KDP elects first Black chair: with new ideas, is it enough?

Nov 18, 2020 at 11:13 am
Colmon Elridge, the newly elected chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party.  |  Photo by Marvin Young.
Colmon Elridge, the newly elected chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party. | Photo by Marvin Young.

For the first time in its history, a Black man will lead the Kentucky Democratic Party: Colmon Elridge was nominated by Gov. Andy Beshear to be the party’s chair and was voted in on Saturday by KDP’s State Central Executive Committee.

His election comes after Democrats lost 13 seats in the state House and two in the Senate, further cementing a GOP supermajority that formed in 2016. Some Democrats called for another post-mortem analysis of “what went wrong” while others wanted to completely disband the state party in favor of becoming a grassroots organization that supports progressive, minority candidates.

Elridge, a Cynthiana native, said he wants to keep the KDP together, and he also plans to continue to ask the question of “what happened.” But, he also wants to involve more people of color in the party and collaborate with grassroots organizers.

Elridge has a "long history in Democratic politics," according to the KDP. He worked for the party as its DNC Outreach Director in 2007 and served as a special adviser to former Gov. Steve Beshear from 2007-2015.

“We for cycles now have been losing seats, and the cycles have been, I think, losing the communications game in our counties and our cities and person to person,” he told LEO. “And we have to as a party take a step back and say, how did that happen? How did we go from having our finger on the pulse of what was going on in every barber shop and on every corner and in families and things like that to being so out of step that people don’t see themselves as part of the party anymore?”

State Rep. Attica Scott, the only Black woman state lawmaker, told LEO that simply having a new leader isn’t enough on its own to turn the KDP around, even though she acknowledged the significance of Elridge being the party’s first Black chair.

“Change happens with actions, of course, and one person in a position is not nearly enough transformative change, although one person can make a difference,” Scott said.

Previously, Scott told LEO she wouldn’t oppose disbanding the party, because she thinks it would free up fundraising money to go to candidates of color. And she doesn’t like the two party system because it’s restrictive and confining, she said.

Elridge, meanwhile, already has theories about why Kentucky Democrats have lost so much influence in the state, as well as how to gain some of it back.

He said that Democrats have let Republicans define what the party is by staying silent when Democrats are accused of wanting to take away guns away or kill babies. Really, the party is for things like background checks or safeguarding women from being criminalized for having miscarriages, he said.

Another mistake Kentucky Democrats made, according to Elridge, was not staying relevant to its members — and not just white working class voters but Black and brown Democrats who have given time and money to the party.

“I think we enjoyed such a voter registration edge that we frankly took for granted that we had to continuously communicate with Democrats and continuously ask the question: What do you need and how can we help?” Elridge said. “Or maybe we were asking those questions but they weren’t being asked in a credible way.”

Though Elridge doesn’t want to disband the party, he said he does want to invest in grassroots organizers and to work collaboratively and share resources with more progressive, like-minded organizations. He also said he wants to devote more resources to candidates of color and fill the party with campaign managers, strategists and fundraisers of diverse backgrounds. His election as the first Black chair could be the start.

“I hope what it means for the party, at least out the gate is that there is room for everyone to sit at the table and not only sit at our table, but sit at the head of the table,” he said. “And that hasn’t always been the case. I don’t make any bones about that.”

Elridge also issued a statement on Monday, saying he was happy to see that criminal charges against Scott had been dropped. Scott incurred the charges while at Louisville’s protests for racial justice. In his statement, Eldridge also praised Scott for fighting against law enforcement killing Black and brown people.

Scott has said the KDP didn’t acknowledge the charges when they were first filed. That Elridge did was important, she said.

“You can’t be silent when your only Black woman in your entire state legislature is being unjustly arrested and then think people are going to flock to your party,” she said.

But, there are more things she wants to see from the KDP, in addition to supporting candidates of color with social media posts and funding. She would like for the new vice chair to be a woman of color; she thinks that KDP members, not the governor, should be in charge of picking the next chair; and she wants to see Elridge’s ideas in writing and sit down with him and share her concerns.

Elridge said his doors are open to those who want to speak with him, and he plans on reaching out to those grassroots organizers and people working with progressive groups.

“One, it’s the right thing to do,” said Elridge. “The urgency of the moment demands that we don’t waste any time when it comes to bringing together our mindsets and our resources in a way to where we can begin to fight back in 2022.”