Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Interview with Former State Chair Steve Gold

Daniel Solzman: First, thank you for joining the Kentucky Democrat for an interview today. How are things going in Western Kentucky?

Steve Gold: Thanks for having me, Daniel. It was great to meet you at the YD event in Northern Kentucky a while back. I love reading your blog. Please keep up the good work.

Things are going quite well for me and my family. Parts of the Henderson area are still not completely over the devastating tornado that struck the area a while back. I want to thank all of the folks who called and e-mailed checking on my family and me. We were fine, though some extended family lost their homes entirely. I would urge everyone to have a weather radio and a disaster plan just in case something like this hits your area.

DS: You are a former party chairman, do you think the state party is heading in the right direction in order to take back the state senate and keep control of the house?

SG: I want to stress the fact I was merely an Interim Party Chair and my primary job was to convene a nominating committee to find a permanent chair. It was one of the most interesting experiences and biggest honors I've ever had in my life. I only the position for a little over two months (from shortly after the 2003 general election to the end of January, 2004), but it was when things sure were a mess. The coffers had been raided for the coordinated campaign, there was serious debt, no fundraising, no clear elected leader for the first time in 32 years, and the huge issue of a special election in the 6th Congressional District! I couldn't imagine doing it long-term under those circumstances, especially from Henderson. I have a great deal of respect for anyone willing to do it without pay long-term. Regardless of what people may think of them personally, both Bill Garmer and Jerry Lundergan are owed a debt of gratitude for stepping forward and providing a service to the Party in a time of great need.

Now, to your question.

I'm very concerned about the future of the party, both locally, state, and nationally. Until we, as Democrats, can both A.) articulate a solid, concise message that resonates with the general public and B.) become comfortable talking about the role of faith in our lives when the issue comes up, we will continue floundering about hoping for Republicans to keep screwing up, as they have shown a clear propensity to do.

We have allowed ourselves to be considered the anti-faith party by many. This ground has been ceded at the national level and has affected party success in Kentucky. Frankly, I think we should not write-off the legions of moderate and liberal people of faith in America. Many of them are uncomfortable with the policies of the Republican leadership, but the national Democratic Party seems to either not know how to speak to them without pandering or is all too happy to write them off as a lost cause.

But please understand clearly, I'm not advocating constant sermonizing or using faith as an electoral tool, by any means. If you're not religious, certainly don't try to be; if you are, you sure shouldn't act like you aren't. We must, though, be honest with voters and ourselves that our beliefs, both religious and otherwise, shape who we are and inform our views on political issues. I am merely stating that many Democrats are people of faith, but our candidates seem to run away from faith and values issues or get a "deer in headlights" look when these issues come up.

We need to broaden the conversation when it comes to faith. There are lots more "values" out there for people of faith than what the right would have you believe. I'm a Christian and I believe in a Holy Bible that has about thousands of verses dedicated to the poor and vulnerable - fighting poverty and making sure others have adequate health care are moral values to me. Being good stewards of our environment, the ethics of war, treatment of children and elderly members of society, fair labor laws - these are all issues that are rooted in our core value system for many of us.

By candidates of faith speaking about these issues in such terms to people with similar feelings, we take the conversation away from the focus on one or two narrow issues to an overall world view that resonates with people much more than the mean-spirited, "greed is good" dogma espoused by the right.

DS: What about the image of the national party?

SG: Of course, much of what I've just said has to begin at the national level by not ceding this territory and identifying the right speakers, like Sen. Barack Obama, who are comfortable talking in such terms and putting them out there talking to other people of faith.

I've been speaking particularly about reaching people of faith because that has been on my mind a lot lately, but I think Democrats also need to work on how they speak to the electorate as a whole. Just recall the Presidential debates, George Bush had a theme/mantra each time - "compassionate conservative" and "I'm doing the hard work of the Presidency". Al Gore and John Kerry had wonderfully developed, mature and nuanced stances. Unfortuntely, it took them ten minutes of setup and qualifying just to get to their main points, which nobody really remebers except it had something to do with Social Security "lockboxes".

