March 18, 2009

On Experience And Vision

Nathan Chambers, one of two candidates for Colorado GOP vice chair, appeared on the Rocky Mountain Alliance's radio show last night (final 10 minutes) to discuss his candidacy, vision, and experience.

According to Chambers, he has the "most experience for the job" and has done the "dirty work of grassroots activism" as the Arapahoe County party chair for the last four years. He acknowledged that the GOP possesses "huge technology deficit" (looking good) that can't be addressed at a county or state level (not looking so good). Advocating a national program implemented at the county level, Chambers looks to strengthen Republican voter registration after years of being outpaced in voter registration activities. Chambers experience, to put it bluntly, has been a showcase of just how badly voter registration has gone:
As of 3/13/09, Arapahoe County shows a voter registration breakdown of--
Democrat--119,560
Republican--111,965
Unaffiliated--106,163

From the Colorado Secretary of State's office, the November 2006 voter registration breakdown in Arapahoe County--
Republican--120,179
Democratic--100,476
Unaffiliated--109,109

And from November 2004--
Republican--133,885
Democrat--106,690
Unaffiliated--122,970
Chambers' solution? Look to leadership from the state party and the RNC (again, not good). Arapahoe County, dubbed a "swing" county and barometer of voter sentiment statewide, lurched left drastically in less than three election cycles, two under Chambers' watch. It would be unfair to saddle the county chair with sole responsibility for this rapid change, given the shift felt not only state wide, but nationally as well. But as far as county organizational matters and voter engagement goes, the GOP's recent poor showings can't be blamed entirely on shifting political winds either.

And that, perhaps, is the problem of voting on "experience." Chambers freely admits that he is not an expert in technology (something all too frequent in GOP circles, unfortunately), and looks to find expertise and aptitude in technology and bring that to the table, while being able to look at proposals from the bottom up in an organizational sense. The problem is, how does one who is unfamiliar with technology even begin to assess the implementation of that technology in either county organizational structure or enhanced voter outreach?

There are many different types of experience and all too often simple longevity and connections are touted as the requisite form of experience necessary for a position. And sometimes, that's just enough. In a situation like this, however, where the state party must do what it can through fundraising (limited by campaign finance law), candidate recruitment, and rebuilding the basic functions of voter outreach/registration in a relatively hostile political climate, the "paid dues" candidate--lacking a clearly demonstrable set of achievements--is not going to be enough to turn the tide alone. What is needed at this juncture is vigorous vision married to a specific set of goals and a clear idea of the political/technological infrastructure necessary for achieving them, not organizational stewardship and looking to the outside, especially the national party, for assistance (while this is more appropriate in times of political strength, even then, it is not very responsive to change, or wholly convincing as a strategy in a non-stagnant political world).

The "Colorado Model--so successfully imposed here--is now being exported to other states.

The Colorado GOP needs experience, just not the kind of experience that unfortunately befell the Arapahoe County party chair over the last two cycles.

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