Today's live blog with Margaret Johnson has been postponed. But we do plan to reschedule.
In 2006, Polk County elected the first Democrats to the county commission in 12 years, the first Democratic sheriff in 8 years. Just as impressive, they turned around 700-vote deficit in their 2004 congressional race to a 1200-vote margin of victory.
County Democratic Party Chair Margaret Johnson attributes the turnaround to "walking the talk about what it means to be a democrat." She says, "Our party is becoming not just about elections but about our community. And we are doing good in our community. We are making a difference." Current community activities include road-side pick-ups, services for the needy, and fund-raising walks for conservation. "Even Republicans come up to me and say I may not agree with your politics but I sure like what you're doing."
She also cites hard work and a structure that can accommodate new volunteers. She gives credit for the current structure to former Chair Frances Parker who, along with then-precinct vice chair Mark Hufford, instituted a strategic planning overhaul two election cycles ago. "Before the strategic planning, our party was pretty fractured, pretty demoralized." The party continues to do a strategic plan re-evaluation after each election.
Click on the arrow to listen to Margaret's full explanation of how Polk County Democrats turned their county from a red to a purple, almost-blue one.
In the clip below, Margaret talks about her tenacious leadership style. "At first, I did a lot of leg work, phone calls, writing. As I did those things, I started finding people to take over. Now, my main thing is getting volunteers focused, making sure I find things for them to do, making sure we listen to their ideas and take them seriously."
Margaret has politics and hard work in her blood. She is the daughter of a former Tennessee attorney general. "I grew up having Al Gore, Sr., in my living room." She has served as a nurse in the Air Force, then got a degree in business, and has since worked in health administration. "I've always considered myself to be very patriotic and so proud that I live in America. And I want to feel that pride about my country and I will fight to get that returned."
Even with all the success, Margaret says, "Sometimes I feel like I'm fighting my own team." There is a small but vocal element in the county party who persist in calling her and other female party leaders "bitches." Margaret explains, "I just say 'I will not be spoken to in this manner,' and walk away or hang up." Unfortunately, according to Margaret,
some women have withdrawn and others have been unwilling to step into leadership positions because of this treatment.
I had a personal experience in 2004 with these same individuals. During a presentation my husband and I gave at a regular party meeting, these particular men talked loudly to each other and on their cell phones. After the show, several party officers told me they had tried confronting the individuals who regularly behave this way during most meetings. It only made things worse, they said. So, two years later, party leaders do their best to ignore these disruptions . . . while the party continues to succeed at the polls.