Team Spirit

  I am blogging again after a much needed Summer vacation. I celebrated my 66th birthday and 30th wedding anniversary. 

Summer fun headshot

    My little dogs are 4 years old.            

 4 years   J's                                                                                                                                                                                       

My grandnieces in Florida are adorable.    

I am still processing some thoughts and feelings about my political experiences over the past decade. Before whining and opining much about this mostly enjoyable saga, I need to wrestle with one quandary.

What ever happened to my sense of humor?

I am pretty sure I used to be hilarious. Though as a younger child in Blair, I was a textbook introvert. This was convenient because I happened to dwell in a household where “seen but not heard” was tolerated, if not appreciated. I filled my 1950s childhood days with entertaining hours of T.V. viewing. I had outstanding comedy role models – Jack Benny, George Burns, Bob Cummings, Phil Silvers, Soupy Sales, Bugs Bunny, etc. Sure, these were all male entertainers, except maybe Bugs who was technically a cartoon. For some reason, I did not really appreciate the humor revolving around Lucy Ricardo in “I Love Lucy.” Fred Mertz always got some neighborly laughs at her expense. His amusement orbited the antics of Lucy and his wife Ethel. This made Fred a pretty big jerk in my eyes. Otherwise, I nostalgically recall feeling amused by most of my early exposure to comedy. I did not show much comedic potential myself until puberty when I lost my “cloak of invisibility.” I then discovered opportunities for social interaction.

I developed a humorous viewpoint that I shared with my peers from time to time. I think it all started on the city bus ride to R.M. Marrs Junior High School in Omaha. I recall exchanging verbal barbs with boys I found interesting or attractive. I would also whisper an occasional comment to my girlfriend disdaining our feminine competition. I have since learned that the signature type of humor I adopted as my own falls into the category of “Deadpan Snark.” This social construct served me well in high school, college, law school and well into my 30s. Around my 30th birthday, I did particularly notice that certain men who took themselves very seriously did not find my sarcastic comments all that amusing. Of course, this was not always a problem. Socially, I could just scorn and avoid the uninteresting dudes. I did not value their opinions or attention. Unfortunately, some of the totally dour fellows happened to be superiors in a professional work setting. This was harder to manage.

Another developmental milestone challenged my snarky perspective – I became a mother. Obviously, it is not at all nurturing to communicate with your child in a deadpan or sarcastic way. Nobody had to tell me this. It was basic human nature. I soon discovered that I had this new lilting “mother voice” that I used to speak to my child. This voice was higher in pitch, softer, soothing, and embodied my feelings of unconditional love. I think it conveyed my motherly love and support even when I was a stressed and scattered single mom. I take comfort in the fact that my son became a loving and responsible parent, although his political views went down a totally unexpected conservative path.

My late 30s and early 40s were spent in graduate school where I studied courses in psychology, psychotherapy, and social work strategies. Not much use of Deadpan Snark skills there. The insight I was given into empathy, compassion, tolerance, respect and Basic Humanity 101 took my own journey in another direction.

Along the way, I picked up another reason to put my humorous asides aside. I heard or read somewhere, possibly in Glamour, Cosmopolitan Magazine or a career self-improvement seminar, that sarcasm becomes unattractive when one attains middle age status. It is considered both sane and appropriate to be mature and earnest while aging into your enlightened years. I wanted to be taken seriously and appreciated for my character and hard earned wisdom. This instruction also coincided with the dawn of my political life. So, for the various reasons noted, my practiced and lethal snarkiness has faded into the beautiful Nebraska sunset. It has gone the way of saddle shoes, Slinkys and roller skate keys. It was great in its time and place, but now it is part of my “HERSTORY.”

IMG_1408 (2)     IMG_167690712072188    Charlene at O Finest

53633_492749248271_570333271_7109525_4688261_o    Smartphone download 309   IMG-20141104-02143


Thus far I have devoted 12 years of my life to Democratic Party activities. I was a Nebraska candidate in a total of 3 races: Congressional Democratic Primary 2004, Secretary of State 2010, and Attorney General 2014. I have served in several party leadership positions: Chair Nebraska Democratic Women’s Caucus, County Chair Dodge County, and First Congressional District Caucus Chair. I have served on the Nebraska Democratic Party Executive Committee and standing committees; i.e., Nominations, Rules, etc.

I have personally connected with thousands of Nebraska residents, considerably more if you count parades and the media. I found some lifelong friendships, and admittedly irritated more than a few in my statewide travels. Lots of acquaintances seem to really like me. I know some of these folks respect me. I truly appreciate it when friends and acquaintances share their life stories and journeys with me.

I have touted my academic background and professional resume, which is moderately impressive. I am a lawyer, mediator and counselor with degrees in Economics and Social Work. I am pretty well read in history, psychology, philosophy, world religions, and science. I have traveled to some interesting places near and far. I have served in leadership roles in non-profit organizations.

What truly surprises me, after all these years, is that I am hardly ever asked for advice or an opinion on any topic. Why, you ask? I honestly do not know. Of course, I do have theories and suspicions. Perhaps, a collective perception of my studious and analytical thinking combined with the devolution of my sense of humor? For now, I will spare readers the specific details of these musings. If you read earlier blog posts, you can likely see some themes emerging. If you have any guidance for me, I solicit your comments. What I am going to talk about in the rest of this post is some of the opinions I have curiously never been asked about.

