Welcome to Louisiana Lefty, a podcast about politics and community in Louisiana, where we make the case that the health of the state requires a strong progressive movement fueled by the critical work of organizing on the ground. Our goal is to democratize information, demystify party politics, and empower you to join the mission because victory for Louisiana requires you.
I'm your host Lynda Woolard. As I mentioned on our previous episode introducing season five, as well as the bonus episode that dropped directly before that on electing a state party chair, we're going to take some time early in this big election year for Louisiana and focus on state Democratic Party politics. This week, my conversation is with Kirk Green, a longtime party official, a current DSCC member representing District 69 in Baton Rouge, and an educator who wears multiple hats in his teachers' union. Kirk ended up playing a variety of roles in the 2020 party leadership elections over many months of engagement, if not years, giving him a unique perspective on the process and the outcome. We talked about the previous and the current administrations, the path to how we got here, and what needs to happen to move us forward. I'd like to give one word of warning: there are only so many things that can be covered well in an hour. So bear in mind that while we mentioned Mary Landrieu's 2014 campaign, former chair Karen Carter Peterson, and work being done by the Young Democrats of Louisiana today, those are all topics that could fill their own episode, and they're certainly on our Louisiana Lefty to do list.
Kirk Green, thank you so much for joining me on the Louisiana lefty today.
It's my pleasure as always, Lynda.
Well, it's good to see you. It's been a while. I always start the podcast with how I met my guest. And I believe we must have met when I was working at the state party because you've been involved with the Democratic Party for so long.
Let's see, it's gonna be my third term with the DSCC. Before that I set on a DPEC from Caddo Parish. So it's been over 12 years now. So probably 14-15 years.
And that's about when I was working at the party was about that long ago. That was probably when we first connected, or do you have a different recollection of that?
No, no, that's when I really started meeting people from the state party. Because before that I was the president up there at LSU Shreveport for the College Democrats and worked regionally up in districts for the Young Democrats.
Well, tell me what your political origin story is Kirk, like what first got you interested in politics?
I took a roundabout way. I'm not like some of the ones we have in the state - and I love them to death. They're 18-19. They're wonderful. They're involved. They're intelligent and brilliant young people. But I took a more roundabout way. I went into the army, got out of the army, I was doing construction work, and going to LSU Shreveport, trying to, you know, go to college, which when I was a kid was told to me as probably not one of the things I was ever going to do. But that kind of learning more, that kind of being out there, and starting to understand... I actually had some really great teachers at LSU Shreveport, had two political science professors. One was completely against everything I was for, which was a lot of people would be like, that sounds crazy. But he would challenge me. He wouldn't say I was wrong, he would challenge me to look deeper and to think more and to have different viewpoints. That was Mr. Sadow. And a lot of people remember him, he's very Republican. He's written a lot of articles that way, but he challenged me to think outside of what I normally thought. And the other one was Dr. Peterson. He gave me more things to think about. He would put books in my hand that were outside what we were doing in class and say, "Look what you're saying sounds like this." So to me it was always just opening up more avenues, you know, of research and things to think about and things to consider. And after that, I just felt like I wanted to be more involved and engaged. That's what led me to, you know, we started the College Democrats up there and just tried to be more involved locally.
Okay, awesome. And you've been involved also, in addition to your work with the Democratic Party, which you've already talked about the different seats you've held, you've been involved politically through your teachers union also, right?
Yes, ma'am. I sit on the local executive committee for my union. I'm the union rep from our school, but also chair our local political committee. So we're trying to get teachers more involved. We're trying to show them that sometimes you don't think about it this way, but as a teacher, your job is political. The rules they make for your classroom come from people who were elected; the money that we get paid, comes through people who were elected; you know, from a school board to a BESE board, to the representatives and the senators of our state, to even our governor. So our job is political. Whether we like to think of it that way or not, it is very politically involved. So we want them to be more involved and knowledgeable about the things that affect them in their daily life.
And we did a video that's going to be on Facebook and YouTube, right before we recorded the podcast where we were talking about Governor John Bel Edwards' last budget that he's going to present for the legislature. So folks can go look at that if they're interested in learning more. But you mentioned that teachers here - the reason I'm bringing this up is you're talking about pay and all the things that politics has an effect on, on teachers - you mentioned that teachers in Louisiana do not make the Southern regional average. And that's something the current governor has been trying to address. Legislature has been not necessarily that open to it, but the previous governor was definitely not engaged in giving pay raises. So tell me a little bit more about that the Southern regional average, trying to get to that.
Well, it was a promise he made when he first ran about trying to get teachers to the Southern regional average. And that just puts us on a level playing field with the rest of the Southern states. It's not asking for more, it's asking for what the other states in this region are given. And right now, we're not there. And he's been trying through the last few budgets, like we said in the piece before, he started with deficits. And it's always tough giving a teacher money when there's no money to give. It would be great to say, "Hey, I just put you on the Southern regional average, everything is good." But you know like I know, where's the money going to come from? Right? It's great to say I'll give you money, but you actually have to have that money to give. So every year we had to go back and we've had to have this fight. You know, BESE has worked with us, the governor has worked with us, we've had to fight in the state house trying to kind of claw our way up to the Southern regional average. So he hasn't just been able to hand it to us. It's been an ongoing fight over the last seven, eight years.
Teachers don't have a lobbyist that's working for them. Like the business community might have lobbyists that are paid or going to legislature to get things for them. Teachers themselves have to kind of be their own lobbyists. Right?
We do. But the unions have a lobbyist. We don't have the army of lobbyists that someone like LABI (Louisiana Association of Business and Industry) has, and the money to pour in campaigns to get our people elected. So when you talk about lobbying, it's not a level playing field.
Right. Like, you have numbers. So if teachers are more engaged, that's probably helpful, right?
