Monday, April 20, 2009

Leaving YDG in Safe Hands

Contested elections can be an envigorating thing, but they always make me nervous. Perhaps it is because I usually lost contested elections in high school. The one exception was the year that I beat a basketball star for the post of Treasurer of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. (Yes, I can sense your snide remarks!) It could also be that the contested elections I've seen as an adult have usually descended into bitterness, acrimony, and recriminations that last long after the vote has been held.

The chance for nastiness in the race to succeed me as President of the Young Democrats of Georgia was particularly high because of the participation of Brad Barnes who I believe has shown on more than one occassion in his home town an ability and eagerness to play dirty to get what he wants. In Rome, his manipulations were more easily successful, although even there, the only thing he truly won was control of his local chapter. That he was trying to take his "show" statewide alarmed me more than I can ever relay.

What's so wrong with Brad? When he first came around, we were thrilled to just have someone up in Rome, GA working with young democrats. He provided us with membership lists and always talked about different activities going on. There was no reason to not believe him at the time. My biggest wake-up call came at the Macon convention last year when Brad tried to derail all the reforms I was attempting to pass in how YDG was structured and operated. He did this despite having been part of the management group that worked with our consultant as part of the GO Grant. He knew why the reforms were happening, and he'd never raised a single objection. He also had ample opportunity to provide feedback at a Charter and Bylaws Convention or even via emails since I made no secret of my intentions. Yet, there he was, having not even bothered to show up to the Charter and Bylaws committee meeting at convention, challenging me on the floor and trying his damnedest to derail carefully considered reforms.

His behavior infuriated me, especially after he lost the argument when I got the 2/3 vote I needed to pass the reforms and then turned around and got himself elected as the North GA Regional Representative, a position he had just fought so hard to stop. However, I was aware now that Brad was secretive, not a team player, and would work to undermine my administration for whatever personal reasons he had.

It did not take long for Brad's behavior in Rome to become known to me. I received an official complaint from the Floyd County Democratic Party about a smear campaign being run by my Vice President of Membership, complete with affidavits and evidence. The thing was, the smears were carried about by my VP of Membership, but the whole plan was put together by Brad, who was smart enough to give him plausible deniability by leaving his direct fingerprints off the whole matter. There were threats of lawsuits being filed, but I quietly issued a reprimand to my VP of Membership and let the matter drop. No lawsuits were filed. The whole scandal was over a race for Clerk of Court, and Brad was trying to flex his muscles with the county party after he'd tried and failed to take them over. So his campaign spread smears and rumors about this poor man (who turned out to be the uncle of another officer at Georgia Tech, and the father of the UGA Finance Chair) and defeated him on primary election day.

It was around this time that actual elections were held for the Rome YD chapter, and it ended up that Brad lost control. Yet, he cried foul, screamed bloody murder, and spread lies about the subversion of democracy to demand an election do-over. The person who had beat him agreed just to end the raging controversy. Brad, however, was not finished with him yet. Part of his smear campaign against this guy was to spread rumors that he not only had AIDS but was trying to spread it and other STDs around the Rome area. Rome, GA is not a large city. The people with roots there know each other well, and it's a conservative area. Spreading these kinds of false rumors is bad enough in Midtown Atlanta where there are enough HIV+ people around that you can feel safe just living your life. But to spread this in a rural, conservative town? That was reckless and dangerous. I even had someone write out by hand that Brad had told him this specific rumor personally in case I ever needed it.

The "redo" election happened, and Brad got his brother to bus in all of his GOP-leaning friends, none of whom paid dues that anyone can tell. Brad got the treasurer of his group to refuse to allow his opponent to pay dues in an attempt to claim he wasn't a member of the chapter. In the end, Brad won back his chapter...and then promptly skipped the STATE to go work for Obama in Pennsylvania. He disappeared for months, and left his chapter so divided and ruined that they were useless in our #1 targeted state house district. Our candidate lost in a year he should have won, and if Brad hadn't destroyed his chapter for personal gain, it's likely the work that needed to be done by the YDs would have made the difference.

After that episode, I was done with Brad. He cares only about personal power and aggrandizement, doesn't follow established rules and procedures, shows a willingness to destroy whatever he can't control, and lies with an ease and casualness that exposes a very dark soul. I am no Polyanna when it comes to politics. You often have to fight hard, and rough, to get your way. But there is an unspoken code of conduct that people are expected to honor. Brad shows no willingness to follow any code of conduct at all. In fact, during the whole dust-up with the Clerk of Court primary there, I had more than one person from Rome tell me that Brad "is a cancer on the body politic." That's pretty serious. Usually, you hear opponents derided as idiots, dolts, assclowns, etc. But calling someone a CANCER ON THE BODY POLITIC takes it to whole new level that sends shivers down my spine. However, I have come to agree with that assessment.