Today, I am launching the debrief I was never asked to give. A brief description of context is probably necessary. There has been an on-going debate within the Democratic Party. I discovered and experienced this over the past decade. It concerns the allocation of resources, organizational structure and strategy. It applies directly to the electoral results of state parties. Nebraska is considered a “Red State” where registered Democrats are in the minority. The Nebraska Secretary of State reported that close to 31% of registered voters were Democrats for the 2014 General Election. In this electoral environment, a disturbing reality presents itself. It is in stark contrast to the concept “Too Big To Fail” we often hear in the media.


State Democratic Party. The Nebraska Democratic Party has a state convention every 2 years. Party leaders are elected for terms of 2- 4 years. It is only fair to acknowledge that these leaders are volunteers. They are not paid staff. They spend personal funds to travel, host events, make donations, etc. Democrats run for these offices for various reasons. You have the occasional leader who just wants to be somebody and have a platform from which to speak. Other leaders want to do something; often supporting a particular candidate, constituency or cause. Leaders at the top of the state party pyramid get to participate at the Democratic National Committee, and become super delegates at the Democratic National Convention. (I can only assume it must be interesting and exciting.) I appreciate the efforts of all the volunteers who actively participate in the activities of the Nebraska Democratic Party. Those who know me well will understand why my discussion does not end here.

The Nebraska Democratic Party has a Constitution and  Bylaws that are read and reviewed from time to time. A fair reading of the same suggests the existence of the party has some connection to electing Democrats to public office. The recent track record on this mission has not been good for at least a couple decades. A systematic and wide-ranging discussion of why and what to do about it is overdue.

My question of the Day: If you pay staff, rent and office expenses to manage events to raise funds used to pay salaries, rent and office expenses, are you really getting the job done? I know some other things get done along the way. I just think it is important to periodically and objectively look at the results. I understand this is where constructive feedback may come into play. What are we doing and how effectively? For the purpose of this discussion, I think we can assume Nebraska Democrats, if asked, would want leaders focusing more attention and resources on winning elections.

My decade in Nebraska Democratic politics led me to one inescapable conclusion. Candidates make a significant investment in the institution of the Nebraska Democratic Party. This is often a thankless and gratuitous gesture. In addition to the time and financial contribution candidates have in their own campaign, they are asked to contribute generously to various party coffers. For example, campaign costs for tables or tickets to Democratic Party events. Typically buying an entire table of seats will get the candidate’s name in the event program. An introduction from the podium is usually made. This “pay for play” tradition is harmless enough. It never gave me reason to throw in the towel. This custom just does not get anyone elected to office. Sometimes, it actually enables candidate dreams of reciprocal support that never materializes. This is a harsh reality candidates face. It can be a big disappointment to the novice campaigner. Candidate expectations of services and support may be fanciful in the current environment. Still, I think volunteer leaders of the Nebraska Democratic Party can do more to help their candidates.

It’s a conventional wisdom strategy to be a Czar (or Czarina) marshaling scarce troops and assets. When resources are limited, there are some other things to try. It is helpful to always remember enthusiasm and loyalty are free.  Party leaders, without incurring additional time or expense, can accept the role of volunteer coach. Here’s a hypothetical to consider: you coach your child’s sports team. They lose a lot. Do you quit? If not, why not? The same dynamics can apply to the Nebraska Democrats’ team. You cannot win if your team is complacent and expects to lose. You cannot motivate a team to win unless you believe in their potential and show it. You cannot win unless your political fan base throughout the state believes in your team’s ability and a viable shot at victory. You cannot win if you see your team as quixotic challengers to reigning champions. Your “brand” as the also-rans seems to be holding us back. It can still be re-imagined. This is best done by promoting, supporting and investing in your team. To belabor my amateur sports analogy – I believe it’s called having some skin in the game.

County Democratic Party organizations in Nebraska are distinct entities, often disorganized and disconnected. They may be carrying forward local traditions and annual events, or not so much. How do they encourage and help elect Democratic candidates to office in the 21st Century? Voting for the ticket and putting some yard signs on their lawn is never going to be enough. One obstacle is that Nebraskans really long to be on the winning team (see above). Currently, some of the fans and players on our team are too embarrassed to show their allegiance. As a Democratic candidate, it became apparent just how important it could be for state and local leaders to activate the base and various constituencies.This is not a job for a single leader or committee, but Nebraska Democrats need to take more ownership of the Party statewide and in their communities. Could it make a difference if Nebraska Democratic Party leaders rallied team spirit consistently throughout the state? It’s a daunting challenge for sure. If it was easy, we would not need your leadership.

Obviously, I have more to say on this and other topics that I will get to eventually. In conjunction with team spirit, I have been pondering the role of issue advocacy in building a Democratic voter base in Nebraska. The discouraging Voter Registration situation is an impediment worth some transparent reporting and disciplined scrutiny. If you are interested in the discussion, please join me! 


Janet Stewart

Janet is a mostly retired lawyer and politician known for her persistence. She is still working on patience and responsibility.

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