As the May 29 Primary Election looms, 2010 U.S. Congressional candidate John Lingenfelder and County Chair incumbent Shawn Stevens are seeking the office of Democratic Party of Collin County Chair. In this presidential election year, the Democratic Party's County Chair contest is about the only county wide primary contest that anyone is talking about in Collin Co.
Other than the Collin County Democratic Chair contest, there are four statewide Democratic presidential candidates on the countywide ballot - Barack Obama, and three unknown would-be spoilers, who few voters, if any, even know are listed on the ballot.
Four statewide Democratic candidates, including former state Rep. Paul Sadler of Henderson and Sean Hubbard, are also on the countywide ballot running for retiring Kay Bailey Hutchison's U.S. Senate seat. Hubbard is a first-time candidate who worked on Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008. But, regrettably, Sadler, Hubbard, and the other two Democratic candidates for Hutchison's U.S. Senate seat are not widely known, so voter interest is low on that ballot position, too.
Katherine Savers McGovern and Walter Hofheinz are on the ballot for congressional district 32. The winner will challenge Republican incumbent and Tea Party favorite Pete Sessions in the general election this November for his congressional seat. District 32 encompasses election precincts in northern Dallas County, plus six southeastern area Collin Co. precincts.
The remainder of the five Democratic primary ballot styles, tailored to the county's 202 election precincts, are made up of uncontested single person ballot positions and three ballot proposition survey questions. The Collin Co. Republican Party has 36 primary ballot styles since that party has primary candidates running for every local and statewide elected office.
As Matt Taibbi said in a Rolling Stone article, "The apathy factor in American presidential politics this year has seemingly never been higher."
The apathy factor for Collin Co. primary voting will likely be at about the same level as it was for attending each party's Collin County Convention on Saturday, April 21. Rejecting the opinion of some senior members of the Democratic County Executive Committee (CEC) that convention attendance was likely to be very low, incumbent Democratic County Chair Shawn Stevens contracted the Plano Convention Centre's 1,000 seat main ballroom for this year's Democratic County Convention. Only 183 Collin County Democrats attended the convention, leaving many empty chairs throughout that large space. The Collin County Republican Party had nearly identical turnout numbers for their county/SD convention.
In normal primary election years the Texas Democratic and Republican Parties conduct their respective Senatorial District or County Conventions three weeks after primary election day and after Election Precinct Conventions, which are normally held during the evening of primary election day.
It's all different this year! This year, drawn out court battles over the new redistricting maps pushed primary election day from its usual first Tuesday in March date to Tuesday May 29. Since the Democratic and Republican Parties were already locked into holding their respective state conventions the weekend of June 9 - just over one week after the rescheduled election - each party held their respective SD/County conventions in April in order to elect state convention delegates.
The upside down and delayed Texas Democratic Party (TDP) primary schedule, added to the dearth of candidates on the Democratic primary ballot and the lack of any drama over who will be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee has created an apathy factor among voters - except, perhaps, for the Democratic county chair race.
On Monday, April 30, Democratic county chairperson candidates John Lingenfelder and Shawn Stevens debated local party issues at an event organized by several local cosponsoring clubs and organizations. The candidates were asked thirteen questions representative of questions submitted by members of the debate's cosponsoring organizations -- Texas Democratic Women of Collin County, Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, Drinking Liberally of Plano, Muslim Caucus of Collin County, Texas Democratic Men’s Club of Collin County, and Allen Democrats.
The local Texas Democratic Party parliamentarian mentor and Roberts Rules of Order instructor, George Nasser, served as moderator for the debate. The candidates were allowed two minutes to respond to each question asked by Mr. Nasser.
The debate audience numbered 80 by the time TDWCC President Barb Walters officially kicked off the evening with her opening remarks. But the audience number continued to grow to 'standing room only' by the time Mr. Nasser asked the first question. Debate attendance was roughly half the county convention attendance number.
Through his answers, and opening and closing remarks, incumbent Stevens generally tried to leave the perception that the Democratic Party in Collin County is a vibrantly growing and on the move organization under his leadership. Stevens has held leadership positions in the county Democratic Party organization for nearly a decade and ascended to the County Chair position in July 2009 after former Chair Dan Dodd resigned mid-term due to a health issue.
