Grassroots Group Breaks into Central Committee Races
If you don’t know what a Central Committee is or does, you’re not alone.
It’s an important part of the party system; you vote on a ward representative during the primary election, but what happens after?
The Franklin County Republican Party explains the purpose of its Central Committee on its website: “Committee members are elected every 2 years during the primary election. The Central Committee endorses candidates for public office and elects the Party’s officers.”
The Franklin County Democratic Party doesn’t include this on its website, or hardly any information at all. Still, the main difference is Democrats vote every four years in primary elections for ward representatives on the Central Committee. Those candidate endorsements can end up on a sample ballot, and getting on it can make a big difference in a run for public office.
“It’s a missed opportunity to be able to engage everyday people with this very centralized, neighborhood-centric role,” said Anna Siriano, a volunteer and candidate for #RepYourBlock2020. Siriano is running for Columbus Ward 57, in the North Hilltop area. “It’s actually a very important role in my opinion. Because a lot of people vote based on the sample ballot.”
In 2016, candidates affiliated with Yes We Can Columbus, another Liberal grassroots group, ran for 15 Central Committee seats. Seven were elected. (As of last year, just three of those candidates maintained seats on the committee.)
Similar to that group, #RepYourBlock2020 wants to see changes within the Franklin County Democratic Party Central Committee. The campaign has submitted petitions for candidates to run as representatives for 83 wards, of the 152 wards in the county.
The campaign wants to bring a “critical eye” to processes in Central Committee and see a more fair, transparent and engaged body. The campaign’s website fiercely calls the Democratic Party of today a “good ol’ boys club” that is “accountable to the wealthy few” and enacts a “wait your turn” mentality.
Siriano said if the public were more aware of what this body does, and were able to connect to the representatives in their neighborhoods, the party would be able to know the sentiments of people on the ground.
“In my mind, the Democratic Party has always stood for working, for people. I think oftentimes that doesn’t play out, or we don’t see it in our neighborhoods or in our homes,” said Siriano. “What we’re seeing right now in national politics, and I think we see it in state and we see it in local, is that Democrats represent varying opinions.”
“We’re really trying to define, all of us, what does it mean to be a Democrat?” she said.
Maria Ramirez, a long-time Worthington resident and #RepYourBlock2020 candidate for Worthington Ward 2, said she decided to get involved because of her concern over the direction the country was heading after the 2016 election. Since then, she has become more politically active and engaged, she said.
“I’m a lifelong Democrat, and I really wanted to work to help strengthen my local Democratic Party,” said Ramirez. “I have grown to believe that we really need to work to strengthen grassroots democracy that is really responsive to local communities, and that is really accountable to local communities.”
Ramirez first started attending meetings last December and said she was excited about working with a group of people who were energized about building grassroots democracy.
“We’re talking about democracy that is driven by everyday people,” she said. “It was nice to be in an environment where I see that energy.”
And as for the idea of waiting her turn to seek leadership in the Democratic Party, Ramirez said she wasn’t convinced.
“It is a false promise of inclusivity,” she said. “The reality is no matter how long some people wait, they will never get a turn, as long as power is held in the hands of a few. We want to make sure all the voices in Franklin County are represented and sitting around the table of our local Democratic Party.”
Siriano said it was a pretty quick campaign put together by numerous volunteers, with people bringing in other people within their existing networks.
That process, of people asking people to run, is seen as a way to lift people into leadership roles who might not consider it otherwise.
“A lot of times you have to ask people to do something. They don’t necessarily consider themselves to be that person to lead,” she said. “My vision is that as we engage our residents, then we will be able to find the next central committee candidate.”
Candidates sign a pledge, but instead of aligning with specific policies, the group landed on a values-based platform.
“What we ask our candidates to sign onto is a pledge that they will make…the central committee process more transparent, ways to make it more consistent and fair,” said Siriano. “And so collaborative with other central committee members to be able to further that process of bringing Democrats into the fold, and knowing who the candidates are and who they’re voting on.”
Siriano said she could see the group making a continued effort to try and get more people engaged in this campaign in 2024. What’s more is her hope that the Democratic Party itself adopts and stands for more transparent, consistent and fair practices, in addition to finding new ways to engage new people running.
“I think that it’s important for the party to embrace people in all their varied and diverse forms and thoughts and really cherish the knowledge that everyday people can bring to the table through their experience,” said Siriano.
For more information, visit repyourblock2020.org.