Chairman Candidates Offer Broad Choices and Visions for a Blue Future
“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
HOUSTON- Tremors and aftershock fallout continue as some Harris Democrats are clamoring for unity, inclusion and historic changes in leadership in the party starting at the top.
The leadership and future of Harris County Democrats is at the center of great debate and hangs in the balance as several candidates square off to replace resigning Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis.
It is one great power vacuum in the party and Progressive Democrats believe now is the time to reinvent the party on a statewide and national level after President Donald Trump’s election. However, the old guard elements want to play politics with the party and keep things “business as usual”.
Candidates Vow to Lead
The hotly contested battle for the heart of the party is being fought publicly by a group of dedicated individual candidates with a multitude of visions, ideas, goals and dreams for where they want to take the party and what it takes to keep its political dominance in the county as it looks toward the 2018 elections.
In a political forum, held by African-American News and Issues at the Acres Home Chamber, candidates Keryl L. Douglas, Eartha Jean Johnson, Rob Collier and Johnathan F. Miller shared how they plan to change the party and keep Harris County Blue. Not attending the forum was Candidates Lillie Schechter and Chris Spellmon.
All candidates seem to indicate the Democratic voting politic want a real voice and do not want policy and party direction to be dictated to by elected officials or giant political donors.
They are calling for real change and the kind of unity that can only be obtained when the grassroots voters voice matters and the face of the party includes real people from working blue collar class and the community, not just “bosses” or “union” influences.
Last November, Democrats literally swept Harris County, winning key offices including the offices of District Attorney, Sheriff, Tax Assessor and numerous other Judge positions.
Democrats rolled to the polls in numbers that stunned Republicans who saw the wands of power removed from their hands after years of political dominance in the county.
Harris County has about 2.1 million registered voters in the county. Of those, 61.25-percent of about 1.3 million turned out at the polls in 2016.
Of those voters, 53.2-percent or about 471,296 voters were cast for Democrats and only 45.29-percent or about 401,255 were cast for Republicans.
Keeping that momentum going is what concerns candidates and each laid out plans on how to keep the Big Blue winning streak going.
What Happened in the Harris County Democratic Party
According to party detractors, there is a rocky transition going on in the underbelly of the party that the public is not aware of. It is the changing of the guard that is seeing the rise of the younger “Progressives” and the demise of the “Old Guard” county Democrats.
The so-called “Powers that be” are trying to look over new ideas and new blood in the party and are trying to direct the community in their own way – that has ruffled the feathers of the new progressives and young millenials in the party.
Another problem is despite the party’s November surprise, it has apparently failed to be totally inclusive and protective of its electorate.
Broad Choices; Potpourri of Ideas
For Chair candidate Keryl Douglas, the keys to party domination for 2018 and beyond lies in change now, stimulating and ramping up voter empowerment and mobilization efforts.
“I am committed to making our local Harris County Democratic party one of the strongest, most effective in the nation,” Douglas said. “I promise to be an agent for positive change…and will also further the interests of women, the traditionally disenfranchised, and diversity in politics to insure everyone has a seat at the table.”
One of her crowing achievement in her career is her fight that resulted in historical increases in voter registration and voter turnout.
In that, the attorney and legal journalists has 30 years of community organizing and advocacy experience and stressed her goals that include strategies to reach out to hard to reach communities and greater support and involvement for precinct chairs and judges.
“The party is changing and it must change,” Douglas said. “We have some catching up to do and I am prepared to hit the ground running on Day 1 and get voters charged from the immediate, the intermediate and the long term.”
She said it is urgent to have leadership now since 2018 campaigns and elections are right around the corner.
Turn Texas Blue Movement creator-initiator Eartha Johnson want to be the next chair of the HCDP because she says the party needs to broaden its vision and goals of political dominance across the state.
““I have a track record that shows I can do it and do it with excellence,” she said. “I have ways to make it better and with my 2018 plan, I can unify the party and do that from the ground up.”
The successful businesswoman has been active professionally and politically and has been awarded as the 2017 Women of Distinction Award by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Business Council and successfully organized Women of Color for Hillary Clinton and chaired and raised a record $1.2 million for the National Bar Association Conference in Houston.
Her boldness and confidence was evident in how she shared her passion and vision for keeping Harris County Blue and turning Texas Blue.
