Thursday, February 28, 2008

Donald Cravins, Sr., for LDP Chair

In order to be able to seize an opportunity, one must first recognize it.

The Louisiana Democratic Party, just a few months away from a pretty dismal showing in statewide elections, has before it the opportunity to re-invent and re-invigorate itself this year thanks to developments in national party politics to which Louisiana Democrats have already contributed significantly.

The opportunity is not only to re-elect our senior United States Senator and retain our two congressional seats, but to take at least two more congressional seats away from Republicans and place Louisiana firmly back in the Democratic column where it belongs.

In order to seize those opportunities, we cannot play defense. Democrats must be on the offensive, using what will likely be a highly energized party base — with Barack Obama as the national party standard bearer — to re-establish Democratic control of our congressional delegation and to lay the ground work for retaking control of state government in the elections of 2011.

Why We Have Fallen
Louisiana Democrats don't need another voter registration program. What we need is a party and candidates that address and respond effectively to the needs of our core coalition. That coalition is the historic Democratic coalition of African Americans, women and wage earners that dominated Louisiana politics in the last half of the 20th Century.

We must become again the party that stands up for the interests of the men and women who, as Bill Clinton famously put it, "get up every day, go to work and play by the rules." Too often in recent years, Democratic candidates have tried to pass themselves off as "Republican-lite," running campaigns calculated to make them look like Republicans. That might have worked during the open primary days, but the days of that system have already ended in federal elections and are probably numbered at the state level as well.

Party matters. Principle matters. Stand for something or fall for anything. Too often of late, Democrats have been unwilling or unable to say what it is they stand for. "Winning elections" is not an answer to that question; in fact, as we've seen, if this is the answer given the likelihood of actually winning goes down.

Democrats believe that there must be social justice if there is to be social peace.

We believe in the right to a decent living in exchange for work. We believe in the fundamental dignity of our fellow citizens; that every American and every Louisianan has rights and duties as citizens and that it is the availability of those rights and our acceptance of those duties that constitutes the fundamental exchange upon which our success as a country has been and must be built.

We believe that every citizen has the right to a good education that will enable each of us to fully develop the talents that we have inherent in us.

We believe that every citizen has the right to affordable healthcare regardless of their ability to pay.

We believe that we are stewards of this earth and that a fair measure of the value of that stewardship is the quality of the world we turn over to our children and future generations. That means we must care for the environment, but also take care that our social and civic institutions, our communities, and our government nourish and enrich our culture so that the better angels of our being can be called forth to meet the challenges of the day.

We believe in the audacity of hope.

This Great Struggle
We are all participants in a great struggle between freedom and oppression, fear and hope, generosity and greed that is taking place across the planet. The struggle is not new. It has been going on for as long as people have been on this earth.

It is, perhaps, more sharply drawn on the national level where a string of Democratic candidates for president have articulated platforms and programs that have had the unifying trait of being fundamentally optimistic and appealing to America's steadfast hope for the future.

That hope has trickled down into Louisiana. It inspired record turnout in the February presidential preference primary. And that hope is coiling like a might spring waiting to be unleashed to send America bounding on a new course and the challenge facing Louisiana Democrats today is to capture the energy that has been unleashed here, yes, to win elections — but not only just to win elections!

The opportunity that Louisiana Democrats have today is to capture that coiled energy that is fired by candidates at the national level and focus enough of it inward into Louisiana so that we can remake our party and, in the process, our state.

Louisiana Democrats lose elections when they don't give voters compelling reasons to vote for them; when they don't inspire voters; when they don't draw sharp enough distinctions between themselves and their Republican opposition.

If Louisiana Democrats are going to tap the energy that these national campaigns have injected into our core constituencies, our party must align itself with the issues, interests, and themes that have fired that energy and hope.

We must return to being the party of the people. We must regain the understanding that well-financed campaigns devoid of principles produce candidates who don't stir the base and who don't inspire voter loyalty.

I'm not saying that money is not important. Money is essential to successful campaigns. But, what this historic moment fired by inspirational candidates focused on messages of change presents Louisiana Democrats, is the opportunity to remake our party in the image of the most successful of these campaigns — a tech-savvy party built on the passion of grassroots activists, fueled by small but steady donors and by heavy hitting contributors.

This is the model Howard Dean's campaign created in 2004. It's the model he's taken to the Democratic National Committee. It's the model that Democrats across the country used to win 'un-winnable' congressional elections in 2006. And, it's the model upon which the Obama and John Edwards campaigns employed successfully this election cycle.

The Leader We Need
Louisiana Democrats need a leader who is a match for the times; who recognizes the historic opportunity before us; and who is up to the challenge that we now confront.

The 2007 statewide elections marked the end of several political eras in Louisiana with the retirement (forced and otherwise) of a number of long-time Democratic leaders. A new generation of Democratic leaders is set to emerge; leaders unburdened by the past failures (perceived or real) of previous Democratic leaders. These new leaders deserve — and will need — a new Democratic Party that can work with them to advance the Democratic agenda.

