plan to bring about the changes you envision?
MF: The party needs major structural, strategic and communications reforms. We need a National Political Audit of all electoral races in the country - so that we can take a rigorous and long-term look at all of the Democratic Party's priorities and ensure we are letting no opportunity slip by. We need to build a modern, integrated and truly nationwide party structure, one that connects voters in every community to Democratic officials and candidates at all level - from county officials and state legislators, to Members of Congress and Senators, to Governors and Presidential candidates. We need to build a DNC Strategic Communications and Research Center, which can provide all Democrats with research-driven, scientifically tested guidance on message strategy, and which can devise strategies to effect fundamental changes in the rhetorical and issue frameworks of political discourse.
To accomplish all these goals, the DNC must empower, fund and professionalize state party operations. It must utilize all the tools of the new politics to empower, organize and communicate. It must invest in technology and testing. It must be willing to challenge conventional wisdom about Party operations. And it must submit every bit of its infrastructure and planning to a simple test: How does this help Democrats win elections - now and over the long-term?
BL: What role do you see the blogosphere and netroots as playing in the Democratic party. What would you do to utilize the netroots as chair of the DNC?
MF: I view it a core component of the progressive community and the Democratic Party - a critical communications vehicle for 21st century politics and a vital resource full of energy, ideas, volunteers, donors and voters.
I want to ensure that you can become more involved in the DNC - in organizing as well as in working with us on message development, message delivery and rapid response. We need a strategy and structure to fully incorporate into our communications strategies the power the blogosphere.
Also, we need the netroots to be seamlessly integrated in our grassroots organizing efforts. This is a network with enormous potential to impact the delivery of campaign messages and to build the type of "neighbor-to-neighbor" campaigns that Democrats historically excelled in - and that worked in some places this year (like in the Iowa Caucuses, and in the general election in Dallas County).
To do this, the DNC must engage in an ongoing, substantive and two-way conversation with you. That includes everything from regular conference calls to special online events. Structurally, we should regularly review and re-evaluate the performance of our technology systems and resources (just as we do other committee resources). At the staff level, Internet organizing and technology staff must participate in strategic political and communications decisions.
As we build and professionalize State Parties, we must make it as central to their operations as are traditional departments like Finance, Communication and Research. That requires that the DNC make it a priority, and provide resources, tools, staffing and training. The DNC may also need to release its hold on information and technology so that local and state Democrats can make use of them. I see this as an important way to reverse the long-term decline that has sapped many local and state party organizations of their organizational (and thus political) strength.
The Democratic Party has made great strides in the past year or so, but it's clear that there is much more that we can do. As folks who have worked with me can tell you, I've never won any awards for hipness, but I've always looked for new and better ways of practicing politics - because my overriding goal is simply to win for Democrats. That is why I find the power of the new politics so exciting.
BL: What experience do you have with Internet organizing? Should Internet organizing be an integral strategy of the DNC? If so, how would you implement such a strategy?
MF: I believe I covered this question in Answer 6 (above), but let me add one point of emphasis:
For my entire career in politics, I have believed that organizing is crucial to winning elections for the Democratic Party. Today, it is clear that Internet organizing is vital to our future success. The days of turning over campaign strategy to media consultants have long passed. I've always run grassroots-heavy campaigns - as the thousands who have volunteered on my races can tell you - because I never bought into the myth that TV could replace the power of personal communication in politics. (That is why I reformed the post-1994 DCCC to focus on organizing; it's also why my final campaign spent more of its $4 million budget on organizing and turnout than it did on TV advertising - despite the enormous per-point cost of the Dallas-Fort Worth TV market).
BL: What is your position on the order of the Democratic Presidential primary races? Should Iowa and New Hampshire retain their "first in the nation status", or should there be reform?
MF: This is a serious issue that requires fairness from the new Chair. There is a substantive and competent commission working on this issue, and because I do not want to unfairly affect their work, I will withhold judgment until hearing from them.
BL: Obviously, you're an expert on the redistricting issue. Do you support national redistricting reforms? What are your thoughts on the idea of a nonpartisan/bipartisan redistricting commissions being pushed by members of both parties (i.e. Democrats in Florida, Republicans in California)? Furthermore, as DNC Chair what strategy would you implement to tackle 2010 congressional redistricting now?
