Dem Leaders Think Obama’s New Organizing Army is ‘Grade A Bullshit’

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Exorcism?

Leaked Emails: Dem Leaders Think Obama’s New Organizing Army is ‘Grade A Bullshit’

Organizing for Action was supposed to complement the Democratic National Committee. Instead, Democratic leaders say, it nearly killed the Democrats.
Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng

02.17.17 6:13 AM ET

It is difficult to overstate just how enraged state Democratic activists and leaders are with Organizing for Action (OFA), the political and community-organizing army that grew out of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

The nonprofit, which functions as a sort of parallel-Democratic National Committee, was founded to mobilize Democratic voters and supporters in defense of President Obama’s, and the Democratic Party’s, agenda. Instead, the organization has drawn the intense ire, both public and private, of grassroots organizers and state parties that are convinced that OFA inadvertently helped decimate Democrats at the state and local level, while Republicans cemented historic levels of power and Donald J. Trump actually became leader of the free world.

These intra-party tensions aren’t going away, especially now that OFA “relaunched” itself last week to protect the Affordable Care Act, boost turnout at congressional townhalls, and train grassroots organizers gearing up for the Trump era.

“This is some GRADE A Bullshit right here,” Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, wrote in a private Democratic-listserv email obtained by The Daily Beast. Handwerk was reacting to news of OFA’s post-election retooling, which was shared “without comment” to the group of state-level Dems by Crystal Kay Perkins, executive director for Texas Democrats.

“It also to me seems TONE DEAF—we have lost over 1,000 seats in the past 8 years… all because of this crap,” Handwerk continued. “Let’s get through the next two weeks—but then we gotta figure this out and keep the pressure on. WOW.”

Others on the thread shared these sentiments.

“Yes, it sure is,” Katie Mae Simpson, executive director for the Maine Democratic Party, replied. “OFA showed up in Maine, organized a press conference on saving [Obamacare], with one of our Dem legislative leaders speaking, all without ever mentioning that they were in state and organizing. They hired someone I know, which is somewhat helpful, but my god, they don’t have a very good alliance-building process.”

Such grievances, though expressed privately, are nothing new among state Democratic Party leadership.

“[With] all due respect to President Obama, OFA was created as a shadow party because Obama operatives had no faith in state parties,” Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb told Politicolast week.

“I love and adore everything about President Obama except for OFA,” South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison (who is also running to chair the Democratic National Committee) said at a recent DNC “future forum,” according to The Washington Post.

President Obama, himself a proud community organizer, had long been credited with leading a savvy, vigorous grassroots campaign to win the White House in 2008. However, it wasn’t long after he first stepped into office before state-level Democrats all around the country began sounding the alarm that his formidable grassroots army was being left to wither and rot.

Furthermore, just days after the second inauguration of President Obama, DNC members were still loudly expressing fear that OFA ran the risk of denting the national party’s fundraising and (more importantly) diverting much-needed resources and organizing power.

Too many Democrats started seeing OFA as just another boogeyman. For instance, when reached by The Daily Beast for this story, two Democratic operatives independently referred to OFA as “The Devil.”

“If we were having a conversation about state parties, I would say OFA hurt state parties badly,” Handwerk told The Daily Beast, elaborating on his leaked email. “It certainly had an undercutting effort. And there is a lot of work state parties do that isn’t very sexy… and that becomes incredibly difficult when budgets are cut in half because people are trying to curry favor with the president and his allies.”

Perkins and Simpson did not respond to interview requests for this story

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Handwerk, who has worked in the red state for years, says his personal experiences with OFA weren’t bad, per se—it’s that they were nonexistent.

“Supposedly, Louisiana has had, on paper, a state director for OFA who has been in the role for what I’m told is multiple years—none of us know who she is,” he said. “She only just followed me on Twitter [four] days ago. That’s how I know who she is.”

This OFA state lead is Carolyn Sawyer, who told The Daily Beast that “I really have not talked with [Handwerk]. I’m sure he’s aware of us. I’m sure they’re aware of what we’re doing but there doesn’t seem to be an interest to come together on what we’re working [on].”

Sawyer, who says she has been in the position since as early as 2013, contended that “we have reached out to the Louisiana Democrat Party [and] would be more than happy to come together to work on issues… But [as to] why he doesn’t know what we’re doing, we haven’t been secret. I can’t speak to that.”

When asked if she was aware of the tension between the state party and OFA, she said she was “not quite aware, but I do know that it exists.”

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