May 7, 2020
I began my campaign for DNC Committeewoman in October 2019 at the SCC Convention in Gallup with a table, two banners, and flyers. It took everyone by surprise since no one has ever campaigned in advance for the positions of Committeeman or Committeewoman. I started calling SCC members and going to Democratic Party gatherings around the state.
In February, Adelante Progressive Caucus officer Jay Levine began his campaign for DNC Committeeman. Soon thereafter, Martin Chavez and Trish Ruiz began their campaigns.
Jay and I campaigned diligently, and we came very close to winning. The vote totals were:
Trish Ruiz, 192 votes, 52.5%.
Pia Gallegos, 174 votes, 47.5%
Martin Chavez, 195 votes, 53.1%
Jay Levine, 172, 46.9%
The DPNM Customs of Legacy Appointments and No Dissent on the DNC
The DPNM has the custom of the prior DNC Committeeperson selecting the new representative as a legacy appointment. Former Committeewoman Joni Gutierrez asked Trish Ruiz to run, and she endorsed her. When Martin Chavez announced his campaign in February, he praised the representation on the DNC of then-Committeeman Ray Sanchez.
From the beginning, DPNM leadership appeared fearful that progressives would give New Mexico a bad image at the DNC because they knew we might challenge a few things. DPNM leadership told me that a DNC committeeperson should “act with respect,” “peacefully work through hard things,” and not be “divisive.” Also, a DNC committeeperson should “be reputable” and exemplify a “good face for New Mexico to the National Party.”
It also became clear to me as I was speaking on the phone to SCC members that the other candidates were telling SCC members that Jay and I “came out of nowhere” and now wanted the “biggest prize of the party.” Many SCC members told me that they were not going to support “someone who had no experience in the party.” Each time, I carefully itemized my service to the part as a Precinct Chair, a Ward Chair, organizing a candidate forum and a legislative forum, on the state Rules Committee, and involvement in grassroots sustainer fundraising.
The Custom of DNC Committeeperson as Big Fundraiser for the Party
The DNC governs the state parties, the nomination of the presidential candidate, and the Democratic National Convention. There is nothing in the DNC bylaws or in the DPNM rules about fundraising as a criterion for running or a role of a DNC Committeeperson.
Rather, the DNC Committeeperson is a position of state representation on the DNC. Committeepersons who treat the position as a fundraiser or who are who are unprepared to study the issues will vote to pass rules and resolutions prepared by DNC entrenched leadership by acclamation and with little discussion.
Yet, the DPNM has the custom of thinking of the DNC position as a reward for having secured big donations to the Democratic candidates or the DPNM. The DNC itself expects every member to fundraise substantially to the DNC. Martin Chavez campaigned on the platform that if he were elected, he would bring money into the state party.
DPNM leadership actually challenged me at the commencement of my campaign, asking how much money I had ever brought into the party. A former DPNM official said that my potential participation on the DNC should be to get to know wealthy people at the DNC and get them to write checks for our state party.
Contrary to the traditional view of committeeperson as fundraiser, Jay and I approached the committee positions as representatives of New Mexico, to help govern the party nationwide. We promised accountability to our constituents on the issues and on how we would vote.
The New Way of Electing a DNC Committeeperson: Campaigning
Marty and Trish quickly began gathering endorsers who were elected Democratic officials. Marty got a trove of high-level endorsements, including from Governor Lujan Grisham, both NM U.S. Senators, all 3 NM U.S. Representatives, the state Attorney General, and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller. Trish’s endorsers and supporters included U.S. Congresswomen Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, Lt. Governor Howie Morales, Treasurer Eichenberg, Auditor Brian Colon, the prior NM Committeewoman Joni Gutierrez.
I got endorsements from elected officials Sen. Sedillo-Lopez, Rep. Roybal Caballero, Rep. Akhil, and Rep. Deb Armstrong, in addition to about 45 SCC members. Jay got endorsements from SCC members and from former DPNM Vice Chair Neomi Martinez-Parra.
A campaign manager for high-level New Mexico campaigns was whipping the votes for Trish. Trish made robo-calls during her campaign. Martin Chavez surely has access to a political machine and used it to obtain his numerous endorsements and to distribute his numerous emails.
I did not have a campaign manager, and this is a lesson to be learned for progressives wishing to run for DPNM office. I have to work to earn money so I emailed and spoke to SCC members on the phone in the evenings and on weekends. I did feel successful in getting pledges of support from almost everyone who would let me talk to them in some depth about the issues.
At the Convention, the table of Trish Ruiz was placed right between the tables of Congresswomen Haaland and Torres Small. Congresswoman Haaland introduced Trish.
In violation of a clear, 5-minute presentation rule that was set prior to the convention, Trish and her team were allowed to present to the SCC meeting for about 8 minutes, and Marty and his team were allowed to go on for about 10 minutes.
Jay and I challenged the custom of legacy appointments on the DNC. We challenged the custom of the DNC representation position being prizes for big donors or for service to the state party.
Jay and I made DNC committeeship about state representation on DNC process issues. We were the first DNC candidates ever to talk about DNC issues like superdelegate reform, devoting a presidential debate to climate change and the sequence of the primaries. We introduced accountability to the SCC members as a new expectation of DNC representatives.
This race, and perhaps all state races within the DPNM, require a campaign manager. It was too difficult to run a race and be the candidate. Candidates need another set of eyes and someone devoted to strategy who can collaborate, coordinate and help to solicit endorsements. When motivated, Establishment Dems will activate the full extent of their political machinery to elect their candidates.
The idea of legacy appointments needs to be addressed and replaced with decisions based on qualifying criteria. The base needs to be educated about and contribute to qualifying criteria, and the expectation needs to be set that qualifying criteria is respected and not superseded by legacy.
Creating a clear “ticket” of chair and vice chair and working very early on to assemble support would be key to inform progressives where best to put their resources and to inform SCC members on voting.
We need to strategize to get more progressives on the SCC. Progressive organizations can use their blogs and alerts to help people understand how important it is to get involved at the ward/county and then state levels. We need to determine the time frames and plans for picking county central committee members and SCC members.
We could pass a rule that requires the state party to pay for the travel costs of DNC rep. Such a rule would remove an impediment that prevents other qualified, working progressives from running.
Progressives are close to winning a top position on the DPNM. This is because we are a new wave of energy in New Mexico, emphasizing the issues that directly affect working families and the environment. This election shows our time has come.
And as a happy post-note: Progressive Ricardo Damian Artalejo just won the DPNM CD3 Vice-Chair position.