The Allen County Democratic Party will host a meeting intended to rekindle interest in the party’s local chapter at 7 p.m. April 28 at the courthouse.
All registered Democrats — or anyone considering ticking that box at the door — are invited.
The meeting will offer area Democrats an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a party operation that has been absent in the county for years.
Accordingly, the first order of business for the Allen County Democratic Party will be to establish the Allen County Democratic Party. Currently lacking a central committee, this month’s meeting will elect a chair, vice-chair and, possibly, secretary and treasurer.
Party rules generally reserve that vote for a county’s precinct members. However, lacking precinct members, the say-so on party leads will be extended to any registered Democrat in attendance. (Voter registrars from the Kansas Democratic Party in Topeka will be on hand to assist the unregistered voter or any disillusioned Republican wanting to switch teams.)
“The party just needs to be organized from scratch,” said Mike Bruner, a longtime Humboldt resident and high school history teacher in Chanute, and the catalyst behind the effort to resuscitate a Democratic infrastructure in his home county. ”We have a situation right now where, in Allen County and in many other counties in the state, the Democratic Party is simply not organized.
“To me, political parties need to articulate certain values and certain policy positions and then go out and recruit candidates, and then work to get them elected. If nothing else, they need to hold the other party responsible. Right now, Allen County is a mess — there’s just nothing going on here.”
Concurrent efforts to install or revive Democratic Party outposts are taking place in surrounding counties — Neosho, Bourbon, Anderson and Franklin counties, most recently — largely in collaboration with KDP.
Allen County currently has more than 4,000 registered Republicans, 1,600 Democrats and 2,700 unaffiliated voters.
KANSAS has long been a byword for single-party dominance. Even the state’s hallowed go-to pundit, William Allen White, referred to the Democrats of a hundred years ago as a “hopeless minority.” And while Democratic fervor in the last election — which held realistic hopes of tipping their candidates into office in both U.S. Senate and governor’s races — failed to perturb the organizational muscle on the Republican side, there is a lingering sense among many area Democrats that the one-party stronghold on state politics could be disrupted by a network of organized opposition. But, argues Bruner, it would require active local bases.
“The 2014 election was focused very much on candidates, but it wasn’t really done through a party structure as much as through the candidates’ campaign structures. Part of the problem is that, while there’s a state party, there aren’t enough county parties to really work with.”
It is broadly understood that, as the voter registration numbers are currently constituted, the chances for Democratic victories rest largely in the hands of disaffected Republicans.
And it’s Bruner’s belief that the current Republican Party has moved so far from its philosophic roots that “the average person who calls himself or herself a Republican, has more in common with today’s Democratic Party than they do with today’s Republican Party. The Republican Party has left them.
“I really think there is a bit of a gap between the people at the top of the Kansas Republican party and the rank and file. I think a lot of regular Republicans would probably like to see their party go back to the Bill Graves and Nancy Kassebaum party. … And so, no, I don’t think this type of Republican is particularly well-represented within their party. But these voters, because of family history and tradition, are uncomfortable with the Democratic Party — and, besides, there is no Democratic Party in most counties in Kansas for people to reach out to.”
And so while candidates like Paul Davis and Greg Orman (I) were vying to attract those aggrieved Republicans whose sense of political identity may have been disfigured by the policies of the current administration, “they simply didn’t have a good party structure,” argues Bruner. “And that is just very important. It sounds technical but, really, it’s just a matter of organization.”
Bruner, a self-identified political junkie whose interest in the subject extends back to his childhood, where his family were “about the only Democrats in western Kansas,” has a clear sense of who the party should be working to attract.
“Normal people who have everyday jobs. People who don’t have time to engage in abstract political discussion. People that work at Gates or Russell Stover, people that work at the hospital, the mom-and-pop business owners. People who are trying to make a go of a nice little family-run business that may not have 20 outlets, that may only have one or two or 10 employees, and they’re just trying to make a living. Those people who get in there and work right alongside their employees.
“But Democrats aren’t always very good at reaching out to these people,” Bruner admits. “And so the goal is to start getting organized now, get candidates recruited for 2016, which sounds like a long way off, but, in political terms, is right around the corner.
“It’s just something that needs to be done and, if we don’t try, nothing’s going to happen. You know, it’s a democracy. If people are happy with the way things are and they’re happy with a one-party system in Kansas, that’s perfectly all right, that’s what democracy is all about. I just think people need an alternative, they need a choice.”
As for the meeting later this month, “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Bruner said. “I might be initiating this, but it’s not my meeting. It belongs to the people who show up.”
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