Guest Columns

Lessons from '08 will keep us on top in '10

By Pat Waak
CHAIR, COLORADO DEMOCRATIC PARTY

In the midst of the 2010 campaign season, it is good to reflect on what we learned in 2008. Unprecedented in the history of Colorado, we mounted one of the largest coordinated campaigns that brought out not only a coalition of voters on behalf of Democrats, but also 432,000 first-time voters.

Many of these voters became directly involved in party activities. Thousands of others, along with party activists, have continued to be involved on a daily basis through the activities of Organizing for America. They have generated phone calls to other activists and to members of Congress to get key legislation passed this year.

We began an extensive year-to-year training and technical update through our 64-county program beginning in 2005. By 2008, we had developed new organizing skills at the grassroots level. The national campaigns helped bring their own approach to bear on door-to-door retail politics. Our grassroots approach has grown and expanded, and the use of technology continues to grow through social networking avenues.

Every county now has access to a “Wiki” site that will help them reach their neighborhoods. Every campaign and county has the most up-to-date voter file so that they can ensure that all voters hear from them. Democrats won in 2008 by talking to individual voters. It will be no different this year. If every one of the 4,000 delegates and alternates to the Colorado Democratic Party State Assembly commit to reaching 100 voters each, we have the beginning of a field campaign that rivals 2008.

But let us be clear, Democrats won in 2008 because our candidates promised to tackle serious problems faced by the state and country. We inherited a huge deficit and a faltering economy on the national level, and the state has felt the ripple effect of a global recession. However, Colorado was less affected than other parts of the nation because of the prudent actions of our Governor and the Colorado General Assembly.

Pat Waak
Illustration: Matt Milner for The Colorado Statesman

In the end, it is the quality of our candidates that make a difference. We invest in “building a bench,” and these candidates are steeped in the issues that Colorado voters are concerned about.

We give credit to the Colorado voters. In 2008, voters, as in 2004 and 2006, did not favor candidates who espoused extreme views. The voters want common sense solutions. And we have learned that candidates and elected officials when they differ from their constituents, owe them an explanation of why they came to the decision on a piece of legislation or an issue.

We learned once again in 2008 that Colorado voters do not like negative campaigning. They want to be credited with the ability to look at candidates and their issues and make knowledgeable decisions about how to cast their vote. This year, as in 2008, Democratic candidates will take a respectful tone, asking voters for permission to keep working on significant problems facing us. We will eschew the attacks and inflamed rhetoric that characterized much of the debate over the last year.

One of our greatest tasks is to focus on what we have accomplished in the past year and a half. We will be talking about the difference in our lives and those of our families and friends because Democrats stepped forward and took on the hard task of governing.

First, the economy, which was in a freefall decline when Democrats took over the White House is finally seeing a gradual improvement. We have gone from losing 800,000 jobs a month to adding thousands of jobs each month. Thousands of teachers, police and firefighters have been able to keep their jobs through the Recovery Act. More is on the way.

Second, while we know that health care reform is not perfect, 32 million more people will have access to care. That takes the burden off our emergency rooms. And we got the biggest middle class tax cut for health care in the history of this country. By the way, this reform benefits seniors and young people with special provisions.

Children’s health insurance was expanded to cover 11 million more children under SCHIP. And the ban on federal funding for stem cell research was lifted.

The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act guarantees women equal pay for equal work and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act extends new protection for victims of violent crime. We got comprehensive credit card reform. And these are only some of our accomplishments.

In the Colorado General Assembly, Democrats took on the leadership to create jobs, balance the budget, improve health care, and make government and politics more accountable and transparent.

In 2008, people came out to change the way government is run and make sure it was accountable and responsible. We have done that, and now our job is to remind the voters that we will continue to ensure that government works for all of us and that keeping Democrats in office this cycle will help us continue to fight for them. If we do that, we will continue to elect the best candidates to public office in 2010.