Though I wasn’t surprised by the news, I experienced two completely conflicting emotions when I learned earlier today that Andrei Cherny was stepping down as Chair of the Arizona Democratic Party. Those feelings? Anger and elation.
Anger at the gall of the man to step down from the post he attained last year through means so questionable they sharply divided the unity of the party, but elated at the fact Democrats don’t have to face 2012 while being led by a man who has less poise in front of a crowd than a seven-year-old at his first spelling bee.
In a letter sent out this morning, Cherny listed the reasons he was stepping down, none of which I read because, quite frankly, he had me at goodbye.
You know, I felt completed?
Okay, okay. I read the letter, and after I punched a hole through my TV with my face, I read it again. While reading it, I couldn’t help but revisit the controversy over Cherny’s election in January of 2011. If you don’t recall, Cherny was not an elected PC, thus making him unqualified to run for the position. That is until Ann Wallack, the somewhat de facto Chair of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, appointed him as a PC at the last minute. The legitimacy of this move was questioned by many, so much so that after Cherny narrowly defeated Rodney Glassman many dismissed the entire election as invalid and proof that the party was controlled by elitists no longer capable of serving the Democrats it’s supposed to represent.
Contrast last January’s controversial election with Cherny’s assertion in today’s letter that “at the urging of many of our state leaders, I agreed to serve for at least a year” because the party needed leadership after the disastrous 2010 elections, and you’ll understand why I—and likely Mr. Glassman—was so angry.
Now, Cherny doesn’t mention who those state leaders were that wanted him to “serve for at least a year,” but they must not have been amongst the 500 state committee members who participated in 2011’s election, because Cherny promised those people at least two years of service. Had the voters known that Cherny was running not to do a good job or to rebuild the party or even to serve Democrats, but simply because some undefined “state leaders” urged him to do so—for at least one year—that election likely would have gone the other way or not have happened at all.
Still, if you’re a Democrat, at least you now know how it feels to be a college football recruit who signs a letter of commitment one day only to learn on the next that the coach who recruited you just jumped to the NFL. And if you’re Rodney Glassman? Well, now you know how it feels to get Punk’d.
Needless to say, I was pretty angered by this news, but I can’t lie: it also made me happy as hell. If you have to ask why, you haven’t been paying attention. The simple fact is Cherny was an abysmal Chair. I won’t go so far as to say incompetent—more on this in a bit—but he certainly failed to fulfill any of his promises to Democrats (though those undefined state leaders might be thrilled with his lack of performance).
That may sound like an odd thing to say considering the many good things that have happened for Arizona Democrats in the past year. After all, Russell Pearce was recalled, Sheriff Joe is being pummeled by scandals, and the Independent Redistricting Commission gave us all new legislative and congressional maps that are, to be fair, more competitive than the ones we’ve been working with the last 10 years. All in all, 2011 was a pretty good year for Democrats.
The problem with this fact is that aside from the state party’s heavy involvement in the redistricting process, everything else came from outside the local party. Citizens for Better Arizona brought down Pearce—though they did have aid from various labor groups, non-profits and an eager local press that staged a five-week media blitz of the Pearce campaign’s dirty tricks. What CBA didn’t have, however, was support from the Arizona Democratic Party. As for the toughest sheriff in white America? Well, Sheriff Joe’s woes stem from federal investigations and reportage, not pressure from the ADP, even if it did pile on after the fact.
Then there’s the redistricting process. While more competitive districts is a good thing, and certainly the party had a hand in the passage of the maps currently being reviewed by the Department of Justice, the simple fact is that three competitive congressional districts (out of nine) and six competitive legislative ones (out of 30) is in no way a “victory” for a state where a third of the people are registered Democrat, a third Republican, and a third independent. To be honest, the only people for whom the new maps are a victory are those with enough money to buy elections because instead of spreading their wealth amongst nine congressional districts, they can more effectively control our state’s politics by spending their money in only three.
It’s a win-win for the corporate citizen in the market for a political puppet on the cheap. I believe it’s called Citizens United, and you can consider it “occupied.”*
Still, the one reason people voted for Cherny was because they believed that due to his national ties he could raise more money than could Glassman—after all, he did raise a good deal of money for his own campaign to be the state’s Treasurer in 2010. Sadly, it is in fundraising where Cherny’s failures are the most troubling.