Right, but ours would look a little bit different. Whereas LABI sends millions of dollars to campaigns and people to take them out to lunch and dinners and do all those nice things, if we go, you're gonna have to shut down schools. If we go up there to do it ourselves, all of the kids are going to have to be you know, who's gonna look after the kids that day. It's going to have to be planned. So us fighting for ourselves looks different than money fighting for business. And a lot of that sometimes gets bad publicity. When we have to go fight for ourselves and we have to shut down an entire school district to do it, the parents get mad at us. And rightfully so, you know, if it's not planned. Well, I have to make sure my child is looked after all day. Normally, I'd send them to school where I know they would get a breakfast. I know they would get a lunch. I know they have transportation to and from and they're in a learning environment to what do I do with them all day? So when we go fight for ourselves, we have to make sure it's planned correctly and done the right way.
That's really important. Well, I actually asked you on to talk about the Louisiana Democratic Party. So let's pivot to that because you have been involved for so long, and you have a deep knowledge of the inner workings of the party. Not Stephen Handwerk level knowledge of the inner workings...
I'm not the professor. I'm definitely not the professor.
But you do know a lot about our Louisiana Democratic Party. And I wanted to start talking to you about the previous administration and your experience with that. I mentioned that we met when I was working there. So I was working under that previous administration in their first term. Karen Carter Peterson was the chair at the time.
After Buddy Leach, right. And so I found the first term to actually be, I thought, a fairly successful term. I thought they had brought on a lot of organizers. There was still some work to do on that. But we had Team Blue Dat going. They did an awful lot of work with Campaign for Louisiana for Mary Landrieu. And while Mary Landrieu lost that race, there was an incredible effort put forth and there was some progress made there that I'd have to get some data people on to talk more about because it's not my thing. But like when folks look at the the votes and the amount of voter registration that was increased, etcetera, Mary Landrieu's campaign actually did a lot of stuff there. And I thought the fundraising initially was pretty decent. I found things to trail off in the second term. I felt like maybe the chair didn't keep her eye on the ball the second term on this in the same way. And I'm just curious to know what your thoughts on that, if you're comfortable sharing them, what your experience and your thoughts on that are, if they match mine or if they vary very differently.
I'm going have to agree with you on most of that, but also, under KCP, that was the first time I ever saw training. I'm trying to remember the name of the group, I think it was Democrats for America, a DFA group, I'm not sure. They were brought in and they came up to Shreveport and actually gave us a political training. It's the first time that I had ever sat down through the party and somebody trained me not only on organizing, but on campaigning. So we saw stuff like that, which was good.
There was a lot of training. They did a significant amount of training across the state in different regions. You're right. It was not just for candidates. It was also for campaign staff or campaign volunteers. And I do think there was some DFA involved, what were the remnants of DFA, but also the National Democratic Training Committee helped with them, too.
And we've had some, you know, national people come down, if you remember one... let's see, Bernie Sanders came down to one of our events. That was one of our True Blue Galas.
Cory Booker, Martin O'Malley, Amy Klobuchar... Yeah, there were some good folks that came.
So there looked like there were some good connections, some good things going on. Like anything else, sometimes steering the ship can go awry, you know. You put things on a good direction, and sometimes they get off course. I'm not going to be personally critical of her. Because we all saw the news articles. There were other issues going on. And those are things I completely understand from my life before politics. When you're dealing with things like addictions, I fully grasp and understand how weighty they are on you. So I will never criticize that. Will I agree with everything? No, I don't think anybody will. You know me and you agree on almost everything. But if we looked at it, we could probably find things that we disagree with, too. So did they make some missteps. Yes. Because not everybody is going to make every decision perfectly for everybody. There were groups inside the party itself that near the beginning of that second term for her that didn't like how she was handling things. So internally, they were eating away at some of the confidence and other things going on. And those are the things that happen in the backroom conversations or the emails or the phone calls that not everybody is privy to, and sometimes you are because the people share it with you. Same thing happened to me at this last change of the party leadership. Somebody brought up my name out of the blue, and all of the sudden, I'm not gonna say who, but they were calling around the state trying to destroy my reputation. Because I was brought up. My name had to be brought up and they were trying to attack my credibility because those are the kinds of things that were going on. Those are the things that sometimes go on behind the scenes. And they're a cause for some of the problems we see today.
Yeah, and I've mentioned in a previous podcast, the one Stephen and I did, that bonus episode we did at the end of January, it's just such a political process, that things like that start happening, where people do start trying all kinds of political maneuvers. You were subjected to some kind of behavior that you might as well have been a candidate yourself, because that's how people started talking about you. Before we move on, I did want to say, one thing about Karen Carter Peterson's first term, also, is I felt like she got a bad rap in 2015. I know she had that one meeting with the governor, where I don't know exactly what went on, but you know, it was reported where there was a group of senior state Democrats that were talking to him about changing what office he was running for that year. I was working at the party at the time, I never had any indication anything like that was going on. And front facing for her that year, she was working every day of that year trying to get that man elected to governor. And the personal experience I had about that was whenever we heard of anybody talking about another Democrat getting in that race, she would two words: "On it." That's what she'd say, I'm on it. It would be like a day later, the person was no longer talking about getting in the race. So there was a great effort on her part. And she was very good at that political piece of the puzzle, she was pretty good at making sure that nobody else got in that race.
She understood the political landscape. You know, she comes from a political family that's been in tune for years. So she has a deep personal knowledge of how things work, not just in, you know, the senate or the house at the state level, but also politically on the ground and things like that. So you know, it's sometimes it takes a knowledge like that to run a party.
When the story of that race was reported, I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a deeper dive into that. It was really told in a very one dimensional way to me.
Well, that's because there were certain people that wanted to see her fail. Internally, too. Not just externally, internally, there was already a group fighting against her. So they wanted to construct a certain narrative.
That's a good point. All right. Well, let's talk about that 2020 election. And my understanding Kirk, long before anybody else was really looking at that 2020 election, you had already started thinking about. Were you hoping there would be a different chair in 2020?
