All work, no play for party heads during an election year
At the grassroots level, leaders of the local Republican and Democratic parties are volunteers who put in countless hours of work on behalf of their respective organizations — usually with little more to show for it than the satisfaction of having done so.
The chair of the Leelanau County Republican Party, Eric Lind, and the chair of the Leelanau County Democratic Party, Betsy Johnson, both said they are never reimbursed for the time they spend working for their parties. “If my expenditures are significant, I usually ask for and receive repayment,” Lind said.
Similarly, Johnson said she is sometimes reimbursed for out-ofpocket expenses such as postage, paper and ink, but essentially does her job for free.
“All of our party leaders, including myself, are volunteers and are not paid for our time or travel,” Johnson said.
“So much of my time is spent communicating, planning and/or attending meetings, and working directly with candidates,” Johnson said. “Of course, it’s dependent upon what we have going on and where we are in an election cycle.”
Right now, of course, is a busy time for both party leaders.
“One of the things that makes politics stimulating and challenging is the diverse opinions, not only of the different parties, but also within each party,” Lind said. “The biggest challenge (for a party leader) is to tame the cacophony and find the harmony within,” he said.
Johnson noted that this year the Leelanau Democrats have more than 400 paid members.
“So, one challenge we face — or what I prefer to think of as a goal — is to find ways that all of our members can become involved in ways that they enjoy and that make a difference in the community,” Johnson said.
“Of course, it has traditionally been a challenge to convince potential candidates for local and county offices that they can run — and win — as a Democrat here in Leelanau County,” Johnson added, “I’m very happy to say that that perception is definitely changing.”
Republican chair Lind said that the most gratifying part of his job involves “meeting and developing new friendships with like or similarminded people and welcoming new members to the group and seeing them get involved.”
For Democrat Johnson, the most gratification she’s received has come from the party “organizing so many community service events” and other types of gatherings locally.
“It feels absolutely terrific heading up this winning team,” Johnson said. “And, of course, you can’t beat getting credit for the successful work of so many others.”
Johnson resides in Empire with her husband, who is also very active in party politics.
“My husband and I worked in both local and national campaigns in the Washington, D.C. area for several years,” Johnson explained. “We joined the Leelanau County Democratic Party when we retired up north seven years ago. I’ve been chair of the LCDP for almost four years.”
Lind, who is also married to someone who shares his interest in politics, resides in Suttons Bay.
“I’ve been affiliated with the Republican Party for most of my life, a member of the LCRP for about 10 years, and this is my second year as chair,” Lind said.
Aside from dealing with the press, Lind said, his biggest “pain in the neck” as party chair has been “having to guess how many cookies to buy for the next meeting.”
Johnson said she’s “always conscious of trying to be sure not to let anyone down, whether it’s one of our candidates or one of our volunteers. Sometimes that can be stressful,” she said.
The mission of the party chair, as well as that of all the party’s officers and committee chairs, is twofold, Johnson said: “to increase our active membership and to elect Democrats to public office.”
Lind said his mission as chair of the Leelanau Republicans is to “rally the troops, organize events, monitor what is going on locally, regionally, statewide, etc., and keep everyone informed.
Above all, Lind said the party chair’s mission is “to help our candidates get elected to office.”
With the Primary Election just days away, both party chairs said they’re currently putting as much effort into their respective jobs as ever, and don’t expect the pace to slow until well after the General Election in November.