Q&A With CO Democratic Chair: Part 1

Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak recently sat down to answer a few questions for the Confidential about the Democratic Party in the West and in the state.

In part one, Waak discusses what she thinks contributed to the Democratic victory in 2004, where Democrats won a majority in both the state House and Senate-something that hadn’t happened in forty years. She also talks about her job, and what the Party is up to right now.Q: What do you think has changed-let’s say in the last decade-for the state Democratic Party?

A: “I think that there are probably several things. One is that Colorado is a candidate driven state-like many states are-so I think that in the past…I would say this to my predecessors as well as myself-as we brought our own strengths to the role of State Party Chair, our goal was to figure out what we could do best, which races were most important, and what could we do best in terms of the Party to change the landscape.

“And so there’s been sort of a continuity because the laws changed too…where earlier you might have done a broad more traditional campaign with lots and lots of media and stuff like that, I think in the last five or six years campaign finance laws narrowed down the focus. I think when it got to 2004, the focus really, of the state party, was try to get Senate seats. Not that they didn’t play to some extent in the Congressional seats, but the Senate seats were the most important thing.

“That was probably appropriate because there was a whole array then of 527s and campaign finance law stuff…people were doing different things-and then the party kind of split off some functions in the sense that the House Majority Project was created by the  leadership on the House side, and the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund was created by leadership on the Senate side-specifically to increase the margins in the House and Senate. So while state party focused more on the federal level, [the Project and the Fund] were very much focused on the House and Senate part of it.

“You had at the same time, from I’d say about 2002-2004, and upsurge in a lot of grassroots groups out there that were sort of operating separately for the Party in a sense…Be The Change, Democracy For Colorado, and Progressive Majority came in…there were a whole bunch of different groups largely around candidates.  And, while no one was coordinating them in a sense, there was collecting of a force within the party.

“At the same time we were starting to do that, the [Democratic National Committee (DNC)] was creating the fifty state partnership, so it really dovetailed with what we were trying to do, because now we have five people in the field just working the rural areas, and they’ve been doing that for a year now.”

Q: What is your job as Party Chair?

A: “My job…as I define it, is to make sure we have good authentic, honest, candidates running for office throughout the state-it is to fundraise, to make sure we have the resources we need for the Party-to be the voice of the Party in the media-and to make sure that the legal meetings that have to take place are taking place and that they’re done the right way. And then I think I have to show up, to show to counties-I have to show up with candidates-so they see that State Party Chair is paying attention and knows what’s going on.”

Q: Do you think the West holds great promise for the Democratic Party nationally?

A: “I do. First of all, Colorado is part of what we call the Interior West, and demographically it’s one of  the fasted growing areas in the country…if you look at the demographic trends people are moving into those states from the East Coast and the West Coast, and that’s been going on probably for a decade now. It certainly is mirrored in the rapid growth you see in Colorado, which is about 3% per year which is the size of developing countries.

“So I think that demographically-although we are still not as densely populated as the East

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.