ARC Policy Committee 6:30 pm Thursday 5 January https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81582823697?pwd=V1FaVlV3Ly8xTHFBTTZZM1VxblVjQT09
Doug White, CD 4 candidate in 2022, mailed this note this morning and gave me permission to reprint. (Follow the link for the photos.) Doug writes about “balancing the narrative”, about the message. It is important context to Adam’s proposal about county-level organizing. Doug will try to join us Thursday evening.
Rural Democrats are the Key to this Nation’s Future
During my campaign thousands of people volunteered and a million dollars was raised and spent. This is a cycle that continues to repeat itself. It has been thirty years since a Democrat was elected in CD4, which is 15 cycles and approximately $7.5M spent on races we had low to no chance of winning. We cannot keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome. I do not have all the answers and there are people with much deeper experience than me, but I do have a solid background in complex problem solving and I paid close attention during my campaign.
It is clear to me that the biggest obstacle to future democratic success in Central and Eastern Washington is balancing the narrative. Currently republican messaging is dominant. We may be strong and passionate democrats but our voice is not heard and is not respected enough by the media to ask for comment or opinion. This is due in large part to our lack of visibility and representation. In Central Washington Senator Murray’s name occasionally appears in newspaper articles, but it is only Newhouse that is asked for comment or to write an op ed. This lack of balance is what keeps us skewed to the right. Until we raise the level of democratic messaging and presence to be on par with republicans our best efforts will continue to disappoint.
My campaign conducted a poll and when presented with Dem vs Republican the vote was about 65/35 but when Newhouse’s platform was presented to participants alongside mine the voting was virtually 50/50. Just one presentation of the democratic platform was sufficient to convert a significant number of voters.
What does this tell us? It tells us that our belief that Gen Z and Immigrants will save us by voting Democrat is unlikely. People vote what they know and without a democratic balance in messaging and confidence in the strength of the democratic party they will vote republican.
What do we know? We know that the cancer that is destroying our democracy gains its greatest strength in rural America. Anti LGBT, Trans, Immigration, CRT and pro abortion pro guns and Christian Nationalism. We know that local and state governments are playing a larger role in our lives. School boards, health districts and state legislatures backed by the Supreme Court are rewriting the values of this country that we have fought so hard to gain. We know that the Democrats strategy of focusing on urban areas is insufficient to stem the spread of this cancer. Our increasingly slim margins for winning elections and the electoral college put our future at risk. The new voters and the “correction” needed to move this country in the right direction must come from rural America. Where else could it come from?
What we can do. Band together to increase our strength and have a clear long term strategy with well articulated goals. I was told that my campaign was the first to unify the Democratic organizations in Central Washington. This came as a surprise to me because as a district our goals are common. Working as passionate Democrats on a local level we are good, but working as a larger group we have power and influence. We are fortunate to have Senator Murray represent us, but if we had asked as an entire district for her to make a campaign stop in Central Washington, she would have done it. But as it happened she did not. We have high, and well deserved, expectations and we can influence the media, candidate selection, bend the ear of our elected officials and representative organizations such as WA Dem, DNC and DCCC and so much more. The fate of this country lies in rural America; we feed the nation, provide its energy and are its source of hope.
With the greatest respect,
Let’s Get Serious – Build County Parties: A Proposal
You are invited to ARC’s Policy Committee Meeting on Thursday, 5 January at 6:30 pm
Adam Bernbaum, (chair of LD 35, mostly Mason County) will introduce his proposal to begin the long process of building rural party capacity. The goal is to reverse the “vicious cycle” of defeat, disillusion, and disability. He wants us to build local parties, contest county elections, and contribute votes to state-wide Democrats.
