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January 18, 2005

Complete Summary: Donnie Fowler Conference Call

By Byron LaMasters

Donnie Fowler made a compelling case for DNC chair in the conference call today. Fowler’s strengths are clearly his understanding of grassroots organization and technology, and his commitment to reform. I’m still a little bit concerned how he would fare in the party spokesman role. Fowler clearly represents a new generation of leadership, and he definitely will have a seat at the table for years to come.

An interesting comparison came up in several of my conversations with friends today about Donnie Fowler. I don’t think that 37 is too young for a DNC Chair, but I just have a sense that Fowler is significantly less polished than someone like Simon Rosenberg – who is only about three years older than Fowler. It might just be my own biases, but I know I’m not the only one who’s thought this. Anyway, overall, Fowler’s an impressive guy. Take the jump for my full summary of the conference call.

Fowler first addressed the fact that we were celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and that King represented the values of the progressive movement in our country. Fowler noted that the liberal tradition in America has in many ways been one of radicals. Our founding fathers were radicals – suggesting that break allegiance to the British monarchy. The abolitionists, the Suffragettes, and the leaders of the Civil Rights movement were all radicals in their time, but today they are part of the liberal tradition that represents the best of America.

Fowler repeatedly touts his grassroots expertise. He likes to note that he was “grassroots before grassroots was cool”. He got his start in grassroots with Dick Gephardt, then Jesse Jackson in the 1988 presidential campaign. Fowler praises Terry McAuliffe as the right chair for a time when fundraising needed to be revamped. He credits McAuliffe and the netroots for the Democrats ability to nearly match Republicans in small donors this cycle. Now, Fowler says that his skill set matches the needs of the DNC. Those needs, Fowler notes, are rebuilding state parties and speaking to the grassroots.

First, Fowler thinks that we need to formulate a national message that speaks of our Democratic values – tearing down boundaries, opportunity, access, a fair shake, hard work, etc. Second, Fowler wants to ask strong state parties, and elected officials, especially those who have won in red states (i.e. Sen. Ken Salazar D-CO, Gov. Janet Napolitano D-AZ, Gov. Brian Schweitzer D-MT, etc) what works. Also, Fowler intends to bring the net/grassroots to the table, and ask how the DNC can embrace their issues. Finally, Fowler seeks to “build the pipeline” for communications with a two point approach. First, he wants to build a “message delivery system” to counter FOX News and right-wing talk radio. Second, Fowler thinks we should have training and resources for ground organizers, phone programs, mail, email, blogs, etc. Ultimately, the job of the DNC is to win elections, regain power and enact a progressive agenda.

Fowler took questions from everyone that wanted to ask one. He repeated the talking points that everyone is using on a “50 state strategy”. He expanded though to say that we should move organizing out of D.C., and that we should look to the successful organizers, consultants and state parties outside of D.C. to set benchmarks and find the best practices. Fowler also wants the DNC to show the netroots more respect, and bring the netroots into a decision-making role at the table, instead of just seeing the netroots as a source of money.

In another question, Fowler expanded upon why it was critical to moving organizing out of D.C. First, local organizers better understand local issues. Fowler noted that what the D.C. consultant / pundit class considered important – the Washington Post and Tim Russert, rarely reflected the concerns of those outside the beltway. When Fowler worked in Michigan this past cycle, he noted how Michigan had several unique issues such as Canadian garbage and a disproportionate number of Arab-American and Muslim voters that were best understood by local activists. Fowler used Spanish-language advertising to make another point. Simply hiring a translator and making an ad in Spanish isn’t enough. Before making a Spanish-language advertisement its critical to understand the composition of the local Hispanic population as Mexican-Americans, Puerto Rican-Americans and Cuban-Americans speak in somewhat different dialects.

When I had a chance to ask Fowler a question, I first thanked him for coming to the state democratic executive committee (SDEC) meeting in Austin last Monday. Most candidates probably skipped the event as Martin Frost will likely win most (if not all) of the Texas DNC delegate’s votes. However, Fowler spoke to the SDEC and asked to be considered as a second choice. It may not win him any votes on the first ballot, but if Frost falters early in the balloting for some reason, Donnie Fowler certainly won some brownie points with the Texas delegation, and would certainly receive strong consideration.

Before the conference call, I asked a few people what more they would like to know about Donnie Fowler. Since Donnie Fowler’s strength is his grassroots and work in the field, I decided that I’d ask him more about his communications skills. He admitted that he’s not as experienced as some others, and that his television appearances were more limited to state and local television, public radio, etc. However, Fowler pointed out that the next RNC Chair, Ken Mehlman is 38 – only a year older than him.

I also asked Fowler to elaborate on his proposal for a “message delivery system”. He repeated much of his previous points with more detail. His agenda focused on reaching out to local news as opposed to just the national news, regionalizing local and communication operations through forums and meetings and dramatically improving technology.

After some more questions, Fowler concluded that the DNC must change, and that he had the skill sets needed to implement the changes needed in 2005.

Posted by Byron LaMasters at January 18, 2005 02:00 AM | TrackBack

Comments

Seems like those brownie points emphasize a point that Dean has made, "Show Up" and maybe you'll start earning people's votes in the South. Thanks for the Report Byron, I was sleeping since I was up all night (re)designing two websites with WordPress.

Posted by: Karl-T at January 18, 2005 02:59 AM

Thank you for posting that summary. I have talked with Donnie a couple times about the race, but there was still new information for me in your post.

I think it is amazing the role that blogs are playing in this race and will continue to play as the Democratic Party reforms itself.

I don't know if all of the interested observers who read posts like this one understand that we who get a vote in this have never been so informed as we can now be by logging onto a blog.

Posted by: david holmes at January 19, 2005 04:13 PM
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