While the Pima County Democratic Party might not have a face, it certainly has a voice. I am writing of course of Jeff Rogers, the twice-elected Chair of the Pima County Democratic Party.
The duties of Chair are as follows:
The County Chair shall preside at all meetings; make appointments to committees; make temporary appointments to offices which have been vacated… and generally do all and everything necessary to aid in the election of Democratic candidates, and to promote successful organization and operation of the Pima County Democratic Committee.
In sum, the Chair is to administrate the Party, raise money and groom potential candidates. The Chair is also a member of the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is allowed and authorized to express policy position on issues of local, state, and national import. Nowhere, however, in the bylaws, is the Chair authorized to decide who is, and who is not, Democrat enough for the Party’s taste. Nowhere in the bylaws do the words “Chair” and “duly appointed demagogue” appear within the same sentence.
Yet in 2011, the Pima County Democratic Party, seemingly at Mr. Rogers’ direction, but voted on by the Executive Committee, spent almost $9,000.00 to fund a campaign against Joe Flores in the Ward 1 City Council, primary election. In other words, Jeff Rogers, as the head of the Pima County Democratic Party, picked one Democrat over another during a party primary. While, as the Party was quick to point out, this action is not strictly prohibited, it is undeniably unusual.
Such an unusual move must have been firmly grounded in sound and mature disagreements over specific expressed by Mr. Flores. No. Instead, as Mr. Rogers said, "We have someone here (Mr. Flores) who we've never believed was a bona fide Democrat." Mr. Rogers also cited the lack of support among his colleagues on the Party Committee as further evidence that Mr. Flores simply was not Democrat enough for him, and therefore the public at large. Perfectly appropriate for Tammany Hall.
Mr. Rogers, I ask you directly. You do not know me. May I still stand for public office? Must I renounce my Party membership to do so? Must I first approach you and seek your approval? Before I state my view on this or that, should I check with you first? As you read this, are you seated upon a dais, thoughtfully turning the proverbial ring upon your finger?
Mr. Rogers’ war upon the Party extends beyond the Ward 1 primary. His most vociferous criticism of Party members has been reserved for Miguel Cuevas and Mark Stegeman, both Democrats, both members of the TUSD school board. Stegeman’s and Cuevas’ transgressions? They had the unmitigated gall not to vote as Mr. Rogers wanted them to, at least when it came to TUSD’s embattled Mexican American Studies Program.
I also do not agree with Mr. Stegeman and Mr. Cuevas on that particular issue. I would not dream, however, of labeling the men as “Neville Chamberlains when it comes to the war on Tucson…” or state that either needs “to be tarred and feathered and rode out of town on a rail,” or aver that “they are unfit to live in a multicultural community like Tucson,” because they are “evil.” Comparing a man who voted against your wishes to history’s most benighted quisling, (outside of Quisling himself of course), would be faintly humorous, and acceptable hyperbole from the mouth of a fifteen year old. From a prominent Party leader, it is something else again.
At the very least it is juvenile. It is crass. And more than a bit disturbing. To be very, very blunt, it is not for Mr. Rogers to tell a publicly elected official how to vote, nor to label that man as evil when he votes in a way that displeases Mr. Rogers.
Like a lot of Democrats, and I am sure, most Republicans, I think, in general, it is way past time for Mr. Rogers to shut his mouth. I am weary of reading his half-baked theories on Jared Loughner’s political leanings, TUSD, or whatever else crosses the ever-shrinking space between his reason and his speech. But in his position, he has the right, and apparently the endorsement of the Party’s Executive Committee, to comment generally on policy. Well and good.
He does not have the right, however, to tell me, or anyone else, what we are allowed to think or believe as Democrats. And he does not have the right to tell his fellow Democrats that they are not welcome in my Party.
The Democratic Party does not belong to Mr. Rogers. While it is to his credit that he agreed to serve it, neither I, nor the vast majority of the rank and file asked him to define the contours of its policy, nor granted him the right to use it as his bully pulpit. And it is high past time that when he chooses to express his personal views that he identify himself as Jeff Rogers, local gadfly, and not Jeff Rogers, Chair of the Pima County Democratic Party. Because I, for one, am sick and tired of others assuming that Mr. Rogers speaks for me.
I was born and raised Republican. I chose to be a Democrat. Through the years, I participated in Young Democrats, I volunteered for candidates and once, and only once, allowed myself to be dragooned as a Precinct Committeeman. I admired, and still admire, FDR, Truman, JFK and RFK. I voted for Bill Clinton twice despite my personal distaste for his prurient habits. I have long accepted that the blessing of American privilege comes hand in glove with the responsibility of public service. And I embraced the Democratic Party because, fundamentally as a liberal leaning fellow, I believed in a few core ideals.
First, government is and should be, a force for good. Second, all people, regardless of where they came, what they believed, or what the color of their skin, deserved a fair shake from government. And most of all, I joined the Democratic Party because the Party shared those ideals. Within the Party, I am free to think what I want, and to believe what I want. And to know, to coin a phrase, that while my fellow Democrats might not like what I say, they will die for my right to say it. Above all else, we stand and fall together. We are the Great Coalition. The Big Tent. Come one. Come all.
I have friends within the Party that are pro-life. That are gun nuts. That are against gay marriage. That wish to build a wall across the Mexican Border. That dream of the day the death penalty is free from the shackles of due process. I share none of these views. But I would never question their right to belong to my party. And I would never, ever question their right to vote their conscience or to speak their mind. As far as I know, there is no litmus test to be a Democrat.
Except, apparently, in Pima County.
Rob Ferrier is a local attorney and gadfly.