Rural Democrats are trying out ideas and tuning local tactics. Ron Wright in Wahkiakum County had success with a targeted outreach that proved the margin in his local elections. Glenn Rudolph in Kittitas County has tuned tactics to engage folks in his tough neighborhood. Steve Starr in Grant County is turning the corner on building the party and making Democrats a part of his community. Kathie Schutte in Pend O’Reille County is adapting ideas from Glenn and Steve to reach her neighbors, and Robert is demonstrating how non-party Indivisibles can open doors to new people and ideas. Karen Keleman and Bill Miller mentor us all in how to sustain local parties
There are two recurring themes: 1) These innovations are all tuned to local conditions, and 2) people are tired…people are burned out.
Adam’s proposal reinforces the theme of local adaptation, and brings resources to build local parties to ease the burden on the few individuals. Capable parties can sustain programs while leaders transition.
Adam brings commitment to the importance of rural Democrats, and confidence in finding the resources necessary for their long-term success.
Read Adam’s proposal, give it a thought, and bring your ideas to the meeting Thursday.
30 December 2022
Proposal: Fund long-term rural organizers
Democrats are losing ground across rural Washington. Only four of our state’s thirty rural counties elected a Democratic County Commissioner in 2022. Among rural legislative districts, only the 24th LD consistently elects Democrats. Democrats cannot compete in most rural elections across the state no matter how capable our candidates, or well-funded our campaigns.
This state-of-affairs may elicit a cynical analysis: If Democrats can hold strong majorities in the state legislature and among our congressional delegation without winning in rural areas, and if rural areas are so far behind that no efforts could flip these races anyway, why bother?
If you color a map of Washington State by party control of county commissions, you will see an ocean of red extending eastward from the shores of the I-5 corridor. These Republican controlled counties are responsible for public health, public safety, environmental protection, economic development, elections, and many other government functions. If we are indifferent to these government bodies, we abandon a huge swath of our forests, plains, rivers, mountains, small towns, and the people who live in these places, to policies which are anathema to Democratic values.
Democrats care about these people and these places because we fight for just causes without regard for political expediency. But there are also good political reasons to contest rural races. Our party has been remarkably successful at winning local, state, and federal races in the I-5 corridor—we should not take our legislative majority for granted—however the remaining Republican controlled political bodies in Washington State are in rural areas. That is where we must focus if we want to expand our party’s influence and implement our party’s policies. Additionally, Republican gains in urban areas nationwide this cycle remind us that broadening the races we can contest is an important hedge against structural changes which jeopardize our current majority.
So, what can be done? Democrats face a vicious cycle. The Democratic brand is unpopular in rural areas. Consistent losses drain the energy from volunteers and deny young leaders opportunity for local advancement. Without incumbency, rural Democrats fail to retain institutional knowledge—we run more first-time candidates, have to rebuild our volunteer and fundraising networks from scratch, and have fewer opportunities for mentorship. Our county parties wither as inconsistent community engagement demoralizes prospective volunteers. Without county office incumbents or strong local party engagement with the community, we struggle to produce a backbench for commissioner and legislative district races with experience and name recognition. Absent successful candidates or access to mainstream institutions, we grow isolated from public discourse and our brand weakens further. These dynamics compound with each loss.
Rebuilding the Democratic party’s brand and volunteer networks in rural areas requires persistent engagement with rural communities by local Democrats. Intermittently engaging during campaigns and focusing on up-ballot races fails to pull prospective volunteers into the party. It also prevents us from speaking to voters and volunteers in language that is rooted in the issues which are most salient, which often differ across communities. Fluency in that language can only come from strong, engaged local parties.
To resolve these issues, we must do the following: 1.) fund long-term rural organizers who; 2.) will coordinate with county parties to; 3.) support candidates for county-level office and build local party organizational capacity. This effort should be at least partially funded by the state party, if not run through the state party. Funding signals to potential donors that we are partners, not competitors, with the state Democrats. Regardless the management structure, we should also develop a fundraising apparatus as rural Democrats to support our rural organizers, and to strengthen our local rural parties.
30 December 2022
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