Confessions of a Not-So-Lifelong-Democrat

I have a confession to make: I am not a lifelong Democrat. I did not wear a “Tiny Democrat” onesie while my dad marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My mom did not take me to CR groups. Admittedly, I think it would have been pretty fascinating to be that kid…but I wasn’t.

Instead, I grew up in a conservative, Midwestern Catholic family, and I was instilled with a deep commitment to the ideas of family, faith, and freedom. My dad was the first generation in his family to go to college, and my mom was a homemaker who welcomed us home from school and made dinner every night. My faith shaped my commitment to treat others as I would want to be treated, and to be of service to those who are oppressed and in most need. My grandfathers served in WWII, and my uncles served in Vietnam and Korea, so I developed great respect for the service and sacrifice so many generations have made for my American freedoms.

Naturally, when I was 18 and had the chance to register to vote in my first election, I chose the Party that professed a commitment to family values, God, and service to one’s country. I joined the College Club for that Party and actively participated, as I believed it was my duty to be civically engaged. I was tired of hearing how young people didn’t care, and I felt morally obligated to help people understand why voting was so important, particularly in that election.

As a Political Science and Gender Studies double-major, however, I received quite an education. I learned much more about my Party – that they did not stand by their stated commitment to education, to our aging population, or to our Christian mission to “help the least among us.” I learned that they were, in fact, the most likely Party to advocate against the interests of low- and middle-income Americans; that they were selective in the families they valued; and that they were quite interested in preventing the advancement and equality of women in society. I learned that I was wrong about my Party – utterly and completely wrong.

So I changed my registration and became a Democrat. I felt an even greater responsibility to work hard and make sure people did not make the same mistake I had once made. I vowed that I would continue to work for all the values I had always held – protecting our environment, our working class, our seniors and ALL of our families; ensuring access to quality education and affordable health care; empowering women, gender minorities, and our youth.

For some people, however, this isn’t enough. Recently, I ran in an election where my Democratic opponents suggested that my former Party affiliation spoke louder than my years of activism and accomplishment on a variety of progressive issues. I was expecting the attack; after all, when one runs for public office one has to assume that opponents will eagerly dredge up the past. But I found remarkable how many registered Democrats – and even some leaders within the Party – placed more value on my political indiscretion as an 18-year-old college freshman than on the decade-long promotion of progressive ideals that followed it.

These same attacks are being made against California Secretary of State Debra Bowen in her race for Congress, and against other non-lifelong Democrats like us, who work hard every day to advance the values of our Party. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton experienced a Democratic conversion in college: she was President of the College Republicans at Wellesley, and yet we do not place asterisks next to her accomplishments as First Lady, Senator, or Secretary of State because she registered with another Party decades ago. While we certainly value those who have made a lifetime commitment to the Party, the successful leadership of non-lifelong Democrats demonstrates that we are a Party committed to progress and that we believe change truly is possible.

When we effectively advocate for our issues, and we help people understand why they need to support Democratic values, we must welcome the converted as much as those baptized by the Party at birth. The Democratic Party is best served when we support people who are willing to do the work and fight for progressive values, regardless of when they joined. We cannot brand new Democrats with a political scarlet letter, thus engaging in the destructive politics of our opponents. We must set the example that political party conversion to becoming a Democrat is to be celebrated, much like the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Today, I take ownership of my Party affiliation and the values I represent as a member of it. As a Democrat, I value that we are “a big tent,” welcoming to a diverse group of people who care about including and empowering those who have been disenfranchised. And I will work hard to make that tent as big as possible, so we can include all those who want to call the Democratic Party their home.

19 thoughts on “Confessions of a Not-So-Lifelong-Democrat”

  1. The issue was not your previous affiliation with the Republican party, no matter how misguided.  The issue was your essay praising George W. Bush.  This shows a tremendous lack of mental faculty and judgment, which are certainly qualities one would seek in a member of the City Council.

    Additionally, considering voters never got the vote for you the first time, and you were simply appointed, it would have been nice to answer unscripted voter-supplied questions the second time instead of relying on sound bites and hiding behind the other incumbents.