This was the person who was trying to succeed me. Of course, true to form, he had no intention of announcing until the last minute. I suppose he thinks that no one talks to me about anything, or that I don't reach out to many different people to know what's going on in my organization and state. I suppose he thought I'd be caught by surprise at his announcement, or the rumors that he was going to bus in 60 people to vote for him. He even refused to participate in our room block at the hotel to keep us guessing.

After many discussions with many different people, I had decided to support Jane Bradshaw, my National Committeewoman, to succeed me. She has deep Georgia roots (over 7 generations), has worked as a paid member of a campaign staff as well as a paid legal counsel for the state House Democrats. She's bright, hard working, and understands the organization. She gets what the Young Voter Revolution is all about... empowering our generation and turning them into Democrats! She was an Obama delegate to the DNC in Denver last year, and people in the party know and like her. I felt that she was a strong contender to responsibily take over from me, and I wasn't alone. So Jane announced after I opened nominations, and seemingly ran unopposed while Brad was scurrying around the state whispering the mantra of "change" to undo the "cabal" in Atlanta that I had formed. Or something equally stupid.

Sure enough, Brad announced the last day of qualifying. He actually emailed me his declaration with 3 hours to spare, which did surprise me because I fully expected him to wait until 5-10 minutes before the deadline. I suppose he did not want to chance something happening in cyberspace to delay his email. Also at the last minute, George Seaborough, who had been our paid staffer in Savannah for the fall 2008 campaign, announced for Executive Vice President (EVP). I found that declaration strange since he had not spoken to anyone about running for anything. Usually, people do not just come out of the blue and announce for something without at least talking to others first. Turns out, he had talked... to Brad.

The campaign was mostly one of whispers, but luckily, enough people had had interaction with Brad that there was no way they would vote to turn the organization over to him. Still, I worried. Despite our best organizational efforts, it was possible to legally come in and take over the convention and work your will. We had to outdo Brad, and that's what we did. True to form, he didn't even follow the simple rules we had for convention. He did not turn in any credentials until the last minute, and I'm betting a good number of the people listed are not legitmate members, let alone Democrats.

On Friday, April 17, the convention opened. We had a rules meeting where we passed rules that would have prevented Brad from disrupting the convention. I had a Parliamentarian and the Judicial Council ready to respond to any controversies that Brad might stir up. Knowing how he craves his own aggrandizement, I had to prepare for about anything. It was like preparing for a trial! My legal education came in handy.

The "candidate debates" became a social after it was clear no one wanted to listen to speeches, and the candidates present were mingling. Of course, Brad and George (who by this time were running mates), showed up very late, and handed out plastic cups with their pictures plastered on them. As usual, Brad showed up looking like a slob. His weight is not the issue, because I have known many people who are much heavier than he is who managed to still look neat and put together. More often than not, Brad's idea of dressing up is a new pair of "stretchy pants" and a dress shirt that's untucked and usually has food stains on it.

George looked good and campaigned hard. I liked a lot of his ideas, but by hitching his wagon to Brad, he had destroyed any chance that many of us might have considered his candidacy seriously. When you associate with trash, the stink inevitably rubs off on you. But his opponent, Katie, is not a natural campaigner (which I COMPLETELY relate to) so there was anxiety that people would vote for Jane and then for George.

Saturday morning, I discovered my Credentials Chair was not going to make it. She had suggested that I use someone from her chapter to replace her. That I would not do, because I knew that a challenge had been filed regarding the Rome Chapter's credentials, should they ever be turned in. I was upset at first until I realized that I could appoint my predecessor in the Presidency, Billy Joyner. He has experience working through difficult issues like this through committee, and it turned out to be my best appointment.

Billy had control of the meeting from the start. A crowd had gathered, knowing that something big was likely to go down at the meeting. He methodically went through all the credentials, and gave people chances to correct and update them. Then he pulled out the challenged that had been written up earlier in the week outlining all the charges I've discussed earlier. The challenge asked that Rome's credentials be denied, which basically strips them of their charter. That is when all hell broke loose.

Carry from Savannah State (who now lives in Chattanooga) rose up to decry the charges, the attack on democracy, our lack of love for fellow democrats, etc. It was a loud, bravado performance that turned most people off. At first, Brad tried his wide-eyed innocent routine, and then he tried to throw my VP Membership under the bus by claiming he was shocked SHOCKED that such an underhanded thing had been done. But then my VP Membership stood up and implicated Brad quite clearly. It was at this point where Brad started demanding evidence of wrongdoing. That's usually what happens when we catch him in a lie, he goes from the doe-eyed innocent to a calculated stare and some variation of "You don't have the proof." It's interesting that he never denies it, but just states you don't have the evidence to tie him to anything.

