Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Race of Bexar County Democratic Party Chair

One of the most overlooked races taking place this year will not be fought on November 6.  This race will be won or lost on whatever day the primary is

The race for Bexar County Democratic Party Chair is interesting.  Of course any internal party fight is interesting.  Rather than just where candidates stand on issues, these types of races get personal and you almost have as many egos to deal with as those in the U.S. Congress.  But I digress.

Who’s running?  Current Chair Choco Meza and political consultant Manuel Medina.

You can read Meza’s bio here.  Plaza de Armas has a good write up on Medina (behind a pay wall).

Choco Meza.  Meza is running on both her record and her plans for the future.  Her campaign literature emphasizes what has dominated most of her term as chair: The Debt.  After precinct chairs rightfully removed former Chair Dan Ramos, Meza was elected by the precinct chairs as the new chair.  Once elected went about collecting donations and erasing the debt.  She was helped in large part thanks to attorney Mikal Watts (after being verbally smacked by a previous county chair, Watts has once again come to the rescue of the party).  Now that the debt has been erased, Meza and the party can focus on the future.
Her priorities/plans are mentioned on her literature:
Expand the Party Organizational Structure
Maintain Sound and Transparent Financial Records
Advocate for Issues Relevant to Citizens
Develop a Winning Plan for November 2012
Manuel Medina.  Medina's campaign seems to have not really gotten underway.  Most of what the "public" knows about his campaign has come from the one article in Plaza de Armas or from his petitions to get on the ballot.  The term public is used loosely (how many people have really read about the county chair's race). So what can be gleaned from this article, and a few other sources?  Medina flatly states why he’s running: ...because local party leadership isn't articulating "Democratic values," isn't publicly pressing for passage of the DREAM Act, comprehensive immigration reform, or policies that would increase access to higher ed. The idea is to boost Democratic turnout by giving the faithful something to rally around.

A couple of issues that might be front and center for Democrats right now are Voter ID and redistricting.  Meza was quoted in an Express-News article this month on Voter ID and was also recently in a KSAT12 news report on redistricting.

The other part of his campaign message (like any challenger) is one of change.  His message on change, frankly, falls flat on its face.  Again from Plaza de Armas: "I think we have two county chairs… We have to turn the page on the Dan Ramos-Choco Meza saga," he says. "These guys have fought the fight for the last 20 or 30 years. They've done more good than bad. But it's time to turn the page on both of them."

That statement can be interpreted in 2 ways.  1) That Dan Ramos and Choco Meza have been the two bigwigs fighting for control of the party over the last 20 to 30 years and I’ll bring something different.  2) That Ramos and Meza represent two factions of the party that have been fighting for control of the party over the last 20 to 30 years and I’ll bring something different.

Interpreted either way, once again his message on change falls flat on its face.  Interpretation 1: it’s literally a Dan Ramos-Choco Meza fight.  To say that Dan Ramos has been involved in these internal party struggles for the last 20 to 30 years is probably correct.  To say that Meza was, is kind of laughable.  No doubt she may have been involved in the party, but to say she was a person at the center, no.  She was working in D.C. from 1992 to 1996 at HUD (Housing and Urban Development).  After that she was Senior VP at SAHA (San Antonio Housing Authority).  Somehow I can’t see a person holding those positions involved in these party fights that, at times, got very public.  Wouldn’t there have been headlines?

Interpretation 2: The Ramos-Meza fight is a metaphor about the other ongoing fights in the party.  This interpretation is even more laughable than the first.  Medina is trying to be the candidate of change, but who are his supporters.  Looking at the signatures on his petitions makes him appear less an agent of change and more an agent of a return to infighting.  To become a candidate for county chair one only needed about 20 signatures from current precinct chairs.  Medina filed with the signatures of 24, a good number of which have connections to Dan Ramos.  So much for being the change candidate.  In addition, other supporters of his seem be in his camp merely because of personal grudges.  (Like I said, these internal party fights can get personal.)

