Sunday, January 12, 2003

Dems tired of losing and doing something about it

COVINGTON - So let's say there is a Democrat in Northern Kentucky - yes, there are a few left in the area - who is just flat-out tired of losing most local, state and federal elections to the GOP.

This Democrat is searching for answers, looking for advice, wondering how a party that was so dominant just 20 years ago could have dropped to such desperate depths.

So where does that Democrat turn? What can be learned from how the Republicans run and win campaigns? Should data be culled and pored over for the lessons numbers often hold? Are the answers in books or seminars? Should history be studied? How about talking to voters to see why they are now aligning themselves with the GOP?

To varying degrees, all of the above have merit and are worthy of consideration and execution. But the best advice for this search worthy of Diogenes is to go see Jack Snodgrass.

Mr. Snodgrass is the Campbell County Clerk, but more important - at least in this context - he is a Democrat, a Democrat who has been elected four times in a county that is, as the political scientists and consultants like to say, "trending" Republican.

Mr. Snodgrass knows how to get elected. His office runs like a clock, he knows how to organize a campaign, he works hard for the party, he parlays his well-known name into a political asset and he never backs down from a challenge. "Intimidation" may be too strong a word, but I wouldn't want to run against the guy.

So why not ask Mr. Snodgrass how to win races? Well, somebody - finally - has.

Kentucky State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, a Lexington Democrat, works hard at promoting, be it his office, the work it does or his own political successes, plans and agenda.

This, as Martha Stewart might muse, is a good thing.

Good because if politicians don't toot their own horns, nobody else will. Good because he is a young - 35, but if looks count he's going on 25 - aggressive, driven Democrat, which the party will need more of if the Republican tide is to be ebbed.

So when Mr. Miller planned a series of Democratic summits across the state to talk about how to energize the party's political and fund-raising base, the call was greeted with some enthusiasm and lots of skepticism.

"A dog-and-pony show for Jonathan Miller" was how one Democrat expected the confab to turn out, with Mr. Miller taking the opportunity to build his own political base under the guise of trying to strengthen the party.

Well, I was there, and that wasn't the case at all.

Sure, Mr. Miller will be remembered by those there as the Democrat trying to help the party. But what's wrong with that?

And Mr. Miller went out of his way to take himself out of the spotlight, letting others lead the discussion and generate ideas.

As the meeting began, there were a few Dr. Phil minutes, as some in the overflow crowd of about 60 tried to get in touch with their Democratic inner selves by throwing out platitudes about why they are members of the party, reasons such as "because Democrats care more" and "we are the party of the people".

OK, fine, but how do you go about winning elections? That's the tough part. But at least the Democrats, with Mr. Miller's leadership, are seeking ways that can be accomplished.

"I was impressed with the event and really impressed with the turnout," said Mr. Snodgrass, who said he was especially pleased to see Dems from Northern Kentucky's southern counties, such as labor leader Wayne Whalen of Grant County and Owen County Judge-executive Billy O'Banion.

Others were Campbell County Democratic Party Chairman Terry Mann, former state Sen. Joe Meyer, Fort Thomas City Councilman Roger Peterman, former Kenton County Democratic Party Chairman Shirley Huelsmann and party leaders and activists Angie Dixon, Col Owens, Patrick Hughes, Steve Hoffmann, Diane Brumback and Brad Burtner.

There are no simple answers. Republicans are on a roll all over the south, not just in Kentucky.

The best strategy may be to hold the seats the party has, try to pick off a few Republicans each election and sit back and wait for the GOP to screw up, which any party in power eventually does.

Take the Republican Senate leadership races last week in Frankfort. Sen. Katie Stine, an established GOP star, was one vote shy of joining the leadership ranks, but she couldn't get the support of fellow Northern Kentuckian Dick Roeding of Lakeside Park, Senate President Pro Tem.

Such dissension is what weakens one party while boosting the other.


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