BOR Interview with TDP Chair Boyd Richie

Posted on 06/04/2008. Filed under: Boyd Richie, Texas Democratic Convention |

by: Phillip Martin @ Burnt Orange Report
Tue Jun 03, 2008 at 10:16 AM CDT

In 2006, I interviewed Boyd Richie when he first ran for Chair of the Texas Democratic Party. Over the last two years, Richie — who is running for re-election as TDP Chair — has overseen a resurgence in the TDP. However, despite the success of the TDP, there is much talk going into this weekend’s state convention that the “year of change” combined with countless new and first-time delegates and a challenge from the TDP Vice-Chair means that nothing is certain. I talked to Richie about these issues in an exclusive BOR interview:

Let’s imagine I’m a delegate at the State Convention, and I know nothing about you or who you are. We meet, dispense with small talk, and you have thirty seconds to tell me why you should be re-elected as State Chair. What do you say?

The Party has great plans for this fall election. We’ve got to come out of this convention united, and we can’t lose focus. Our focus needs to be on down-ballot races and let the Presidential race take care of itself. We need to move forward with message and GOTV efforts for November, and I’m ready and eager to continue being the person to raise money and prepare an effective GOTV effort in the fall. If we do that, great things will happen this November, because I think we have the best opportunity in a long, long time to turn Texas blue again.

Two years ago, you pledged in your campaign for State Chair to increase fundraising efforts, rebuild and improve field staff and grassroots outreach, and expand Party communications efforts. I want to talk about each of those areas separately. We’ll start with fundraising — what has the TDP done better over the last two years to improve its fundraising?

What I’m most proud of is that we’ve improved our Majority Builders program, formerly known as our sustaining membership porgram. We’ve really ramped that up recently and done training with the Majority Builders committee, who have produced trainings and gone out across the state. Our sustaining membership numbers are up, which is an important positive because those regular contributions from more and more people are valuable to our party.

As we reported recently, we’ve had the best 1st quarter that we’ve had in many, many years. The good part about that is that the number of individual donors has increased and the average donation has increased. That’s a curve that has been steadily climbing. The online fundraising has seen a tremendous improvement, as well, and you can see about both of those totals on my website.

I’m very pleased that the fundraising has gone the way that it has and that we’ve had success going back to our donors who are able to write larger checks to assist us with different projects. As you know, we had a very good turnout at our salute to the Legislature just before the last Session; we had tremendous success with our post-debate watch party; we’ve added additional fundraising staff to boost our efforts. Amy Boone, our finance director, has done a great job creating events.

I’ve been to Beaumont, Lubbock, and everywhere in between to continue doing fundraisiners and visiting across the state about the importance of giving to the Party. We’ve seen some real improvements in fundraising, and hopefully that continues into the fall so we can win in November.

What are some of your goals for this fall election?

We want a very solid GOTV program. I’d really like to see that program raise enough money to put into effect a solid message of voting a straight Democratic ticket. I especially want to see a strong GOTV program in the El Paso area and the South Texas area where we’ve seen voter dropoff between the primary and general election. If we can raise money to have effective messaging in those areas it will play great dividentds for all our candidates in the fall.

The truth is, Phillip, I just can’t say enough about our slate for all offices, and our judicial candidates in particular. We have a tremendous group of folks that can go around the state and do a great job reaching out and building their campaigns, and I’m eager to continue working with them for November and to make sure this year builds into 2010. We also want to protect the gains we made this past cycle, including the freshmen Texas House members, and then we need to raise enough money to win at least five more seats and replace Craddick in January.

We need to utilize every effort we have to replace John Cornyn. Talk about a tremendous candidate, Rick is just superb. With Cornyn’s recent abandonment of our troops with his vote on the GI bill — and just the stellar work Rick did over the last weekend driving his message home — I think Rick has a tremendous chance to take back our Senate seat, and we’re going to do everything in our power to help him do that.