What was happening in that room was a very public political humiliation. We did have evidence, which was printed and circulated... and everyone knew in their hearts that Brad was guilty as sin. As it got more heated, eventually the challenge was withdrawn. But the damage was done. Brad was exposed for the fraud he is.

After the meeting, Brad, face flushed with rage, asked me when I had found out about the charges. I casually told him that we'd received the challenge earlier in the week. He retorted, "And you didn't think you should notify me?" I looked at him and responded, "The challenge was addressed to me and the committee. I saw no reason to act on it until the committee met." Privately, I thought, "And why would I give you a heads up so that you could just craft more lies?"

By this time, we were heading to the floor of convention for General Session. We started off with general announcements and then committee reports. One big surprise for me was a resolution that thanked me for my service as President. It was very nice and flattering, and touched my heart. As it was announced, the convention gave me a standing ovation. I never expected such a show of thanks and love. I've never felt more appreciated in all my life. I'm usually not speechless, but I was at that point. I'm luckily, I didn't cry.

We saved Charter and Bylaws for last since that was the most controversial. We had two proposals for maps. One was a 5 region map that created two HUGE South Georgia districts and the other was a more equitable 6 region map. However, to get 6 regions with votes on Exec, we had to eliminate one of the 15 Exec votes that existed. The management consultant was pretty clear that going above 15 exponentially decreased the effectiveness of your board, so I felt the one most easy to get rid of was the rotating caucus vote. That was the part I knew would be controversial, and it was. We managed to table the discussion to move on to elections.

Luckily, President was voted first. As the votes came in, it was obvious that Brad was going to lose, and lose badly. Georgia Tech's chapter put Jane over the top, and she ended up winning 147-45. The only reason Brad got that many votes was due to the distance weights for himself, University of West GA, Chatham County, and Savannah State. But the will of the convention was clearly to reject him and his politics.

The next office was EVP. Atlanta chapter had decided to throw nearly all their votes to George to "punish" Katie for not supporting their guy for Regional Director. UPDATE: Apparently, I was misinformed. While Katie told Nikema she was not going to vote for Nikema's finance for Metro Atlanta Region Director, Nikema did not discuss that with the chapter or engineer a "punishment." Therefore, I stand corrected! UGA then had an unusually high number of abstentions that resulted in Katie being ahead at the end, but not enough to win. UGA then amended its vote to put Katie over the top.

The next move was for George to throw Haley Shank under the bus. She had recruited him to run for EVP because she didn't think Katie was a strong enough leader for EVP. Haley, however, could not attend convention due to being in a community place and was having to campaign from afar. That did not go well. Stephen Ratner from Emory was also running, but he was relatively new. Atlanta opened the floor and nominated George. He had previously promised to support Haley even if he lost, but he saw his chance and took it. He squeaked through to victory over Stephen, draining all votes that might have gone to Haley.

Daniel was unopposed for his office, but Savannah State, Chatham, and Rome decided to be bitchy and deny the convention the ability to elect by acclamation. They didn't bother putting up even a token candidate. They just made everyone go through role call as a way to "punish" Daniel. Talk about not knowing how to win friends and influence people. First, the screaming fit in Credentials, and now needlessly dragging out elections. The body was NOT pleased, and showed it by moving to have 1 minute voting periods (eventually became 5 seconds) for the uncontested races. I suppose they got satisfaction out of it, but they sure left a bad impression with everyone else.

When it came to Secretary, we also had a bit of drama. We knew the two declared candidates were nonstarters. One was Brad's minion from Rome, and the other was absent. We fully intended to nominate and elect from the floor. A guy from UGA named Carter offered himself as Secretary and we went with it. The interesting thing was that Brad's minion came up for his speech and withdrew trying to mumble about dirty politics or something. The result was that Carter won all but 10 votes.

Treasurer, National Commiteeman and National Committeewoman were all uncontested, but we slated them and then had a 5 second vote before sending forth vote totals for all three offices. The Savannah State-Chatham-Rome petulant section offered up varying degrees of "abstentions" to show displeasure. Apparently, Nikema was the one they liked best because she got the fewest abstentions.

Then we returned to the maps. Everyone was all up in arms as we broke into regions to discuss the maps and getting rid of the rotating caucus vote on Exec. The compromise was to open the slippery slope of adding a vote without taking one away. So now Exec has 16 votes on it. I didn't care as much in the end, although I found the arguments of "disenfranchisement" and "robbing the voice" of the caucuses to be childish and immature. In a fit of pique when I was approached by the Women's Caucus Chair about adjourning in time for her program, I snapped, "I don't know! I don't care. You can suck it." Not my proudest moment.