MF: Your first question is a crucial strategic one that I prefer not to discuss in public - i.e., with our Republican opponents - at this time. As to your second question: Throughout my career in politics, I've always devoted whatever resources and power I have to advancing Democrats through redistricting, and it will be a top priority at the DNC. I will ensure that we have a comprehensive long-term strategy for post-2010 redistricting -- a strategy that starts now by seriously targeting the key state races (legislative, gubernatorial and down-ballot) that will determine control of the process in each state in 2011 and 2012, and by beginning the legal preparation needed for an enterprise of this magnitude.
BL: You are now advocating a 50-state strategy, yet in previous blog Interviews you said:
"We cannot afford to swing wildly at every pitch hoping for a homerun. We need to pick our pitches carefully, hit singles and doubles and run bases aggressively."
Did you change your mind? What is your strategy for finding and funding viable candidates in unfriendly territory? Do you believe Texans in general and Texas Democrats in particular would have been better served by a "254-county strategy" in 2004? Why or why not?
MF: This question gets to the nub of the problem with the DNC over the past several years. State leaders like me have had to design strategies to fit their resources. Because the DNC did not make significant investments in non-presidential states, Democrats in places like Texas were forced to fend for themselves with the limited resources they were able to raise on their own, and as a result had to limit their investments.
So, yes, Texas Democrats and Texans in general would have absolutely been better served by a "254-county" strategy. And I don't know of anyone in America who has spent more time, effort and personal political capital than I have on fights with the DNC for more resources for my state.
Of course, no matter how many times the DNC told us "no," I never gave up on Texas Democrats. Instead, I worked extraordinarily hard to personally raise national money for campaigns and state and local parties in Texas. But as one Congressman - and even as the DCCC Chair -- I was never in position to fund an entire statewide operation in a place as large as Texas, where a statewide race costs tens and tens of millions of dollars.
Frankly, that is one of the reasons I want to be DNC Chair: So I can finally use the DNC to make the investments in state and local party-building for which I've been fighting. Again, my record at the DCCC is illustrative. While we never had the resources available to the DNC today, I adopted a strategy of expanding the playing field and challenging Republicans everywhere possible. We ran races in states that never came close to making the map used by the DNC and Presidential campaign (despite my best efforts to convince them to forgo their presidential-only targeting).
In closing on this point, I want to make sure I don't mislead anyone. Even the DNC lacks infinite resources. And any honest strategist will tell you that the baseball analogy cited in your question - picking your pitches carefully - applies to every resource allocation decision you make. If you have fewer resources (as we did in Texas), then you can only afford to seriously invest in fewer races. If you have the DNC's resources, then you can swing at more pitches - but if you flail about wildly, you'll probably just end up wasting a lot of money as you strike out. (For more on this point, see Answer 11 (below)).
But unlike everyone else in this race, I've had years of experience in strategically managing the resources of a large political party committee. So when I'm Chair, the DNC will make smart and significant investments in building strong party structures and in supporting campaigns at all levels - especially with an eye toward down-ballot candidates whose short-term success determines the strength of our farm team and the long-term success of our Party. After years on the outside of the DNC looking in, I'm eager to get inside and start making these reforms.
BL: Have you read Amy Sullivan's article in the Washington Monthly entitled "Fire the Consultants" (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2005/0501.sullivan.html)? What is your response to what she says?
MF: Not until you asked about it. But now that I have, I can say I agree with it's general point, and, as I will explain briefly, have been putting it into practice for my entire political career.
My overriding political goal is simply winning - because that's the only way you achieve the power you need to stand up for the people you represent. So I never have rewarded poor performance by consultants, and I never will. When I took over the DCCC, we cleaned house and opened up the consulting process to new blood (including at least one person named in the Sullivan piece as a potential next-generation strategic genius.) It was a difficult and contentious process, but when you personally understand the nuts-and-bolts of campaigns and party politics, you are not dependent on consultants to make the tough decisions.
While I was DCCC Chair, we maintained a very clear and very bright line between the committee staff whom we paid to service campaigns, and the outside consultants whom the campaigns paid. We had no situation like that described in the Sullivan piece. In short, I would not allow any consultants to rich skimming off the committee and its donors (or even simply by pocketing a percentage of the TV buy, which is an arrangement I did not allow at the DCCC).
Also, when you fund State Parties sufficiently (a key reform in my Plan to Win), then they can hire and keep experienced, talented staff - which makes the Party less dependent on consultants. And by establishing research-driven Strategic Communications and Research Center at the DNC (another key reform I'm proposing) we will ensure Democrats have unbiased, scientifically tested guidance for developing message strategy.
