Jim Dean is the chairman of Democracy for America, an organization founded 2004 in by his older brother, Democratic Party chair and former presidential candidate Howard Dean. He came out from the Northeast this week to campaign for Mark Leno in his state senate run. We caught up with him after a rally in San Francisco’s Castro district.
Tell me a little bit about your organization.
We have over 700,000 members in 805 groups in all fifty states. Our mission is leadership development, helping people get into politics and helping them move up the political food chain. We have a training program that we’ve had about 14,000 people go through. We’ve supported about a 1,000 people running for office, most of them non-federal races like Mark Leno for state legislature, city councils, schools boards, that kind of thing.
It sounds like you’ve been involved in a lot of primaries, not just trying to elect Democrats but certain kinds of Democrats.
We actually don’t get involved in a lot of primaries, but we do get involved in some. We need to be a party that tolerates debate and the kind of discussion that goes on in primaries. One of the big ones we were involved in was Donna Edwards’ race against Al Wynn in Maryland, which she won. We’re in Mark Leno’s race because some of the groups in our network support him very passionately because Mark is an activist in a culture of incumbency.
Tell me about the race in Iowa you’ve been involved in.
We’re supporting a guy named Ed Fallon, a state legislator. He’s running in a Congressional primary against Leonard Boswell today. Ed Fallon, like Mark, is very much a citizen activist. Leonard Boswell, who has been in office for many years, is a guy who has voted with Bush way too many times, voting to go into Iraq, to fund the war, and voting to give retroactive immunity to telecom companies. The race is not about Fallon vs. Boswell, it’s about giving voters a choice about what kind of representation they want.
One of the most famous primaries we got involved in was Ned Lamont vs. Joe Lieberman. Again, it wasn’t about Joe, it was about giving voters a chance to vote on the war in Iraq, which nobody had had a chance to do until 2006.
Do you think the California Supreme Court decision will have an effect on the presidential election this fall?
I completely disagree with that. I can tell you we’ve had a civil union law in Connecticut and there has been no change in anyone’s life since that happened. We had a marriage bill before the legislature this year, again, very little debate on that. The voters have moved beyond this divisive “guns, God and gays” business. The voters know the country is in deep trouble right now, whether it’s the budget deficit, health care policy or foreign policy. I know there are some right wing groups that will try to make a lot of hay over this. That may have worked four years ago, but it’s not going to work this time around.
Speaking of the presidential race, Obama finally clinched today. åçoff your brother’s mind.
I think it is. He’s gotta unite the party and get the convention done in Denver. He’s got a pretty full plate. I think he’s happy there’s some clarity in this. He’s gotta think about what he’s got to do to bring the party together. I don’t think it will be a problem, but it does take hard work.
How close are and Howard in age, and did he beat up on you?
He’s five and a half years older. He was a wrestler before he hurt his back. But because of the age difference, he was more of a mentor to my younger brother and I. When you’re 13 and you don’t know which way is up, it’s nice to have an 18 year-old brother.
Any thoughts he might run for office again?
I don’t think he thinks about that. We’ve got to get the party together. I think when that’s done he’ll think about what’s next, but until that’s done he doesn’t have a whole lot of time. The reason he’s an outsider in Washington is that he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time trying to think three steps ahead about his own career.
What are some of your past success stories?
We supported Jerry McNerny when he ran in 04 and in 06. We really supported him in that campaign. He’s a good guy and he was running against a really awful person [Richard Pombo]. Our grou
ps in his district and just outside his district were passionately devoted to him, groups in San Francisco, the East Bay, Stockton.
What are some of the general election races where you’re focusing your effort this fall?
We’re supporting Charlie Brown [facing Tom McClintock] and we’re going to try to help Jerry in his reelection campaign. There’s some races in Southern California, Russ Warner’s race and a bunch of folks down there we’re going to try to help because we think those seats can taken.
Finally, we’re in a gay bar and Fox News is on. How do you feel about that?
I was a little bit surprised. It’s first time I’ve been in this place so I don’t know the rest of the crowd here. Maybe we’ll find out what the story is with that after the interview.