Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Louisiana Democrats Paying the Price of 'The Whittington Tax'

It is the middle of 2009, the middle of a heated national debate about monumental issues like healthcare reform, energy policy, and re-regulating the financial industry. There is an incumbent Republican United State Senator up for re-election next year who has moral and ethical problems that would put even other Republican members of the Senate to shame. The seat is there for the taking (with a fight, no doubt, but more winnable than anyone had expected it to be after Vitter won re-election in 2004).

We have a Republican Governor who trashed federal stimulus spending while bragging about the state's economic performance — which has been fueled by years of federal disaster relief dating back to the storms of 2005 and those since. That same governor is in the process of dismantling the public health delivery system by shutting down public hospitals — a long-cherished dream of Republicans and a mission that Jindal has pursued since his days working for Mike Foster.

But, the Louisiana Democratic Party is no where to be found in any of this. Not standing up for our President. Not working with candidates to develop a strategy to take Vitter's seat. Not pointing out Jindal's budgetary hypocrisy (fueled by his apparently incurable case of Blind Ambition). Not working with legislators and local government leaders to deal with the upcoming reapportionment of political districts after the 2010 Census.

The party's absence is directly attributable to the person who sits as chairman, Christopher Whittington. The actions of the executive director Whittington hired as part of his re-election bid has made the party the target of at least two lawsuits.

The highly regarded communications director left shortly after the executive director did.

The entire staff of the party consists of two people, neither of which has any executive power. They are merely at the party's Government Street headquarters in Baton Rouge to turn the lights on and off, answer the phone and get the mail.

The Jefferson/Jackson Dinner in Baton Rouge two weeks ago was a farce. James Carville spoke, but for less than 10 minutes. There were no statewide elected officials in attendance. Senator Mary Landrieu was not there. There were about seven members of the state Legislature in attendance. The event started late and ended early. The speaking ended before 8 p.m. Had Rep. Karen Carter Peterson not given a stem-winder of an address that out-lasted Carville's talk, the event would have lasted less than 30 minutes.

Word is now that Whittington has said that the party will not hire an executive director at this critical time, that "we are going to take a vacation from that."

Imagine that. A political organization taking a vacation from political work.

Anyone who has watched Whittington fight to keep his job while letting the party's work wither will not find this as a surprise. Whittington's fight has always been about keeping control of the party apparatus so that he and his cronies can keep control of the money and the favors that flow through the state party during election cycles.

The crony list includes lawyers, consultants and various hangers-on.

Meanwhile, the party does not do the basic work of crafting a message, registering voters, and winning elections.

But, that's OK with Whittington because, again, this is not about politics. It's about control of money and favors.

There are people on the Democratic State Central Committee and even on the party's executive committee whose efforts guaranteed Whittington's re-election who are now said to be disenchanted with the course things have taken. That course is no different now than it was when they worked and voted for Whittington; he is still playing the same game only now those former allies find that Whittington does not care about the party and its fate. They are shocked! Shocked I tell you! That this petty little man has turned on them.

The sad fact is that the party's constitution and by-laws are such a shambles that any attempt to oust Whittington is a waste of time and effort. He and his various legal advisors twist the interpretation of those rules to make them say whatever it is that serves Whittington's puprposes.

This is not a political organization. This is not a political party. It is a club run by an ever-shrinking group of insiders who are determined to hold control of the organization for the sole purpose of demonstrating that they can.

Every additional day that Chris Whittington holds the otherwise meaningless title of "Chairman" of the Louisiana Democratic Party is further proof of his complete and total disregard for the well-being of the party and its interests.

Chris Whittington has brought this party to the bring of ruin. Why is he holding on? Why is the state central committee letting him?


Diana said...

Finally, someone who feels the same way that I do. What are we going to do about it?

Mike Stagg said...

