• Mo Democrats party leader happy with his year in office

  • A little more than a year ago, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders was asked to step in as chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party. Now that term is ending, but he’s considering staying on the job.

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  • A little more than a year ago, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders was asked to step in as chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party. Now that term is ending, but he’s considering staying on the job.
    It was rough at first, but the last several months – including a strong showing in statewide races in November – have been “very rewarding and enjoyable,” he said this week, adding that he has to make up his mind in the next couple of weeks about whether to run again.
    He was elected to the post in November 2011, filling a vacancy. The party was in some disarray, and the previous election of a chairman had been contentious. Sanders quotes humorist Will Rogers, who liked to say, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
    “I was someone who was a consensus candidate,” Sanders said.
    There have been challenges.
    “The day I took office ... we couldn’t make payroll,” he said.
    That problem – a party debt running into six figures, since paid off – was one of three major issues Sanders said he faced immediately.
    A second was the party’s possible loss of half of its delegates to the national convention coming up in the summer of 2012, due to the state legislature’s decision to move up Missouri’s presidential primary. Both major parties go to great lengths to let Iowa, New Hampshire and a couple of other states have their caucuses and primaries before anyone else, and their leverage is not allowing as many delegates from states that don’t fall in line.
    “That’s something that would have been nationally significant if we’d have lost half of our delegates,” Sanders said.
    So he was on a plane in December 2011, headed for a meeting with the Democratic National Committee to plead his case. He won, though it wasn’t easy.
    “It was not a done deal,” he insists. “It was not a no-brainer.”
    Then a third issue.
    The party was looking at six statewide races in 2012 – U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state – and only Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster looked like probable winners.
    “We could all read the polls,” Sanders said.
    The solution involved “focusing like a laser on all the statewide campaigns,” he said.
    In the end, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder held on to his job, but Democrats got all the rest. Incumbents Nixon and Koster cruised, as did incumbents Sen. Claire McCaskill and Treasurer Clint Zweifel. And Jason Kander eked out a win, keeping the open secretary of state’s office in the party’s hands.
    “Five out of six. That was a remarkable year,” Sanders said. “It was a year that exceeded our wildest expectations.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Sanders said the credit doesn’t flow to him – it’s like a baseball manager, he said, getting too much credit when the team wins and too much blame when it loses – but he did say the party’s job is to find and field good candidates.
    “We’re the offensive line, not the quarterback,” he said.
    On the other hand, Republicans added to their large majorities in both houses of the Missouri General Assembly, but Sanders said his party can make gains.
    One strategy is targeting Republicans he described as out of the mainstream. Several have “tacked so far to the right that they no longer represent their districts. ... Perfect example: Todd Akin,” he said, referring to the congressman who lost to McCaskill in November.
    He argues that the party can do better in rural parts of the state.
    “I think for too long the Democratic Party has conceded rural districts. That’s a mistake,” he said. There might be eight or 10 races in which the party could make gains in 2014, he said.
    He also said Democrats simply need to work with Republicans when they can make common cause.
    “I think it’s logical. I think it’s smart,” he said.
    Congressional districts are less of a focus. Missouri’s districts, like those in many states, are drawn as fairly safe for one party or the other. In November, all eight winners in Missouri – six Republicans, two Democrats – got at least 60 percent of the vote. Put another way, gerrymandering makes it very likely that Missourians will elect six Republicans and two Democrats every two years until lines are drawn again – by the majority party in the General Assembly – after the 2020 census.
    Sanders says such gerrymandering is out of hand.
    “I look at that as a huge problem not just for the state of Missouri but the country,” he said, adding that he “absolutely” favors the approach some states have taken to get redistricting largely out of the hands of elected officials.
    Political observers contend that members of Congress elected from such safe seats have less incentive to be flexible and more freedom to be idealogically driven, making things worse in Washington. Exhibit A, says Sanders: the so-called fiscal cliff.
    “This shows you how broken everything is in D.C. ...We’;ve got to get back to being Americans first, members of a party second,” Sanders said.
    Asked about the chance that he might run for higher office some day and that serving as party chairman might help wins friends and favors, Sanders demurs.
    “As someone (described) it to me,” he said, “it’s never a bad thing to meet people around the state.”

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