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Exclusive Interview: DPVA Chair Charniele Herring

by: lowkell

Tue Mar 19, 2013 at 08:25:00 AM EDT

I had the opportunity yesterday to sit down with Democratic Party of Virginia Chair, Del. Charniele Herring, for an hour-plus discussion/interview in Alexandria on turning Virginia blue, on winning in 2013, on building the state party and Virginia Democrats' "farm system," etc. Thanks to Del. Herring for her time; I greatly appreciate it. Here are some highlights from our discussion.

1. According to Del. Herring, the 2009 elections in Virginia were a case of conservatives mobilizing, in the aftermath of their defeat in 2008, "to their benefit," while Democrats basically went to sleep. For instance, Herring won her January 2009 special election, in the solid blue 46th district (Alexandria), by just 16 votes, as Democrats "were tired" and didn't go vote. Later that same year, as we all know, Democrats were wiped out for governor, LG, AG, and the House of Delegates. The lesson: "every vote matters," and also we can't ever go to sleep or take anything for granted. Certainly, we'd better not do either of those things in 2013, unless we like the thought of saying "Governor Cuccinelli" for 4 years. Nope, didn't think so.

2. Del. Herring said we've been recruiting candidates for 2013, are doing pretty well, but frankly "candidate recruitment is a long-term thing; we've got to build a bench." Of course, Herring pointed out, it's the House Democratic caucus that is primarily responsible for candidate recruitment for the House of Delegates, while "the party does supplement and provides support" (e.g, voter file, media training, messaging, research, helping to identify donors). According to Del. Herring, "through time we're going to figure out a better way for candidate recruitment," but it's certainly "not easy," as a lot of people don't want to go through what it takes to run for office. The bottom line, in Del. Herring's view, is that it's going to take time to get back to where we need to be in the House of Delegates: "I think what we need to do is be in a place that in 2020, that we have some control of's slow building, I can't sit here and say that we're going to pick up 10 seats in 2013...we have to just realize the reality of our's going to have to be slow, methodical, and deliberate."

lowkell :: Exclusive Interview: DPVA Chair Charniele Herring
3. According to Del. Herring, in the 2013 campaign, "We're not going to be duplicating things, which has happened in the past, where the coordinated campaign runs outside the party; everything's going to be run through the party, so that's going to help our House of Delegates candidates, the top of the ticket and on down...a unified front." In other words, this time around, things have to be done differently if we expect different results from the past (if not, it's the classic "definition of insanity" - doing the same thing and expecting different results), and Del. Herring seems determined to make sure that happens.

4. What are the major issues for 2013? Del. Herring believes that part of it will definitely be pointing out how extreme ("outside the norm of what we've known conservatives to be") the Republican ticket will be on issue after issue. As much as Cuccinelli tries to "normalize himself," Democrats will need to keep reminding people of how extreme Cuccinelli's record is and "what he truly is and what he will do if he were to be elected." We're also going to hear about transportation, jobs and the economy, women's reproductive health care, climate change, the assault on science, LGBT equality, the Republican assault on voting rights, etc.

5. In Del. Herring's view, we can't just be against Cuccinelli, "we have to promote ourselves, we are...a party of ideas that are fact based, evidence based, reality based...we're a big tent party...that brings Virginians to a better quality  of life overall no matter their party affiliation," and we have to talk about all that. In addition, of course we need to remind people of all the extreme things Cuccinelli has said and done. At the same time, the case for Terry McAuliffe will center on job creation, pursuing opportunities like clean energy, keeping Virginia an attractive place for businesses and individuals to live in, being a welcoming place for all people. In Del. Herring's view, businesses are highly - and legitimately - concerned "about the extremism" of Ken Cuccinelli; "if you're going to have laws that discriminate," you're going to drive talented people away.

6. I asked Del. Herring about the large financial advantage held by the Republican House caucus over the Democratic House caucus and what we can do about that. Part of it, in Del. Herring's view, is "pooling resources together." Part of it is tapping into national donors, new donors, potential opportunities with members of the business community who are not comfortable with Ken Cuccinelli. Part of it is that Democrats in deep blue areas need to "step up our games" in terms of raising money for Democrats in competitive/"purple" districts around the state.

7. On the transportation bill, Del. Herring is doubtful that Gov. McDonnell will veto it, but she does think he'll make changes, possibly with the hybrid fee. We should know the answer to that question within about a week. Del. Herring said her vote for the transportation bill was one of the most difficult she'd ever taken, but she's concerned about "simple public safety" (e.g, bridges falling apart), and this is the "first time in a generation that we actually were able to get something done," albeit "not perfect." Also, if we don't take care of transportation, Del. Herring believes (and I agree) that Virginia's business ranking will continue to fall. If Ken Cuccinelli's elected, this will only get worse; we could fall 9-10 slots in the business rankings, join "some of the more regressive states...that's what I'm concerned's ridiculous."

8. On the role of the state party, Del. Herring believes we need to be constantly working on the ground to develop talent, keeping in touch with voters, working to "maintain our relevance," "building the bench," developing "long-term sustainability," and definitely not just parachuting in at the last minute (e.g., right before an election). This will take a "long-term vision," looking at our successes and also what we can improve on. Del. Herring sees this as a long-term commitment and definitely plans to be there "for another four years" after her run for reelection this June. The plan is geared towards 2020, towards keeping a continual effort going between elections, "not just sitting in Richmond." Del. Herring specifically mentioned keeping people in place and being in the community, a la Howard Dean's 50-state strategy. She also noted Dean's recommendation to "go out and door knock when you're not asking for a vote," the importance of asking people what their concerns are. Bottom line: "We do have a strong case [to make], we're in a good position, people are energized...and it's our job to keep [people] energized and focused."