Diana, a growing number of members of the State Central Committee are dissatisfied with Mr. Whittington. The committee can call itself into session with a simple majority of the committee members signing a petition to do so. If they did this and made the sole agenda item a 'no confidence' vote on Whittington's leadership, it seems to me that someone else would have to preside. That would (if the rules were followed — always a big if) mean that someone else would have to preside. It should be Michael McHale the party's First Vice Chair. McHale is an ally of Whittington's but would stand to be at least temporarily elevated to the chairmanship if Whittington was to vacate the job (willingly or unwillingly). So, this could force McHale to, in effect, audition for the reformers. If he can't run a clean meeting, it would prove he is not fit to serve as chairman. If he can run an honest meeting (giving all sides a fair hearing on fairly applied rules), then he might demonstrate his suitability to lead the party on an interim basis.

JoshuaWDelano said...

yes, the rumors are getting more frequent and building in the last few days.
Do you believe this change in the guard will take place before the summer is over?

Mike Stagg said...

I have no idea if any moves are being made or contemplated. The need is clear. The will to act, not so clear.

DeWayne Guice said...

I believe that not only should Whittington take the heat for being so much a stump in our party but there should be activitist run for seats on the committee that are committed to the principals of the party but also for progressivbe leadership and growth. I have been a member of a Parish Executive Committee and seen the same thing on the parish level and became so disgruntled that I would not run for re-election. Maybe we should see a cohesion of democrats before the next committee election that are unified in the quest for a stronger leadership in our beloved Louisiana. If there are those out there feeling the same as me I can be reached at 318-758-0000 and am in Catahoula Parish

Mike Stagg said...

DeWayne, I will give you a call on Saturday. Thanks for writing. Mike

DeWayne Guice said...

ok if you can't get me at that number I can be reached at 318-744-1010. However I should be on the 0000 number for the largest part of the day.

DeWayne Guice said...

Are we gonna do something or just talk?

Mike Stagg said...

Seeing as we've never spoken before, talking might be a good place to start. As for doing something, people are working to remove Whittington. The problem is that the party rules and by-laws are so vague that he and the various attorneys and parliamentarians have construed the rules to mean whatever they say they mean. But, there may be a procedural way to change that, too. People in the party are working on that. It's a lot of energy better spent on other things, but necessary of the control of the party is going to be taken from Whittington and the way cleared for new leaders to be elected.

DeWayne Guice said...

So do you intend to try and have people elected onto the committee that are committed to his removal or do you think it can be done with the present committee?

DeWayne Guice said...

Question.. have we got any idea who may be taking his place if he can be removed?

Mike Stagg said...


First off, I'm not a member of the State Central Committee so I'm not trying anything, but I know that some members of the committee are. Whatever change that happens will have to come as a result of the current committee. There are 40 or so vacancies, but the Chairman gets to fill them. As was the case prior to his re-election in March 2008, Whittington tends to fill vacancies with people who will support him.

As to who would succeed him if he stepped down or was removed: the First Vice Chair (Michael McHale of Lake Charles) would become interim-chair when the vacancy occurred and an election for a new chair would have to be held within 90 days of the departure of the elected chair (in this case Whittington). The election would be conducted among the current members of the state central committee.

DeWayne Guice said...

Aren't members elected by the popular vote of the people at each presidential election?

Mike Stagg said...

The elections for the DSCC and for parish executive committees are actually about four months after the statewide elections for governor and the legislature. So, the next round of these elections will be in early 2012.

Not all seats draw candidates, resulting in vacancies. In those instances, the chair gets to appoint someone to fill the vacancy, although when those appointments can be made (before or after the election of the chairman) is a hotly disputed issue.

DeWayne Guice said...

do you know if there are others that feel as we do who will make an attempt to run?

Mike Stagg said...

Not sure, but that would change with a vacant chairman's seat.

DeWayne Guice said...

perhaps we should consider working to seek out and locate candidates as well, so as to not only get him out off the chairmanship but have people seated on the committee that seek a progression of our party so that Democrats will be a force to reckon with in Louisiana.

DeWayne Guice said...

Sorry I missed yor call Mike. My wife just had back surgery and its been a mad house here. I tried to return your call but got no answer so I will try again tomorrow. My home home number is 318-744-1010 an you have my cell number.

Diana said...

The letters went out yesterday.

Diana said...

Mike, if you hear anything, please let me know. Thanks.

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