This leads into a question I wanted to raise, which is really a concern I’ve read of you and your time as Chair. The critique is that the TDP doesn’t run a broad enough statewide campaign for Democrats. Specifically, there is a worry that the TDP will only target a select number of Texas House seats this cycle, and write off the rest of the ticket. How would you address these concerns?

First thing I’d ask them to do would be to open up their wallets and their checkbooks, because while we’re expanding our fundraising efforts compared to years past, we don’t have a money fly that puts money in our pocekts. At the end of the day, what we’re able to do based on statewide GOTV efforts is based on the money we can raise. If we don’t have enough money to do statewide efforts, then we have to be smart and strategic about the money we do have. If we aren’t, then donors have no reason to trust us and give again.

We do know — from the last cycle that our mail and phones coupled with partnerships with other groups — that getting out the mssage to vote a straight democratic ticket works. Nothing would tickle me more than to have sufficient funds on hands to run a sufficient GOTV effort across the state. That’s what I’m working for, that’s what I’m shooting for, and that’s what we’re going to do to the best of our ability.

I understand those critics and what they’re saying, and I honestly share their frustration. I want to do a complete statewide effort, but that doesn’t happen without being able to fund GOTV efforts. With whatever money we raise, we’ll focus our efforts as best we’re able to on a statewide, well-coordinated GOTV effort.

When we talked two years ago, you talked about rebuilding the infrastructure of the TDP at the grassroots level by expanding field staff. In 2007, you made well-received visits across the state to visit with Democrats in various regions–East Texas, the Valley, Dallas, etc. Will you commit to doing this again, since the concerns and needs of Democrats across the state change from year to year?

We’re looking at any ideas that will help us get our message out. Every time I’ve had the opportunity, I’ve praised Governor Dean for his state program, which allows us to have the field we have and have those salaries paid for terrific field staff. The DNC has allowed us to hire those folks, they train them, we train them, then they work with our County Chairs, our Precinct Chairs, our Democratic clubs, and our party actrivsits to build a grassroots effort.

We’ve also had our neighbor-to-neighbor program which we think is a tremendous tool for our grassroots effort. There’s also the Texas VAN program, which has helped our activists. I think we have tbe best voter file in the country, in my opinion. The people who really use it tell me that it’s the single best tool we can provide for grassroots development here in Texas. It’s been a boon to campaigns — whether a municipal utility seat all the way to a congressional seat.

In terms of communications strategy, what can you point to as a specific example of TDP communications successfully helping Democrat candidates and/or causes over the last two years?

The one I’m proudest of is our communications regarding the voter ID junk Republicans tried to hoist off on us this last session. We worked very hard to get the message out, and really got tremendous repsonse in the press. That helped our legislators stand firm in what looked like insurmountable Republican opposition. Then, of course, we had the tremendous, gallant stand of Sen. Mario Gallegos that actually prevented the bills from pass. We continue to fight that battle, and will apparently fight it again now that the Supreme Court — the same folks who, in their infinite wisdowm, brought us George W. Bush — decided it was OK.

I think we’ve had great success talking about what those draconian measures have on Texans. The fact that we’ve been able to put that out in Univision and in Spanish has been a help, too. We had success with that in our recent case in East Texas, in getting the Attorney General to back off of the mail ballot prosecutions that he has been trying to pursue. Every editorial in the state now has talked about what a waste of taxpayer dollars, time and effort that was, all to find out, in the end, that in-person voter fraud just simply doesn’t exist. They’ve spent millions of dollars chasing what I call “ghosts what ain’t.”

What other issues do you see Democrats talking about this fall?

Well, to be honest, I’m taken aback, and saddened, in what I see in the press recently that Republicans have proposed for the next session revolves entirely around depriving folks about their rights, as opposed to working on issues like $4 gallon of gas and $5 for diesel for folks trying to get their minimum wage jobs or trying to get their kids into college that’s been priced out of their budget. Not to mention we’ve got the highest homeowner’s insurance rates in the country and the highest utility rates Texans are going to have to pay ever.