One final point - which relates to the discussion in Question 10: It is long past time that the Democratic Party make a concerted effort to bring the scientific method into electoral politics to help target limited resources toward the most effective means of delivering our message and votes. It happens in the marketplace everyday, and Republicans have been conducting well-thought-out experiments in areas like voter turnout to learn more about what works in each election. We should be doing the same - and applying it to all our practices, from traditional methods like door-to-door canvassing, to relatively new political tools like online organizing.
BL: Some Democrats have criticized you in recent days for running advertisements in your 2004 campaign featuring prominent Republicans, including President Bush (i.e. DailyKos.com, MyDD.com, annatopia.com/archives.html, etc.). Why did you run such ads, and what would you say to Democrats who feel that you did not emphasize the fact that you were a Democrat in your past campaign?
MF: First, I'd refer you to my answer to Question 3 (above), which also largely addresses this question.
And I'd add this: Instead of retiring last year after Tom DeLay had illegally redrawn my district to make it 65% Republican, I fought back (just as I'd fought him and the White House throughout 2003 as they tried to redo redistricting). The ads you referenced put my GOP opponent on the defensive on the key campaign issue of homeland security, and helped energize many of Democrats who turned out to vote - scoring historic victories for Dallas County Democratic candidates. I've always believed in challenging Republicans where they think they are strongest.
Now, this is a hotly contested campaign for DNC Chair, and I understand that my opponents and their supporters are trying to win. So I'd simply urge Democrats to look past the misleading attacks and to look up the facts of my commitment to Democratic Party principles and my record of winning for Democrats.
For instance, take a look at my most recent vote ratings from some groups with whom I've been extraordinarily proud to work -- while at the same time beating back repeated multi-million-dollar GOP challenges in Texas: AFL-CIO 93%, Hispanic Leadership Agenda 83%, Human Rights Campaign 88%, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights 92%, League of Conservation Voters 85%, NAACP 95%, NARAL Pro Choice America 100%.
One final point: If agreeing with President Bush on some issues disqualifies you to be DNC Chair, then Howard Dean and I are both wasting our time (as are the rest of the candidates in the field, I imagine). As Gov. Dean said Sunday on ABC's "This Week": "...there's some agreement that I have with the President. I daresay other Democrats find some common ground with the President."
I've run and won as a Democrat for nearly 30 years; everyone in my area of North Texas knows that very well, and so do Republicans from Tom DeLay and Karl Rove, to the local precinct chairs in Dallas County. I spent 4 years traveling the country to rebuild the DCCC after the Gingrich revolution and in the run-up to impeachment - some of the most difficult times for Democrats in modern political history, And I invested my own time and effort to support my State Party for the past 30 years - especially when the DNC effectively pulled out of Texas.
Simply put, I'd put my credentials as effective partisan fighter for Democrats up against anyone's. If that weren't the case, I wouldn't have spent the past 30 years working to successfully build Democratic Party structures and elect Democrats in some of the toughest territory - and I wouldn't be campaigning to spend every day of the next four years reforming the DNC to win elections at all levels and in every state.
BL: To follow-up, as a DNC Chair, you will be the spokesman for the Democratic Party. Some critics believe that you would be an ineffective spokesman, because on television interviews clips could easily be run of your ads stating your support of President Bush on various issues. While they would certainly be taken out of context, some people feel that such clips could minimize your effectiveness in the typical role as the "attack-dog" party spokesman. What would you say to those critics?
MF: I've done national television interviews for more than a decade against some of the nastiest Republicans in Washington, so I'd welcome a softball question like you describe. Just as I'm sure Howard Dean would welcome any interviewer posing a similar softball question to him and running a clip of him talking about the "things we can support the President on."
Nonetheless, here's an example of the type of approach I'd likely take to an interviewer who posed these critics' hypothetical question: "Time and again, the dishonest, corrupt and elitist Republican Government of George W. Bush and Tom DeLay has made Americans less safe- on everything from sending our troops to war without the body armor they need, to opposing the Department of Homeland Security and the 911 Commission, to trying to steal every American's Social Security. But believe it or not, there are Republicans in power in Washington who do even done more than George W. Bush to weaken America's security. Pete Sessions is one of them. So is Senator Rick Santorum - who is trying to help Wall Street brokers by taking your Social Security."
As I said before, I believe that the best way to beat Republicans is to challenge them aggressively and consistently - no matter what they or the media throw at you.
Tags: (all tags)