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Interview with Ken Martin: one year after 2010, one year before 2012

by The Big E on November 10, 2011

Its not just one year out from the 2012 election, its also symbolically one year past the spanking we DFLers received in the 2010 election.  Its a great time to both look back and look forward, to compare where we were to where we are to where we think we’ll be going.  

On November 3rd of last year (the day after the election), I wrote an open letter to the DFL Central Committee.  I asked them to consider a few items when they chose the next Party Chair.  In my post, I complained about how in debt the party was, the lack of a communications strategy and how the Coordinated Campaign was neither coordinated nor much of a campaign.

I assumed that Chair Brian Melendez would resign after the thrashing we received.  He eventually gave notice in December.  The only candidate to emerge as his replacement was Ken Martin.

I spoke to Ken yesterday about the state of the DFL.  

“Its going great.  We just had our most successful Founder’s Day ever,” Ken began.  “And we’ve raised the most money ever raised in an off year.”

The DFL had a deficit of between $500,000 and $800,000 to dig out from under and December will tell if they meet their aggressive fundraising goals.  This is very different place than the perpetually broke DFL that Melendez led.

Also on the bright side, the DFL just hired an Executive Director and Outreach Director.  They are accepting resumes for the Coordinated Campaign manager position and Communications Director (after Kristin Sosanie left for the Obama campaign).  They will be hiring a New Media Director in January.  In other words, they have the money now to start organizing for the 2012 election.

Below the fold you can find out about Ken’s vision for the DFL, both for the 2012 election and beyond.
“DFL budgets have a line item for fundraising by the chair,” Ken explained.  “Most chairs have set it at $100,000.  I set a target of $650,000 and I’ve met it.”

The DFL has had to rebuild its small donor lists.  This is the only part of the fundraising effort that isn’t kicking butt.  Yet.

I spent a decade in non-profit fundraising.  Building a great list takes time;  its a numbers game.  The better the list, the larger the small percentage return is.  You continually maintain the list or it withers.

With fundraising going in the correct direction, Ken has begun building for the 2012 cycle and the future.

“We have got to do the fundraising,” he explained.  “But I feel that the Chair’s role is to provide vision and leadership.  We need to build permanent infrastructure.  Candidates and parties tend to only think of the upcoming election, never beyond.

“We need a road map for the next six to eight years.  I am working on a plan I call ‘Build to Win, Build to Last.’  

We also talked about candidate recruitment.  The biggest problem the party faces is redistricting.

“Candidate recruitment is going slower than I’d like because we’re waiting to learn what the new districts are on February 21st of next year,” Ken said.  “The problem we face is like in the Sixth District [Michele Bachmann’s].  The district needs to shrink by 100,000 people.  Who would want to run when you don’t know if you’ll even be in the district on February 22nd.”

Ken also wants the party to make more of a commitment to the candidates we recruit.  We need candidates who will commit to campaigning for several cycles.

“We have to ask how can we help?” he continued.

“But its not just committing to the candidates, we also need to invest in long-term training and grooming of candidates.  We need to find candidates to run for school board, city council and all the other local offices.  These candidates need to build up their name recognition so they are ready to run for higher office.  We need to build a pipeline of candidates.”

I asked about the Coordinated Campaign of 2010 and that several candidates complained to me that they felt abandoned.

“The Coordinated Campaign should not be a top-down operation run from St. Paul,” Ken replied.  “It needs to be bottom up.  There needs to be a culture change.”

“Like Howard Dean had a 50 state strategy, we need an 87 county strategy.  We need to provide our candidates and their campaign training.  We need to invest in the tools to help candidates at all levels.  We need invest in staff to support all of our campaigns.  But its also not just simply throwing money at problems.  We need to invest very strategically.”

Since we were talking about supporting candidates, I asked about the DFL endorsement.  Several candidates won the endorsement, but lost the primary in 2010.    Margaret Anderson-Kelliher was a high profile loss, but the party did nothing for Dan Powers, the CD2 endorsed candidate.

“We have to find a way for making the endorsement work and for making the endorsement matter,” Ken stated.  “The system isn’t working.”

“Many people think the endorsement is about picking the candidate they like best.  Others want a candidate who will win.  Endorsement is supposed to be about picking a candidate early so we can get behind them.”

I want the endorsement to be more like a primary in the sense that I believe the solution is to get more people involved,” he stated.

If we have a well-funded party, have an 87-county strategy, if our party is working hard at grooming potential candidates and creating a candidate pipeline and if we have all the best tools in place, I wholeheartedly support changing the endorsement process.

Ken wasn’t about to reveal his ideas for changing the endorsement process.  That will be a discussion for a later date.  Like possibly a year from now.

At any rate, I’m looking forward to a much better 2012 election cycle and Ken’s Build to Win, Build to Last plan.

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