Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Of Blogs and Banquets: A Message from Keith Roark

The following is a message from the chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, R. Keith Roark regarding the Frank Church weekend held over the weekend and the state of the Idaho blogosphere:

Prior to becoming Idaho Democratic Party Chair I had a casual acquaintance with Idaho’s progressive blogs. I am now a regular visitor. The conversation being carried on here is important to me – it contains a chorus of voices that I want to hear but, if not for the blogosphere, would be unavailable to me. Naturally, I have perused the blogs in search of comments about the Frank Church Dinner and its success or lack thereof.

The first site I visited was 43rd State Blues. I am 58 years old and at least 40 years ago abandoned all hope that anyone not related to me would think me “handsome.” Even so, I admit to flinching a bit when I found myself referred to as the "cryptkeeper” (I assume that reference was to me). Oh well, I learned long ago how to be comfortable in my own skin in front of juries, city councils, and political gatherings both large and small. If I didn’t inspire sufficiently while reading the long list of special guests and important donors I apologize and will begin working immediately on a snappier style in which to dispatch that duty next year.

Thank all of you who commented – negative and positive comments have been copied down and added to my notebook for future events. Your reviews are absolutely invaluable to improving the way our party functions.

Let me make some observations of my own. First and foremost, many of the comments suggest a misunderstanding of what the Frank Church Dinner is all about. It is the major fundraising event for the Idaho Democratic Party. It is not a "showcase” for our candidates, although we try to give the candidates some exposure. It is not a showcase for “rising stars” or “new talent” - although people belonging to such categories may indeed attend and are encouraged to do so. It is a fund raiser, attended by people who skew decidedly older. It has been that way for the 30 years I’ve attended and will probably be that way for the next 30. We raise money from people who have money and those kinds of people tend to be older rather than younger.

Judging the presence or absence of a “youth movement” on the basis of attendance at the FCD is like judging the number of people living below the poverty level on the basis of who shows up at the annual Junior League fashion show. Young people have never been a prominent presence at the FCD (Jefferson-Jackson Day Banquet until recently). Most young couples contemplating the family budget tend to think that one hundred and fifty bucks for a salmon dinner being served in the hotel restaurant just down the hall for $12.50 is probably not a wise investment. Moreover, even my children, who are in their twenties and thirties and very active Democrats, couldn’t be talked into attending the FCD if I bought the tickets and gave them my Amex card for drinks downtown afterwards. The best FCD is still not a happening event for anyone under forty.

The reliable barometer reading by which to gauge our success in attracting young people to the party will come at the State Convention in Boise this June. Attendance at our caucuses was encouragingly youthful. If those young delegates who were elected at the caucuses actually show up and participate we will have cause to feel encouraged. If they don’t we’re in trouble – at least on that score.

The real questions here have little or nothing at all to do with how many “young people” were in the crowd Saturday night but how we are going to keep those young people who were at the caucuses with us in the months to come – especially if Clinton rather than Obama garners the nomination. The empirical data show conclusively that people are attracted first to a candidate and only later to that candidate’s party - it’s that “charisma thing” that I apparently lack. We need the enthusiasm of the Obama legions to help us through a very difficult election cycle this year and on into the biggest challenge of all: the 2010 cycle when we will have seven statewide offices, two congressional offices and a United State Senate seat up for grabs. Support for Obama, however, is not necessarily support for the Idaho Democratic Party. Your continuing conversation and ideas about this challenge are valuable to me and vital to the future of the Idaho Democratic Party.

In closing, I was not referring to Amy Wynn (whom I just met a few hours before the dinner) or any particular woman in my remarks but simply expressing my feeling that we need to have more female candidates in top ticket races. We have a number of women who can and will, I hope, begin competing for the “big” offices.

Thank you all for your comments (with the possible exception of the “cryptkeeper” remark) and please keep the conversation alive.

R. Keith Roark, Chair
Democratic Party

Isn't it refreshing to have a leader who is willing to join in the conversation?

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