By Daniel Thompson

Scotts Bluff County Democrats hold meeting at Java Blend


The Scotts Bluff County Democrats held an event at Java Blend last Tuesday, November 12, where they were able to talk to democratic candidates through the utilization of newer technologies.

According to Jeff Leanna, chairman of the Scotts Bluff County Democrats, residents were able to hear from democratic candidates spread throughout the state and ask questions through the use of Skype and a projector from the Java Blend building in Kimball.

“It’s really difficult with 93 counties in the state for candidates from Fullerton, Doniphan and Lyons to really get out to the panhandle often. We figured that, if we could kind of utilize some of the newer technologies and Skype the candidates, we would be able to have candidates have conversations with voters out in the Nebraska panhandle,” Leanna said.

Through Skype, attendees were able to communicate with Mark Sullivan, who’s running for the U.S. House of Representatives against Adrain Smith, Chuck Hassebrook and Senator Annette Dubas, both democratic candidates running for governor.

“We did 20 minutes with each of them. They gave about a seven to eight minute speech on why they were running and spent the remainder of the time answering questions from folks who were in attendance,” Leanna said.

To Leanna, the interesting part of the event was being able to give the people of the panhandle an opportunity to communicate with candidates on their down time, even being able to speak to some of them while they were on the road with Hassebrook and Dubas both traveling back from events at the time that the Skype sessions took place.

“It was really interesting to see the different mechanism that we can connect with our candidates and allow them to connect with constituents and voters out here in the panhandle,” Leanna said.

The inspiration behind the event stemmed from a need to organize, find a way to bring the party together in the panhandle, and reach out to local residents, according to Leanna.

“This year, as we move into 2014, with Scotts Bluff County as kind of one of the main largest counties in the region in the panhandle, we’ve kind of taken on the mantle of rebuilding our party from the ground up. One of the first ways we wanted to do that was to start reaching out and rebuilding and connecting with democrats in some of the smaller counties in the panhandle,” Leanna said.

According to Leanna, the Skype session with the candidates has also opened doors to have democratic candidates come to visit the panhandle to meet voters face to face.

“Being able to introduce them through Skype but using that as just another tool is still not like having the candidates in person. I believe each of them has been out here at least twice since they’ve announced, and my understanding is that between now and probably late February/early March, will probably make between two to four more visits to the panhandle,” Leanna said.

The Skype session is also part of a much bigger push on going digital within the Scotts Bluff County Democrats moving forward which also entails the use of a voter file interface that allows volunteers to download a voter file for a particular neighborhood with script information and a map that allows candidates and volunteers to go out and knock on doors and know who they’re talking to, according to Leanna.

“It allows them to be able to take notes and relay that information back all electronically without the need to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on printers, paper and ink. When a candidate comes back from knocking on doors for a couple of hours, they can wirelessly upload that information back into our file which allows us to better communicate with those voters,” Leanna said.

Though only approximately 11 residents attending the Java Blend meeting, Leanna is optimistic about the turnout and what can come of similar small gatherings in the future.

“Considering a lot of our voters haven’t been contacted by the party in 30 years, 11 is a good place to start, and we’ve actually had a commitment from the candidates coming up here in December to do some followup events in Kimball so we’ll reach out to those voters again and give them additional reasons to go out and meet candidates in person rather than through Skype,” Leanna said.

According to Leanna, the Java Blend meeting serves as the first step by the organization to find a way to use newer technology to be able to keep residents informed and active in the party.

“We’re kind of taking it in steps. Last year, we were able to buy the infrastructure we needed and now we’re putting that infrastructure to use. Hopefully, the next step will get volunteers on board who will be able to go out and knock on doors and reach voters,” Leanna said. “The technology is fairly limitless on what we can do. It’s just us finding opportunities to reach out to voters in those different ways so we’re hitting on multiple fronts.”

According to Sheila Barrett-Kaczmarek of Dix, a Nebraska Democrat and political organizer who helped organize the meeting, it was encouraging to have a gathering of local democrats as it does not often happen in the panhandle.

“It’s always so hard to get people together. People are very private about what their political preferences are, and I just wanted to start to kind of bring the democrats together. Especially when I found out that there are 500 which is way more than I thought. Some times I feel like I’m the only democrat in Kimball County,” Kaczmarek said.

Though Kaczmarek would have liked to have seen a better turnout for the event, she was impressed by how well the event was put together and how it went off without a hitch.

“It was a small little crowd but I thought it was such a neat idea. We really honestly don’t know that anybody anywhere in the entire state has done this before. This worked out so well that we’re going to give it a shot in Cheyenne County too,” Kaczmarek said.

Though Kaczmarek is a democrat, she states that she will try to bring all candidates to the panhandle either in person or via Skype so that the people of Kimball County can be better informed.

“I’m working real hard to get more candidates to come in, and even though I’m a democrat, I’ll work hard to try to bring all the candidates into Kimball County so that people have access to try to talk to them,” Kaczmarek said.


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