On April 2nd, Louisiana Democrats will determine the leadership of our party for the next four years. I am writing to make the case that the Louisiana Democratic Party is in good hands with Karen Carter Peterson and that Sen. Peterson deserves to be rewarded with another term as the party’s chairwoman.
I worked with Chairwoman Peterson at the party for three years as the lead organizer for Team Blue Dat, our network of grassroots activists. Today, I no longer work for the party or for any partisan organization or candidate. My endorsement of Sen. Peterson’s candidacy is not based on loyalty or a sense of personal obligation. Indeed, former employees are frequently the first disgruntled voices to sound off.
During the eight disastrous years of Gov. Bobby Jindal, it wasn’t always easy to be a Louisiana Democrat. Our party’s candidates struggled in statewide elections, and Gov. Jindal’s divisive and hyper-partisan approach to the legislature stifled dissent through intimidation and strong-arm tactics. Louisiana, we were told time and time again, was a deep red state.
Yet, during the last four years of Jindal’s tenure, as both the state and the nation began to realize the destruction his policies had inflicted upon Louisiana, Democrats became increasingly emboldened to stand up and speak out.
During those four years, under the leadership of Chairwoman Peterson, the Louisiana Democratic Party’s fundraising increased by an astounding 400%. Last year, at the state party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner, Democrats heard from all three of the party’s presidential candidates, videotaped messages from Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sec. Hillary Clinton and a personal appearance and speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who addressed nearly 5,000 Louisiana Democrats the next day at a rally in Kenner. Notably, Chairwoman Peterson’s decision to relocate the annual dinner from Baton Rouge to New Orleans resulted in a significant increase in attendance and in donations.
But Chairwoman Peterson has also made certain that the state party’s outreach isn’t limited to a single event in New Orleans. She has invested in outreach events all over the state, bringing in civil rights pioneers like John Lewis and James Clyburn. Today, the state party hosts “Power Up” training seminars across Louisiana, and last year, for the first time ever, it hosted a Women’s Summit in Alexandria.
Having had the opportunity to work with Karen Carter Peterson, I can honestly say no one will work harder for the state or the party. That’s a significant point to consider with only about three months to prepare for the Democratic National Convention. I cannot think of anyone in a better position to organize our delegation. Preparing for the event is a gargantuan task. I was impressed with the Louisiana Democratic Party’s operation in Charlotte in 2012. Part of what I believe will make the Philadelphia convention even better are the national connections Chairwoman Peterson has developed over the last four years, as she has networked diligently on behalf of our state. If we consider what the goals of a state party should be, there is no one better for the job.
In the goal of electing more Democrats, Karen Carter Peterson is a tenacious and relentless campaigner for our candidates. In the effort to prove to voters that their values are Democratic values, the party has focused on economic issues: minimum wage, equal pay, Medicaid expansion. At a time in which few in positions of power were willing to criticize the former governor, Chairwoman Peterson dinged up Bobby Jindal for years in the press and hounded him relentlessly on Twitter, always using her coined hashtag #Jindalized. There was another member of the Louisiana legislature who dared to criticize Gov. Jindal publicly and fearlessly. Today, his office is on the fourth floor of the state Capitol.
Shortly after John Bel Edwards’ election, I heard some rumblings that the Louisiana Democratic Party should be less “liberal,” presumably because we live in such a conservative state. I cannot disagree more.
First, we strive to be the Big Tent Party. Keeping everybody in the same boat and rowing in the same direction is an ongoing challenge. That’s a natural consequence of representing a diverse group of people. But if we are to work toward a more populist government, or move Louisiana forward, we need robust involvement from the left. If we have a conservative Republican party and a conservative Democratic party, we risk disenfranchising the voices of hundreds of thousands of progressive Louisianians, and we prevent the kind of meaningful and thorough policy debates that define and inform our democracy. It takes giving voice to the liberal members of the party to shift some of our most cherished issues to just the center.
I witnessed this in the effort to pass the Affordable Care Act. Because we worked so hard to reel in the left to push for the President’s legislation as one big happy family, we failed to give them the space to represent the more liberal aspects they wanted in the law, and therefore allowed the right to characterize what is, in actuality, a very moderate plan as a socialist take-over.
