Friday, November 14, 2014

Progressives Join Fight for Democracy that's Shifted from DC to the States

To: Concerned Parties
Re: Progressives Taking the Fight to the States

Democrats were pounded in the trenches in the 2014 elections. The Washington-centric party establishment built a failed election strategy around preserving the Senate majority in Congress, leaving its state organizations underfunded and ill-prepared to recruit good candidates, coordinate campaigns and raise money to fill their war chests.

The Republicans did just the opposite, and the result was clear. With all the short-term satisfaction of a junky concerned only with a quick fix, the electoral map-driven Democratic Party ceded the majority of local legislative races in most states to the opposition. The Democrats' strategy did very little to counter conservatives skillful organizing and recruiting on the local level.

Republicans picked up more than 300 state legislative seats and added a handful of governor's offices to the tally, giving the GOP now total control of 23 state legislatures. Once led by iconoclastic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, the party forgot the Massachusetts politician's timeless observation: "All politics is local." You have to look back to the 1920s, when Democrats were mainly a Southern party, to find a worse showing for the Jeffersonians.

Why be so sure it was party apparatus that failed to field a more competitive slate from the ground up? Because many of the issues that progressives have advocated for years did just fine last week with voters. Those issue campaigns had organizational infrastructure, energy and a winning game plan. Given the inconsistent coverage and headlines, the drubbing Democratic candidates took last week overshadowed most of the wins for cornerstone progressive issues, including raising the minimum wage, protecting a woman's right to choose, community gun safety and protecting food and water from fracking.

Most heartening for the left, many of those victories came in hardcore red states.

While party officials in Washington privately search for answers, new leadership and a fresh direction, progressive organizers are moving forward. Activist leaders on the left see victories in states like Alaska, Nebraska and Texas as proof voters support issues that contribute to personal freedom -- from public safety to being able to making livable earnings.

Author and scholar George Lakoff contends, "Most progressive issues are freedom issues," yet they tend to cut across ideological lines. This philosophy bodes well for winning the hearts and minds of those ever-important swing voters. Progressives have hitched their efforts to issues that have a better chance of moving middle of the road voters.

As one initiative campaign organizer, Adam Briggle, told The Los Angeles Times after winning a ban on fracking in a Texas Oil Patch town, "People recognize this is a mainstream issue."

This year there was a lot more appeal for issues than the elected officials who allegedly trumpet them. That will remain the model for getting things done. Why? Because voters like having a say, and unlike candidates, issues are defined. Issues don't waver under pressure, or find ways to avoid doing the right thing for the sake of political expedience. Issues must do exactly what they say they will do when they are approved by the voters.

"It's no fluke that voters in the state of Washington chose to keep guns out of the hands of criminals," Gun Truth Project Director Naomi Seligman said after voters in the Pacific Northwest state opted for universal background checks on all gun sales. "As mass shootings continuing to punctuate the news, voters will stand up for the right to protect their communities from gun-wielding predators."

The potential to grow the base of voters who support progressive issues is immense, and because of that, the 2014 elections will become a catalyst for a new effort to leverage the success of progressive state ballot initiatives into the most comprehensive national plan to expand and energize base voters with the goal of enacting a national agenda on the state and local level.

“Progressives are looking around to figure out where to go to push back, and there has not been a vehicle to do that at the state level — it’s the biggest missing piece in the progressive infrastructure,” Nick Rathod, a career Democratic operative who is raising money and interest in taking the fight back to the neighborhoods, tells Politico.

Rathod, who served as President Barack Obama’s liaison to state officials and directed state campaigns for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun safety group, intends to use his progressive group SIX to support campaigns and legislation in the states, providing organizational, media and issue expertise -- along with opposition research, a necessary tool for winning an election at any level.

This election was a wake up call for the left. If progressive forces fail to re-build the ranks on the local level it will create a long-term debacle with widespread ramifications -- from gerrymandering congressional districts so they favor conservative candidates, to preventing progressive policy from taking root at the local level, and allowing the right wing to out-organize, out-recruit and out-vote the left in even some of the true blue states across the country.

And does anyone expect the freshly installed divided federal government to get anything significant done the final two years of the Obama administration? Washington will be home to political grandstanding, and not much more.

"If you think the Republicans in Congress are headed on a new path, consider that a 50 percent majority of Republicans think 'the new Congress should begin an impeachment investigation of Obama,'” the authors of the Democracy Corps survey taken on election day write in their poll analysis.

Doesn't it make the most sense to fight where the fight is happening? As has been the practice since the 2010 midterm elections, most significant social and economic policy in this country will continue to be enacted in the states. The fight, for the foreseeable future, is in America, not Washington. The 2015 off-year elections will provide an opportunity to test the progressive ranks' resources and its will to win ahead of the 2016 showdown.

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