State Chairman Jaxon Ravens said the party would conduct a statewide listening tour, after elections that went far better than for their national counterparts, but still proved disappointing to some party members.
As the national Democratic Party considers its path forward in the wake of a disastrous election, the Washington Democratic Party is doing the same, following an election that was far better than the national party’s, but not a smashing success either.
Nationally, Democrats will be out of power in the House, the Senate and the presidency for the first time since 2006.
In Washington, one of the country’s bluer states, Democrats held the governor’s office, U.S. Senate seat and most other statewide offices and supported successful ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage and make it easier to bar potentially dangerous people from getting guns.
But they didn’t take back control of the state Senate, as they’d hoped to do, and didn’t build on their razor-thin majority in the state House.
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In county races, Democrats lost seats in Western Washington counties they would be expected to control — Pierce, Thurston and Grays Harbor. And they remain all but shut out east of the Cascade Mountains.
“Sweeping this election under the rug and simply carrying on as we have been is a recipe for disaster,” a group of nearly 90 Democratic officials and volunteers wrote in an open letter this week, promising an as-yet-unnamed challenger to state Democratic Party Chairman Jaxon Ravens.
State Rep. Noel Frame, D-Seattle, who spearheaded the letter, said she’s not ruling out running for party chair herself but wanted to dissuade members of the state Democratic Central Committee, who will choose the next party chair in January, from committing to Ravens before other candidates even announce.
“Let’s just have a thoughtful conversation about our party and our future moving forward,” Frame said. “Reserve judgment until it’s clear who’s running besides the incumbent.”
Frame, a supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary, said the party needs to refocus on “voters more than donors” and work harder on constant grass-roots organizing rather than every-two-years campaigns.
There are some parallels between the still-emerging race for state party chair and the race for control of the Democratic National Committee, where Minnesota’s U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, another Sanders supporter, is running for DNC chairman on a message of grass-roots organizing.
Frame played down the idea of a “progressive-versus-moderate” split in the state party, but her message of bringing new people into the party is similar to what Sanders pushed nationally.
“Large areas of the state have been consistently ignored,” Frame said. “The real change that we’re looking at is how to get those folks involved that haven’t necessarily been super involved.”
She pointed to Democratic losses in bluer counties, combined with the obvious dearth of elected Democrats in Eastern Washington, as signs that the party’s current strategy isn’t working.
Democrats lost two county-commission seats in Thurston County, one to an independent candidate and one to a candidate with no party preference.
In Pierce County, they lost the county-executive position (incumbent Executive Pat McCarthy, a Democrat, was elected state auditor) for the first time in 16 years and lost three of the four available seats on the county council, ensuring they will remain in the minority.
They lost both county-commission races in Grays Harbor County, including one that had been held by a Democrat.
And while Hillary Clinton won by a healthy 16 points in Washington, counties like Grays Harbor, Pacific, Mason and Cowlitz — that haven’t voted GOP in a presidential race in decades — went to Donald Trump.
“It was a mixed bag,” Ravens said of the election. “Was I surprised? Yes. Was I disappointed a little bit; was I happy about some of the results? Absolutely.”
Ravens, a longtime Democratic Party staffer who has been chairman since 2014, officially announced on Wednesday that he would seek re-election.
Until this month’s election results are official and they have time to delve deeper into the data, Ravens said it was premature to talk about what the party could have done differently in the election.
He said the first thing the party would do in 2017 is conduct a statewide listening tour.
“We need to figure out what works and what didn’t and how people are feeling about the process,” Ravens said. “It’s a long-term process to build the party organization in various parts of the state. We’ve done it before; we can do it again.”