It wasn't so much about changing leadership. Like we had said in the last part, there were certain missteps or certain things, we felt we had gotten off course a little bit. We wanted to kind of bring the ship back on a certain heading. Because there were things that had been done that we thought needed to be done again. Fundraising, you even mentioned, the second term fundraising kind of took a hit a little bit. But also, there were ideas we had about how to train people. Being a teacher, you know, I thought, you know, training could be taken to the next level: how we organize our training, who we train, you know, we wanted to take a look at what non monetary things we could start doing. We wanted to build DPECs, because if you notice, we have some amazing DPECs. But there are other parts of the state where there hasn't been a DPEC meeting in years, probably generations. So you know, we wanted to take more of a focus on that, how we build the party internally, from the bottom up, you know, the money in our party, you know, all those things. So it wasn't just like a group of people that originally was like, "Oh, we're against KCP." It wasn't that. It was how can we even if we run an opposition candidate -- because we hadn't found out that she wasn't going to run again -- how do we put something together that starts moving us in the right direction? How do we get our opinions heard? How do we structure something better at the state level?
I feel like I remember you going around the state yourself on your own and talking to people trying to recruit people, talking to people about what DPECs were, what the DSCC was, and I think that was part of your work with the DSCC, part of whatever role you had there, right?
Well, it was kind of one of those things that I asked, because me and Stephen had talked and talked about it, and agree or disagree, me and Stephen had many conversations about his vision, my vision, they don't always match up. But it was something I thought needed to happen. I had been up to Alexandria and some other places. Not all around the state because I have never made it to the northeast, Monroe, in that area, never quite made it up there. But there were some stops trying to get people involved, trying to talk to people, show them that, you know, locally could be important. You know, there is a real importance to what a DPEC can do. It's not all about how much money they can raise. It's "Can we get some good candidates? Can we start to be competitive? Can we move the needle any in a certain area? Because sometimes just for state races, it just takes us being competitive in our rural parishes, for Shreveport, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and the other places that come in heavy Democrats to push us over the top. So you know, looking at those state races locally, just being more competitive helps us out in the big picture.
That's true. That's true. So I felt like you had started to do that before anybody else had, being honest. And I suspect you had already started to collect names and information and some loose database of folks who were interested.
I had contacts, people that I had met just like, you know, after being in politics a while you have a Rolodex of people that you can call on from certain areas and say, "Hey, this is my idea, what's it look like in your area?" Because one thing I had to learn at that point in time was every area of our state, it needed a unique plan. Any plan that I had in, you know, Calcasieu Parish was going to be different than what I needed in Acadia, and totally different than what I needed a Natchitoches, which looked completely different than DeSoto or Caddo, you know. So I was learning that lesson at that time, about how unique all of our different areas are, and how Democrats in the party look different in those areas. So that was a learning process for me. And when I say it, you're thinking to yourself, well, of course, it sounds like you should know that. But sometimes, we have to learn that, you know, firsthand by seeing and going and talking to the people.
I'm sure there are a lot of folks who are not involved with the party who don't get around the state. Lot of folks in New Orleans, I'm sure that, you know, just don't get to other parts of the state that don't really get that. So I think it's an important point that you make. So then you have a meeting. And you're talking about the next administration and what you'd like to see done. So walk me through what happened from there.
Our first conversation was about, where do we see the party? Where do we want to steer it? It wasn't so much critical of KCP. It was, you know, what can we do better? It wasn't what she has done bad. It's what we think can be done better, ways to improve this. You know, I came with these ideas about building DPECs, and you know, training not only candidates but training the actual people in your campaign itself. Because we came up with this idea that a campaign manager needs a certain skill set; a comms director needs a certain skill set; compliance needs a certain skill set. And even though we were finding candidates in some of these areas, we were not finding a campaign staff to build around them to make them successful. And you are an amazing staffer, you can understand this, you know how important those day-to-day operations are, that a candidate cannot run everything themselves. And they need to build the right staff. Jim Francis I had known a little previously. We had met through different Democratic functions and things like that. Jim Harlan, the same way, he was on the DSCC. So each of us individually had had these kinds of probing conversations that were, you know, where do we see the party going? What would we like to see? And it was just kind of, let's sit down and have a real conversation face to face and talk about this. Let's go from just having side conversations at the DSCC to what can we put on paper as a plan of action? And you know how that is going from concept to plan.
And so what did y'all decide needed to happen?
We needed to create a network across the entire state, start recruiting people that wanted to be involved for these DPECs and DSCC seats. So we started looking at the different areas and who we could get on board to help us in all these different areas to have people run for the DSCC, because as you know, every year after an election, there are many unfilled DSCC seats. So we looked at targeting ones that didn't have representation, or maybe had somebody that wasn't going to run again. So it was kind of, the best way to say it was, by putting the feelers out there.
And how are you going about finding folks in those places?
*A lot of it was people we knew. When you're around the state, just like, if I gave you a certain area, you could probably open your phone up and give me two or three people in any area in this state. I know how connected and organized you are. If I said, "Hey, I need something in Caddo," you could probably pull up your phone and say, "Okay, talk to X, Y, and Z in Caddo." "Well, I want to do the same thing in Alexandria." And you could probably give me three or four names. So that's kind of where it started, each of us kind of combining those ideas of the people that we knew in the different areas to say, how can we look all over the state? And the first look was, are there any places where we don't know absolutely anybody? But that's kind of where the original map starts to form. And that's where we start building out this coalition of, you know, who can we all bring on board to push this forward?
And I want to ask this question. I hope it doesn't sound judgmental. I'm just actually curious about the question. Were you in this moment like, "Let's just find who we can" or was there any effort to make sure there was diversity involved in who you were recruiting or talking to the local, the local political leaders to make sure you weren't stepping on toes and political landscapes and such? Was any of that happening?
It was kind of a different assignments going on. Jim Harlan knew more of the elected people than I did. But I knew more of the progressives. So I was in touch with some of the progressive groups. You know, the DSA, as you know, I've worked with the Sierra Club, been a member of the Sierra Club. So there's environmental groups that I knew, you know, just talking to different groups of people. That was one of my strengths, people that aligned with the party, but may have never thought to actually take an active role in the party. Because I just use the example of the DSA, they align with certain things in the Democratic Party, but they have no voice in the party in a lot of the areas. But just talking to them saying, "You need to have a voice in this party. You don't need to rebuild your own political machine, you need a voice in what's already being done."