“As your chair, I pledge to bring innovative ideas, new approaches, experiences, fundraising skills and most importantly, a detailed plan to move the party forward,” she said. “With your help, we can make the Harris County Democratic Party a model for the country.”
According to Johnson, she plans to stress inclusion and more collaboration and a move away from the party being the party of the few dictating to the masses.
“We will have a well-oiled political machine,” she said. “I will position the party to play more offense than defense.”
For Attorney Rob Collier, the financial health of the party and its positive branding is of most concern for the future of the Harris County Democratic Party.
Collier said he should be the next chairman because of his passion, experience and leadership skills.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I have been advocating for democratic values and candidates for as long as I can remember, Now I want to work for you.”
Collier has worked over a decade as a party leader and with the community at-large. Some of his goals as chairman would be to expand community engagement and outreach to the 18-35 age groups, developing strategies that brand the party as one that focuses on working families and developing fundraising streams that cultivate new, local, regional and national donors that will support community events and create local business sponsorship opportunities and bequest giving. He also said stressing training and recruiting a motivated base of candidates as precinct chairs.
“I have a clear vision to expand our base and strengthen our efforts,” he said. “I know what it takes to organize, develop a sustainable plan of action and get things done.”
Johnathan Miller wants to return the party back to basics by organizing from the bottom up filling all precinct chair positions and building the precinct infrastructure by recruiting active precinct captains and block captains
His theme is simple. Organize- Mobilize – Win.
“Harris County has a similar population size to the state of Oregon and is 22-percent of the population of Texas,” Miller said. “If we return to grassroots campaigning, we can make Harris County Deep Blue and if Harris County goes deep blue, then Texas can turn blue…we will change the political future of the nation.”
He also wants to establish a training protocol the involves training manuals and courses so every precinct chair becomes a grassroots organizer in their community.
Miller believe he can provide leadership that revitalizes the party by building critical community relationships that result in keeping Democrats on school board, sheriffs, constables and judges.
“Our plan is a game changer,” he said. “It is about unity, revival and training people to take the lead, train and get out and get ready to win.”
Lille Schechter has been a political strategist and fundraiser who has advised local and national Democratic candidates for nearly a decade.
A University of Texas graduate, she has deep family roots and history in the party as a native Houstonian and 7th generation Texan.
She has a planned called Harris County 2020 that involves serving two terms to build the party’s base and help turn the state Blue. That plan promises to be active in engaging local races at local levels and keeping the momentum and candidates who successfully were elected in November and extend Democratic power locally to other state legislative, city council and county and trustee positions.
She also has a plan to empower precinct chairs and help them understand their roles and influence on communities in improving cooperation and making the party great.
She also wants to bring full-time professional staffs to the office to help improve efficiency and operations within the office.
“I will not use the party as a personal platform to run for another office,” she said. “I will serve two terms and not run for any office while serving as party chair. The chair’s efforts must be fully dedicated to electing Democrats and building the party and I will not stray from that mission.”
Chris Spellmon feels that he is the right man for the right time because of his grassroots experience in campaigns, the community and his connection to key figures and the needs of younger voters.
Spellmon said he is the kind of leader who understands what it takes to bring a party with archaic ideas and old philosophies into the 21st Century.
“I believe that we can do anything with the right leadership,” he said. “I am wiling to work with the community and the spiritual leaders and when you work with community, civic clubs and churches on the ground level, then I believe we not only can turn Harris Blue, but also Houston Blue and the state of Texas Blue.”
He said the issue is about honesty, integrity and character – that is what people deserve.
According to him, three things he believe are important in changing the future direction of the party are a transformation-style leadership, business acumen and use of resourceful networks.
Lewis has said he believes the next step for Democrats in Harris County is to do voter reviews and focus its new energy on independents and other voters not exactly committed to Trump or the Republican Party and get ready for 2018 now.
According to him, the focus must also focus be on maintaining the base of the party and seek to reach out to other groups of voters as well. Part of that includes encouraging and communicating with African-Americans to register, vote and volunteer to participate in activities as the party starts to focus on the upcoming mid-term elections.
It is common fact that many African-American voters and turn-out results are often low during mid-term election.
“We believe in our base,” Lewis told AANI recently. “The goal continues to be to keep, encourage and communicate with our base.”
Lewis successor is expected to be chosen sometime during the first week in March.