Oklahoma City activist Dana Orwig aims at top state Democratic job

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published 15-Feb-2011

Dana Orwig, an Oklahoma City education activist and past candidate for legislative office, is seriously studying a race for the chairman’s job at the Oklahoma Democratic party. Orwig announced her plans in a recent letter to activists in the party, garnering an editorial comment from The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper.
In the letter, Orwig reflected, “Much needs to be done to improve the position and image of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma and I am eager to get to work.”
Orwig explained her motivations: “Democratic activism is in my blood — some of my earliest memories are of my parents volunteering in political campaigns and listening to countless discussions about progressive politics. Since moving to Oklahoma City 30 years ago, I have continued to be active both as a volunteer and candidate.”
Outlining her platform in seeking the post, Orwig wrote: “I believe that we need to rebrand, rebuild and restore our party.”
She continued: “First, rebrand. For too long we have allowed Republicans to define who we are and what we stand for.  Republicans control the dialogue about issues and frame the debate in terms that best suit their purposes. We must immediately begin to put our time, energy and resources into an intensive and multi-faceted campaign to both improve the image of the Democratic Party and at the same time, define the Republicans and their policies on our terms.
“Next, we’ve got to re-build. From the precinct level to the state office, we need to build up our party into an organization that is able to meet the challenges of 21st century politics. First and foremost, we must improve every facet of our communications. This means not only making information that comes from the state party more useful, timely and widely disseminated, but also finding new and better ways for the state party to receive information.
“Finally, we must restore our party to a place of prominence, dignity, and influence in Oklahoma politics. We know that our beliefs, values, and goals are good for our state and its people and we need to be proud to call ourselves Democrats.  We also need to restore Democratic majorities in our legislature and statewide offices and sanity and common sense to our state government.”
The Oklahoman editorial page commented on Orwig’s letter last week (February 11) in a house editorial entitled “Brand old: Democrats won’t win with relabel strategy.”
The paper commented as follows:
“Whatever state Democratic Party leaders have been selling, and no matter how they’ve sold it, Oklahomans aren’t buying it. And that includes many registered Democrats.”
Pointing to record-setting gains for Republicans in the 2010 election, the paper observed, “President Obama is attempting to repackage himself as a moderate, churchgoing man. Oklahomans probably won’t buy this, either. They know he has re-entered campaign mode (as if he ever really left it!). In 2008, Obama was quick to distance himself from his former pastor —  another example of superficial rebranding.
“Rebranding is a common political talking point. It isn’t working for Oklahoma Democrats, but party leaders keep trying to do it. Dana Orwig, campaigning to chair the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said in a statement that state Democrats ‘need to rebrand, rebuild and restore’ the party.:
The editorial said, “This isn’t just a cliche. It’s nuts. Democrats in Oklahoma are defined by Democrats elsewhere, from Obama on down. Changing the ‘brand’ or blaming Republicans won’t rebuild the party. It’s what is in the package, not what’s on the label, that matters. And Oklahomans aren’t buying what’s in the package.”
Orwig, best-known for three competitive but unsuccessful races for the Legislature, including two against state Rep. Jason Nelson, rebutted the editorial reply in a Facebook posting of her own.
She said in a letter she has submitted to the paper: “The Oklahoman’s editorial board is correct in the statement, ‘Whatever state Democratic Party leaders have been selling, and no matter how they’ve sold it, Oklahomans aren’t buying it.’
“In fact, by using the same old catch-all phrases and images your editorial proves my point that Democrats have done a poor job of getting our message out, while Republicans have excelled at not only defining themselves, but also at controlling the dialogue.  We’re certainly not ‘blaming Republicans’ for this situation; on the contrary, Democrats are finally realizing that we’re the ones who must take responsibility for reminding voters that the Democratic Party is now, and has always been, the party that cares most about people, prosperity and progress.
“Democrats support working men and women, equal educational opportunity and protecting our most vulnerable citizens. We want a healthy and well-educated population, and the businesses to employ them.  We want our state to continue to prosper and we want a state government that works for its citizens rather than against them.  We won’t shy away from those principles; that’s what Democrats have always supported and we will continue to do so. But finding a better way to get that message out is a challenge that we’ll readily accept. The future of our state depends upon it.”
Todd Goodman, current chairman of the state party, is not seeking reelection. Members of the party will select a new chairman in a process that begins with precinct meetings early next month.