Look, I think that still needs to happen. I think your point is a really good one in that there are organizations across the state, who are doing the work of organizing, who we talk to on Louisiana Lefty all the time, who invariably will say their job would be easier if we had a better organized state party. And I think the way to do that is to make sure that they each have a voice at the table.
Well, I think it was Ann Richards, you can you can correct me, I don't mind, said "You're either at the table or on the menu," something like that.
I don't know who originally said it, sounds like her, but that's that's right. That's right.
I remember hearing something like that from her. And that's the whole pitch. I mean, if we're not organizing together, and we don't give them a voice at the table, they want the same things we want, you know. Labor and union leadership, they need a voice at our table. These environmental groups and these other groups who do social justice, and equality and diversity, what does that really look like, you know? Who's represented in our party? Who has a voice in the way we actually steer this ship is important.
Well, and guess what, they bring voters with them. Right? Like they have outreach to their own voting bloc, you know, their own email lists and their own community meetings they're having. So while they may not be able to talk about Democratic politics specifically at those meetings or in those emails, that's still a connection. That's a bridge that you've built. And you're inviting those same folks to the table when you have someone from that group there. That information is going to get back to them. It's not as hard with the unions, of course, because there aren't the same political issues that a 501(c)(3) or a 501(c)(4) might have.
And a lot of people don't recognize that, even some of the ones we got and we brought in, the differences between (c)(3)s and (c)(4)s and who can be political, who can't be political, what is the limit of being political based on the money that you brought in and what it can be used for? That's a mystery to a lot of people still.
Sure, but as individuals that doesn't matter. You as an individual can engage in politics.
Don't be scared of it. A lot of people are scared because it's either a dirty word or a big word. Right? Like don't be scared of either one of those things be involved. You know, you can be involved at the local level run for a DPEC. You can be involved at the state level, run for DSCC. Have your voice heard. That's literally what we're supposed to be doing in this party.
Well, and part of the organizing work you were doing that was important, because if just one person from the Sierra Club joins the state party, and they're just that one, if there's not a large group joining, not from just the Sierra Club, but from all these different kinds of organizations, it's just one voice, it's a lot harder. It's when you have a coalition together that's serving in state party leadership, now, your voices are really going to have more value.
And some people don't realize, I'm in the Sierra Club, but there are dozens of great orgs doing work. You've got the Bucket Brigade, you got the Green Army, so the environmentalists have lots of good organizations. You know, when we talk about social justice, there's equally as many, you know, all these different issues that we have organizations tied to them. And they're sometimes subject matter experts in anything we need. You know, if I want to talk about oil spills, I can can contact any one of those groups, and they can have somebody that they have spent years researching and they can give me far more in depth than I could be in a couple of weeks on that.
And the thing about it, Kirk, is that while some folks go "Well, the party's so bad, we just want to blow it up and start something new," it's virtually impossible to put together the infrastructure that the state party automatically comes with. It's actually part of the state infrastructure, the elections for state party officials. And the fact that there is a national party and an Association of State Democratic Parties, I mean, there's so much built in infrastructure, that it would be nearly impossible to say, "Well, we're gonna start this progressive party from scratch." It would just be such an uphill battle. It's much simpler to try to get a voice on what is existing.
It's one of those things that sounds really great. We would love a progressive group in Louisiana. I can't say everybody, because maybe Jeff Landry wouldn't, but it sounds great -- we're gonna have this truly progressive statewide. It's tougher to actually do. It's tougher to actually put it together and tie it to national organizations and get all of this money coming in. It's been tried by many people. The best way is to use what is here right now.
So tell me what happened when you all started to do this outreach. And you can give a little more detail than this. Because I was not intimately involved in this process at all. I was sort of watching it from afar, and hearing bits and pieces about it. But it seemed like at some point as you were progressing, and as you added people, some of this got -- I'm gonna use this word, and you may choose a different word -- but it felt like some of your work got hijacked from you.
Well, it did. You can use that word, it's 100% accurate. As we were building out the group, and like I said, it's our fault. And we're gonna have to take full, you know, blame with that. We grew it fast, you know, with people that we thought would be, you know, on our side, that had ulterior motives. And I know, you've probably run into people around the state that are like that. Yes, it's one of the political potholes and dangers we run into. And it shifted from being about what we could do to steer the party, a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon. They wanted to make this whole anti KCP thing out of something that wasn't against her. We wanted a better party. In a way we were talking about leadership and maybe wanting new leadership, you know, but not necessarily just wiping it out. So it wasn't against. It was more how can we create better leadership? And like I said, they turned into this "We hate KCP" thing. And with a lot of the people, it turned from positive rhetoric of how we make the party better, to something that was very negative. And I never did like that. And that's when I started to pull away a little bit because I saw what was going on. And, you know, we came to odds with some of the people and were like, "We started and tried to put this thing together, y'all are taking it in a way we never intended it to go." That's when the attacks started on me.
Right? And I'll just say that I found some of the arguments from the folks who hijacked it to be incredibly racist and sexist against Karen Carter Peterson, this is me speaking, not you. I also heard a great deal of homophobia towards Stephen Handwerk, who was the previous executive director. So I just heard some folks who talked to me on the side, for whatever reasons they were talking to me, it got pretty overt, sometimes. So I found that to be unfortunate. It made me incredibly uncomfortable that there was organizing going on in the Democratic Party that centered those values, which are not my values.
And that's part of some of the problems that we have. We have these areas that they're like, "Well we're conservative Democrats," and I'm like, "Okay, argue with my points," you know. Because I'll tell you, me and Stephen don't agree on everything. We've closed the door in his office and we've had, I won't say, arguments, but discussions about the party, how things go...
