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Dwight Pelz to retire as Washington State Democratic Party Chair in February

Former King County Councilmember Dwight Pelz, who has ably led the Washington State Democratic Party for more than three fourths of a decade, announced today that he will retiring as state party chair on February 1st, 2014, the date of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee’s next meeting in Vancouver.

In a letter copied to state commiteemembers (of which I am one!), Pelz repeatedly described the opportunity to serve as chairman as a great honor, and expressed confidence that his successor will build on the legacy he is leaving behind.

I am writing today to state my intention to resign as Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party on February 1, 2014. That is the date for our next Central Committee Meeting, to be held in Vancouver.

At that time I would expect the State Party Central Committee [the WSDCC] to elect a new Chair.

It has been my honor to serve the Democratic Party for the past eight years. The leaders and the activists and the foot soldiers and the members of our Party do a great job electing Democrats and upholding Democratic values.

It has also been my great honor to serve our elected Democratic leaders, including Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, Chris Gregoire, Jay Inlsee, our Democratic members of the US House of Representatives, Speaker Frank Chopp, our statewide elected officials, our Democratic members of the State House and the State Senate, and Democrats elected at every level of local office.

The mission of the Washington Democratic Party is to elect Democrats, and I am proud to say that we have never lost a major race in my four election cycles – 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012. We have built or maintained impressive margins through these years, essentially turning Washington from Purple to Blue. I am most proud of the election of Jay Inslee as Governor, an election that many thought we would lose. Jay Inslee is a profoundly progressive governor, in stark contrast to his opponent in this race.

To the extent I have been successful I largely owe that success to the talented staff that have worked for the State Party these past eight years. Jaxon Ravens, Shawna Ousse, Misty Shock Rule, Patrick Mead, Kim Cobuzzi, and Heather Hess comprised the most experienced staff of any state party in America. Marygrace Galston, Michael King, Rory Steele, and Timothy Anderson led the most potent Coordinated Campaigns of any comparable sized state in the nation.

The State of the Party is strong. You will elect a new chair to work with our grassroots leaders, our elected Democrats, our candidates, and our allied partners to continue to elect Democrats in Washington in 2014 and 2016.

Thanks to the Washington State Democratic Party for this, the greatest honor in my 40 year political career.

Governor Jay Inslee wasted no time in thanking Pelz for his many years of able leadership and service to the Democratic Party.

Dwight has been a fantastic leader for Washington state, as a legislator, King County Council member and as party chairman. He is tough, committed, as bright as they come and cares deeply about our state. Dwight never backed down from a fight and from the many, many conversations we’ve had, I know he cares deeply about the issues that families in Washington care about. He’s been good for the entire state and I thank him for his service.

By choosing to retire mid-term (he was reelected to a two-year term ending in early 2015 last January) Dwight Pelz is heading out the door on his own terms, and with a very impressive record. During his tenure, Democrats not only held on to the governor’s mansion twice and kept Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray in office, but also elected a Democratic commissioner of public lands (Peter Goldmark) and a Democratic attorney general (Bob Ferguson).

Today, Democrats hold every position in the state-level executive department, with the exception of Secretary of State. (Democrat Kathleen Drew came close to winning last year, but couldn’t quite manage to defeat Kim Wyman).

Democrats also held both houses of the Legislature through Pelz’s first seven years and would still but for defectors Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, who have called themselves Democrats for years but failed to act like Democrats.

Pelz’s record on U.S. House races is more mixed.

In the seven years he has led the state party, it did not manage to unseat a Republican incumbent in a congressional contest, despite favorable electoral winds in 2006 and 2008. Granted, incumbents are tough to take out, but the party did have opportunities, particularly against Dave Reichert in the old 8th District.

The party has been much more successful at defending open seats. Though it was not able to hold Brian Baird’s old district in southwest Washington in 2010, it did hold the 1st and the 6th last year. The party also won the new 10th District.

Pelz will thus leave office with the same number of Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation as when he took over from Paul Berendt: eight.

Many Democratic activists who are far more grizzled than I have told me they have seldom seen a state party chair as effective as Dwight Pelz.

Dwight presided over a well-run and responsive state party office that took on huge electoral challenges and met them, particularly last year. Republicans thought that the governor’s mansion was theirs for the taking, but Democrats knew better. When the dust had settled and the votes had been counted, Jay Inslee was the undisputed winner. Dwight ought to be proud of that victory…. it was huge.

In the nearly eight years that Pelz has been in charge of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party has had a total of four chairs: Diane Tebelius, Luke Esser, Kirby Wilbur, and now Susan Hutchison. (Tebelius and Pelz, incidentally, were elected on the very same day: January 29th, 2006). Pelz’s dependable leadership has been a significant advantage for the Democratic Party, and replacing him won’t be easy. He is a shrewd strategist, a skilled fundraiser, and energetic speaker, known and loved for telling it like it is – sometimes with colorful language.

As a Democratic activist I am personally grateful to Dwight for all of the years of hard work he has put in. All of the phone calls, the rallying speeches, and the long hours in the office supporting Democratic candidates. He’s earned a rest, and I hope he enjoys traveling the world, which he says he intends to do.

Much as I wish he would continue to stay at the helm of the state party, I respect his decision to retire, and I thank him for laying the groundwork for a orderly, seamless transition. His successor’s most immediate major priority will be to reclaim the Washington State Senate, which Republicans seized with the help of Tom and Sheldon. Both will have to face voters next year.

The WSDCC won’t meet again for another four months, so that gives Democrats who are interested in the state party’s top job time to think about running and then get around to the state’s forty nine legislative districts and thirty-nine counties.

The state party’s charter restricts voting for officers to the state party’s one hundred and seventy-six regular members: two representing each county and two representing each legislative district in the state.

I happen to represent one of those votes. I will be looking forward to hearing from the candidates and talking about their ideas for partybuilding with them.

Whoever is elected will have big shoes to fill, that’s for sure.

4 Comments

  1. Posted September 30th, 2013 at 9:01 PM | Permalink

    Very good tribute, Andrew. I wrote a tribute on my blog too.

  2. Linda Seltzer
    Posted October 5th, 2013 at 8:51 AM | Permalink

    Whoever is chosen as the successor should be a seasoned individual with a proven track record of winning elections in swing districts and of fund raising. What happened with the State Senate Democrats last year was partly a result of throwing an insufficiently experienced person into a position where he was in over his head rather than giving him time to move up the ranks and grow. Part of this experience should include a proven track record of ethics. Another characteristic I would look for is whether the person is a good listener. Also toughness and not giving in. The chair should also be pro-labor and progressive to be chosen, someone who didn’t cave in when others caved in. Respecting and furthering freedom of speech and diverse points of view is another desired characteristic.

  3. Steven Drew
    Posted October 5th, 2013 at 11:50 AM | Permalink

    Linda: Kathleen Drew at least meets all of your criteria, but she tells me she is devoted to the challenging and rewarding job she has taken with the Department of Licensing.

    One additional strength we are looking for in our parties new chair is a genuine core commitment to support and mentor qualified women and minority candidates.

  4. Andrew
    Posted October 5th, 2013 at 9:30 PM | Permalink

    Steven, I agree Kathleen would be an excellent candidate for chair if she chose to ran. There seem to be many people interested in the job. We will see who jumps in.