When longtime political operative Nancy Biery dropped out of the race for state Democratic Party chair last week, she issued a terse statement blaming unnamed “status quo” forces inside the party.
In an interview this week, Biery elaborated, blasting supporters of rival Dana Laurent, the former political director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, who has amassed the support of a small army of influential Democratic donors and political consultants.
Biery claims she was elbowed out of the race. A former chair of the Jefferson County Democrats who worked as an aide to Gov. Gary Locke and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, Biery argued she was the most qualified.
But political consultants and donors wanted “somebody they could control,” Biery said. “It became clear the powers that be did not want me to be party chair.”
The final straw seems to be when Joby Shimomura, chief of staff to Gov. Jay Inslee, threw her name behind Laurent — a move Biery and others viewed as signaling the governor’s own preference.
While not naming names, Biery said she got the message from the Seattle-centric Democratic consultant “machine” that “I was not wanted and my life would be rather miserable if I won and tried to do the job.”
Current state Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz dismissed Biery’s conspiracy talk as “sour grapes.” While he’s not endorsing a successor, Pelz predicted the front-runners will be Laurent and Jaxon Ravens, the state party’s current executive director.
Laurent’s campaign for party chair seems to have as many consultants as some congressional campaigns. Her list of endorsements includes major party benefactors such as venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, former Microsoft executive Jon Shirley and environmentalist Maryanne Tagney-Jones as well as local SEIU union leaders and the Boeing machinists union.
Laurent is set to add even more Democratic insider backing this week, as the liberal groups FUSE and Progressive Majority are expected to announce their endorsements.
In an interview, Laurent didn’t directly address Biery’s comments but said the state chair race will be won with hard work, not endorsements or consultants. The election of the next Democratic chair will be decided by roughly 170 members of the party’s state committee at a Feb. 1 meeting in Vancouver. Laurent has been traveling the state to meet with those party activists — she visited six counties last weekend.
“The way that one, me or anyone else, wins this race is one conversation at a time,” Laurent said, touting her field-organizing experience including work on last year’s successful gay-marriage campaign.
Laurent is no shoo-in.
Ravens has the advantage of having run the day-to-day operations of the state party as its executive director for a decade. That’s put him in close touch with the party’s state committee and he said he’s lined up endorsements from leaders of Democratic organizations in eight of the 10 congressional districts. Prior to his current job, Ravens was executive director of the King County Democrats.
“Professionally I’ve got the experience and the background. I know what it takes to do the job,” Ravens said.
Another contender in the race is Jim Kainber, a political consultant and lobbyist who was the state party’s executive director from 1994 to 2003. Kainber, who lives in Olympia, said he’s not intimidated by Laurent’s big list of endorsers or Ravens’ resume.
While Democrats have been successful in statewide races in recent years, Kainber said the state party should do better in fund-raising and has ceded too many parts of the state to Republicans in legislative races. In 2012, he said, there were more than 20 legislative seats in which no Democrat filed. “That is a critical failure… we need to fix that,” he said.
Jay Clough, a Democratic activist from West Richland, is also in the race and has been crisscrossing the state in search of support. Clough is a former Hanford cleanup worker who served in the Marines and ran for Congress in the 4th Congressional District in 2010 and for the state Legislature in 2012.
Clough notes he’s the only candidate who’s run for political office. And he says the party needs to do a better job at fundraising and selling its message outside of its King County base.
“You don’t have to give one inch on your progressive values. It’s the way you talk about them, the way you explain them,” Clough said.