9. I asked Del. Herring how she viewed bloggers - as enemies, frenemies, friends, or what. She immediately and enthusiastically responded, "friends!" She also said that bloggers' role is "crucial" in that newspapers read the blogs, that social media "makes a difference and mobilizes people." "I don't want it to be makes a difference...politicians have to be amenable to're connecting with more voters [if you use social media effectively]." Del. Herring definitely sees herself as "grassroots" ("I am such not the insider...I'm an outsider...I am not part of any machine."). Her background comes out of being homeless as a teenager, living in a shelter when she was 16, and getting into college with the help of the STEP program ("that's why I believe in government programs...Republicans want to slash it...they're slashing my future and the future of America"). Without those programs, "my options would have been so limited." This is about providing citizens with opportunities to move up, giving people chances for social mobility ("I do not want a governor whose willing to be successful and leave other Virginians behind, and that's what Cuccinelli is about").

10. Finally, Del. Herring talked about the process for selecting a new Executive Director for DPVA. She said she did a national search, was looking for someone with a diverse experience - fundraising ("that fundraising component that she brings with her and her contacts with national donors is important to me...she has that fundraising experience that will be helpful for us to grow as a party"), political organizing, field, etc., and she feels like she found it in Lauren Harmon.

Again, it was great catching up with Charniele Herring as she settles into her new job as DPVA chair. I hope to do more of these in the future.

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Candidate Recruitment (4.00 / 1)
I've written on here before about how we should be embarrassed if we don't mount a serious effort to Bob Marshall and support our candidate in the 13th district. Re-examining the numbers only reinforces that.  This is now a fairly solid blue district represented by one of the worst delegates. I know Dems plan to go all out in the 86th district as always and thats fine but I would like to see us fight even harder for the 13th. Knocking off Marshall would mean a lot!

I believe there's one Dem candidate now... (0.00 / 0)
...against Sideshow Bob, and I've heard rumors that there might be another one. In the end, it sounds like we'll have somebody good to put up against that homophobic, misogynistic wacko.

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[ Parent ]
Wow (0.00 / 0)
Your description of Marshall is concise and absolutely on point. Good Job. :-)

[ Parent ]
Not trying to be a jerk, but (4.00 / 1)
every time I hear someone say exactly what Herring is saying about candidate recruitment, I think "why does it seem the GOP never has this problem?"

Are we that in the dark about who is on our side and would want to run? Given enough interest, you'd expect the money to flow.

I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.

~Will Rogers

Very simple answer. (0.00 / 0)
1. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ - Republicans have a lot more of it, thanks to their corporate overlords' generosity (and to the inherent nature of the types of industries - extractive, for starters - that support Republicans).
2. Virtuous cycle/vicious cycle - When you're in the majority, it's a lot easier to raise money from the corporate overlords, wealthy individuals, and anyone who wants goodies from you. When you're in the (small) minority, it's the opposite.

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[ Parent ]
Fundraising (0.00 / 0)
I've taken to several folks in Richmond involved in the caucus, recruitment, etc., and I think an even bigger problem is how our side views the advantages the GOP has on the money end.

Yes they have the support of wealthy corporate overlords who can give unlimited contributions, and the power of incumbency. But too many Democrats I've spoken too have said that the solution is to recruit and run corporate friendly Democrats, Democrats who attempt to raise money from the same pool of business cash that the GOP already is dominating.

That's utterly insane.

I've seen very little effort on the part of House Democrats and their candidates to nurture and grow grassroots donor support in Virginia. No, with unlimited campaign contributions we're never going to pull ahead of the scions of industry over at the RPVA. But we should at least go about raising money in a way consistent with our own values.

[ Parent ]
I'd agree that the answer in large part is grassroots (4.00 / 1)
fundraising, as you suggest. Unfortunately, as you also point out, "I've seen very little effort on the part of House Democrats and their candidates to nurture and grow grassroots donor support in Virginia." Or, I'd add, to raise money from the national netroots community.  It's also not just among House Dems, but also Senate Dems and local elected officials. In many of these cases, they are running against homophobic, anti-women's-rights, anti-civil-rights candidates who would make perfect "villains" for national netroots fundraising purposes. For instance, someone like Eugene Delgaudio. Yet, to date, I haven't really seen a concerted effort to mobilize national,  progressive activists to help boot these people from office. Frustrating...

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[ Parent ]
Wait, is Brian Moran no longer (0.00 / 0)
Is Brian Moran no longer DPVA cahir? When did this happen?  

Now you know... (4.00 / 1)
...why it is mandatory to read Blue Virginia every single day!!

For a Sustainable Virginia. Now on Twitter.

[ Parent ]
I like what she's saying (4.00 / 1)
But the problem is that Virginia Dems rarely stand for much of anything.  Their acquiescience to Dr. McDonnellstein's monster of a transportation bill is a case in point.  

VA Dems need a clear, brave agenda that they need to shout to the mountaintops, educate voters about and then push like hell to get enacted.  I very rarely see any of that going on in Richmond.  We're lucky when they play defense, but when's the last time we saw them go on offense?

For a Sustainable Virginia. Now on Twitter.


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