Six Steps For Coming Together For A Stronger Democratic Party


Guest post from Sean Bagniewski and Jason Frerichs

The Republican Party has won the popular vote just once in the last 28 years. Our Democratic Party witnessed significant issues throughout the Iowa Caucus process and the conventions thereafter. We are immensely disappointed at our Party’s inability to make a compelling argument to the working class and blue collar voters throughout our state and our country. We are heartbroken at the results of the 2016 elections and what it will mean for our most vulnerable.

Again, the Republican Party has won the popular vote just once in the last 28 years. Despite our internal problems, they still turn to the past while we look to the future. Donald Trump has no record, so we are required to take him at his word. He plans to waste money on a wall along our border with Mexico. He calls Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers” and pledges to deport them, ignoring the rich Mexican American experience and their indelible impact on our American melting pot. Despite the religious liberties protected by our Constitution, he will create a database of Muslims living in America. He denies climate change, one of the greatest challenges ever faced by humanity. He pledges to prosecute his presidential opponent, our former nominee, like we live in a sham democracy.

Our generation has never contemplated the possibility of mass deportations, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the closure of women’s health clinics, the 150,000 Iowans who will lose their health insurance overnight with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Since the results last Tuesday, we have been horrified at the outpouring of hate from some of his supporters to people of color and to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. The social safety net built over the last 80 years and the progress for the disenfranchised from Dr. King through Stonewall has never been more thoroughly under attack.

As we saw after an often bitter primary season between our candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders and Secretary Hillary Clinton, no one more effectively united us than Donald Trump. No one ever will. There will be no honeymoon, no grace period for Trump. We will defend every inch. If this makes our generation more serious about public service, then it will be all the better. So many young leaders wanting a spot in the Party have been quiet for too long, hoping their silence will buy them favor in a few decades. Shutting up and hoping for the best has done us no favors and there is no time left for sitting in idle complacency.

Many of these new leaders will come from the supporters of Senator Sanders. We pledge to welcome and grow the Progressive Caucus within the Iowa Democratic Party. There are more than enough seats at the table for the rainbow of skin tones, ages, genders, and economic classes brought in by both candidates. We also pledge to make the Caucus and convention process easier to understand and more accessible for all Democrats. In addition to holding our ground and bringing our party back together, we recommit ourselves to fighting vast, roaring income inequality, the gravest threat to our American democracy.

Neither party has been able to address how working class and blue collar people are going to keep their jobs, get back their jobs, or retrain for new jobs in an increasingly competitive and connected global economy. Many trade deals could be much better, but no trade deal can keep every business and every job on our shores. No one solution will cure everything, but two stand out. We need to protect and strengthen our unions, the backbone of the middle class. We also pledge ourselves to increasing local, state, and national minimum wages. We remain committed to trying anything else that makes sense.

The question most immediately before us is how we fix our Iowa Democratic Party and begin to move forward. The first step is to stop pointing fingers and trying to assign blame. The election is behind us. Jason Frerichs was a Bernie delegate and is chair of the Progressive Caucus of the Iowa Democratic Party. Sean Bagniewski served as Secretary Clinton’s chair from the county convention to the Democratic National Convention. During our conversations we have come to realize that we agree on 98% of the issues. That is a really good start. We are much more alike than we are different. There is so much common ground between the two sides that there isn’t any reason we can’t work together. We hope that as time goes on people will stop defining themselves as Bernie or Hillary supporters. We hope they will simply define themselves as Democrats.

The second thing we need to do is empower our county parties and train our county chairs to organize and be activists. Jason became the chair of Montgomery County in 2014. He took over for a chair whose wife was dealing with a very serious illness and did not have time to show him the ropes. He did not have access to or have a need for the Voter Activation Network (VAN). He learned how to organize on the fly with a little help from the 2014 Coordinated Campaign. This is a huge problem. Our county chairs must have the tools and training to hit the ground running from day one. They must be taught things like fundraising and how to organize political action.

Step three is to let the county parties control the actions. Local people know the area and their neighbors much better than some young kid from the coast working on the Coordinated Campaign. We spoke with Johnson County resident and former State Central Committee member Maureen Donnelly. She said, “I hated hearing ‘I am calling from the Iowa Democratic Party when they were calling from Johnson County into Johnson County.’ I told each (person who) called that said that that they would have a better response if they said the local county they were calling for.”

We also spoke with Howard County Chair and State Central Committee member Laura Hubka who said, “(t)he Coordinated Campaign also has a bad way of stealing your volunteers. I don’t spend all these years building up my people so that the Coordinated Campaign can come in and steal them from the hard work that we’re doing in our counties.”

Story County resident Jon R. Klein echoed Laura’s comments. He said, “The Coordinated Campaign takes county resources and national candidate funding and attempts to get the national candidate elected. If we want to talk about local candidates after we’ve talked about the national candidate with prospective voters, either at their door or on the phone, that’s okay with the campaign — but it has to be AFTER you talk to them about the national candidate, not before. Also, they don’t want to hear our suggestions. They want to execute their plan.”

Step four is to build our bench. Once we’ve empowered our county parties, they can go out into their communities and recruit candidates to run for office. Every single election, in every single district must be contested. We must contest every single county supervisor race. We must contest every single race for the state legislature and senate. Polk County was the most glaring example of dropping the ball. Two Republicans ran unopposed for County Supervisor seats. The Progressive Caucus put forth two write in candidates who did about as well as could have been expected under the circumstances. The Iowa Democratic Party must offer training to those people wishing to run for office. They must empower the county parties by teaching them how to raise funds to support their local candidates. There must be a 99 county strategy in place. Both authors of this article are members of the Progressive Caucus. The Caucus hopes to be one of the leaders in devising and implementing this strategy. Having identifiable leadership in each county will be the key to reforming the party as this must happen at the grass roots level.