  2. An education is a great thing, isn’t it? I totally get this article. I grew-up in a deeply conservative town, myself, and I know what it’s like to go through the process of questioning values that have been strongly instilled– deeply conservative values–and coming out stronger, smarter and more independent for it. It takes a lot to go through that process–to go against family and community in some respects–and I have a lot of respect for those who manage to make that transformation in their youth. I myself wrote an essay condemning all use of pot and defended it adamantly my first year of college, before learning to think in other ways about that particular issue.

    But that’s what college is for, right? Thanks for supporting education, Lindsey, and let’s hope you and our fellow Dems will make sure children today don’t lose that opportunity!

  3. Personally, I dropped my Libertarian registration in 2003 so I could be sure I could vote for Howard Dean. That didn’t stop me from running as chair of the California Democratic Party in 2009. And nobody ever mentioned how recent my re-registration was. Of course, that could be because nobody considered me a viable candidate. Which was true.

    But the fact is that I only registered Libertarian because I was disgusted with Democrats and Republicans alike. I didn’t see anybody working for people like me. And DTS registration wasn’t available back then in the dark ages.

    I usually voted Democratic. But it wasn’t until Dean convinced me that I might be able to change the Democratic Party that I really got involved. I thought it would be great if the Democrats really became the people’s party. I have to say the effort has been frustrating. It has had its ups and downs. But I’ve never had anybody say I didn’t belong in the Party, never had anybody reject my service, and–except for the one guy at my first state convention who yelled at me because I support reproductive rights and said “people like you are why we lose elections”–I’ve never had anybody tell my there was no place for my opinions. I don’t always agree with Democrats. I think some of them are wimps, and others are sellouts. But I’m glad they let me into the Party because I’m a long way from finished trying to make it better.

  4. It seems as though some misguided volunteers of the Bowen effort are trying very hard to create a “backlash” against Councilwoman Janice Hahn in lieu of Bowen’s poor performance this weekend with rank & file party members.

    Hahn came within 3 votes of securing the Democratic Party’s endorsement against an individual who’s represented a great part of the 36th in the California legislature for over a decade!

    The fact is Councilwoman Janice Hahn is a born & bred Angeleno and lifetime Democrat!

    To many voters, that is meaningful.

    Her father was a county supervisor and former councilman, her uncle a councilman and her brother city attorney and mayor.

    That’s a long lineage of public service from one family!

    The Bowen campaign seems to suffer from political amnesia in their attacks on Marcy Winograd’s residency by several of their supporters as well as continued attacks on Winograd in this obsession of trying to shake the hard reality that Bowen is clearly the centrist, and most politically aligned with Jane Harman than any other Democrat in this race!

    When you support WAL-MART, take donations from Enron, support the death penalty, author “three strikes” legislation and support the death penalty, it’s hard to paint yourself a progressive with some 40 days til the election.

  5. (1) Are Democrats now a party with members that want to — because of the new open primary effected by Prop 14 — curry favor and run Congressional more conservative candidates that appeal to Republican voters?  Is this what we are becoming?  Center-right Democrats who — in order to capture Republican votes — must now seek former Republicans who do not and will never fight the good fight for working class labor and harder edged Democratic core issues?

    (2) Re, Lindsey Horvath’s pro-Bush essays & former Republican registration (and certain bloggers’

    posts re Bowen’s Republican appeal), Former Councilwoman Horvath was indeed a a registered Republican who was appointed in 2009 to fill a vacancy  after the death of West Hollywood Councilman Sal Guarriello.   She lost her election bid because voters viewed her as fundamentally non-empathetic and as a businesswoman with strong Republican leadings. Bowen is a step removed from that, at best.  I’m fighting for Marcy Winograd to win this May 17th because she is the one true progressive in this race who represents real change and who will fight for working class Americans.  She is a solidly antiwar and pro-labor Democrat that voters can trust and can believe in.  She won 41% last June against Jane Harman and — with your help — will win the #1 or #2 spot in the open primary this May 17th.  For more information, please see below and

    – Pete

    Venice for Real Change

Comments are closed.