It's hard to say for sure, but this weekend's Frank Church Banquet may eventually be seen as the moment in which the Idaho Democratic Party fully entered the 21st century. Torch-passing seemed to be the underlying theme of the night, as a decidedly new generation of Democrats took the stage both to pay tribute to our past leaders and serve notice that yes, there is "new blood" rising in the party.
There was Amy Wynn, the young mayor of American Falls, who served as master of ceremonies for the evening. She recalled how, when she was six years old, Frank Church took time to look at a wagon she'd covered with his campaign bumper stickers.
There was state Rep. James Ruchti, who offered a tribute to recently retired Idaho Democratic Party chairman Richard Stallings. He shared a memorable day in high school math class when he was called to the principal's office because then-Congressman Stallings wanted to personally notify him how he'd just appointed him to the United States Military Academy.
There was Markos Moulitsas Zúniga - founder of Daily Kos and the banquet's keynote speaker - noting how a young Sen. Church gave the keynote speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention: a time when, like now, we were poised to elect a history-making, possibility-generating president.
There was new Idaho Democratic Party chairman Keith Roark predicting how, although we celebrate and honor our beloved past leaders, in 2010, perhaps we will be toasting a sitting U.S. Senator as well as "a newly elected Democratic governor and her husband."
All that, and speaker after speaker mentioned the party's recent excitement ...
... of caucuses held in all 44 counties for the first time ever;
... of Idaho Falls electing its first Democratic legislator in decades;
... of the blue tide in Ada County, where eight Democrats now represent the state's most populous county by far in the state legislature and where Boise Mayor Dave Bieter won nearly two-thirds of the vote in his re-election last year;
... and even of Al Gore's January 2007 appearance at Boise State, where he gave his "An Inconvenient Truth" slide show to more than 10,000 people. The size of that crowd "was in itself was an inconvenient truth for the Republican establishment," Markos told the 650-plus people packed into the grand ballroom at the Doubletree Hotel last night.
And yet, a few dark clouds remain on the horizon. While we have a rare contested primary under way for the 1st Congressional District nomination, no Democrat has yet filed to challenge Rep. Mike Simpson in the 2nd CD. County chairs in several key locations report difficulty in finding people to run for the state legislature, even in what could be a great year for Idaho Democrats. Parag Mehta, director of training for the Democratic National Committee, spoke a painful truth Saturday afternoon, when he said, "It's not the races we lose that kill us. It's the races we don't contest."
Idaho's filing period for state and federal candidates begins March 10 and ends March 21. Change won't come to Idaho overnight; state Rep. Phyllis King of District 18 told a lunchtime audience how she ran twice before succeeding on her third try in 2006. But Markos - who has built his site's reputation on boosting unlikely Congressional candidates including Jon Tester and Jim Webb - said that change won in small increments is still change - and that even a loss can help change happen, as it did in 2006 when massive GOP cash spent to ensure Larry Grant's loss in Idaho's "safe" 1st CD meant Democratic victories elsewhere.
No matter what else happens between now and November, 2008 has already been a historic year for Idaho Democrats. Barack Obama quotes Martin Luther King Jr.'s "fierce urgency of now" speech in explaining why he decided to run for the presidency in his 40s rather than waiting until 2012 or later. The "fierce urgency of now" applies to Idaho, as well. We all know that one-party government isn't working for our state, and we all know Republican and Independent friends who have recently decided that voting GOP just isn't working out for them any more.
And so, would-be candidates: Yes, it's true, you may not win the first time out. But you might, and even if you don't, you will be giving Idahoans a choice. This year of all years, it'll be a damn shame if we don't seize the energy and momentum of the moment to run as many Democrats as possible, in every legislative district in the state, in the 2nd CD race, and even on the local level for everything from precinct captains to county commissioner seats. Click here to learn how you - or someone you know - can take part in creating Idaho's Democratic future.