That seems to be the case of Dmitri Kosub.  Taking on the early role of Cassandra, he was warning the party that there were money troubles months before everything came to light.  Now it seems the power he once had (because there was a leadership vacuum) as the party’s Budget and Finance Committee Chair  became diminished once a competent county chair was in place.  Meza took away my power, so I’ll support someone else.

Another case of sour grapes seems to be Chris Forbrich, also a Medina supporter.  Forbrich has twice tried to be City Councilman for District 1 and come up short both times.  The first time he ran, in 2009, was against incumbent Mary Alice Cisneros, wife of former Mayor and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros.  One person Meza has worked with is Henry Cisneros.  Meza was obviously a backer of Mary Alice Cisneros and did speak for the councilwoman on occasions during the campaign.  No doubt some wounds were caused, and apparently have not completely healed.

Forbrich’s support also completely ignores the distrust of Dan Ramos.  From Plaza de Armas: Forbrich says his support is equal parts admiration for Medina and opposition to Meza, whom he accuses of withholding fundraising support until Ramos was pushed out of the picture. Meza is a Democratic National Committeewoman and a seasoned fundraiser.

"She chose to throw the party under the bus," Forbrich says. "She raised the money only when she could have all the glory." Which downplays the lack of trust would-be contributors had in Ramos' administration.

No large donors or elected officials, which is what was needed to erase the debt, were going to give money to the party as long as Ramos was chair.  Maybe if the money never had to go through Ramos; but when the district attorney required the money go through Ramos, there was no chance.  To say that Meza was pulling the strings and making sure elected officials and large donors withheld support is ridiculous.

It’s so nice that Medina now wants to lead the party now that it’s back on its feet and functioning and is worth something.  Of course, the big question to ask is where was Medina the rest of time?  Was he out there raising money to pay off the debt? FYI, financial reports show he gave no money to help pay down the debt.  He’s also never been a precinct chair.

Even someone who has worked with Medina is behind Meza.  From Plaza de Armas: SA-based consultant Christian Archer, who got to know Medina when they organized a conference of young Latino Democrats here in 2001, considers the 42-year-old "one of the best political operatives I've ever met."

…Christian Archer, too, is behind Meza, despite his relationship with Medina.

"He knows how to win elections," Archer says. "He should be out doing that, and not worrying about when the precinct chairs should meet next."

If we were to give this race a hotness rating, we'd have to give it 2 different ratings.  For the general everyday voter, we'd say 2 peppers:

For Democratic activists, donors, and anyone else involved with the party, we'd say 5 peppers:

1) Type of race.  This is a race for county chair of a political party.  If there is one race that almost no voter pays attention to, it's a race for county chair.  This is also brings up the question why do voters get to vote on an office in a political party's structure?  This is a race only a small segment of the population will pay attention to, but since it will be on the ballot, it will undoubtedly attract a larger number of voters.

Even though this race will not be on every voter's radar, that doesn't mean it won't get hot.  For those people watching the race, they're expecting it to get hot and nasty.  It's amazing, the media is talking about the negativity of the Republican presidential primary, but how often do you notice that these smaller races will be much nastier.  Here in San Antonio, for instance, you can find bad blood between elected officials (and others) tracing their roots to school board races.

2) Money.  Being so low on the totem pole of importance to the voters also means it's low on the totem pole of importance to most donors.  About the only people who will likely give money to this type of race (aside from the candidate funding his or her race themselves) are party activists and power players within the party.

To reiterate, this is a race for county chair of a political party.  Ask any regular voter, Republican or Democrat, to name their party chairman and you're likely to get a lot of "I don't know"s.  We'll try our best at THS to keep following this race to the best of our ability.

We'll be the first to admit that this piece wasn't fair in all respects to the candidacy of Manuel Medina.  However, having watched how the party was wrecked over the past few years, this race is too important for Democrats to sit on the sidelines and think that it doesn't matter who is elected chair.

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