Friday, May 18, 2012

What Lee v. Spearman SD 1 Primary Comes Down to: Values

According to an article in today's Sun, State Senator John Lee (D-North Las Vegas) is quite glad to get by with a little help from his friends.

Lee’s original plan this year was to abandon his Senate seat in favor of running for Congress. He was expected to challenge a darling of the Democratic establishment, Sen. Steve Horsford, in the 4th Congressional District.

But Lee’s decision to drop out of the congressional race seems to have earned him the protection of the Democratic establishment against the liberal activists intent on driving him from office.

Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, who had announced he was running for Lee’s Senate seat, decided to move rather than challenge Lee. Other candidates whom progressives tried to recruit to run against Lee also backed out, before Spearman filed on the last day. [...]

“John is very thankful and grateful for the support of the Democratic Party and Democratic constituents,” said Ryann Juden, Lee’s campaign adviser. “He’s happy and thankful to have their support.”

He said the party’s support has “absolutely” helped.

“In the traditional way a party helps a campaign,” he said. The party has helped provide volunteers and “resources necessary to get out and connect with voters.”

The Democratic Party declined to comment for this story.

That's because the Nevada Democratic Party itself can not endorse in a primary. State and county party bylaws prohibit that. However, the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus has endorsed John Lee. You can see here how "excited" Senate Caucus leader Mo Denis (D-North Las Vegas) was to endorse Lee on live TV.

I suspect other folks listed as endorsers in Lee's recent mailer were much more excited to do it. In addition to a few unions and Democratic electeds, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce endorsed Lee. Remember them? They held up the state budget last year over their preferred legislation weakening benefits and workplace protections for public sector workers. Several other corporate lobby regulars, such as Barrick (mining), Bank of America & the state bankers' PAC, CenturyLink, and the realtors' PAC, also seem quite happy to support.

However contrary to what Lee operatives were hoping, the entire Democratic base isn't exactly on board with his campaign. It's mainly because of whose opinion he seems to value the most.

And not only are the state's progressive groups making noise about their disappointment with John Lee, but they're also backing that up with a real campaign. While they may not be able to fully compete with Lee's "business lobby" support, they are firing back with mailers, web campaigning, and a grassroots field effort.

Here's another key excerpt of David Schwartz's Sun article.

“We think this is the right thing to do, to stand up for Democratic values in a Democratic primary,” said Erin Neff, executive director of ProgressNow Nevada.

Members of the coalition, including the Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, Nevada Conservation League and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Action Network, “get it,” Neff said.

“They’re putting their name out there in a very difficult way,” she said. “It’s not easy to stand up to your own party.”

Lee, a conservative Democrat, has been progressives’ enemy in Carson City. He often votes against Democratic majorities on key issues for liberals such as domestic partnerships, minimum wage and environmental issues. His tendency to go rogue often required special attention from Democratic leadership to keep him in the fold.

Schwartz then noted the big Democratic allied groups staying out of the SD 1 primary, but he may have missed something quite important. The primary will likely be decided by a smaller (than the general electorate) core of Democratic primary voters who are motivated to get active in local elections, party matters, community affairs, social justice movements, and more because of their values. And their final decision in this primary will likely fall on who they believe best represents and supports what they value.

How much do Democrats in SD 1 value women's rights, full equality for Nevada's LGBTQ families, properly fostering Nevada's economy & environment, and justice for the 99%? And how does John Lee fit into this equation? How Democratic voters in that district answer those questions will be crucial in determining John Lee's political fate and Pat Spearman's political future.

Of course, there will be many more factors in this race. Who has the better ground game? Who contacted more likely primary voters? And who did best with the campaign donations received? But at the end of the day, it's really about the candidates' values and what voters in the district value most.

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