As I travel around the state, speaking with County Party leaders and grassroots groups, these are some of the questions I am most often asked:
What have your priorities been for DPW in your first term as Chair?
When I ran for Chair in 2015, I had a four major priorities - developing a message that reflects our values as Democrats, building a strong team where all voices in the party are important and heard, leveraging my fundraising experience to ensure the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has the resources needed to meet the challenges we face and ensuring we improve midterm voter turnout in order to win the Governor's office and put Tammy Baldwin back in the U.S. Senate.
The first thing I had to do was to build a team at DPW that could help us reach those goals. During my term the Party has added several new teams - Research, Candidate Services and year-round Field Operations. Hiring a more complete and diverse staff means raising the money to pay them. When I took office, the 2015 budget line for the chair fundraising was $50,000. In my first seven months remaining, I raised more than three times that amount to enable our Party to bring on strong personnel and begin building relationships with the other branches of Democratic leadership. We continued that strong fundraising last year and were able to add the Candidate Services and Research teams.
This year, we continued to build our team, with the help of our partners, adding a Statewide Organizing Director, five Regional Community Organizers and one Constituency Outreach Organizer to Turn On the Off Year. Another key goal in building our staff is to improve our diversity. Since 2015, we have gone from a staff of 7 with no representation from communities of color to more than double the staff members with 25% of our staff from our communities of color. All this was possible with strong fundraising. In contrast to 2015, this “off year” chair fundraising budget is $550,000.
What is DPW doing to help county parties?
First, we have aggressively worked to build membership. When I became Chair, we had a 3-year trend of membership decline. Under my leadership, we've saw a double digit increase the first year and are trending to have another great year. When we increase membership, the county parties get more funds. Second, we have expanded grant opportunities. We provided a VAN grant that counties can use to help first-time candidates running for office in areas we are working to turn purple. We expanded the number of grants we offer to support county party offices.
I am constantly looking for ways to get more support to county parties. Earlier this year, I asked a great Democrat in Milwaukee if she could in-kind an office to the county party. She said yes! I am trying to come up with creative ways to help the county parties and am always interested in hearing new ideas. At the County Chairs Association in March, we rolled out our Turn On the Off Year plan and introduce our new Statewide Organizing Director who will oversee six new Regional Field Organizers who will work with County Party leadership and grassroots organizations to prepare for 2018.
What is your philosophy regarding engaging grassroots leadership and organization?
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of listening to the grassroots; the greatest strength our party has is people power. We must leverage the talent and determination of the people. To help us leverage their strength and skills, I have been working to create resources that empower both our party members, candidates, elected officials, and grassroots activists. We created a Candidate Services team that ensured candidates had support for their races even when they were not in targeted races supported by the Assembly, Senate or Congressional Democrats. We hired a Research Director to provide opposition research books to all candidates and ... just recently, we have worked with partners to hire 7 full-time Organizers to work with our members and activists across the state to get our message out, build infrastructure, find candidates and help them win.
What is the thing you want to change the most about the current political environment?
I came into this job with just enough staff to keep the lights on. But they didn't have the time and resources to help grow our party from the ground up and help candidates win.
We need to change the way we do things so we accentuate our strengths. Politics has changed a lot since Citizens United; we need to change too. We can no longer power down after an election and then start up again a year later. We lose valuable time, resources, and ultimately our edge by doing so. Since 2015, we have more than doubled the staff and our new Candidate Services team is working with county parties on spring races and will be doing candidate and kitchen cabinet trainings later this year. Our Organizing Team will hit the ground the first week in April 2017, meeting with County Party leaders and grassroots activists to build capacity as we work toward 2018 elections.
Do you have more you want to do?
Oh my goodness, YES!! I am thrilled to have the Organizing Team and Candidate Team out in the field helping everyone gear up for 2018 right now. Next, we need to be able to offer more messaging support - creating strong messages, using more mediums, using those mediums more effectively. We must continue to make inroads into statewide news media with regularly scheduled airtime for our Democratic Legislators and candidates to spread our message, along with DPW.
When I came on board, there were a lot of things that needed to be done. We did some things that didn't cost more money first, such as weekly update to members; evaluating office procedures, equipment, and contracts; reaching out to counties and groups to find where they felt resources were needed and to learn how to best address their concerns. Then we started aggressively raising money to add the staff needed to meet those needs, better support all candidates for office, and to build the infrastructure we need to win. We have made a lot of progress, and we have more planned. We hope you give us the opportunity to continue moving forward with those plans.
Can you address the confusion about your superdelegate vote?
My Superdelegate vote was pledged after the entire national primary process was over. I felt strongly that, as chair, I needed to remain neutral and support whoever the voters in our nation selected as our nominee, but that was not my original stance. Remaining neutral until the end of the primary was an opinion I developed as the primary progressed, and I saw what it was doing to Democrats in Wisconsin. As DPW Chair, I wanted to work to unite our party behind whoever the voters across our nation chose as our nominee, and for that reason I regretted saying I would endorse earlier because it limited my ability to unite the party. Once ALL the state and territory primaries were over, I spoke with the Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s teams and endorsed Hillary.