In general, Lingenfelder maintained that the Democratic Party in Collin county is all but invisible to voters, and is struggling for relevancy on everyday family issues that Collin County residents are most concerned about. Lingenfelder said in his opening remarks that the DPCC needs a leader for the people, and that frustrated party precinct chairs and volunteers want a re-energized Democratic Party in the county. Apparently, this is more than campaign rhetoric given Lingenfelder's website lists 47 Democratic precinct chairpersons who have given him their endorsement. Lingenfelder's website also lists the endorsements of two former Democratic Collin County Chairs, and a list of other Democratic community leaders.
Due to Collin County's record sixty percent population growth over the last decade, which continues unabated, the county's election precincts have split and increased in number about every two years. Collin County is the fastest growing in Texas and is one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S. That growth has boosted the number of election precincts from 126 in 2000 to 202 for the 2012 election year.
Debate question nine notes that while the county has experienced record population growth, 60, or fewer, of the 202 precincts are likely to have Democratic Party representation at the start of the next two year term of office, and asks how the candidates will address that problem:
- "During the 2010 election cycle, Collin County had 179 precincts with around 85 precinct chairs. As a result of redistricting, Collin County now has 202 precincts with close to the same number  of precinct chairs (and around 60 individuals who have filed to serve as precinct chairs for the next two-year term). As County Chair, what will you do to increase the number of active precinct chairs, keep these volunteers engaged, and retain them from one election cycle to the next?"
The term of elected office for both the County Chair and Precinct Chairs, who together make up the County Executive Committee, runs two years. This year, the Precinct Chairperson filing deadline is June 1, 2012 for the 2012-14 term of office. The next term of office begins three weeks after the July 31 primary runoff election day. During the two year term of office, people can file to become precinct chairs and be elected to serve the remainder of the term by majority vote of the CEC. Typically, less than half of the 81 precinct chairpersons currently in office regularly attend the monthly CEC meetings to discuss and oversee party business.
In answer to question nine, Lingenfelder said, in part, that the way to welcome more people to become active with the party and increase the numbers of precinct chairs is for the County Chair to work with the CEC to find ways to make the Democratic Party and its values visible to the people of the county in ways such that people are eager join and work for the organization, "because they want to be involved in changing this county."
Stevens answered question nine by saying, "Precinct Chairs really are the backbone of the Democratic Party. What is a Precinct Chair? They are the Democratic leader in their precinct - in their neighborhood. And, yes, the Precinct Chairs need tools and resources, and sometimes they need some training. We have a lot of those things that come for the state party, and we have some of them developed locally - those are important tools and resources, and there are things like the Texas VAN that are incredibly important resources for precinct chairs. But it has to be from the bottom up. The County Chair's roll is to encourage precinct chairs to build up their precinct teams - their precinct councils - what ever you want to call them - but the county chair can't do that for the precinct chairs. You know, there is no troll under the bridge in the form of a County Chair that is telling precinct chairs they can't be out there organizing their precincts."
Incumbent Stevens did not speak to the meat of question nine that 60 percent of the county's precincts currently have no Democratic precinct chair, and unless more people file for that office by June 1st, more than 70 percent of county's precincts will have no Democratic precinct chair for the 2012-14 term of office.
Question eight notes the often heard refrain commonly made by grassroots Collin County Democrats, “I thought I was the only Democrat in Collin County,” and asks the candidates how they would increase the Party's visibility in the county. The debate audience broke out in laughter at the familiarity of that refrain even before Mr. Nasser had finished asking the question:
- As County Chair, what will you do to help get rid of the following statement or general sentiment: “I thought I was the only Democrat in Collin County.”
Stevens answered question eight by saying, in part, "I wish we weren't still hearing that because in 2008 we had 20,000 people show up at precinct conventions around the county and there were 700 people at my polling location [to attend the precinct convention] that night ... People were saying [to each other] 'I didn't know you were a Democrat.' I would hope that would dispel a lot of that, but there is still some of that out there for the folks that have moved into the county from out of state ... there are a lot of new people to educate and let know that we're out here and that is a challenge. This is a very big media market in Dallas county so advertising is extremely expensive - there are a lot ways that we can be more active and here is one way we can. Every precinct chair should be known as the Democratic leader in their neighborhood. Every precinct chair should be seen as the beacon for the Democratic Party in their part of the county. ..."
