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A Q&A with Tippi McCullough

She's running to head the Democratic Party of Pulaski County.


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MCCULLOUGH: Wants to significantly grow membership in the Democratic Party of Pulaski County.
  • MCCULLOUGH: Wants to significantly grow membership in the Democratic Party of Pulaski County.

Tippi McCullough, a teacher at Little Rock Central High School, is running for chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Pulaski County (DPPC). If elected, she'll be the first lesbian to head a county Democratic committee in the state.

When did you first decide to run for chairwoman?

I knew H.L. [Moody's] term was ending and that he wasn't going to run again. He made it very clear that he wasn't running for another term, so I waited and kept asking him if he had heard of anyone else running. He kept saying that he hadn't, and the longer it went, it seemed like no one else was going to step up. So, I decided to go ahead and run. Before I fully decided, however, I wanted to make sure that none of the current committee members were interested in running. I talked to Sam Kauffman, the current second vice chair, to see if he was going to run and he said he wasn't. Then I talked to Emily Kearns, the first vice chair ... and she said she wasn't running. At that point, I pretty much made up my mind that I would run.

You're now part of an interesting slate of candidates for each of the positions. How did that happen? Did they come to you or did you approach them?

Well, I had already talked to Sam [Kauffman] and he had told me he was interested in running for first vice chair, and in the Democratic Party, if the chair is a female, the first vice chair has to be male and vice versa. You know, these days, with gender being so fluid, we might have someone who identified as gender neutral as chair, so that might be a rule that we reexamine in the future. But for now, at least, that's how it is.

So, after talking to Sam ... it was an easy call for me, as far as supporting him. I had also heard that Dillon Hupp, who works for the Democratic Party, was interested in running for treasurer ... . Kendra [Johnson] had said she'd thought about running for a position, and the longer I thought about it, the more excited I got for her to run. She's super intelligent and has a lot of connections, adds diversity to our group. I met Luis Miguel Lopez [running for secretary] one morning for coffee and got to talk to him and was just knocked out. He's young and charismatic, very intelligent and has such a passion for bringing the Hispanic community into the Democratic Party.

I don't know that we necessarily put together a slate or that we just naturally, by talking to each other, fell into it, but it felt right and felt comfortable to support each other. With the opposing candidates, they've really set up a traditional slate of candidates. Some people are really against slates, some people don't mind. Of course, when it comes times to vote, you don't vote for a slate, you can pick anyone you want. But these are the people that I know and that I trust and that I believe in. That's who I'll be supporting.

Your slate definitely seems to have a focus on bringing younger people into the party. Was that a conscious choice?

You're right. I feel almost like I'm the grandma of the group, in a sense. Three of the candidates in our slate are still in their 20s or early 30s. You know, my dream team would be a mixture of men and women, as diverse and qualified as possible. And that's pretty much what we've got. We've got a male-female split, we've got people at every age group from their 20s to their 50s, we've got people from a variety of different backgrounds. I think that with the youthfulness of our group, there's a lot of energy and new ideas. We're all really wanting to run for these positions. It's not like anyone had to go out and beg for people to run. I'm just really happy with the way we've been able to come together, and I'm excited for what we can make happen.

Tell me a little bit more about what you'd do as chairwoman if you were elected.

Obviously, one of the main things I want to do is to grow the membership. We've already pretty much doubled it [since November]. We're at about 500 members right now. So, we certainly want to continue that. If you're talking about Pulaski County, you're talking about one of the most populous counties in Arkansas, so instead of 500, why not 5,000? Why not 50,000? Why isn't everyone who's a Democrat not a member of a county committee?

Right now, we're at a time in which people are motivated and they're looking for an outlet, for something they can do to make them feel more involved in our political system. Whether they're joining because they're against Trump or they're still upset about Hillary's loss, or whatever their reasoning is, we want to take those people in and help them.

Of course, everyone is calling for transparency, and we'll be as transparent as possible. I think H.L. and the current vice chairs have been very transparent, so we'll continue that. On the other hand, if you want transparency, you have to get involved, ask questions, be there to see what's going on. I think where we can do better is by educating people on the way the Democratic Party works and the way the county committee works. I think we can do a better job of involving people in the process and a better job of reaching out to the community and doing service projects and that we, as a party, are there even when it isn't an election year.

Our main mission is to get good candidates to run for office and to elect Democrats to office. Everyone always says Pulaski County is blue, but we want to be bluer. We want to be the county party that can be an example to the rest of the state, not only by doing well in Pulaski County but by going out and helping other country committees.

It's interesting you bring up other counties. What role do you see the DPPC playing as a statewide leader?

There are a lot of ways that we could have a role in state leadership. I think it goes back to education. We've got to teach people how, by being a member of the DPPC, you can become a member of the state party, of the executive committee of the Democratic Party. [We] usually have the most delegates to the state party because we just have the most members. When there are state committee meetings or delegate elections, counties can actually work together in their districts to send who they want to vote in the elections.

The legislative session just opened this week. What role do you see the DPPC chairman playing in this session, specifically in regard to any homophobic or transphobic legislation that we might see?

I think the role of the committee is to, at any time an issue comes up that is against Democratic Party values and platforms, step up, speak out, mobilize its members, and to do anything we can to oppose those measures. Governor Hutchinson has certainly made comments that he doesn't see a need for a "bathroom" bill, and I'll hold him to his word and trust him until something happens otherwise. I hope he has a tight leadership role with the rest of the Republican legislators and he can prevent that. But still, we disagree on a lot of issues and my role as chair would be to speak out and lead people as soon we knew about it.

Arkansas has never been more red. How does the DPPC pick itself up and change its message in the era of Trump?

When I was growing up, this was a blue state. There are so many people I talk to now who don't remember that at all. Our process now has to lean on those people who remember Arkansas as a blue state. We have to use their institutional knowledge and experience that they have along with the excitement and creativity and ideas that a younger generation is bringing. As a party, we have to grow every county's committee membership; we're going to have to get out in the community and physically work.

Democrats in the past were lucky to have leaders like Dale Bumpers and David Pryor and Mike Beebe. And we still have those strong personalities and strong people, but now we have to start from the bottom and work our way up. We have to get our platform and our values out there. Not just by publishing them or saying them, but by showing them to people through our actions. I think we as Democrats need to listen to the lessons that are starting to come forward from the election and from that, I think we can learn the best path forward.

I do know, though, that we can't wait around. We've got to get started as soon as we can. Getting people organized and mobilized as quickly as possible.

Do you think that there has been, up until now, a mind-set of complacency in Democrats?

I don't know if "complacency" is the right word because that makes me think of laziness. I think that, somewhere along the way, there's been a disconnect. I don't think anyone noticed it happening or saw it coming, and I'm not even sure exactly what that disconnect is. Everyone has his own ideas on that. I think we may have taken a little too much for granted. We've certainly had a wake-up call the last few months, and it's certainly jolted many of us into realizing that we still have a lot of work to do.

I talked to a woman recently ... and she nailed it when she said that she was busy and that she thought her passive support for Hillary was enough. I think a lot of people who hadn't been super involved in the past thought that their support, whether that's support on Facebook or just agreeing with Democratic values, was enough. And no people are realizing that it takes more than that. They're going to have to get involved if they want to change things.


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