2023 DRC Report
Updated: May 8
“Building the Bench!”
Report from the Democratic Rural Conference
By Jim Renfrew, Vice-Chair, Orleans County Democratic Committee
The annual gathering of the Democratic Rural Conference took place in Saratoga Springs, April 14-15. I attended for the first time ever, along with Orleans Country Democrats Vice-Chair Jeanne Crane, Orleans County Democrats Committee Member Sandra Walter and Mike Schmackpfeffer, Orleans County Democrats Committee Member. Sandra’s granddaughter Madeline, a poli-sci student at nearby Skidmore College, also joined us.
Question 1: Will I attend the next DRC gathering?
Yes! Though we Democrats in the forty-seven rural counties often seem to be fighting uphill battles, there was a tremendous sense of purpose as we gathered on this weekend. This was a great opportunity to connect with our elected representatives.
Governor Hochul gave an address that was a powerful outline of purpose with a great “can-do” spirit. Of course, I recalled the time when we had a house party for her at our home in Clarendon, right here in Orleans County, when she ran for a seat in Congress and won, eventually leading her to the governorship. Her speech came in the middle of state budget negotiations that have had sticking points related to bail reform and low-income housing. Governor Hochul succeeded former Governor Cuomo after his resignation, but she won the election convincingly on her own in November.
Lieutenant Governor Delgado attended Colgate University after I did, and I could hear in his speech the same themes of justice, inclusivity, kindness, and commitment that I first learned there. I look forward to hearing more from him!
I was impressed with the remarks of Comptroller DiNapoli about using the clout of state pension investments to push for more inclusivity on corporate boards and greater attention to green energy and climate change, as well as encouraging the development of minority and women-owned businesses. I told him so, after the speech, and got a picture with him!
I was especially interested to listen to Attorney General Leticia James, a key player in bringing justice to bear on former President Trump. There was a great deal of energy in the room in support of the work that she has been doing.
Also speaking at DRC: US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, running for re-election in 2024, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senate Majority Leader, and Carl Heastie, Assembly Speaker.
It was also a great opportunity to meet fellow Democrats from every rural country across the state. Every person attending has a compelling story about their involvement in the Democratic Party and I wish there was time to meet them all. I had the opportunity to meet people from Madison, Cattaraugus, Genesee, Wyoming, Cortland, Broome, Yates, and Erie counties.
Since I have not attended previously, I had nothing to compare this event to, but many long-time participants commented on the large turn-out from all corners of the state. I estimated about 280 people in the room for the Friday evening dinner and the Saturday lunch.
So, yes, I will attend DRC next time!
Question 2: Who can attend DRC?
Any Democrat from the 47 rural counties! There are official DRC delegates elected each year (see chart below) who have the ability to vote, but the rest of us are welcome to be there, too. Judith Hunter of Livingston County was re-elected as DRC Chair. Our friend Michael Plitt from Genesee County was re-elected to the DRC Board during the meeting, along with five others. Our own Jeanne Crane is already serving on the DRC Board. It was reported that all of the 47 county committees have paid their annual dues to DRC, which means that 47 county committees will receive allocations from the DRC in support of local work. The various county chairs have met since the November election and will continue to do so on Zoom.
Question 3: What does DRC’s gathering theme of “Build the Bench” mean?
Probably the most important work of this gathering is to recruit, train and support candidates, aiming to be elected at all levels of government. “Building the Bench” is always about preparing for the next election.
I attended the following workshops:
Citizen Action of New York on Public Campaign Financing
Act Blue on sustaining involvement in Democratic Party events and fundraising.
Legislative Update from members of the state Assembly and Senate, reviewing initiatives to support volunteer fire companies, infrastructure funding for water and highways, funding for education, funding for nursing homes, and continuing work to perfect bail reform. (To these presenters it was matter-of-factly presented that across the state when non-profit nursing homes are sold to private owners, they proceed to squeeze out the profits and then close – sound like a familiar pattern?) It was agreed that the DRC needs to coordinate a robust circulation of press releases to local newspapers in rural areas, where local Republican legislators tend to seize the narrative.
“Field First” information about VAN (targeting voters, managing volunteers and events, and storing the data a campaign needs to get out the vote), petitioning, targeted canvasing, and securing volunteers.
Attending the DRC Annual Meeting was a great opportunity. I hope you will join us next time!
Photo 1: Welcome DRC Members!
Photo 2: Orleans County Democrats
Photo 3: Governor Kathy Hochul
Photo 4: Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado
Photo 5: Comptroller Tom DiNapoli with Jim Renfrew from Orleans
Photo 6: DRC Chair Judith Hunter and NY Democrats State Chair Jay Jacobs
Photo 7: Assemblywoman Leah Webb, Senator Michelle Hinchey, and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner
(Photos 1-4,6-7 by Jim Renfrew. Photo 5 from DiNapoli’s Office)