In answer to question eight, Lingenfelder said, in part, "When I was running for Congress [in 2010] and afterwards, I talked to literally thousands of people and I heard that hundreds upon hundreds of times and I heard a lot of stories. The fact of the matter is this, contrary to what the Chairman said, it is the responsibility of this party, and the County Executive Committee and its Chair [the County Chair] to turn that around. It does not just pop out of the ground where Democrats just all of a sudden decide to announce themselves as Democrats. It has to be a very long term strategy of this party that we are going to turn this county blue. It is possible, but it takes leadership that understands that the Democratic Party of Collin County has got to be the place where confidence is bred within this county to the Democratic electorate. Democrats will come out and be active when they feel like there is a welcoming environment. Right now, I hate to say this, but we are in a downward spiral. We have 81 precinct chairs out of 201 precincts. We're not going to have that many come August. The thing is this; the party has got to go in a different direction. We need change and the change has got to start at the top. And there's got be more timely communication, and there's got to be more empowerment of the individual precinct chairs so they are allowed to do the work they know how to do. They are experienced, they can get this accomplished, and they can expand this party."
Republican Collin County Judge Keith Self, a tea party favorite who does not face re-election this year, is noted for saying that, “In Collin County, everyone campaigns as a conservative ... Right now, the ‘R’ behind your name makes a difference, whether you truly believe you’re a Republican or not.”
The 2008 primary contest between Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton drew over 71,000 voters to primary polling places with 20,000 of those voters returning for precinct conventions on primary election night. Almost 4,000 delegates and alternate delegates were elected at the precinct conventions to attend the 2008 county convention. All of those voters turned out for the primary election, precinct conventions, and county conventions thanks to the strong and active local campaign organizations of both presidential candidates, and the millions of dollars both candidates spent on advertising in the DFW media market. The Democratic Party of Collin County can take no credit for 2008 primary and convention voter engagement and turnout.
With Bill White, a strong 2010 Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, five local candidates, and three regional candidates on the 2010 Democratic primary ballot, only 6,227 people voted in the 2010 primary election. About twice the number of people attended the 2010 Collin County Convention as attended the 2012 County Convention this year. In 2010 incumbent Stevens received 3,880 votes for county chair against his opponent's 1,031 votes. Steven's 2010 election opponent decided not to actively run shortly after the deadline to have his name withdrawn from the ballot, but still drew 1,031 votes. In the November 2010 general election White received just 34% of the vote with the remaining Democratic candidates receiving smaller portions of the vote for their respective races.
The Democratic Party of Collin County has not engaged the tens of thousands of 2008 voters or dedicated local Obama and Clinton campaign volunteers to keep any significant portion of those Democrats connected with the county party organization over the past four years.
In 2012, fourteen partisan local office positions will be listed on the November General Election ballot in Collin County, for which no Democratic candidate filed to run. Lingenfelder says that the dearth of Democrats willing to place their names on the Collin Co. ballot for elected office is a failure of the incumbent county party leadership. Major primary races:
State Senate District 8
- Republicans: Ken Paxton
- Democrats: Jack Ternan
State Senate District 30
- Republicans: Craig Estes and Jim Herblin
- Democrats: None
State House District 33
- Republicans: Jim Pruitt and Scott Turner
- Democrats: None
State House District 66
- Republicans: Van Taylor
- Democrats: None
State House District 67
- Republicans: John Pitchford, Roger Burns, Jeran Akers, Jeff Leach, and Jon Cole
- Democrats: None
State House District 70
- Republicans: Scott Sanford and Bracy Wilson
- Democrats: None
State House District 89
- Republicans: Jodie Laubenberg
- Democrats: None
Collin County Commissioners Court Precinct 3
- Republicans: Ray Eckenrode and Chris Hill
- Democrats: None
In his debate opening remarks Lingenfelder said, "Our party needs a leader who understands, not only the importance of the legal aspects of being the County Chair, but the personal aptitude to be an inspirational leader. A leader who is the facilitator to build consensus. A leader who genuinely likes people and believes each has valuable contributions … When I am County Chair, you will discover in me, that needed leader."Collin County Democratic Chair Candidate Debate Questions