Francine Busby takes the helm of the San Diego Democratic Party after eight years of solid growth under Jess Durfee.
The San Diego Democratic Party enters a new era following the 2012 elections, and for the first time in nearly nine years the party will have a new leader. Jess Durfee announced in December that he would be stepping down as the party’s Chairman, opening the door for a new authority to step forward.
That new leadership emerged in the form of a familiar name to San Diego area Democrats: Francine Busby, the former challenger for the 50th District Congressional seat held at the time by Brian Bilbray.
“I felt it was time to bring new ideas into the party and to continue to evolve as the electorate evolves,” said Durfee. Busby, he said “is the best possible successor to take over for me.”
“I supported her very early on. I asked her to take over as my successor.”
Durfee noted the contrast in leadership styles between himself and Busby as a key factor in the move. “I’m more of a behind the scenes organizer,” he said, while Busby is “good at rallying the troops” and is exceptional at fundraising.
Busby has kept a relatively low public profile since her last run for Congress, but by no means has she disappeared from the San Diego political scene. On the contrary.
She has been at the forefront of the efforts of Run Women Run, an organization that serves as a support base for pro-choice women who run for public office. She has been the Vice Chair for North San Diego County for the Democratic Party. And she was the Chair of the San Diego delegation and a delegate to the 2011 state Democratic Convention.
She’s also worked behind the scenes on various 2012 campaigns, conducted candidate trainings, and hosted six fundraisers in six weeks during the 2012 election cycle.
That’s not exactly shrinking into wallflower status.
As the incoming Chairperson, her primary goal, is to build on what has already been done. And the San Diego Dems have come a long way in the last three presidential election cycles.
Ten years ago there was virtually no infrastructure. There was no staff, and there was only a very small budget to work with. Today, according to Busby, there are six offices for the party around San Diego County—including the Kearney Mesa headquarters—along with a full time professional staff to go along with a network of 1000+ volunteers that are engaged and eager to pitch in when needed.
Progress has been a long, slow, steady slog. Back when Durfee started, Republicans had a registration advantage of 90 thousand voters in San Diego County. Today, Democrats have an advantage of over 20 thousand registered voters.
Back when he first started, Republicans held four out of five San Diego area Congressional District seats. Today Democrats hold a three to two advantage. Democrats are winning countywide elections. San Diego just elected its first Democratic mayor and first Democratic County Supervisor in nearly two decades.
A lot of that has to do with shifting demographics. Some of it has to do with the Republican Party itself. Republicans, he says, have been “self destructive.”
“Attacks on women, immigrants, LGBT, have solidified communities to become Democrats that were more competitive before,” Durfee said.
“It is their message. It is their positions” that are driving people away from the Republicans to become more involved with Democrats in San Diego, he said.
Durfee believes that San Diego is still a few years from turning solidly blue, though. And he thinks that eventually the 77th Assembly District seat—which has been solidly Republican—could start to become more competitive for Dems.
The trick moving forward is to not only maintain those advantages, but to grow them, particularly the registration advantage. But even more important than that is to make sure those voters not only register but participate in the election process. It does no good to have a registration advantage when those voters don’t actually vote. And that is going to be a point of emphasis for Busby.
“What I want to do is to build on that base, to continue the momentum and growth that we’re seeing; to continue to build up our grassroots organization to strengthen our ability to elect Democrats throughout the county, and to introduce new programs that increase our communications, both within the party and with San Diego County in general; to increase our interaction with and between our elected officials,” said Busby.
She said that she would like to institute quarterly meetings between the party and elected officials to help better inform them of details in certain policies (such as Prop B) and to create a continuing dialogue between representatives from the various agencies around the county; to, in effect, create a Team San Diego in the Democratic Party.
“We’ve never done that before, and I’ve had a tremendous response from our elected officials that they would love to do that because they’re eager to get to know one another outside of meetings or whatever brief times where they might have interaction, and this gives them an opportunity to get to know each other as well,” she said.
She also wants to make sure that the party remains in contact with its voters between elections. It is her hope that by more effectively communicating with voters it will boost Democratic voter turnout in traditionally low turnout elections, such as primaries and midterm/gubernatorial elections, where Democrats have had infamously low levels of participation and engagement.
“We are going to change the conversation. We are going to discuss priorities and different approaches. Clean energy, renewable energy is a perfect example. Transportation/transit is another example, where with more voices opening and supporting the conversation with a more long term and progressive approach to these issues, I think we’re going to see changes,” she said.
And there are a lot of new tools at her disposal that weren’t available to her predecessor. For example the Obama campaign’s rebranded Organizing for Action (formerly Organizing for America) that can provide a vast network of contacts with Obama voters throughout the county to supplement the county party’s own database. There are some 50 Democratic clubs in San Diego County, Busby said. And her hope is that through OFA more of those clubs will stay more active and keep them connected to what’s going on nationally, while the county party can do the same with regards to local issues.
While promoting Democratic principles, she says it is also important to “hold our own officials accountable,” ensuring that they conduct the public’s business in a fiscally responsible manner.
Primarily, though, she sees her job as that of a facilitator. “It’s not my job to implement policy as Chair of the party.” Rather, she sees her role as one of support for the policies and positions of Democratic elected officials, and to act as a conduit to make sure those policies and positions are conveyed to the voters. Part of that is opening lines of communications via the membership database they have built up over the years. Part of that is being more vocal in the media, which she fully intends to do.
When asked about the man she is replacing, Busby had nothing but effusive praise for the job he has done during his tenure. “Jess has been a tower of strength of the Democratic Party. He has provided consistent and steady leadership. He started his eight years by creating a strategic plan based on specific goals that he developed from talking to Democrats throughout the county, and that strategic plan has been, I would say, fully realized. His goal was to increase our registration, to create a volunteer grassroots organization that could increase our capacity to elect officials, increase our revenue so we can operate the party and have the means to get out the vote.”
“These are some of the goals he set, and he’s realized those goals—all of his goals.”
Talking to her it was clear that Busby has a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and excitement for her new job. And she is ready and rarin’ to go.