Maricopa County Democratic Party Chair Ann Wallack will not be running for re-election this year when county Dems meet on Saturday, December 8 to elect new officers.
Wallack, who has served as MCDP chair for four years, said she had been thinking about stepping aside for a while. But it sounds like Democrat Paul Penzone's loss to Joe Arpaio in the sheriff's race may have been the deciding factor.
"Obviously, if I had elected a new sheriff, I would be the happiest woman on earth, and I'd want to stay on," she explained.
"I felt like we had a great candidate," she continued. "And I did just about everything I could, but we ran out of time and money."
Penzone was recruited by Wallack to run, and Wallack made the sheriff's race her priority in this election.
She took some heat for backing Penzone in the Democratic primary over fired Goodyear Police Department flack John Rowan, but despite the gripes of some, there is nothing in the MCDP bylaws requiring a chair to be neutral in a primary.
As I noted in my election wrap-up, Penzone would have fared better in the general if he had not had a primary challenger, and if Republican-turned-Independent stooge Mike Stauffer had not been on the general election ballot.
Still, it was Arpaio's closest shave to date, with the sheriff securing victory with a mere 50.7 percent of the vote, 1.4 points ahead of the combined totals for both Penzone and Stauffer.
"The third party candidate hurt us, definitely," Wallack said. "The negative campaign commercials on Penzone and [U.S. Senate candidate Rich] Carmona both hurt us. If someone has money to do polls to find out why people voted the way they did in those two races, it would be very interesting to see what factored in to their decision."
Shortly after the election, I asked Wallack about the high number of early and provisional ballots left to count, and the charge by some that this deluge was due to a voter-suppression effort targeting Latinos.
At that time, she said she believed the problem to be countywide and not exclusive to certain precincts. So I asked if her assessment was the same, now that the unofficial tally is done.
"I do still believe it's a county-wide problem, the number of provisionals," she explained. "I think it's OK to have provisionals because it gives people another chance to vote. But we need to figure out why. It may be the process at the polling places, but a lot of things contributed to it."
County Dems have asked for additional info from the Maricopa County Recorder's Office and are hoping that a post-canvass analysis will suss out the reasons for the provisional ballot overload.
How can her fellow Dems help avoid this situation in the future?
In a recent e-mail to the party faithful, Wallack had an answer: Recruit more precinct committeepersons, who in turn will recruit more Democratic poll workers and observers.
"The best way to reduce the number of provisional ballots is to have good poll workers who care about our side," Wallack wrote in her e-mail, "and to have observers who can ensure that voters are in the correct polling place."
She also states in the e-mail that, according to what county elections is telling her, "49% of all provisionals are due to PEVL voters not voting by mail and showing up at polling places. And 82% of the provisionals are valid."
Recruiting new PCs should be a priority for new county officers, she explained, as well as reaching out to minority voters and residents on the West Side.
"When I took the job of MCDP Chair 4 years ago I emphasized the importance of PC recruitment," reads the e-mail. "I gave up on it and I now regard it as a major failure."
A look at the PC spreadsheets online at the recorders office website, confirms a serious deficit in Democratic PCs, with 444 open D positions, more than 40 percent of the slots allotted for Dems in the county.
(Note: This is assuming my spreadsheet calculations are correct. Feel free to double-check me.)
Getting on the ballot to fill one of those positions is relatively easy, just a matter of garnering 8-to-10 signatures, says Wallack.
"And you and your spouse count," Wallack told me of the petition. "Republicans do this stuff in their sleep, they're joiners...Democrats, they tend to hang back."
And complain a lot.
Though Wallack didn't say that. That's me talkin'.
I'm constantly amazed at people who kvetch long and loudly about what the Dems are doing or not doing, when they can directly affect what the party does by joining it and participating in this little thing called democracy.
Keep in mind that the party chair position is unpaid, as are the other county officer positions.
Wallack, a businesswoman who co-owns the running supply store Runners Den and who has run for state Senate in the past, says the county gig turned out to be "pretty much full time," but that it doesn't necessarily have to be all-consuming.
"I'm sure other people could probably inspire enough people to help," she stated. "So that they don't have to spend all of their time doing it."
One person giving some serious thought to running for the position is Laura Copple, a Scottsdale piano teacher and former chair of the old Legislative District 8, who spent this election working as a field organizer for the Democratic Party.
When I spoke with her this afternoon, she would only say that she's considering running for the position, but that she's "not 100 percent," as the job would be a "big commitment."
An understatement, to be sure. I admire people who step up to the plate and are willing to serve in these often thankless positions.
Like Wallack, who has suffered some serious slings and arrows during this election.
Contrary to how her detractors have depicted her, I've found Wallack to be an honest and unselfish warrior, one who genuinely wanted to defeat Arpaio and worked hard at electing Penzone.
Yes, she was unsuccessful.
But so were we all, my friends. So were we all.
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