Why do we STILL have history textbooks in our classrooms that have Ann Richards as Governor of the state of Texas? We have shortchangtedd our children’s future. We don’t provide health insurance coverage to those who are most vulnerable we don’t fund public education — yet we’re out here worreid about a non-existent voter fraud problem. We have constantly messaged that theme, of just complete Republican failure and ignorance, really, and we’re going to continue to do that.

I want to shift gears and focus more on the convention, now. When did you find out that Brooks, the TDP Vice Chair, was going to run against you for State Chair? Are you surprised by her candidacy?

Well, I had heard rumors about that, but had not seen anyhting definite until BOR posted those YouTube videos, which I guess is what made it official as far as I’m concerned. Nothing else really to say about that, except that we’re going to work to bring everyone together at the Convention so we can win in November.

Do you think the large number of new and first-time delegates will help or hurt your campaign?

What I’m really hopeful about for the convention is that we understand that this is not a convention about Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. This is a convention about how we go forward as Democrats towards victory in the fall. In order to do that we need to heal up, become united, and work together in the fall. We need to know that victory isn’t at the convention, it’s in November, from the White House to the Court House.

As I’ve said many times before, politics in Texas is a full contact and sometimes blood sport. People are passionate about their candidates and they are passionate about their positions and they are passionate about their time and treasure in these campaigns, and we need that, we absolutely do. But truth be told, with these campaigns there’s going to be some that are bitterly disappointed because their candidates didn’t get over the finish line. We’ve had two tremendous candidates, but one will be the nonminee and one won’t, and we need to work on coming together and understand that the people in that convention are not our enemies. The enemies are the Republicans.

When I hear people say, if one or another isn’t the canidatitae I won’t vote or I’ll vote for McCain, it makes me sick to my stomach, because the truth is if Obama is the nominee, Clinton will vote for him, and if Clinton is the nominee, Obama will vote for her, and they’d each fully support the other.

We’ve got a job to do this fall, that’s going to be a tremendous effort and it will take every one of us, and its starts this weekend. This is too important — it’s not about me or Roy LaVerne Brooks. It’s about the party going forward and having the will and muscle and financial ability to hlep our candidates win in November.

One thing many in the state convention are interested in — newcomers and regulars alike — is the process of the primacaucus. Does it need an overhaul, tweaking on the edges? What are your thoughts on the process?

I’ve asked Sen. Royce West to head up a commission to look at the process and go around the state and conduct hearings. We would have begun that already, had it not been for the interruption of the LULAC lawsuit, because we didn’t want to start something and then have the federal court telling us what to do.

We do want to get input from delegates, alternates, activists — whoever wants to give us feedback. We’ve saved every e-mail and letter we’ve received about the good, the bad and the ugly. We’ll have those available for that commission as well, and there will be ways during the convention for delegates to express their opinions on the primacaucus.

From a purely administrative standpoint, it’d be very easy just to do the straight primary vote and allocation, rather than go through all the headaches of the caucus system. However, there’s also tremendous value gained in what happened with the caucuses. The truth is, we were not prepared for the numbers we saw, but it was a tremendous party building exercise. We got names, IDs, etc. for tens and tens of thousands we didn’t have before and wouldn’t have had with just a primary, which gives us great potential success for November.

I’m torn both ways, which is why I think it should be up to the grassroots Democrats to decide what’s best for them. I just don’t want to jump out too quickly, because this does need a little bit of study. It’s an important party-building exercise, one where we really need to look at the rules and process and make the changes that the people want.

Any lasting thoughts for our BOR readers?

If I could just focus on two things, it would be the need for healing and unification, and to focus on down-ballot races across the state, so we give all of our Democratic candidates the best opportunity to win in November.

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