We'll go with discussions. But none of that was centered around who he was. And it wasn't just reserved for him, because some of them that were my friends, they would record the conversations and send them to me and say, "Oh, by the way, this is what this person is saying about you on these calls." And you get a real kind of inside view of wow, that's where they're going with this. Because it has nothing to do with who I am, what I stand for, anything. They're just being mean.
They were attacking you in order to make it so that people wouldn't listen to your perspective, right?
I went from, in the same week, I went from somebody that hated Karen Carter Peterson to her personal lackey. And I'm like, you've accused me of being both in the same week, you know, but that's the way internally some of this game is played.
I found that fairly insulting -- regular listeners will know by now that I ended up running for chair in the last couple of weeks of the election...
I nominated you!
You were the person who nominated me; thank you for that Kirk! In that short two week campaign that I ran, for all the reasons I've already previously discussed, I was accused of being Karen's or KCP, as you call her, her protege, her minion, or her puppet there, that I was going to just continue her administration the way that it was. And had anyone taken a moment to get to know me, anyone who did already know me, would know that those things were incredibly off base.
And part of it, when the group started to really grow and get out there, because we originally had this idea that each district needed one person, we wouldn't recruit a bunch of people for each seat, we just wanted one person for each seat. Now, of course, after it began to grow, we ended up with five, six people in this group, all running for the same seat, that were all going to plan on running against each other, which completely messed up planning. As you know, it's just easier to plan with running one person in each seat, trying to get them elected and keep them on board and know what was going on. And it just turned into this big fiasco.
This group that hijacked your efforts was just really looking for folks who would vote against the person who ended up being the outgoing chair and didn't even run. My perception is that the movement that got hijacked from you, was hijacked yet again towards the very end, that there did seem to be a political group from New Orleans that came in at the end and said, "Hey, thanks for all the work you did, we'll take this over now."
And it was it was one of those things where you feel, one of these things I hate to feel good about, but one of the people that originally hijacked it didn't end up getting what they wanted, right? They were actually voted against in the end. So it's one of those things that, I hate reveling in someone else's loss, I like to build people up, but when you see somebody who took it from you ultimately not get what they wanted in the end, it's it's a little funny.
All that said, what ultimately happened was we ended up with the chair we have, who, again, I will say, and the reason I ran was, the person does not have a lot of experience. I just don't know that she was prepared to run the party. And that feels like it's been borne out over time. That group that came in at the end, nonetheless, still chose to back that horse. And I'm not 100% sure why, except for that it was probably just easier because so much work had already been done.
Well, also, you've probably seen this throughout the state, like I have. Certain groups are collecting loyalties. They're not here to build the Democratic Party. There are groups inside the Democratic Party... if you've ever seen, like the opening to any of the cliche High School movies, you have the jocks, and you have the popular kids, we have cliques like that inside the party. And you have groups of people who are not here for the party. They're here to collect loyalties. They're here to collect people for their clique, people that are in power that can help them grow their power. And they are looking for people that they can control in a way. And that may have been what some of those people saw, someone who was naive, who didn't have a lot of experience. They probably thought if I put this person in there, this would be somebody we could easily control.
And I don't think anybody was ready for the the backlash that ensued of everything that went on, because it got very heated and very ugly very quickly, as soon as the gavel dropped on her being chair.
So knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently in 2020?
I'm not gonna say any names, but there would have been two or three people that when they were brought up, I would have said, do not let this person anywhere near anything that we do organizing in this state.
But how would you know that?
You said, knowing what I know now.
What's the cautionary tale, though? Like, how would you have known that those people should not be involved?
That's the thing, you don't know. People I've worked with, people that I have worked on projects with, that have smiled and shook my hand and have given me compliments and done all of this stuff, you don't know. That's part of this. I hate to call it a political game, but for some of these people, it's gamesmanship. They will smile until it's time to drive the knife in your back. They will compliment until it's time to ruin you. As long as you are on their side, they are full of praise and the second that you are against them in any way, they will try to just utterly destroy you.
I fear that that would make someone who's looking at maybe getting involved in the state party say, "Well, I don't want to get involved in that." So how do you avoid that? How do you avoid those people?
If I knew that answer, we would do a whole podcast just on that: how to avoid all the pitfalls in the state party and in politics in general. But you don't know. Like I said, sometimes you don't know. Some of these people I've known for years, and worked with on different projects, and never had a problem with, but the second it was more beneficial to them to try to eviscerate me, then they did it.
Alright, well, I think that's something that we we've got to explore at some point. So maybe not in this moment in this podcast, but that's a question I think, you know, I'm careful with who I trust. I'm not going to say that 2020 did not reveal some weaknesses in some relationships I thought I had. But for the most part, I do try to be just very cautious, walking in and understanding that if it is political, if it's Democratic, some of it is I think you do have to find -- and this is something I would highly recommend to folks -- you do have to find trusted advisors who've been around who can fill you in on stuff. You do need to find someone whose values match yours, who you can watch for a little while and learn a little bit about, and say that's that's someone that looks like I should be able to trust them. And I would never just choose one person, you probably need a few. Of course you don't want to go around talking all the time with everybody. So you still need to hone it down a little bit to two, three, four, maybe five people that you can talk to, and more than anything, get information on people and situations so that you're not walking blind into things. That's the biggest takeaway I've gotten over the years of working in politics, is that I have a handful of folks I can trust. Like you keep saying, I don't agree with them on everything, but I can trust them. So I can ask them, "I'm thinking about hiring this person or I'm thinking about working with this person, are they okay?"
Oh, and it's also important, don't just get 'yes people.' Don't get people that are just going to agree with you. Get people that can be critical to your face, not behind your back, that can ask you tough questions, you know, that can dig into your ideas, that -- I don't want to say that can confront you -- but that can criticize openly without animosity being built up. You know, and I keep going back to me and Stephen, we've have done that many times. There is no animosity between us; we understand we have different points of view. I'll bring something to him, and he'll shoot a million holes in it. Because he has a different point of view, a different depth of knowledge. And he's like, "Okay, well, did you think about this, this, and this?" And I'm like, "Okay, you know what, no, I didn't." Get people around you that you can trust, but also that can be openly critical with you.
