When I first saw the video of activists shouting down Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Evans at the Netroots Nation convention last weekend, I had one thought: Hello, Governor Cagle.
The event was just the latest example of why the Democratic Party seems ready to relegate itself to permanent bridesmaid status, not only here in Georgia but from sea to shining sea. And the Republican front-runner in the governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, was no doubt grinning big time.
Evans, a state rep from Cobb County, is a white lawyer with a hardscrabble past who’s using her backstory as a way to pull back some of the old Zell Miller voters from the land of Trump.
Her opponent is state Rep. Stacey Abrams, a black lawyer who is the House Minority Leader and looked to be a shoo-in as the party’s standard bearer — until The Other Stacey jumped into the race.
Abrams’ aim is nothing short of historic — to be America’s first black woman governor.
She’s not going with a half-baked strategy in trying to win back the old-timey Dems. She’s going full-tilt after minorities and progressive whites.
To give a sense of how this stacks up, U.S. Rep. John Lewis supports Abrams, while former Gov. Roy Barnes backs Evans.
Evans, probably foolishly, attended the Netroots Nation conference hoping her stump speech about building a coalition might catch on. The conference is an annual national gathering of activists ranging from card-carrying liberals to full-out moonbats.
But as Evans started to speak, a wall of placard-toting protesters lined the front of the stage and her tinny voice was drowned out by an ardent chant of “Support Black Women!” and “Trust Black Women!!!” — choruses that made it plain Evans was not one.
Now, I get it, Evans is not far left enough for most of the congregation. But common decency or even routine politeness would seem to indicate that she should get to deliver some of her message. It’s not like she wandered onto the stage carrying a Tiki torch.
One demonstrator told AJC political reporter Greg Bluestein that the protesters were making a statement about those “true to progressive values.”
Why hadn’t Evans met that standard? The protester, a black woman, couldn’t point to any votes or policy stances. But she added, she wants “a candidate that truly speaks to my community.”
Soon, Abrams, who appeared at the conference earlier but was now across the state, put out a statement on Facebook saying: “Activists in Atlanta peacefully protested this morning on the critical issue of preserving public education for every family in our state. The mantra of ‘trust black women’ is a historic endorsement of the value of bringing marginalized voices to the forefront, not a rebuke to my opponent’s race.”
The idea that the rebuking chant concerned education and not race was lost on many people — even some who had attended the conference. Many fellow Dems chided Abrams for not criticizing the shellacking that the Other Stacey had received.
Lisa Coston, who told me she’s a progressive Dem from Lawrenceville, responded to Abrams’ post, saying: “What the protesters did was to disrupt Rep. Evans’ speech, for no apparent reason but to try and shut her up. There is no need for that, nor an excuse for that behavior.
“This is the explicit problem with the Democratic Party in general, both at the state and national level. Infighting based on race, religion, whatever else. It prevents progressives from being united, and thus we lose and lose and lose.”
Abrams came back two days later with a longer statement saying she’s trying to “build a permanent coalition of people of color, progressive whites, millennials and anyone who feels left out or left behind regardless of political identification.”
Again, she did not denounce the tactics of the protesters. She added, “The demonstrators organized themselves and are wholly unaffiliated with my campaign.”
However, Abrams’ deputy campaign manager, Marcus Ferrell, used to be CEO of an activist org called MPACT. And his deputy director at MPACT was a woman named Anoa Changa.
Not long after the shout-down, The Washington Post talked with “protester” Anoa Changa. “An interruption is not necessarily promoting one person over another,” Changa told the newspaper.
In what world is that true other than in Netrootsland?
Evans never called me back but I talked with Abrams. She said lots of people in the activist and political fields know each other. She insisted her campaign wasn’t behind the unpleasantness, adding, “There’s no benefit for my campaign from this.”
Abrams said the Netroots folks just do this kind of thing. They disrupt and they bellow and they wave banners. They did it a couple of years ago to Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley.
“We were all warned about this,” Abrams said. “It’s their convention. Guests do not dictate the behavior of their hosts.”
Of course, it’s easy for Abrams to speak this way. Netrooters LOVE her.
The governor’s election is next year but cracks in the Democratic foundation are already showing. It’s like the Bernie voters taking their toys and going home after Hillary Clinton won the primary. On the other hand, two-thirds of Republicans couldn’t stand Trump but they still put clothespins on their noses and voted come November.
The Dems have a problem. They say they want a big tent, but each member walking under that covering seems not to care much about the opinions of fellow travelers. It’s about identity politics, not what combines them as voters.
The website fivethirtyeight.com had a story about the subject this week. It noted a new group of centrist Democrats called New Democracy had a mission statement saying, “We also have to avoid vilifying people whose social views aren’t as ‘progressive’ as we think they should be,” adding, “both parties have indulged in a civically corrosive form of identity politics.”
Georgia will be a test case as to what strategy wins out going forward.