Minnesota DFL Chair Melendez to Step Aside

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Minnesota DFL Chair Brian Melendez announced today that he would not seek a fourth term. Melendez had come under fire among liberal groups after the Democratic-Farm-Labor party narrowly lost majorities in the state house and senate in the Nov. 2 election.

Read Melendez’s letter to DFL colleagues, below

Dear fellow Central Committee members:

For six years you and I have worked together, celebrated together, won together, lost together, dreamed together of a better Minnesota, and worked hard to build those dreams into a reality. Together we helped elect Tim Walz to Congress, and Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken to the Senate. We brought the Party to the sixth strongest electoral standing in its history in 2008, and its third strongest in 2010. We turned the voter file into a state-of-the-art tool that became a national model. We broke the record for personal-solicitation fundraising in my first full year on the job, then broke it again this year. We grew the constituency caucuses from four to more than a dozen, and engaged them in the Coordinated Campaign. We sent the most diverse delegation in the state’s history to the National Convention, then helped elect the first person of color to serve as President of the United States. We hired the first permanent field staff in the Party’s history, and the first permanent staff based outside of the Twin Cities. And through it all, we were united behind a strong and consistent message of accountability, opportunity, prosperity, and fair play that we delivered to every corner of our state.

And after six years of working together, we have finally reached the long-awaited moment when a DFLer, Mark Dayton, will be advancing a progressive agenda at our state’s helm for the first time in 20 years. The DFL Party will hold every statewide office — for the first time in 32 years. Only a handful of us can even remember what that’s like. Most of us (including me, as a Minnesotan for almost 20 years) are about to find out. Either way, we’re all looking forward to it.

Serving as State Chair has been the most exhilarating, challenging, and intense experience in my life. But it’s a little like riding a bucking bronco, or holding your breath underwater: no matter how good you are at it, and even if you like it, you can’t do it forever. For the past six years, I have given as much time, energy, and personal resources to the Party as I could afford (and sometimes more). I have opened my home for dozens of fundraisers, for candidates and causes ranging from Tim Walz to my local legislators, from the constituency caucuses to MYDFL. And I have opened my home to dozens of Party, campaign, and recount staff and volunteers, so often that I have shared my house with them (often two or three at a time) more often than I have lived alone. I have volunteered nearly 10,000 hours, and haven’t taken a vacation — in fact, haven’t taken off more than two consecutive days (and then only once a year, when my godchildren visit for the State Fair) — since 2004.

I have done this job willingly and with an open heart because I believe, now even more strongly than when I first ran six years ago, that the DFL Party is the greatest engine for positive social change in Minnesota. I want a better state and a better nation for us and for posterity.

Now I’m ready to come up for air.

I therefore will not seek a fourth term as State Chair. I am honored to be one of only five state chairs in the Party’s history — and only the second in the last 40 years — to serve three full terms. But this service has been honor enough for a lifetime. (And I can understand why none of my predecessors ever completed a fourth term.)

I am grateful for many things over the past six years. This job has been like getting a Ph.D. in human nature. I have seen the dark side of politics and people at their worst. But I have also seen politics and people at their best. One of the most personally uplifting moments in my tenure occurred when the DFL senators and representatives in Congress let Donna, Andy, and me join them for one of their monthly lunchtime meetings in Washington. There I watched Representatives Collin Peterson and Keith Ellison engage each other on a complex, thorny issue of domestic policy over which they did not yet see eye to eye. But as they talked, several things became clear: each representative was the master of his brief, with an impressive array of facts and figures and arguments at his fingertips; each respected the other immensely; and they were each listening and learning, and deftly finding common ground. I am so proud of them, and all our elected officials, who must wade through the cesspool of partisan politics simply for the opportunity of serving us and patiently building a better world. As Josh Lyman, Sam Seaborn, and C.J. Cregg write to their parents at the end of the best episode of The West Wing, “There are so many days here where you can’t imagine that anything good will ever happen. You’re buried under a black fog of partisanship and self-promotion and stupidity. And a brand of politics that’s just plain mean.” But as C.J. concludes, “if politics brings out the worst in people, maybe people bring out the best,” and I have seen the people in our party bring out the best in our world. I will treasure those experiences and that education for all my life.

I am also grateful for the colleagues and allies with whom I have served — my fellow party officers, our tireless staff, our friends in organized Labor, and the tens of thousands of activists, volunteers, and concerned citizens who are our Party’s lifeblood. I can never thank individually all the friends and colleagues to whom my administration and I are indebted. But I must at least recognize perhaps the best team of fellow officers with whom any state chair has ever served: Affirmative Action Officer Frank Brown, Treasurer Lori Sellner, Secretary Susan Rego, and most of all my brother and sister in arms, Executive Director Andy O’Leary and Associate Chair Donna Cassutt, who have been there every step of the way. Donna’s title really should have been co-Chair.

Together, all of us, we have made a difference. The Party will keep making a difference. But soon under new management.

To be sure, I will miss this life near the beating heart of our state’s politics: I have held this job for nearly a third of the time that I have lived in Minnesota, and have held party office at some level since the mid-90s. But I am very much looking forward to returning to a more private, more contemplative life: Reconnecting with friends from whom I have been mostly absent for six years. Going out to dinner without paying more attention to my BlackBerry than to my date. Celebrating holidays without an emergency interrupting. Focusing more on my day job (so that I can finally pay off my student loans). Enjoying the occasional weekend reading a book on the porch. I am ready for a sabbatical. So ready.

So as I move on to the next phase in my life I am grateful for the honor of having served as your State Chair, relieved that someone else will be taking up that office, and looking forward to the years and the challenges ahead. I will always cherish the memories of these last six years that you and I have shared. I hope that we will both be happy, where we are going.

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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