To give that constructive criticism, you need that, you need a different point of view in everything that you do. Sometimes that's tough to handle. But it's absolutely necessary.
And I'll say this again, and I said it in the podcast I did with Stephen Handwerk on this: Guard your work. That's something that I'm very cautious of is making sure that if I'm managing something, I'm not turning that over to somebody else. I'm not giving them the keys to the castle, and no shade to you, Kirk, I don't want it to come across that way, I'm just trying to, again, cautionary tale to folks who are listening. If you're managing something, don't just turn that over to somebody else. Just be careful, be careful.
No, no, no shade, no shade. It's like I said, I've learned these lessons. And sometimes you have to learn a lesson the hard way. Some of us are a little more stubborn. We have to actually go through these things, to pick up that life lesson and say, "Oh, okay, next time I do this, these are the ways I will do it better, because these are the ways that last time the ship took on water."
So tell me your perspective with what's going on now with the state Democratic Party. There's been a lot of controversy lately. One of the things was the commercial that the state party chair did. We've had this weirdness over the endorsement process.
The first vice chair is now gone, too. We have people running for the first vice chair. He went ahead and he put an email out a few weeks ago with his resignation from the first vice chair.
There was a controversy around the endorsement process with the Senate and PSC races last year. So there's been a lot going on. Can you tell me what's your perspective of where the party is? What's going on with it?
Can we address the the endorsement process first to go ahead and clear that up a little bit.
Go for it.
There were changes in the bylaws. And numerous people were saying that the changes to the bylaws had many questionable things in them, about giving power to the executive committee, giving power to the chair. One of the things that was taken out or changed was it used to be, as you remember, you could take nominations from the floor in an open DSCC meeting. But the bylaws were rewritten to reflect that you either had to take what the executive committee gave you, or there would be no endorsment whatsoever, which is flawed.
My understanding was that the the executive committee recommended endorsing Gary Chambers.
It was changed in the meeting.
Yeah, the chair came out and said we want to endorse all three.
It wasn't, it came from if I'm not mistaken, I don't want to speak wrong, but I think it was Rep. C. Denise Marcelle. And with the new rules, the chair can either accept or not accept that.
But that the interesting thing there is that overrode...
through the power of the chair...
Right, so that overrode the executive committee's endorsement recommendation. Kirk, what I don't understand is, you're saying you can't do a nomination from the floor, but isn't that essentially what Denise Marcelle did?
It wasn't a nomination, it was a resolution, an open resolution, which the bylaws normally say should be in weeks before and go through the resolution committee. But the resolution was offered then, and Katie accepted it. So wasn't a nomination from the floor, it was a resolution to change or override what the executive committee had done. I know, you gotta love this.
So this is all a hot mess. And of course, it causes commotion.
And this is all happening right in front of him, when he knows he should be getting the nomination. This is all happening right in front of everybody.
And P.S., he's recording it? I'm glad he did. So what I thought was really so disingenuous was that the argument was given that, well, we couldn't choose one candidate over the other, because we don't have primaries, we had to endorse all three in this race and the PSC race. But when you got to the congressional district three race, there were two Democratic women running against Clay Higgins, they did not have a problem choosing one of those two women.
That's because people had a problem with the other. That was a personal issue. And it shouldn't be that way. But that's the way it was.
Right. So I mean, it's either your policy to endorse all or not, right?
But policy changes based on who we like and we don't like apparently.
So it seems.
So I mean, there's the proof. You just mentioned the proof.
Yeah. But a lots happened more recently, where there was talk about the chair running for governor, she's put out this ad with this PAC that is sort of inscrutable, like, what are you doing? Like, what was even the message of that ad? So as you mentioned, the first vice chair stepped down over that. They've got no one yet recruited to run for governor.
Speechless, aren't you?
As far as I know, there's been no concerted effort to recruit folks to run for these legislative seats that are all up for election. So tell me what's happening now with the party, Kirk? What's your perspective on what's happening now with the party, and I guess more importantly, like, tell me that information, but then at some point, pivot to telling me what needs to happen?
Can I pivot the other way for a second so you can kind of see how this leads up to it? One of the first things we did is actually created an ad hoc committee on how we build DPECs. That got traction for about six to nine months. So there were ideas that were put forward that people wanted to do these things, that would really help and they just, they never came to fruition, they just kind of fell apart. So there was on some level, regardless of the show that was being put on with the leadership, people knew what needed to be done, and they wanted to try to move things in the right way, regardless of who was chair. And a lot of those things have started to fall apart. There has been infighting; there has been arguing. And I don't know if everybody knows, but you're allowed as a Democratic voter to know the process, to sit in with the process. We shouldn't hide things from you. We shouldn't be behind closed doors. If you are a DSCC member, you're allowed to at least listen to the executive committee meetings. I would encourage you to do that. We have our meetings, you know, talk to the people at the state party and say, "Can I get an invitation to at least listen in?" Now you can't vote, you can't have a voice, but you can listen in to what the executive committee is doing. Now, the problem is the last time that happened, and you had some people listening in, they went to an executive session.
Hmm, gotcha. That means that they became private for a minute in an executive session to do some private stuff before they came back to where people were listening.
Right. And normally, an executive session is reserved for very few things that need to stay absolutely confidential. Let's say that they'll say, "Lynda, you're being investigated, that doesn't need to be common knowledge. We'll deal with that in an executive session." So you know exactly who knows what. You know, some of the bigger ticket items, we deal with in executive session, but the rest of the stuff should be done out in the open. It should be done in front of everybody, should be done with the prying eyes knowing and being fully aware of what's going on. That's not always the case.
The DSCC meetings themselves any Democrat should be able to listen to, right?
Right. And the executive meeting, any DSCC member can ask to be in on those.
And if you know who your DSCC member is, you can ask them to do that, to sit in on executive committee meetings, so that they can report back.
We need to be transparent in that manner.
So that's what needs to happen.
