Humorist Will Rogers said, “I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.”
That disorganization was on display last week when the West Virginia Democratic Party Executive Committee’s virtual meeting turned chaotic.
The party leaders were trying to adopt an affirmative action plan. However, the members of the party’s new affirmative action committee had not drafted nor signed off on the language.
Party Chair Belinda Biafore argued the party had to meet a deadline set by the national party, and that affirmative action committee members could review and make changes to the draft after it was adopted.
(Brad McElhinny has written about the breakdown that occurred and has more details here.)
Some executive committee members were so upset they called a news conference the following morning to lay out their concerns publicly.
“The treatment and disrespect on display last night was unconscionable,” said Hollis Lewis, co-chair of the affirmative action committee.
Kim Felix, a Democrat from Mercer County, said no person of color was involved in drafting the affirmative action plan.
“My initial reaction is one of sadness in that young persons like myself and people who identify as people of color have attempted to be proactive and involved and engaged in the Democratic Party,” she said. “Incidents like what occurred yesterday really signal and send a message to young people that we are not valued, nor are people of diversity welcomed into the party.”
The kerfuffle is evidence of the current divide within West Virginia’s Democratic Party.
There is the old guard, long-time members and leaders of the party who are, for lack of a better term, “Manchin Democrats.” They tend to be more moderate and used to maintaining control.
But there is another wing that is more progressive, more diverse and anxious to break through the party’s glass ceiling.
This very public argument is occurring amidst the backdrop of the steep decline of the party and its influence in West Virginia politics. The state has turned deep red, with Republicans ascending to supermajorities in the Legislature and achieving dominance in statewide races.
Earlier this year, the number of registered Democratic voters dropped below Republican registration for the first time in nearly a century. Republicans outnumber Democrats in 31 of the state’s 55 counties.
West Virginia’s Democratic Party is speeding toward irrelevance. That is not only disastrous for the party, but generally bad for the state. A vibrant two-party system makes for a healthier democracy.
Democratic Party leaders need to stop the bleeding and find a way to regain electoral traction. If last week’s very public party feud is any indication, they have a long way to go.