Carol Marin takes notice of the awful Illinois Democratic Party web site.
I swear to God that I didn’t pay her to write this column, but I would have offered.
On an impulse, I googled “Democratic Party of Illinois” the other day.
If you need a small, dark laugh, try it yourself.
Under the first listing, ildems .com, click on “candidates.”
Lord have mercy, what picture stares back at you but Gov. Rod Blagojevich! The address listed for Blagojevich is his Ravenswood political office, which the FBI bugged last fall, yielding some of the bleeping diatribes that led to his indictment.
And there’s Pat Quinn in a photo taken about 20 years and 20 pounds ago. He’s still listed as lieutenant governor.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White and Comptroller Dan Hynes are there, too. Hynes’ photo looks like it came from his high school yearbook.
State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, of course, was missing from the 2006 roster of candidates, thanks to Democratic Party Chairman Mike Madigan’s refusal to back him even though he had defeated Madigan’s handpicked candidate in the primary.
What’s stunning is that there actually have been elections since 2006. Just this month, a whole host of Democrats were running in municipal races. And Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley was fighting hard to win his way into Congress.
But you’d never know it by looking at information provided by the state Democratic Party.
The only contemporary posting is a reminder that Mike Madigan’s big spring fund-raiser is May 4 at the Island Bay Yacht Club in Springfield. Oh, and tickets are $150 a pop.
Academic papers have made fun of how bad the web site is. Now, on the point of not allowing volunteers to easily volunteer–I think we can all agree that isn’t by accident.
Marin also made fun of the lack of Giannoulias in a June 2006 column as well.
Then again, maybe Madigan’s operation has no need for all that outreach. After all, don’t Democrats control every state constitutional office, both houses of the General Assembly, run Chicago and dominate the formerly Republican suburbs?
Yes, yes, yes and yes.
Still, it’s curious to see such a Dark Ages setup for the state party. That is, unless you stop looking at it as a state party and see it as, in the words of one party strategist who requested anonymity, “an overgrown caucas run by the speaker of the House, Mike Madigan, to elect people Madigan sent.”
Maybe so. In recent elections, U.S. congressional contenders such as Bill Foster (14th) and Debbie Halvorsen (11th) didn’t get much of anything in the way of help from the state party. They won anyway.
But Dan Seals in the 10th didn’t win. He had to rely on the help of unions and other organizations, not the state operation, to try to unseat incumbent, Mark Kirk.
And just ask Tammy Duckworth how much assistance she got from the state party in 2006 against Peter Roskam. None. The state GOP provided a flood of campaign literature for Roskam. Madigan’s crew was missing in action for Duckworth.
“There is no Democratic Party of Illinois,” strategist Kitty Kurth said by phone Tuesday. “When I talk to my friends at the Democratic National Committee, they say our state chair won’t return their calls.”
And this is why many candidates have to recreate the wheel. In fact, Durbin has created a semi-functioning shadow operation in the form of the County Chairs organization, though it’s obviously limited in what it can do. State parties receives particular benefits under federal campaign finance law as well as better postal rates (the real reason Madigan wants to control the party).
Let’s be clear though, Mike Madigan doesn’t care about Members of Congress other than Lipinski and his dislike of Schakowsky.
From what I can gather, Madigan’s people have largely given up on any sort of improvement because they cannot figure out how to control it enough. Which is too bad because Lisa could benefit greatly from a strong netroots operation.
Too obvious there?
Here are some suggestions I made back in 2005 about the web site. Some of it is dated and I’d certainly put more emphasis on social media, but much of it stands up.
Steve Brown still isn’t including bloggers on the press release list (that should get me a smart ass response at least).
Most importantly though, the State Party has no e-mail database which is really the currency of campaigns. The web site is primarily important in being a place to attrack people to visit a couple times and have voters offer up contact information. Then the real value is being able to contact them again later for donations, help, GOTV, and the such.
Ahhhhh….it was nice to see that Republicans aren’t the only ones to set up a nice circular firing squad when Rich mentioned he might post some suggestions.
The first rule of Illinois Democratic politics is that if you want to get something done, don’t attack The Speaker’s people. You can cajole, maybe make some jokes, but make sure the message isn’t that the Speaker sucks. He doesn’t–and more on that later. But the second rule in this case is don’t be expecting the Speaker to be doing any blogger conference calls anytime soon. He doesn’t talk to the regular press very often, so let’s be realistic here.
I’m one of the loudest critics of the current complete lack of on-line presences for the Illinois Democratic Party, but I’m also keenly aware that a party that is in power such as the Democrats are in Illinois face a different type of challenge in on-line activism.
The first thing that needs to be figured out is what the hell is the online strategy supposed to accomplish. I’d love for the Party to become more inclusive in decision making, but let’s not get carried away here–fixing the on-line presence is a baby step on that issue. If successful, it might lessen concerns about grass roots activism that concerns some of the Party Leaders.
So what should the strategy be? The primary issue is how to frame the debate on issues. The perfect example of this is how Democrats in general and Trial Lawyers were outmaneuvered on tort reform. Madigan saved the day with a not bad bill, but the point should be to not get to that point and a big part of the way the Republicans did that was by setting the agenda. There was little talk of insurance regulation during the debate when that is one of the three legs of the issue, but instead ‘out of control’ litigation became the story.
The specific on-line methods are not as important as understanding the goal is to take control of the public debate and thus control the legislative agenda.
