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McNerney: Don't Walk On The Grass(roots)

by: babaloo

Mon Apr 02, 2007 at 09:46:21 AM PDT

(babaloo, a contributor to Say No To Pombo, has a new SoapBlox blog, The Progressive Connection, from which this was cross-posted. - promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Stories about Jerry McNerney have been featured prominently in the blogosphere over the last week. First the information came to light that McNerney's 2008 race has been targeted by Karl Rove; then an ugly attack by the NRCC was launched. Meanwhile, against this background, McNerney's online staff managed a successful campaign to win a personal fundraising appeal from John Kerry, and McNerney blew past his first quarter fundraising goals.

Based on McNerney's Congressional record of fully supporting Speaker Pelosi's agenda, his support for Rep. Lynn Woolsey's H.R. 508, which would bring the troops home from Iraq within six months, and his leadership on water and energy issues, progressives everywhere have been rejoicing. Well, almost everywhere. You see, all is not quiet on the home front.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Back in 2004, a small group of committed activists worked to support Jerry McNerney in his initial race against Richard Pombo. Not very many people, bloggers or non, had heard of McNerney back in those days. But in 2005, as the `06 race started taking shape, that core group of mavens brought more and more new people to the table, and the grassroots/netroots phenomenon of the McNerney campaign began to take form. Even so, right up until the June primary, when McNerney decisively beat the DCCC's much better funded candidate, Steve Filson, there just weren't that many people who took McNerney seriously. And even after the primary, the McNerney/Pombo race was routinely considered second tier.  It wasn't until the last few heady months of the '06 race that more casual observers began to share the faith in McNerney that had been demonstrated by his core grassroots supporters all along. And, of course, now that he's a Congressman, everyone has jumped on the bandwagon, basking in the McNerney glow.

babaloo :: McNerney: Don't Walk On The Grass(roots)
But among that early group of mavens who formed the base of McNerney supporters, there is a sinking feeling that something is going hideously wrong. Allow me to make an analogy here — one from high school and one that, if you've ever met McNerney, should resonate. Imagine Jerry McNerney in high school.  Now, you know he was not cool; you just know it. He probably hung out with the math geeks and was a member of the chess club. Imagine, if you will, that McNerney's high school self was suddenly tapped by the Kewl Kidz and included in their activities, becoming totally immersed in their world. And further imagine that once he joined in with the KKs, he stopped talking to his geek friends, other than to ask them for their notes. What do you think the talk would be at the chess club?

Well, substitute Democratic club for chess club, and you'll pretty much get the drift of this post. McNerney has recently blown off scheduled appearances at local Democratic clubs, while important channels of communication between him and local activists have been slammed shut, and key early supporters have been unceremoniously thrown overboard.

So what's behind this? Well, frankly, I don't believe that McNerney is fully aware of the situation and the damage that's being done to his grassroots support. I lay the blame for this growing problem squarely on his Washington staff. There is a major power play being made for Congressman McNerney by the DC apparatchiks, starting with his chief of staff, a former DCCC employee by the name of Angela Kouters. Kouters is very young and ambitious — she hit the DC insider track straight out of college in 2000. She's also very inexperienced, particularly for the powerful role that she's assumed, and easily threatened by any criticism of her abilities. So apparently she's figured out that the best way to tamp down any challenges to her competence is to simply put a wall so high and so impermeable around McNerney that no criticism of her can reach him. And her accomplice in this is McNerney spokesman Andy Stone, whose less-than-stellar work on the website for the infamously bad 2006 Angelides campaign makes him equally vulnerable to criticism. Together Kouters and Stone have effectively sequestered McNerney from his grassroots/netroots supporters, positioning themselves as the sole gatekeepers to the Congressman.

But back home, the rumblings and grumblings are loud and clear to anyone who bothers to listen. The real question is whether Jerry McNerney is going to hear them and move to repair relations with the local grassroots. If he doesn't make some changes and put his DC staff in its proper place soon, he may be sadly surprised in 2008 when his old chess club friends suddenly find more important things to do.

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Details requested (5.00 / 1)
This diary makes a lot of claims without much to back it up.

Well, substitute Democratic club for chess club, and you'll pretty much get the drift of this post. McNerney has recently blown off scheduled appearances at local Democratic clubs, while important channels of communication between him and local activists have been slammed shut, and key early supporters have been unceremoniously thrown overboard.

What meetings did McNerney "blow off" and can you confirm that this is not the result of the need to perform official duties way off in DC?

I'd also like some more details as to what Kouters and Stone are allegedly doing to block McNerney off from the grassroots.

As to Andy Stone, I don't know him or anything about him, but I will say that the Angelides website was the one part of the Angelides campaign that seemed to function pretty well.

umm...Phil's website (0.00 / 0)
was a f*&#ing mess. It's why we started GovernorPhil.com...we couldn't find the information we wanted on his site. It was ugly, and then they did a redesign. Yuck

I think?

