Kentucky Democrats hoping to build back 120-county network ahead of 2018 elections

05/20/2017 09:26 PM

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Democratic Party is hoping to connect the state’s network of county parties and groups that are starting to emerge in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election.

The KDP State Central Executive Committee discussed their plans to merge the efforts during a meeting at party headquarters Saturday.

New KDP Executive Director Mary Nishimuta has begun traveling the state since she started the job last month, part of the Democratic Party’s renewed focus on a 120-county effort since losing control of the state’s House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century last year and a wave of defeats in elections for constitutional offices in 2015.

Nishimuta said KDP will also host a “county summit” on June 17, where the state party will invite leaders of county parties to Frankfort and start talking strategy ahead of the 2018 midterms.

The summit will focus on resources, tools and networking, she said, and it will dovetail with the Democratic National Committee’s “Resistance Summer” in early June, a national training program that will give matching grants to help state Democratic parties and other like-minded groups on a variety of organizational fronts as the national party looks to capitalize on anti-Trump sentiment.

“This is a really great opportunity for everybody to come together and to network among themselves as well so we can talk about what works well in fundraising, what works well in communications and all of the different areas of the 120-county strategy,” Nishimuta said.

“So as part of our ‘Resistance Summer’ the focus is going to be on party building, so it’s party building from coalition groups and getting them involved with working with us for electoral success, and it’s also party building from internal to ensure we’re giving our people through all of the counties all of the tools and resources that they need.”

KDP Chairwoman Sannie Overly said grassroots groups like Indivisible Kentucky will be invited to the June 17 summit “so they can put names and faces together and really work to grow the group of folks who work on electoral success.”

Nishimuta says she has seen a surge in interest in the Democratic Party, something she attributes to both national and state politics.

In particular, she singled out health care, right-to-work, prevailing wage repeal and education as issues that have galvanized people in all parts of Kentucky.

“From a state level, I think a lot of people look at votes like prevailing wage and right-to-work as a slap in the face to the working families here in Kentucky, and they realize as well that they may have voted for somebody who’s a Republican, but they’re not standing up, the Republicans are not standing up for the people anymore.”

However, Tres Watson, spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky, called the state “solid red” and noted recent registration trends in which Republicans have gained ground on their Democratic counterparts, who hold a 324,635-voter edge in registration numbers.

That’s down by more than half of the 696,941-voter edge Democrats had in the 2000 presidential election cycle, registration statistics show.

“The 2017 session was one of the most successful in Kentucky history,” Watson said in a statement. “Already, companies like Amazon and Braidy Industries have pledged billions in investments thanks to the efforts of the Governor and the Republican-led General Assembly.”

Some on the KDP’s executive committee said the party should rethink its messaging strategy to appeal to a wider spectrum of voters.

Nishimuta said the thinking of liberal, centric and conservative sects in the Democratic Party is dated and that people are realizing the need to unify for a common electoral goal.

“Because we have Bevin as our governor and because we have Trump as our president people understand that we have to work together, and there are way more people who are willing to work together regardless of where you might fall on certain areas to actually gain electoral success than are concerned about still maintaining that fraction,” she said.

“All of us agree, regardless of where on the political spectrum you may fall, that we have to stand for Kentuckians and that people in leadership in government today don’t.”

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