According to the campaign finance report the ADP filed Monday, the party raised just over $322,000 in 2011. That sum is less than half of what Cherny raised for his personal 2010 campaign, and it clocks in as the lowest amount the party has raised going into an election year since 1999 (when the party raised $243,000). If you subtract inflation from that equation and dig through your couches for change, the party just might be able to supersize its meal at McDonald’s.
By a way of comparison, in 2009—going into 2010’s election year—the ADP raised $728,000. Into 2007? $1,277,000. 2005? $1,922,000. In the end, once you deduct the party’s expenditures for 2011, Cherny announced his exit from the party leadership the exact day he announced the ADP was left with an operating budget of $1,783.03.
When you subtract the money it cost to have someone write Cherny’s resignation letter, he left the Democratic Party with just enough funds to cover the tab for electricity and pizza the next time Organizing for America uses the ADP’s Phoenix office for a “house party”.
And if you’re looking for an analogy to go along with those figures, I’d encourage you to work towards something starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Doing so won’t make you “king of the world,” but it will place you right on the money.
To be fair, there are many explanations for why Cherny couldn’t raise more money. For starters, the controversial nature of his election split the party dramatically. That alone dampened his prospects of raising funds. Plus, with the Pearce recall underway, local dollars from liberals were otherwise spoken for. Most important, though, is the money that comes from national and international groups, most of which weren’t impressed by Cherny’s Alfalfa meets Opie demeanor.
Plus, those groups understand something the average Arizona Democrat doesn’t: Andrie Cherny is not a Democrat.
Don’t get me wrong: he’s a registered Democrat, and it’s likely he’ll run as one in the Democratic primary for the newly created Congressional District 9 (as has been reported by KPNX-TV). But Cherny is also an original member of the No Labels organization, a group of Republicans, Democrats and independents dedicated to the cause of removing partisanship from politics.
And while that may sound noble on the surface, you do have to wonder just how loudly or proudly Cherny can advocate the beliefs holding his party together while maintaining his commitment to middle-of-the-road non-partisanship.
Still Cherny’s milk-toast approach to Democratic principles are part of the reason more Arizonans registered as independents last year than as Democrats. Sadly, it also explains how extremists like Russell Pearce have been able to turn a state created on Valentine’s Day into a border-to-border hate parade. And, yeah, it also goes a long way towards explaining how a veritable stud at fundraising like Cherny proved to be the worst fundraiser in the history of the ADP.
On the bright side though, you now know how it feels to be Punk’d.
But don’t let yourself be Punk’d again. Cherny will shortly announce that he’s running for Congress in Congressional District 9, giving thousands of Democrats yet another chance to not vote for him. This is unfortunate because two of Arizona’s most influential liberals, David Schapira and Kyrsten Sinema, have already committed to that race.
Regardless of how the election turns out, Arizona will lose one if not two of its most important Democrats for at least one political cycle. And Cherny is capitalizing on the Sinema-Schapira showdown, betting that his ability to raise money—his real ability to raise money—will place himself in the same position Eddie Basha found himself in 1994.
In 1994, two prominent Democratic politicians ran for governor of Arizona: Terry Goddard and Paul Johnson. These two wildly superior candidates, however, essentially cancelled out each others’ votes, allowing the less qualified Basha to win the primary (and to get trounced by a man named Fife in the general election). Cherny is betting that history will repeat itself and that more informed Democrats will neutralize the Sinema-Schapira vote. Then, he can no-label his ass into a congressional seat.
But you have a chance to stop him—and his state leaders/handlers—in their tracks. You can demand that Cherny be honest with Arizonans once and for all and run as an independent. Running as a Democrat would not only be dishonest on Cherny’s part, it would also be an admission that he’s not really up for the job (because really, if he was acting as a Democrat in the past year, how do you explain his results?).
More importantly, Democrats now have another chance to elect their party’s leader. My advice? Don’t listen to colleagues with skin in a game they likely haven’t invited you to play. Vote for someone who is truly a Democrat, someone who will fight for what you believe in, even if it’s not popular.
Because in the end you’re better off with someone who loses an election fighting the right and just fight than finding yourself on the losing end of a victory for someone working against your best interests.
And if you supported Cherny last January, that’s exactly where you’re finding yourself today.
* A recent USA Today story reports that only 53 of our nation’s 435 Congressional districts are competitive. As horrifying as that news is, our new-born corporate citizens couldn’t be happier. It’s far easier and cheaper to control elections—and the nation—when you only have to worry about 53 of them. Using money to push the nation to the right or left or into a virtual cat’s eye has never been easier.