We need someone who can "call 'em like they see 'em" and speak in plain english. In general, people vote for the candidate more often than they vote for their 100 page policy paper. If they trust that the person is honest and competent, they have faith that the candidate will do the right thing. Again, I'm not saying to dumb-down campaigns or to do away with the policy papers, but don't be so quick to recite boring policy wonk material to people that aren't policy wonks. Do that stuff on C-SPAN, not "Good Morning, America".

DS: With all the mess going on in Frankfort, is it safe to say that Ernie is one-and-done?

SG: Sadly, not necessarily, but he should be. Right now, I'd put the odds at him winning his party's nomination at even money, at best. If he does, he's probably 6:5 (54.5%) to win re-election. If he doesn't get the nomination, the GOP is probably 3:2 (60%) to keep the mansion. Of course, this is all speculation and there are lots of things Democrats can do to move the odds into their favor - 1.) stop all in-fighting, 2.) focus on winning legislative races this year with a strong message, 3.) have an aggressive communications team articulating a real vision in the current legislative session, 4.) revitalize the county organizations, 5.) recruit good candidates for every House and Senate seat and support them with organization and money, and 6.) field a credible slate of candidates top to bottom in '07.

All of that is much easier said than done, I know. But if we don't get working on those things now, we won't win and probably don't deserve to. I hope people like you, your readers and myself can begin doing that work now to make those odds turn in our favor over the next few months.

DS: Have you heard anything about Governor Julian Carroll's plan for 2007? If so, do you endorse it?

SG: Honestly, I only know what I've seen in the papers and heard anecdotally, so I don't think I can say much on that topic. I would say that if we don't win in '06, plans for '07 are pretty much moot.

DS: Is it too early to start focusing on 2007? Should we be focusing on midterm elections first?

SG: Of course, everyone wants to look ahead to the state-wide constitutional office races, but I think doing so is premature for everyone except the potential candidates and their families. It is all pie-in-in-the-sky specualtion now and armchair quarterbacking isn't that productive. The successes and failures in the legislative session, continued proof out of the Republican leadership that it is out of control and the Democratic response (or lack thereof), and state and national events will render any definite plans anyone makes a house built upon quicksand. Sure, I'll admit it is fun to speculate about the "horse race" aspects of it on occasion, we just need to remain focused on the tasks at hand.

DS: I know 2008 is a few years away but are any potential candidates that you see having a good chance to reach the White House?

SG: Like you, I like Evan Bayh's solid record, but I've been a little concerned about some of his performances on the Sunday political shows the last couple of times I've seen him. He'd make a heck of a VP choice, though.

I've always liked the way Joe Biden comes across, but he seems to be trying to get headlines and momentum for the primaries by saying outrageous things.

On the Republican side, a McCain-Rice ticket would be formidable.

DS: Jon Stewart or Bill O'Reilly?

SG: No question about it - Jon Stewart all the way. "America - The Book" was one of the best gifts I received last year.

DS: How's the political consulting going? Any friendly rivalry with Emmons and Co.?

SG: It's going great! Our company, Winner's Circle, has been blessed with quite a few candidates this cycle and that is keeping us very busy.

There's no real rivalry with Emmons & Co. as the services we provide are somewhat different and I've always gotten along really well with Dale and Jamie. Since my partner and I are both practicing attorneys with families, we don't usually "run" a particular campaign as the day-to-day manager. We are general consultants with a focus on teaching people how to run their own campaign covering issues such as media relations, organization, fundraising, message development, internet strategies and "old-fashioned politickin'," as I call it. This allows smaller campaigns (judicial races, county-wide races, etc.) who wouldn't usually be able to have any professional help to get on-on-one "coaching" and training from us with lots of follow-up.

We are basically doing what we were doing before we formed an official company. We meet with people and their families, get them ready, train them and their "inner circle" to run a well-organized, modern campaign and then keep in touch regarding message, ad design issues, etc., as things progress. Eventually, our quite lovely and very understanding spouses got a little tired of us going all over the place doing this for free, but they have been placated a little bit by the fact we charge a small fee now.

DS: What three issues in your opinion should be priorities especially for the candidates that the party fields for Congress? What about for the state legislators?