[ Parent ]
Oops (0.00 / 0)
They did a redesign in September. It was too little too late.

I think?

[ Parent ]
Sorry, no details (4.00 / 1)
You can choose to believe me or not; it's no skin off my back.  I'm not going to get more specific, although I certainly could.  The point is not to air all of the dirty laundry publicly — the goal is to keep a bad situation from becoming worse.  When open communication is stifled, creative alternatives have to be found.  Nobody wishes more than I do that the McNerney staff would move to make amends.

[ Parent ]
In other words... (0.00 / 0)
You won't be open about whether the process is open or not.  Consider me baffled.

[ Parent ]
McNerney & the netroots (6.50 / 2)
He did firedoglake on sunday, and appeared at the SF Dem. Party luncheon today.  Plus he's doing all those "congressman at your corner" things.

I think?

On the surface, all appears to be well (4.00 / 1)
These are deep, deep undercurrents.  But it's painful to see the people who were his earliest, most ardent and hard-working supporters being alienated.

[ Parent ]
Well, the decision of press secretary (4.00 / 2)
was questionable, to say the least, after the disaster that was angelides.com

BTW, who totally overhauls their site IN SEPTEMBER? And then doesn't really make the pieces work together.  Arg, don't get me started on angelides.com...

I think?

[ Parent ]
Forget Angelides.com (0.00 / 0)
I know they read this site. Why the hell doesn't anyone respond?  Andy, I'm speaking to you...

[ Parent ]
Yeah... (0.00 / 0)
But babaloo evidently has secret information that he can't share with us about how Jerry has been put in a media bubble.  Somehow, telling us this without telling us any of the details is supposed to somehow "keep a bad situation from becoming worse".  If babaloo really wants to keep a bad situation from becoming worse, then maybe airing dirty laundry would be a good idea.  I don't understand how not being open about this is any help towards maintaining openness.

[ Parent ]
Babaloo Knows of Which She Speaks (5.00 / 1)
And those of us who know she knows, understand that you might not be the intended audience of this post. 

[ Parent ]
I guess... (0.00 / 0)
my secret decoder ring doesn't come in the mail until later, right?

[ Parent ]
Not just McNerney (7.25 / 4)
This is a problem with many of the freshmen Democrats, including some of the US Senators we got elected last fall - their gatekeepers are suspicious of us and want us kept at arm's length. In the House I think a big part of the problem is Rahm Emanuel, who has tried and largely seems to have succeeded in enforcing discipline and adherence to his own centrist, exclusionist politics. He's tried to keep the new Dems away from us in the netroots as well as their grassroots supporters in the district. He even went so far as to infamously say the newbies shouldn't go on Colbert - a telling sign of how he thinks the new Dems should behave.

With Emanuel this is an especially bitter irony, since he so overtly backed Steve Filson over McNerney in the primary, and never seemed much convinced of McNerney's chances against Pombo in the general. McNerney owes his victory to the grassroots, not to Emanuel or the consultant class. I hope he remembers that.

Yet it isn't just Emanuel's problem; this speaks to a deeper Dem establishment culture that is unrelentingly hostile to blogs and to grassroots.* We're to be seen and not heard. We're to deliver our votes and our money but we do not get a voice or a role in shaping policy. In short, we're to be exploited. If this is what a Democratic majority looks like, mark my words, it will be short-lived. And that will be a shame.

* - (I could name names and give details, but like babaloo I won't. A shame that we feel this need to protect our sources with silence, but, here we are.)

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

Sadly heartfelt (8.00 / 1)
Those who ran the Angelides web strategy, namely Debra Rosen and Andrew Stone, repeatedly showed a total lack of understanding for how the netroots works. Their level and explanations for this incompetence can only be explained by a total lack of understanding and/or respect for the grassroots. I couldn't say this with more conviction.

Thanks for this post (8.00 / 1)
And for your post on the old McNerney Staffs Up diary from back in December - these provide important reminders of how we got here. While there was a great deal of shock and outrage expressed this week, and rightly so, a diary like this is a reminder that the signs had been there for a while.

This comes at an important moment, as we learn Pombo will not try to get his seat back in '08. The GOP will likely try to find someone they can pass off as more moderate, and McNerney has to know his seat is still vulnerable. Unfortunately he and his advisors have drawn the wrong conclusion from that - that they should abandon the netroots and renege on their antiwar platform that was so successful last fall.

These insider consultants have failed before - some of the specific people involved failed Angelides, whereas their overall approach failed in several key races last fall (I am most familiar with how badly they made Darcy Burner look in WA-08). Going into a tough re-election battle the last thing you want to do is alienate your base, and for such little gain as this.

What this diary, and the subsequent events, suggest to me is that things are probably going to get worse for McNerney until they get better.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
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