When last we checked in with the King County Democrats, former chair Bailey Stober was resigning after a 13-hour trial-like proceeding surrounding "allegations that he harassed and bullied a former employee and mismanaged party funds." The club currently has a little over $13,000 cash on hand with $23,000 of debt, thanks largely to a judgement against them in a campaign finance lawsuit filed by Glen Morgan, the guy behind these deceptive mailers. They're alive, but, according to some members of the group, attendance at meetings has been shrinking, they're structurally vulnerable to drama, and they're still struggling financially.
King County's precinct committee officers hope to right the ship at their biennial reorganization meeting this Saturday at 9:00 a.m at the Machinists Hall in Southpark. During what's sure to be an incredibly long session, they'll vote on a new chair to lead them out of the wilderness.
Though anyone can be nominated and seconded at the meeting, right now two candidates have announced their intention to run for chair: current county chair Natalie Reber and current first vice chair Shasti Conrad. (In a Facebook post on Nov. 26, former chair Stober wrote, "I’m in. #seeyousoon." Stober did not reply to my request for comment about what that means, though I only tried to reach him via FB messenger, so that's kind of on me.) All the elected officials and members of the King County Dems I talked to have lots of good things to say about Conrad and nothing negative to say about Reber.
Over e-mail Reber says she's lived in Seattle since 1997 and has worked for the Democratic party in various capacities for 20 years. She's also an attorney and executive director at Family Law CASA, an organization that represents kids in court. She's running for re-election to "continue to help lead our party with a spirit of inclusion, progressive ideals, and a plan to recruit, train and elect fantastic Democratic leaders across King County." She points to her success in negotiating a settlement with the Attorney General's Office on the Morgan suit, her role in organizing an effective PCO training committee, and her leadership in "restoring credibility with... key funding partners" as evidence of her wide-ranging capabilities.
Her goals include stepping up candidate recruitment, increasing voter registration among "diverse, young and mobile citizens, including special efforts to reach renters," partnering more with grassroots groups, creating a "robust" communications plan, and building a "sensible fundraising plan."
Over the phone, Conrad says she wants to do all of that and then some. Conrad is a 34-year-old who was raised in Oregon and schooled at Seattle University. She worked as a field organizer on Obama's 2008 campaign before ultimately serving as a staffer in his administration. She moved back to Seattle in 2016 and worked on Bernie Sanders's campaign.
She was also one of the 8 people nominated by the 37th Legislative District Democrats in 2016 to replace then state senator Pramila Jayapal when she left for Congress, taking third place behind Rory O’Sullivan and Rebecca Saldaña. Sen. Saldaña is one of the elected officials endorsing Conrad. Over the phone, she praised Conrad as a "super hard-working, values-based person" who aligns with Saldaña's vision for a more inclusive Democratic party. "We need to bring new eyes to our democracy, and it's worth the effort to do that. Shasti gets that," Sen. Saldaña said.
When she's not serving as first vice chair for the King County Dems, Conrad works as the U.S. campaign manager for the 100 Million campaign, the brainchild of Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi. It’s a youth-led organization that mobilizes to end child labor and child trafficking.
Part of Conrad's plan involves streamlining the group's workload by doing fewer endorsements, which can lead to conflict and unnecessary drama with the 17 Legislative District clubs that compose the King County Democrats. "We need to stay out of the LDs' business and let them do what they do best. We’ll do county-level endorsements, research judicial races, and we’ll be here as support. But that's it. We don’t have to be trying to be everything to everybody," she said.
With more free time and directed leadership, Conrad hopes to connect the county Democrats with other organizations such as Indivisible groups, the NAACP, and OneAmerica. Conrad said she's seen numbers at Democratic meetings dwindle over the last two years because, she believes, "the party hasn’t been great at giving people something tangible, and creating space for new people." Her hope is that partnering with these groups will help everyone share resources, and provide opportunities for more volunteer opportunities.
She's also committed to bench-building outside of Seattle. "In 2019 we have tons of municipal races," she said. "There are 38 cities [in the county] besides Seattle, and we want to look for people who are gems in their communities, find positions for them, get them elected in these offices" so that they can move up the ladder.
Five of the people I called to ask about Conrad commended her ability to collaborate and to serve as a "bridge-builder," pointing to the time when Conrad assumed the role of temporary chair following Stober's resignation last spring.
Orchideh Raisdanai, third vice chair of the King County Democrats and the last standing elected officer from the Stober era, said Conrad was "instrumental to the survival of King County Dems during that period." When Conrad ran for first vice chair this April and won, "the first thing she did was bring everybody together," Raisdanai said. "She called all the LD chairs and solicited their feedback, and as a team we pulled together everything we needed to be transparent about—financing, committees, issues—and worked through the how to handle all of it."
Reber was elected in May of this year, but she didn't start work as chair until June. By the time she was elected, the interim team "had stabilized the issue with the PDC and had a plan already," Raisdanai said, adding that "Natalie made sure that we continued on with our functional meetings and the day-to-day stuff that is required by the chair."
Joshua Trupin, a state committee member for the 5th Legislative District, confirms Raisdanai's account. "[Conrad] immediately started working on transparency and collaboration—bringing the executive board together, making sure that everyone knew what was going on," he said. "Once Natalie took the role a month later, a lot of what was in place after [Stober] left was already there."
"Personally, I’ve seen a lot more of Shasti working for candidates in her role as first vice chair. Whenever she wasn’t working her job, she was working with candidates—door knocking with Mona [Das], doing everything we could to turn every one of these LDs blue. I don’t have anything negative to say about Natalie, I just have not seen her as much as I’ve seen Shasti working for the success of the party," Trupin said.
Trupin added that he thinks "there has been a terrible signal-to-drama ratio" at the county level. "Conrad doesn’t buy into the drama, she’s always moving ahead," he said.