Are you saying that your perspective on what's happening now with the party is the biggest issue is they're not transparent? You've also kind of indicated that they're just not following through on plans to build the party. That sounded like what you were saying.
My biggest one has always been how do we build the party, not just in the areas we are strong, but in the areas where we're weak? Because anybody can tout, hey, we're doing great in New Orleans, because New Orleans is highly Democratic. But how are we doing in other places? How are we building our DPECs? How are we building our DSCC? You know, how are we getting people involved? Now, I do want to say the the Young Democrats are being recharged, College Democrats are on the upswing. Ciara Hart's done a lot of good work in that area, you know, getting the Young Democrats up and moving again, that's it's been a minute.
And I want to talk to her.
She's definitely good. Some of that has been good. We haven't been doing much training, which was nice to really be a centerpiece. If we start knowing who we've trained, we can start putting these campaigns in touch with those people. Imagine if you want to run, you're a first time candidate, you want to run for school board, you don't really know what you're doing, but you really want to advocate for public education, you want to be good. You go to your DPEC or your DPEC representative, and they say, "Sure, let me put you in with somebody that we just trained, that can help you start your campaign, and let me put you in this program, which trains you how to be a candidate." Because one of the biggest things I found was not always a lack of candidates, it was a lack of staff.
That's right. That's right.
I talked to many good candidates, wonderful people.
But they don't have the support they need to run a campaign.
They need the structure to actually win. On a personal note, that'd be one thing I would change. Because we're not training, because not everybody wants to be a candidate, and we're not training those people who don't want to be candidates. We need to be training organizers; we need to be training our field operatives; we need to be training next communications directors. You've got some of these kids that are 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, they're in High School Democrats and College Democrats, they're sharp can be. You know Davante Lewis. I mean, our future could be great and bright, if we find a way to engage them, and train them, not just this one size fits all, they're all going to be candidates, they're not. I have never been a candidate, but I've trained staff. I've training people how to run a campaign and things like that. I myself, up to this point, after 15 years, I've never actually been a candidate for public office. But I've been active in the party and done all these other things. There's a place for people that don't want to necessarily be the candidate. They're more comfortable behind the scenes, building the apparatus. Because, you know, I've never seen Lynda Woolard run for governor. But I know she can get a governor elected not once, but twice, you know. She can help put that together.
So is there any more you want to say about what's happening in the party and about the leadership that's there right now?
Well, first of all, I'm not going to be into personal attacks.
That's fine. I'm not looking for that.
Our chair has made missteps. And it's okay to accept and understand that. To be critical of our chair is part of my job on the executive committee. You know, I'm supposed to be critical. I'm supposed to look at decisions, whether they were good or bad, how we can do things in the future. We're not at a good point right now. We can't even possibly imagine to be in a good point. We have nobody for governor. We have nobody for a lot of these races. We have a first vice chair that's just stepped down. We should already have a gubernatorial candidate and already be building toward a race. We're scrambling. That's not a good point. You can't look at the state of things that are going on right now and say we're in a good place, because it just doesn't seem like we are. There is disarray. There is infighting, and we have people that have used this to their advantage. I would like to say there was a fix to it, that I could just come up with some, you know, magic bullet to just cure it all, but I can't. You have people that are, without being overly critical to them, you have people that their whole shtick is being on social media and complaining. When we looked statewide for people to run for office, they had nothing to say. But the minute the chair made a misstep, they were all over social media attacking. You know, that's problematic. If you can do better, please join us. You have to be present. You have to have a voice; you have to be standing up. You know, we don't have enough of that sometimes. You know, we have people that are like we said earlier, they're trying to create their own pool of talent instead of building the party. And so a party in disarray helps them out. Because I'm not going to go to the party for help. "Oh, apparently, these groups of people have gotten elected, and they keep getting elected, I need to go to them instead of the party. So now they're growing their group and their influence.
My issue with that, Kirk, is that circle of influence is, generally speaking, in already blue areas. So we're not creating opportunity for Democrats in swing areas, or leaning-red areas or, you know, we're not doing the work of helping the party elect more Democrats throughout the state.
It doesn't help us in a statewide race. You know, you're going to turn Baton Rouge even more blue? Well, how does that help us in the other areas? How does that help us in the state legislature? Most of Baton Rouge, you know, the areas that they're talking about, and, you know, New Orleans areas there, they have blue representation in the state.
And I talked to people who are deeply worried and folks who are high up in the Democratic Party, folks who are elected officials, I occasionally have conversations, there is a deep worry that we will end up with a Governor Jeff Landry and Republican super majorities in both chambers of the legislature. And now I'm talking to other folks who may not be in the first group I mentioned, but who are just like, "I've got kids, I can't live in this state if that happens."
Well, we do have to worry about that. One of the things that really bothered me the other day, you had multiple Louisiana legislators go down to Florida for a photo op with DeSantis, talking about bringing all these policies to Louisiana. And I'm like, have you read the policies, have you looked at some of the stuff? It's so disturbing, and this is what you want to bring to the state? And unless we have more seats, we're not going to be able to fight these, we just we're not going to do anything.
So it is really important that folks, if they are invested in staying in Louisiana, that they fight to make a better party. We say at the beginning of every episode, "The health of the state requires a strong progressive movement, fueled by the critical work of organizing on the ground." And so it's really important that folks get engaged with the party, because only a stronger party can elect more Democrats, and only by electing more Democrats and better Democrats, can we fight the Republican onslaught of these DeSantis-like efforts. What I want to appeal to people to do at this point is, if there's any way at all for you to get personally involved, I think it's really important. And look, you've got to have a lot of people decide to get personally involved, because not all of them are going to get elected to a DPEC or DSCC. You've got to have enough of a groundswell of people saying, "I'm willing to take some personal responsibility for making a better party," that we do flip some of the seats. It won't be all of them. And I've mentioned this on previous episodes, I'll say it again, the other thing you need to do is find out who your party officials are, because if you have a good DSCC member already, you don't need to run against them. If you've already got someone who's representing you well, you know, Yay!