SG: Something has to be done about health care at both the state and national level, but it has to start at the top. We have shoved off the responsibility of subsidizing health care for American workers on employers for far too long and it is no longer sustainable. Just look at GM and Ford. They are having major problems competing because they are having to add a lot of cost to the price of a vehicle for health care. Before you say that I'm just another Democrat spouting the pro-labor line, I don't see this is just a worker's issue. I also see it as a business development issue. I think the time is right for a good plan to take this burden off the nation's employers. If we come up with a workable plan, I think we will be amazed at the business support that it receives.

Health care coverage issues are also causing many individuals to go under. I've represented lots of folks in bankruptcies that are good, hard working people who had an illness in their family and did not have insurance. These are the people filing for bankruptcy protection, not the small percentage of slackers and scammers that the credit card lobby would have you think. The recent changes to the bankruptcy code only treated the symptom of more filings, rather than the root causes - poverty, a broken health care system, and out of control lending. It is also a shameful example of the current "coin-operated" Republican Congress at work - selling out the people in favor of a big business that should be forced to reform its own predatory lending practices.

Another national issue that needs to be addressed are the multitude of problems with the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit that just went into effect. Legislators on each side rushed to pass something with that title that what came out was a budget-busting behemoth of a plan that, so far, hasn't turned out to be all that helpful to the seniors I've spoken to about it.

DS: Any updates on the search for a vice-chair?

SG: I'm not on that committee, but I know there are some great names that have been floated. I can tell you it is a very hard position to fill. Two years ago, I was the one making the calls to all of the people the nominating committee came up with (both men and women at that time) to get a sense of their level of interest. Some of the names are the ones people are floating now and there wasn't as much willingness from those high-profile folks.

I think we are best when we have someone that may not be well known, but has a track record of solid service to the party.

If I had a magic wand and could name the Vice-Chair, I'd pick Jennifer Moore, my law school classmate and superstar of the Woodward/ Stephenson case.

DS: What do you think our chances are of taking at least 4 CD's in the fall?

sg: Very long odds, there. I sure like how you think, though. A lot depends on what happens nationally, but I'd say realistically that two is likely and three is a distinct possibility. The more people that catch "Bush Fatigue" and get fed up with the culture of greed and deceit pervading the current administration, the more likely some of the less well-heeled candidates will benefit. What we need is for the DCCC to learn that Kentucky is winnable and to really target some of these jokers for defeat.

DS: Do you think that the state party should start outreaching to bloggers?

SG: Yes and no. Yes, the party needs to reach out. In fact, it needs to reach out to a lot more people in general. The problem is how to do it. Blogs, especially the comments sections, often have inflamatory comments, anonymous unfounded personal attacks, and sometimes espouse policies that downright scare mainstream parties' bases. Hey, that's why they're fun to read! But, it's also why the National Enquirer or the Weekly World News are not preferred media outlets of most parties. Official party statements on blogs may lend credence to the comments and could be used by others to unfairly tie the party to the comments. (i.e., imagine the field day FOX News would have reporting that Howard Dean issued a statement to a blog where someone in an anonymous comment said all German shepherd puppies should be beaten as retibution for the Holocaust or something else as asinine as that.)

Frankly, I also don't see what bloggers would get out of it. The "blogosphere," for lack of a better word, seems to operate best when it is outside of official structures and not constrained by what the party may or may not want published. I think there can be some synergies between the two and they can work hand in hand, but maintaining some semblance of independence and autonomy is a key element if they are to maintain any credibility as a "watchdog."

DS: I know you have a hectic schedule so my final question is: will you announce live on this blog that you're a candidate for office in 2007?

SG: You flatter me, Daniel! In fact, I've probably blown any chances of elective office by much of the tough talk for Democrats that I've said in this interview. Hmmm ... "Tough Talk for Dems" sounds like a self-help group or pubilc service announcement!

Seriously, you are right that I've had a great deal of encouragement from friends all around the state, but I think it's entirely too early to make any final decisions one way or another. I guess I'm not definitely ruling anything out, but I really enjoy helping other people get elected - it's a lot more fun and less stressful. Like I've been saying for months, if Democrats don't win in '06, it won't matter who they put up in '07.

DS: Thanks again for joining the Kentucky Democrat for this interview and keep fighting the good fight.

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