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Sinking roots

In launching a partial defense against the idea – cited here some days ago – that Idaho Democrats have a tough job ahead in trying to capture the 1st District U.S. House seat, the Red State Rebels site acknowledges some of the difficulties. It adds, “What Randy doesn’t mention (and maybe doesn’t know, since he’s moved to Oregon) is that the Idaho Democratic Party is more organized this year than it’s been since I’ve lived here (17 years).”

Actually, we did know that- at least in part. Certainly the central offices and party organizations are better staffed and more active than in many years, and currently more active – by all appearances – than the Republicans. There is some serious organization building going on. Those are positive developments for the party, but most of the people heavily involved with these activities (and we’ve talked this over with not only some of the Idaho but also some Democratic organizers elsewhere) is that this is a long-term investment, not something likely to pay big dividends in a single election cycle.

That said, we will admit to being surprised – that’s putting it mildly – at what we saw at the new web site of the Idaho County Democrats, which we ran across the other day. Go on, take a look – it’s worth a moment or two. Especially if you know something about Idaho County.

Idaho County, the largest geographically in the state and located right at its middle (it forms the north-south border and is split between time zones), was solidly Democratic up to the late 70s. Over the next decade it turn sharply red, and the solidly Republican votes that had obtained in presidential races moved all the way down the ballot. In recent years, only a few Democrats have been left at the courthouse at Grangeville, and the legislative delegation has gone all Republican. As the site acknowledges, in much of the decade leading up to 2003 the county’s Democratic Party was all but defunct.

That was about the time the county commission, dominated then as it had been for a while nu Republicans, went a little crazy (no, that’s not too strong). And in response, the Democrats reorganized. Really reorganized. Since then, they’ve retaken control of the commission and started sprouting candidates for other offices.

Two things on their web site were especially notable.

One is the sheer number of active participants. A decade ago, or two, you’d have seen no more than a half-dozen names involved in the county’s Democratic Party. But take a look at the list of precinct chairs active now: Of the 26 precincts in the county, just two (both relatively lightly-populated at that) have no Democratic chair. The fullness of the precinct organization is one quick way you can tell if a county party is healthy or not (statewide, Republicans have in recent years tended to greatly outscore Democrats on that measure). That roster of two dozen precinct spots filled at all is quite a wow. The group’s “leadership team” adds more names on top of that. Compared to where this party was any time in the last generation, that list of names alone is a stunner. And this is in one of the more rural and remote sectors of Idaho; ain’t no kind of liberal culture to be found anywhere in Idaho County.

Also on the site is “Our Governing Ideas,” a rundown of what the local party stands for. Without arguing that it couldn’t be improved upon . . . it does a solid job of explaining, partly through implied comparison, who they are and what they’re about. Democrats in other places might do well to examine it. If these several dozen activist Democrats want to provide to their neighbors an explanation of who they are – one that counters the description usually provided through most of the rest of the local culture – they’ve got one.

We’ve not seen the evidence that many other county Democratic organizations in Idaho have kicked themselves into action quite the way Idaho County has. But this county seems to be providing some evidence that it can be done. And that will have results, whether in this cycle or the next one.

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