In order to do this, the party needs new leadership, committed to a new business model for the party. One that will operate it as a party and not a club. A party open to activists and donors alike. The party needs a leader committed to bringing the activist base and the big donor base — "the streets" and "the suites" — together into a single, unified, powerful organization.

We need a leader with the experience and insight to see the big picture and grasp the significant detail. We need a leader who is both tough and smart who sees the potential of this party and who is committed to turning that potential into reality.

I believe we need Donald Cravins, Sr., to be the chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party.

Why Donald Cravins Sr.?
Donald Cravins, Sr., is nobody's fool.

He's served in the Legislature in both the House and the Senate, and is now serving his first term as mayor of the City of Opelousas. He was in the insurance business for a number of years, running agencies that bore his name in Opelousas and Lafayette. His son Donald Jr. now serves in the Louisiana Senate.

Throughout his career, Donald Cravins has always run grassroots campaigns. He has built campaigns from the bottom up and, in the process, cultivated new leaders who have now emerged onto the scene in St. Landry and Lafayette parishes.

He's a fighter who doesn't like to lose. He's got a keen sense for strategy and tactics.

He knows Louisiana politics from a position that only a few do — as a candidate and as an officeholder.

Donald Cravins was not looking to run for this seat. The opportunity came to him.

I had lunch with his brother Charles several weeks ago in Opelousas. I had requested the meeting because I felt that there was something missing the conversations then taking place about the chairmanship. What was missing were the voices of Louisiana's African American political leaders. I got to know Charles a bit during my 2006 congressional race.

At that lunch meeting in Opelousas, I explained to Charles what — to me — appeared to be missing in the conversation about the chairmanship. We discussed the just-passed presidential primary, the coming federal elections and the possibilities that the fall election presented to Democrats.

I explained my view that I believed the party was faced with a poor choice for chairmanship because the major candidates were essentially a replay of the election that took place two years ago. In my view, that re-run quality ignored the work that many Democratic activists have done in and for the party since that earlier election.

Charles asked me if I was interested in the job. I told him that some people had discussed it with me but that I was a realist and recognized that a successful candidate would have to have more standing in the party than I have.

He then asked me, "Is this a job that you think Donald could do?"

And it hit me. Not only is this a job that Donald Cravins could do — he is the ideal person for the job!

Charles talked with the mayor about the job and told me later that day that Donald was willing to have his name mentioned as a potential candidate.

The response has been both as I expected and surprising. It has been as I expected in that I sensed from conversations that the re-run of the race two years ago is not a race for chairman that has inspired much passion or excitement. The surprising part has been the truly enthusiastic response so many people have given when we've discussed the idea.

Hope and Fear
As a Democrat, my hope has been that our state party would eventually recognize the need to return to its principles and to change its business model in order to capture the energy and passion that grassroots activists have brought to Democratic campaigns in other parts of the country and to the national party itself.

I believe that Donald Cravins, Sr., is the person who can lead this transformation now. He will bring to the chairmanship the necessary sense of urgency that can enable Louisiana Democrats to tap the energy that the national campaign has and this can turn what could have been a long and arduous process into a speedy transformation.

He is the right man for the job at this moment in our party's history.

I know that there are Democrats out there who are scared by the idea of Donald Cravins becoming the head of the party. They need not be. The party is in desperate need of Donald's bluntness, knowledge and political skill right now. Those are the skills that will be needed to orchestrate what can be the highest turnout election in Louisiana since the Edwards/Duke race into Democratic victories for Senator Landrieu, Congressmen Melancon and Jefferson, as well as new victories in the Fourth, Sixth, and possibly other districts in our state.

I predict that in the next few weeks the fears of those Democrats will dissipate as they see the impact Donald's leadership will have on the party.

I predict, however, that in the next few months a new group will come to fear Donald's leadership. These people are Republicans. They will fear Donald's leadership because they will recognize that their days of being the only truly organized political party in Louisiana are over.

The election of no other candidate for party chair can inspire even the mildest discomfort among Republicans.

Our party leadership should reflect the party's make up. African American voters constitute 46 percent of registered Democrats in this state and they usually constitute a higher percentage of Democratic votes than that. They are the core constituency of this party. White Democrats need to get comfortable with that fact and get comfortable with the fact that the party's leadership must do more than just pay lip service at election time to that constituency.

We are approaching a historic moment in American politics. If we are smart enough and tough enough, Louisiana Democrats can be part of that historic moment and write some history of our own.

The opportunity is there. Donald Cravins recognizes. He is up to the task. The question for the rest of Louisiana Democrats is this: Are we up to it?

If we are, then Donald Cravins is the man to lead us.


Anonymous said...

Sorry Mike, While I respected you for running for Congress on mostly your own nickel, your support of someone who has never shown any interest in the Louisiana Democratic Party is misplaced.

Mike Stagg said...


You're right, Anonymous. I should be gratefully following the liars, cheats, drunks and hacks who control this party and run it as their private club.

Thank you, too, for the courage of your convictions as demonstrated by your need to hide your identity.

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