Blogs are often seen as the ultimate solution, but I recommend against it for the Party, at least for now. Blogs are hard to work out an interesting message especially when you are in power. Parties that have unified control of a State Government inevitably have several centers of power all with different policy agendas so trying to hard to set up a unified message on a Party blog is very complicated and what is likely to result is unlikely to be interesting.
Blogs work because they pull people in with consistent content that is worth seeking out. Instead, the Party should focus on making a serviceable site that is functional and pushing information through e-mail and other push technology.
To do that it will have to make a far better site–one that attracts people to it for functional reasons.
Let’s start with keeping it up-to-date. Every person visiting should be able to find their State Legislator in a list with a link to their official office, their e-mail posted and their campaign web site linked. Every Democratic candidate who wins a primary should get the same for their campaign web site. There should be a function or quick link to finding what Districts voters are in–sure other sites may do that, but the point is to make the place functional.
The front page should have a page to capture e-mail addresses and at least zip codes though preferrably snail mail addresses. Those e-mail addresses then go into a database that can be accessed by any Democratic Nominee as well as regular updates from the Party. There should be a volunteer sign up page–where someone can sign up to volunteer for Party activities whether it be phone banking or whatever. With that should be a series of options about how they can best participate.
There should be a donation page with suggested amounts and an amount identified as being a Democratic Party Member between $10 – $25. The point here isn’t to raise a lot of cash, but get Party activists to feel like they are a part of the Party. Belonging is important.
A section on recent news stories that make the Illinois Democrats look good. This is part of the messaging issue–highlight successes and make visitors realize something is going on and the Dems are responsible for it.
An issues page–and no not some ridiculous and useless page on the ‘Party Platform’. Platform, Schmlatform. Many issues cut differently in different areas so the key issues should be stressed here including things like economic security, health care, working families–that kind of thing–but with updates to them as stories evolve. A key aspect of this sort of page is making sure it isn’t just a placeholder, but actively updated with news stories or just updates on key bills.
An area that is designed to highlight key lege members. And when I say key I do mean leadership and such, but more importantly those in targeted races. Set up a system whereby they are given some space to highlight their activities—a good move here to create some buzz would be the use of Podcasts. I know–most people who use the internet still think Podcasting is something out a War of the Worlds or a new fishing fad. But the idea is simple–have a lege member talk about a key issue to their district and highlight it and perhaps incorporate it into their specific campaign site as well.
A calendar is also essential. Updating it regularly–with more than relatively big dollar fundraisers is critical. It’s a key reason for people to keep coming back to the site. I’d first suggest syndicating the calendar from affiliated groups like Illinois Democratic Network and Democracy for Illinois. This has a double advantage of covering far more events than the State Party can concentrate upon and including those groups in an important function while not giving away message control for the State Party. The State Party calendar should focus on Lege Member activities, federal officeholder events, Statewide Officeholder events and State Party Events.
In line with this–host more events that aren’t big dollar events in conjunction with such groups. Again, it doesn’t require the loss of message control, but it makes people feel a part of the party and it’s mission.
On messaging, if there aren’t good issues to focus on at the State level, there are always issues to tackle at the federal level. The Illinois Republicans are pretty good at using such issues to paper over local fights–and this should work with Democrats as well. If the State Party were to call for action on Karl Rove or to call for action on Social Security it can reach out while not necessarily aggravating differences within the Party when there isn’t a consensus for state issues.
Create a set of resource pages to local parties that are organized by region or some other intuitive manner so those looking to get involved at the County level can. In fact, combine this with the original e-mail intake and have an autoresponder that sends out an e-mail with the local information to the person who just signed up. Web links and e-mail when available, phone numbers and addresses when they aren’t.
Included in the resources should be activist groups also grouped by region–they should be secondary to the County Parties (this is after all the Democratic Party Web Site), but still prominent. Again, this creates goodwill without a lot of effort. Adding blogs and news sources isn’t a bad idea, though there are some downsides when someone jumps off a cliff with a crazy idea.
With Party Committee Members include pictures and brief bios–it personalizes the site. Just no pictures of Madigan with gavels (thanks for changing that at least).
Voting information–links to how to register, deadlines and election dates. Make this the place voters come to figure out such things. Needs to be very user friendly.
Include photos of Democratic events. It’s a small thing that people love.
Think about a letter to the editor page that allows party members to look at a prototype letter, write their own, and send it to their local paper—all without more than a few clicks.
Then do the requisite press release and e-mail archive page.
Get some graphics with people in them besides Barack Obama and a bunch white stiffs. And remember—No Gavels!
Too often, the discussion over on-line activism focuses on blogs. Blogs are one method, but for a State Party often very hard to pull off. The key to whatever is done is to give party activists something to do like
1) write a letter
4) attend an event
5) or something else.
and make it a resource when they have a question. Voters don’t know what district they are in so the current organization is virtually meaningless to the average person visiting the site. And people don’t know where to find information about voting, make it easy and they come back to the site for more information–and get the Party’s message thrown in for good measure.
By producing content to attract people to the site, the Party can then use the information collected to push information out. By making the site useful, people come back to use it again and get hit again with the message. Activists are given specific methods to be active at the same time message control is kept. By institutionalizing a system of support for Lege Members, targeted races can have the profiles of incumbents (and potentially challengers) raised.
Further, the party needs to work the blogs–include them on press releases and treat them as a regular member of the press. They, ahem, we aren’t, but it makes many feel special and that generates good will. Push stories to them–unlike regular reporters who get nervous that they are being used, bloggers like to do it often. I’ll have more on that later.