When you find yourself stuck in a deep hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging.
Georgia’s Democratic Party has been in a deep hole for a while. The party hasn’t been able to win many elections, it hasn’t had much money, and it didn’t have a chairman when Mike Berlon resigned in June.
The members of the party’s state committee convened in Newnan recently to elect a new state chairman and, perhaps, stop digging the hole any deeper.
The two leading candidates for the job were people with a solid background in winning elections, raising money and working the legislative process: Doug Stoner, a former state senator from Cobb County, and DuBose Porter, a Dublin newspaper publisher who served 28 years in the state House of Representatives.
Either candidate would have been a decent choice as chairman. The committee elected Porter.
“We’ve got a big job ahead of us,” Porter told the party activists.
There are some indications the job may be more doable now than it was six months ago.
Earlier this year, the party was running a deep deficit every month and unable to pay its employees. After Berlon’s resignation, Vice Chairwoman Nikema Williams took over and started getting the books in order. Officials such as Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson helped raise money to replenish the coffers.
As a result, Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), the party treasurer, was able to report in Newnan that Democrats now have a bank balance of more than $152,000. That’s a modest total compared to what Georgia Republicans have, but at least it puts the party in the black.
The party has a candidate in the U.S. Senate race, Michelle Nunn, who is generating enthusiasm and has caught the attention of national pundits as someone who might be able to pull off an upset in that race. There is also a credible Democratic candidate for governor now in Connie Stokes, a former legislator from DeKalb County.
Three days after his election, Porter was visiting the Nunn campaign, returning calls from reporters, and launching a “Project Blue” campaign to persuade at least 2,000 people to become sustaining contributors and help stabilize the party’s finances.
“The first thing I’m going to do is get the finances of the party on a firm footing,” he said. “I’m going to have a national search for an executive director and put some of the best talent I can find in the country here. Those things we’ve got to do first – and we’ve got time.”
Porter also wants to draw more attention to the policy issues where Democrats and Republicans differ.
“I’m upset about so many things I’ve worked for, for so many years, and how they’re being dismantled,” said Porter.
“Education’s one of them, job training with the HOPE grant is another,” he said. “At my technical college in my part of the state, enrollment is about half what it was five years ago. There’s no transportation plan and they’ve pretty much gutted the DOT.
‘‘Georgia had some of the greatest roads in the country and it’s fallen behind.”
“They’ve got an EPD that seems to shrug its shoulders when they dump chemicals into the Ogeechee River and we have the largest fish kill in Georgia history,” Porter added. “The state is refusing federal money that could help people get Medicaid coverage.”
“Let’s get the money raised and then let’s get who we are out there in front of the people,” he said.
The development of a genuine two-party system in Georgia is something this state has never really experienced, but is something it has always needed. When you have two political parties that are capable of competing for control of state government, each party serves as a check on the excesses of the other.
Can the Democrats become that kind of viable party? They have at least taken the first step by choosing some stable leadership in the party organization.
There are many more steps to be taken if they are to give the state’s voters a real choice in the elections ahead. Let’s see what they can do.
(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)