Then, it was over. We adjourned, went into regional caucus, and elected Regional Directors. But I had made it, and the right people had largely been elected. The unmitigated disaster of a Brad Barnes presidency was averted.

At dinner that night, I could finally relax. Senator Max Cleland was our featured speaker, and he was magnificant. We got to eat dinner with him, although there wasn't much talking at the table. Jane Kidd, the Democratic Part of Georgia chair, gave a very nice speech too. We also got to hear from two of our declared gubernatorial candidates. All in all, a very nice dinner.

We ended with awards. We had a nice slate of winners this year. Jason Chitwood from Cobb County was named YD Male of the Year. Nikema Williams was named YD Woman of the Year. UGA was named Chapter of the Year. Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College was named New Chapter of the Year. Cobb County was named Most Improved Chapter of the Year. Ed Hula won Jackass of the Year for an unprecedented 2nd time in a row, and the committee said he would not receive it again because it was unfair for "mere mortals to have to compete against a professional." Ed's not too happy about that. Finally, Democrat of the Year went to Juliana Illari, who was quite deserving of the honor.

I then started what I hoped would be a new tradition. I brought Jane up to the stage, and swore her in to office using the US Presidential oath as a template. People laughed when we got to the part about swearing to "preserve, protect and defend the charter and bylaws of the Young Democrats of Georgia", but the effect was just as I hoped. It was a clear and visible transition of power, and I ended it by bowing and saying, "Congratulations, Madam President" as I handed Jane the gavel, and gave her a bag with all the files, credit cards, IDs, etc that I had accumulated as President. I whispered that it was "the YDG Football". She got a kick out of that. Then Jane called up the other newly elected officers and swore them in too. I hope that tradition continues.

Tim had a surprise for me in his closing announcements when talking about the Leadership Academy. He talked about someone who had inspired him and had been not only a good friend but a good boss too. Then he and Jane presented me with a basket of goodies and a gorgeous, fabric bound book with a seal on it about Law in America that's largely legal history, but just the sort of thing I adore to read. I was completely touched by the gesture. I've never felt so good about myself in my whole life.

When I came into the Presidency two years ago at Jekyll Island, I simply wanted to continue the work we'd done in the last 5 years I'd been involved. Most of all, I wanted to NOT mess it up! I wanted to grow the Youth Voter Revolution as we planned. I tried to continue to run things by consensus without being afraid of acting on my own when necessary. If you were open and honest with me and worked as part of the team, things were good. For people like Brad, who wish to obstruct for the sake of obstruction, I had no tolerance. When you are a president, things you do will be questioned, and no one will be happy with you all the time. You'll even make a few enemies. I always acted with what I believed to be the best interests of the Young Democrats of Georgia. My needs or political ambitions did not matter. It was about building a youth political machine for Democrats....and we are starting to deliver. After two years, you'd expect many to be sick of me, but the honors they gave me with the gifts, the resolution, and the ovation, make me believe I did something right. I maybe even did a lot right, and I thank God for that. My worst nightmare would have been to disappoint everyone.

I have left the Young Democrats of Georgia in good hands. Our work will continue, and it will continue to succeed.


Tim said...

Thanks for this writeup Jason!
You were an awesome President!

Btw, you don't get off too easy, you still have an emeritus title to live up to. hehe

Gary said...

i love it! :)

Edmund said...

Well said. I was a touch concerned about this when I started to read it. Ultimately, however, it clarified a lot of the events of convention that I had been previously oblivious to. I've said it before and I'm sure I will say it again, thank you.

Juliana-Chairwoman said...


Thank you for this post and for whatever part you played in electing me Democrat of the Year- I was beyond honored and touched.

I'm sorry so say that for some the politics of politics brings out the worst in some folks, as if it's not tough enough to be a Dem in GA!

Perhaps age and experience will temper some of these folks in the future. Sadly, often it's not the case- bitter so young it is very sad.

As always, I'm proud to know you and the leadership of YDG. I look forward hearing more about the leadership academy..

One thing though- that "football" and the nasty plastic bag...really honey- we must find something more stylish than that! Mumma will find something.

hugs all around

fake consultant said...

I have a couple of completely off the topic rquestions that i'm hoping you might be able to address.

I'm going to be working with Huffington Post on a team that tracks Phil Gingrey during the health care debate that is about to ensue.

In order to put stories in perspective, I'd like to get smarter about Georgia politics generally, and I can't seem to find a blog "aggregator" like Left In Alabama or BlueNC.

Can you point me to the Georgia version of those blog sites?

Secondly, can you offer a comment or two regarding the composition of GA-11?

This is work I'll be doing myself, but it would be great to have insight from a "not the media" source.

I hope you'll forgive the odd nature of this inquiry, and thanks, in advance, for the help.

Jason said...

I would go to for a good posting of different sites in GA on GA politics.