Friday, March 06, 2009

Meeting the New Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party

By Marc Korman.

This past weekend I attended the Young Democrats of Maryland Convention. Among the speakers was the Maryland Democratic Party’s new chair, Susie Turnbull.

A few ill informed pundits said the selection of Susie indicated a power shift from Baltimore to Montgomery County. But as local political junkies know, the two chairs preceding Cryor were from Montgomery County: Terry Lierman and Ike Leggett. So while it is nice that Governor O’Malley selected Susie, it is no replacement for giving the county a bigger voice in his Cabinet or some more attention on policy issues.

Full disclosure, Susie and I live nearby one another in Bethesda and I consider her a personal friend. Susie most recently served as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, where she tirelessly traveled the country helping to elect Democrats. Her local political activism dates back to 1982, when she volunteered for Congressman Mike Barnes reelection campaign. She later served on, and then chaired, the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. She has also championed young people, which her attendance at the Young Democrats of Maryland convention demonstrates.

But Susie has a tough job ahead of her. Sure, there’s little risk that Democratic dominance will decline on her watch, but stagnation may be a problem. Last year, the Party raised $2.9 million, the most ever. Given the economy it will be hard to match that feat, especially without a presidential election. Although, I suspect the reason there have been so many Montgomery County Party Chairs lately is to support the massive fundraising efforts.

At the meeting, Susie spoke about getting youth more involved and the need to adapt new technology. Susie encouraged the Young Democrats to run for their local central committees and attend party events, as well as look for open seats to run for. She also encouraged us to focus our Facebook status messages, tweets, and blog posts on political issues. To paraphrase, she thinks Facebook is effective as a tool if we talk about politics and not broadcasting that we are brushing our teeth. She has tasked the new Young Dems president, Jake Weissman(SP), with getting each of the Maryland Democratic Party Executive Committee members on to Facebook.

I have witnessed the beginning of the last three Maryland Democratic Party chairs’ terms. Each one discusses youth and new technology, but the follow through, not the nice words, will be the true test. In 2006, Party Chair Terry Lierman was one of the few insiders to support Craig Rice’s quixotic campaign to oust Republican Jean Cryor. In 2007, Michael Cryor helped organize a low dollar event in Montgomery County so young people could meet him. That is the type of follow through Susie needs to emulate.