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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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4 replies on “Dwight Pelz to retire as Washington State Democratic Party Chair in February”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

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