In Louisiana, if we start every conversation from the conservative perspective and do not allow progressive and liberal voices a seat at the table, we might as well just have two Louisiana GOPs.
All that said, Karen Carter Peterson is smart enough to understand that the state party cannot just carry the liberal flag; it must be pragmatic and build coalitions; it must serve all the Democrats of Louisiana. If we revisit the notion that the point of the party is to get Democrats elected, instructions to staff were always crystal clear. During an election, we were not to counter-message our top-ranked candidate, whether it was Mary Landrieu in 2014, or John Bel Edwards in 2015. And if we were getting railed at by Democrats on the left for not pushing candidates to be more progressive, while taking heat from Democrats on the right for being too liberal, that probably meant we hit the sweet spot.
The real deal is this: In order to win statewide races, we need to keep all the members of our party voting together- right, left and center- on the issues that matter most and the policies that animate and inform our identity as a political party. And to do that, we’ve got to all be willing to work together, to not identify the Democrat whose beliefs fall in a slightly lighter shade of gray than our own as “the other.”
A few weeks after the gubernatorial election, the public learned of a meeting that had taken place months before between then-candidate Edwards, former Sen. Mary Landrieu, and others, including Karen Carter Peterson. Sen. Landrieu admitted that she had attempted to convince John Bel Edwards to drop his bid for governor and campaign instead for attorney general. “I have never been so happy to be wrong,” Sen. Landrieu later said.
I was not privy to the details of that meeting. I learned of it the same way that others did, through the media. My devotion to John Bel Edwards is strong. Had I heard even vague rumors of a meeting in which Chairwoman Peterson attempted to convince him to forgo his campaign for governor, I would have stormed out of my position at the party then and there and gone to volunteer full-time for him. But, I never heard a hint of anything other than complete confidence in John Bel Edwards from my boss. From the day after legislative session 2015 ended, my instructions were: Go get that man elected governor!
Whatever happened at the airport meeting, it is important to remember that campaign was made up of another 1002 days. To focus on one day, forgetting the hundreds of other days that Chairwoman Peterson energetically campaigned on John Bel Edwards’s behalf would seem incredibly out of balance and unfair. She pushed the DSCC to endorse him very early on; she loaned staff to his campaign; she embarked on a statewide tour for him, and she aggressively worked to keep our side of the field clear for him. On the night of his election, one of a handful of people our then governor-elect thanked was Karen Carter Peterson.
Anecdotally, I can confirm from experience how fierce a fighter Chairwoman Peterson is for her candidates. After finishing up work on the President’s re-election, in early 2013, one of his former campaign staff contacted me about working on a heavily funded, anti-gun initiative they wanted to bring from New York to Louisiana. Their initial plan was to go after Mary Landrieu, to try to influence her votes. After a lot of back and forth, they were persuaded that this was a counter-productive strategy. Chairwoman Peterson caught wind of these conversations, and before the change in direction had a chance to filter back to her, I received a storm of a phone call. She called with a warning that under no circumstances would she allow these attacks on Sen. Landrieu. A full year before the senator’s campaign would begin, she was already on point and in full armor. A friend asked me if I was intimidated by the call. I said, no, I was impressed. It was a powerful act by a formidable woman.
A few weeks later, I signed a contract with Chairwoman Peterson and the Louisiana Democratic Party lasting through November 2015.
I appreciate all the work she and her team have done to update and reinvigorate the state party and make it more inclusive and competitive. There is much left to do, and I think she deserves the opportunity to take her efforts further. I believe Karen Carter Peterson is the leader best equipped to continue rebuilding the party.
Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana GOP has damn near broken our state. We are the side that has to oversee rebuilding it. Now more than ever, a strong and united Democratic party is necessary for a healthy and hopeful Louisiana.
Lynda Woolard has lived and worked in New Orleans, Louisiana for twenty years. She is an artist, a community organizer, and a philanthropist. Prior to her job with the Louisiana Democratic Party, Woolard worked for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. She is currently the president of the Independent Women’s Organization.