More Blue ≠ Less Red: State and Federal Legislative Strategy in the Trump Era
[I can’t find/make the mathematical notation for “does not necessarily equal”, so I went with the next best thing.]
I’m not an expert, but I fancy myself a pragmatist with keen observation. My observation: we’ve got a problem in the States and our solution(s) aren’t lining up.
The Problem: Nearly every day of the week there is another news article about a State with a regressive GOP legislature trying to push another vomitous bill through. Wyoming undermining clean energy; South Dakota weakening ethics; Mississippi criminalizing ‘sagging pants,’; Arizona/Indiana/Michigan pre-empting cities from enacting local environmental laws; abortion bills in Missouri, Ohio, North Dakota; Anti-LGBT bills in Indiana and North Carolina, the list goes on ad nauseam.
The proposed solutions: fight for liberal candidates in state legislatures and Congress. It’s a concept many agree on, but with a big question: Do we only fight to flip in safe(r) states or do we fight to expand or both?.
Flipping entire chambers of government is sexy. It satisfies the our desire for power and change. Many organizations have already popped up to catalyze the idea of takeovers be it Federal or State: SwingLeft.org, Flippable.org, to name a few. They’re doing great work — don’t get me wrong— but there’s two issues at hand in focusing solely on “flippability”: it puts more liberal resources into places that are either already liberal or have national attention, and it sets a high-bar for success.
For example, if you look at the Map under “Our Plan,” that Flippable.org has put together (beautiful map, by the way), you’ll notice that all the states highlighted except Arizona and Georgia have a couple of things in common. They have either/some/all of these traits: Democratic U.S. Senators, continuous national attention as battleground state or early primary state, are deep-Blue Electoral states, or are already known for being very liberal. As the tide of conservatism continues to rise nationally, how much do we really gain from making Blue States more blue?
This also raises the opposite question: is there even a fight to be had in states that aren’t close to being flipped? Absolutely.
For example: in Montana, which has no chance of having its State Legislature flipped to Democrat there are seven (7!) State House races where the GOP candidate won 55% of the vote or less and the Democratic candidate won 45% or more. There were 8 in Wyoming, 11 in West Virginia, 6 in Kentucky and 5 in Arkansas. Some of these races were lost by a few hundred votes amongst 25k or more cast!
But why do these states matter to me, the East/West/City liberal activist, if I can’t put Democrats/Progressives in power?
These states may never be the vanguard of progressive politics, but bolstering the Democratic position there brings a fight, and can bring a stop, to GOP majorities that seek to turn back the clock. Some states are bordering on, or are, GOP supermajorities so an expansion by a few seats prevents GOP ramming through legislation without consultation and compromise. Expanding the progressive base in these states also helps create more dynamic input for the national Democratic Party and will help Democrats stop being cast as ‘out-of-touch East/West Coasters’.
You might be thinking: Okay, so there’s competitive State Legislature races outside the Democratic strongholds, but we need to impact the Federal level to stop this Trump/Bannon madness.
Answer: Long-game strategy can still yield short-term results.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of states from 2009 that lost Democratic U.S. Senators between 2009 and the 2017 Congress: Alaska (-1), Arkansas (-2), Louisiana (-1), Montana (-1), Nebraska (-1), North Dakota (-1), South Dakota (-1), and West Virginia (-1).
None of those states are emphasized on national TV or by activists as places to start a pitched battle for Democratic advancement, yet they all were at one point part of the Congressional Democratic coalition. Were they progressive icons? Not really — some were pretty conservative. Would their presence put people like Warren, Sanders, Booker, Durbin, et al. in power to determine the Congressional agenda? You betcha. Would we be at the mercy of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell? Nope.
By emphasizing the winnable State Legislature contests in those States we also help build up the infrastructure for Democrats to run for larger offices like Governor or Congress — the places where we can stymie GOP hostility and move forward with a progressive agenda.
This might sound like a Democratic strategy turf war in the making. State vs. Federal races, Swing State (NC/FL/PA/MI vs. Burgeoning (AZ/GA/TX) vs. Small Gains (Southeast/Plains), etc.
Let me assure you that this is NOT.
We don’t need to pick between supporting House Candidates out of our jurisdiction or supporting a State Legislature candidate(s) in a different state. We don’t need to choose between winning Chambers or bolstering Democratic bases. There’s another option that will help satisfy them all.
Whether its where you grew up before moving to your Liberal Big City or Blue State, a state you love to visit, the state next door, or a state whose regressive legislature gets you fired up. Adopt them. Send $5 to that State’s Democratic Party and another $5 to their Planned Parenthood. They’re still our neighbors and for some of us “transplants,” it still might be home.
Adopt-A-State. Follow their issues. Get in touch via Facebook and Twitter. Find out what their progressives and Democrats need: volunteers, money, social media attention, cause celebré or just a reminder that they haven’t been left out just because they aren’t a battleground. Find their most competitive State Legislature Races and links to state Democratic parties through WinTheStates (https://winthestates.org), their most competitive U.S. House races through SwingLeft (swingleft.org), how flippable they are via Flippable (flippable.org) and how to be a part of the volunteer ground-game via Sister District (sisterdistrict.com).
There’s enough of us living in safe-Blue cities and States that we can divide and conquer. Everyone’s been saying it’s time to organize — and it is — now let’s make sure WE are organized in how we approach this resistance. Wildcat strikes and protests like this weekend’s immigration battle will continue and I hope they never let up. Beyond that, this marathon of opposition will require efficiency, coordination, and a structured way to prevent outrage overload (I can dream, can’t I?).
If you’re tired of hearing about the fight being only for a handful of battleground states while our/you neighbors drown in GOP culture war, then Adopt-A-State. Get with your friends and divvy them up between yourselves or get together and adopt one as a joint cause while getting another social circle to do the same. Convince your bar to do a “We ❤ Missouri,” night or another state to raise money for their Party and/or Planned Parenthood.
Most importantly, just let the folks who don’t have the security of a strong liberal infrastructure know that they haven’t been forgotten.
Connect. Share. Win.