The Redfern/Bennett Road Show in Beachwood - Part One
Last night I attended a panel presentation by Ohio's Democratic and Republican party chairmen, State Rep. Chris Redfern (D-Catawba Island Township) and Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Chairman Bob Bennett (R-Fairview Park) respectively, at Suburban Temple-Kol Ami in Beachwood. Apparently this is not the first joint appearance by this odd couple since the election. The event I attended was sponsored by the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and the American Jewish Committee. Bloggers Jill Zimon of Writes Like She Talks and Mike Cook of the Solon Democratic Club were on hand, as were newly elected State Reps. Armond Budish (D-Beachwood) and Josh Mandel (R-Lyndhurst). Alan Melamed, a Shaker Heights-based political consultant, was the moderator.
Melamed joked that Bennett is "Chairman for Life," brandishing his (purported) 17-page resume, and it is true that Bennett's fabled political career is lengthy (he has headed up the ORP since 1988). Redfern was elected as party leader last December, and Melamed joked about meeting him during Lee Fisher's 1998 gubernatorial campaign "when Chris was twelve." (Redfern was actually born in 1964. He only looks like he's 20.) Redfern was the youngest county commissioner in Ohio when he assumed that post in Ottawa County in 1993, serving two and a half terms before his election to the Ohio House of Representatives in 2002.
Melamed's firm now works for the local board of elections, so he joked about how his respect for Bennett has grown since Bennett became the man who signs his paychecks. Of course, Melamed said, "I then give the money to Chris," alluding to political contributions to the ODP. Leaning back in his chair to look at Bennett, Redfern said in a stage whisper "You need to pay him more."
Redfern described the Democrats' challenge after the election as "representing not just Democrats but all Ohioans." He said that the Democrats did several things right in the election, and the Republicans did several things wrong, including some over which they had no control (i.e., some scandals were inevitable because they controlled everything in state government). Redfern also suggested that being from Port Clinton rather than the political hotbed of Columbus, and being in the legislature, helped him as party chair because he understood better what ordinary people cared about in this election.
Explaining the scale of the Democratic victory, Redfern noted that John Kerry won only 17 Ohio counties and underperformed the Democratic Performance Index ("DPI") in 65. Employing an 88-county strategy, Ted Strickland won 72 counties and Sherrod Brown outperformed the DPI in 64 counties. (Brown won 46 counties outright.) The party also scored the biggest General Assembly pickup by the Democrats in three decades, and won dozens of local races (including county commission and judicial seats) across the state. Redfern attributed this success to having a consistent message, installing good people (including bright young people from out of state) in the coordinated campaign, improving fundraising, and having "swagger" and "the attitude of being right on issues that matter most." He said that the party would be focusing on school board, city council, and mayoral races in 2007, because "if we're active in those races, we'll have better recruitment in 2008." He also said that he learned from Bennett, who built the best Republican state organization in the country, that the key is to make your party's positions on issues attractive to people who are not necessarily members of your party.
Bennett started by saying that justice was served in the Tom Noe case, calling the man a liar and a crook and intimating that his sentence should have been longer, and remarking that the only good thing to come out of it is a "renewed commitment to making sure it never happens again." He said that "the Republicans failed to set a high standard for themselves, and the voters set it for them." Having taken control of most statewide offices, the Democrats will now have to "police their own," which is "harder to do than pointing fingers."
Congratulating Redfern, Bennett noted that the ODP kept focused, avoided divisive primaries, and took advantage of a "perfect storm" of GOP problems. As to the GOP's losses, he said, "the message has been heard." However, without diminishing the Democrats' success, Bennett pointed out that the ORP "bucked the national trend" by:
(1) Holding onto its legislative majority (the number of states nationwide wholly controlled by Democrats went from 7 to 15, and New Hampshire has its first Democratic majority since 1922);"If not for the intensity of our grassroots effort," he said, "we would have lost more." He said that the ORP made 1/2 million telephone calls and knocked on 1/4 million doors in the last 12 days of the campaign, shattering their 2004 records. The ORP "remains strong and intact." However, the party "needed this," i.e., needed a reminder that they "served at the pleasure of the people." He predicted the ORP comeback would begin in 2008, repeating the historical example of Republican success in 1960 and 1962 following a Democratic sweep in 1958. He quoted Plain Dealer columnist Brent Larkin's comment that the Democratic Party needs to "stop bitching and start governing," noting that "with control comes great responsibility."
(2) Gaining every seat on the Ohio Supreme Court (although, he said, "Chris is trying to get one to switch," a reference to Justice Paul E. Pfeifer's disclosure that he is considering a request to switch parties).
(3) Holding its Congressional losses to just one seat (Zack Space (D-Dover) defeated joy Padgett (R-Coschocton) for the 18th District seat of convicted Rep. Bob Ney (R-Heath)).
Bennett also said that the ORP is obligated to work together in a bipartisan fashion with the Democrats. The lesson of the election is that "pride goes before a fall," he said, and "if you take the public trust for granted, the public will take it away."
Much more to follow in Part Two.