Talk to them, send them an email, call them, do something, get in contact with them, or try to get them to have contact with you, ask them questions. You know, it's your right as a registered Democrat to know how your party is running and where they stand on all this. If you see a party in disarray, you should be able to ask them, "What are we doing about it? How can we do this thing better?"
If it's okay with you, I'll make sure I share your contact information in the Episode Notes so if folks want to get in touch with you about any of this party stuff they can do so. Is there anything else the average Democratic voter should know about the state party?
You have a lot of people in the party that want it to be better. I know I've had a lot of negative here. And we've said a lot of negative things. But you really do have some great people in the party. My criticism is my criticism. But it's not everybody all the time. You do have you have some amazing young people. We've mentioned Ciara; we've mentioned Davante. We have future leadership, you know. I could name even more in the Baton Rouge area. You could probably name half a dozen or more in the New Orleans area. So we do have some good young leadership coming down the pipe. You know, the storm won't always be a storm. You know, right now we're trying to pull a ship through the storm, it will eventually go. But it's not just going to do it by itself, we need to steer it in the right direction. So we need people to be involved. We do have some good leaders. We do. Now, not all, that's fine. I'll put that out there. Not everybody in leadership is a great and glorious, but that's I guess personal criticism from working with them and knowing them and things like that. But there are good. So the question to the Democratic voters is, how do we distinguish who is actually there for us? And how do we create something better? How do we steer the ship into better waters? What's coming down the pike in some of these other states, if we don't have a strong party, is authoritarian in nature. You can look at some of the things that are run, it's troubling to say the least. On my part, being a teacher when I see other states that are moving toward indoctrination, not education, not teaching people how to think but trying to tell them what to think, that's troublesome. And when I see them trying to bring that here, that's something I want to fight against. So that's one of the big things too. What is it that you want to fight for? What is it that you want to fight against? What is it that you are willing to, you know, put your flag in the ground and say, "This is where I stand"? You have to know that; you have to understand that, snd that can get you involved, that can be a pathway or an avenue to just start standing up. Don't be afraid. You shouldn't be afraid of your elected leaders, they should be afraid of you. You put them into office to represent you not to represent LABI, not to represent any of these other companies. They're there to represent the people. And if they're not doing their job, it's time they go, whether they're a mayor, or a city councilman, or a school board member, or a DSCC member or a DPEC or a chair. It doesn't matter. They were elected to do the job. If they're not, it's time for them to go. Don't be afraid of that statement. Stand up. You should be able to stand up to your leadership. You should be able to stand up to power and you should speak truth to power at all times.
So Kirk, answer these last three questions. What do you see as the biggest hurdle for progressives and Louisiana?
Organizing, organizing, organizing.
We're not doing enough of it, is that the hurdle?
We're not doing it together. Like I said earlier, we have some wonderful, issue-based progressive organizing, but we're not always working together. We'll work on my issue and not sometimes understand that their issue is just as important to them as mine is to me. So we get sometimes compartmentalised as progressives you know: "These are the things I think what a progressive should be." And sometimes we're our own worst enemy. Sometimes also, we get in this idea that we want to save everything right now. We're gonna save the world. We're gonna do it right now. When you know as well as I do the reality of the state that we live in. It's sometimes a slow crawl toward progress. It's sometimes painfully slow. We lose fights constantly. But we also win. We need to uplift each other more, we need to be there for each other more, be more concerned for each other sometimes, you know, those kinds of things. We'll get in this rut of organizing that's almost like warfare. You've seen it. The progressives of the state, we have to fight hard, probably as hard in this state as in any other state. We have to be in the trenches constantly. And sometimes we forget about all the other stuff. We can't do that. You know, it's sometimes simple things. Tonight, we're not going to be progressives. You're going to be Lynda, I'm going to be Kirk, and just have a conversation. You know, little things sometimes are going to help us.
Okay, and what's our biggest opportunity?
The confusion of the state party.
So tell me more about that. What do you mean?
I kind of see this next election to the state party, it's been put under a microscope. Everything is blowing up. There's disorganization and disorder in so many places. This is the time for progressives to say, I want to take more of an opportunity here. I want to sit on this, Now is the time that they can start taking the seats, because they have legitimate concerns about the state party. It's not just the political insiders. We've been doing this a long time. So I guess that includes us now. But people outside of our bubble now know what's going on with the party. It's in primetime news. It's all over the state. Now's the time we can sell to progressives, if it is in disarray, let's help rebuild that house with some of our bricks and our mortar. So something that can be very bad can be turned into something very good, if we do it the right way.
I like that. And Kirk, who's your favorite superhero?
Well, based on the news this week, the superhero that I like best has got to be Jimmy Carter.
Nice. Nice. That's a great answer.
He's not in Marvel. He's not in DC. But what else do you call somebody that's spent an entire life of service? You know, me and my mom argue about his presidency all the time, because we have different political views. But one thing we absolutely agree on is his heart and his service, as a human being, as a person. That is a superhero that's better than Superman, and Spider Man and Wonder Woman. It's better than all of those to have that kind of heart for service, that kind of dedication for basically my entire life.
That's an excellent point.
He's been doing that ever since I can remember. To create habitat for humanity, to give that much to people who need that much, and to do it consistently -- and you never really hear him a lot of talking his faith, he is walking his faith, he puts his hands and his feet in the right direction to show you where his faith is -- that to me, that's my superhero.
He's a unique figure in American politics, for sure.
And he shouldn't be. That's a shame on us because it's unique. We need more like that.
I agree. Well, Kirk, thank you so much for sharing so much of your time with me and opening up about your experience that you've had with the state party, because I know sometimes some of that stuff's hard to share. And it feels like you're maybe telling things that should be private, or you're taking a risk that you might piss somebody off by talking about it, but I just really appreciate your openness about it. So thank you so much for joining me.
I appreciate it. I do that anyway, if you've ever seen me at a school board meeting, I'm really good at getting people upset with me. When the truth comes out, people seem to have a problem with it.
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