Step five is to refine our ground game in the Congressional and Senate races. One of the things the Republicans do very well is constantly show their presence within their districts. Jason had lived in the 3rd district, in both Adams and Montgomery Counties, for the last five years. David Young has visited him at his office in Corning twice in 2016. He has also run into him at a bakery in Clarinda. There have been first person accounts of seeing Rod Blum at small town bars or other events during the evening hours. Far too often, the 3rd District candidates will visit a small town, at 1:00 PM on a Wednesday afternoon. Working people cannot attend events at that time. Third District candidates are going to have to get out of Polk County and go out to small towns and actually talk with people.

Step six is to elect a chair that has the ability to unite what is an extremely divided party. The chair must be able to appeal to both the Bernie and Hillary supporters. This person must understand that we cannot do things the way they’ve been done in the past. Since 2008, we’ve seen Iowa go from blue to purple to red. The new chair must understand that change is going to have to take place at the grassroots level. It is up to him or her to work closely with the county parties and reform the relationship and duties of the Coordinated Campaign. If we can do all of this, and we know we can, a silver lining shines bright in our past.

The bread lines and shantytowns of the Hoover era created the dynamic economic and public works programs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. Our path forward will be similar. These past few weeks are just the beginning of the clock for the two years it will take to get to the Congressional midterms. The people most scared of Donald Trump are the Republicans who will be seeking office in the next two years. We will tie them to the post of their party at every turn. They chose him and they will own him and all of his actions. In the process, we will mend our party back together; win more seats with some candidates who supported Senator Sanders and some who supported Secretary Clinton. We will better prepare ourselves to make sure the next century is another American Century. Along with the Congress, we seek the Statehouse in two years. We will have the White House back in four years. The tears are over. It’s time to fight together.

As James Baldwin once wrote, “No more water, but fire next time.”


by Sean Bagniewski and Jason Frerichs
Posted 11/20/16

6 Comments on "Six Steps For Coming Together For A Stronger Democratic Party"

  • I add that we must campaign for all the voters, not rely on turning out Democrats. Reach out to independents and reasonable Republicans. Do a lot of persuasion vs GOTV.

  • “it has to be AFTER you talk to them about the national candidate, not before. Also, they don’t want to hear our suggestions. They want to execute their plan.”

    I found this to be accurate in Johnson County, too. They were not interested in local elections. It was not a coordinated campaign, it was a co-opted campaign.

    In saying this, I do not refer to my own race, since I had no opponent in the general election, as was true of many of us here in the PRJC, Although that said, posters in their office window might have been a nice gesture, as would marching in more parades with us.

    They scheduled Judge events on top of Amy Nielsen events. They did an open house BBQ at the HQ without arranging for parking or getting a grill that worked. They were not very inviting to the Bernie folks, most of whom took it in stride and helped anyway (though many went to Muscatine county for Chris Brase instead).

    I knocked doors only once for them, the weekend before the election, and this is why.

  • I agree the party should train candidates. It could go further and teach us the powers of various offices, especially county offices. Why should we care if the sheriff or recorder is a Democrat? Even at the level of county supervisor, it is not obvious what party affiliation has to do with the job.

  • Missing the message to blue collar voters started almost as soon as Trump announced. I talked with union leaders in several cities They were immediately being challenged on the plant floor about Trump and thought they would have a hard time holding members. They were correct, but federal and state Democrats were not listening to them. I had sensed the anger and resentment very early, and it was why I was the only US Senate candidate in the primary to focus nearly exclusively on TPP, minimum wage and labor issues. But there are problems reaching union workers today and more problems getting them back into the Democratic fold. NAFTA and other trade deals have decimated Democratic union representation in many counties. Plant gate campaigning is now nearly impossible to do in many parts of Iowa because of company restrictions. Blue collar workers are more poor than they were, so are not as likely to attend Democratic events. There needs to be collaboration with union leaders to get their people to Democratic events to network rather than just sending along a check and no people. And, our issues were imperfect. Having been burned by Chet Culver on Fair Share, Clinton on NAFTA, and Obama on TPP, union leadership had relatively little credibility with rank and file. Frankly, a lot of blue collar just gave up on the Democrats because they felt that they were only votes on election day. But, getting Blue Collar voters back from the GOP is inevitable and doable. Inevitably the GOP will step on Blue Collar issues and dreams when they get in the way of big money. That is our window of opportunity. But to go through that window, Democrats need to lose their fear of hard votes on labor issues. They need to work with and mingle with labor at labor events — not just Democratic events. This way we can reconstruct the intricate web of support needed to hold the line and deliver the blue collar vote for Democrats.

  • “Step three is to let the county parties control the actions. Local people know the area and their neighbors much better than some young kid from the coast working on the Coordinated Campaign.” While I agree with this in theory, one potential drawback is to get the same ol’ same ol’. Progressives need to be sure to keep up with how voters prefer to communicate.

    “Working people cannot attend events at that time. Third District candidates are going to have to get out of Polk County and go out to small towns and actually talk with people.” Glad to see you recognize this. I have a pretty flexible schedule and a job that is somewhat political, but refused on principle to take time off work for a clearly political event. I did go to one event during the normal 9 to 5 work day that was about mental health policy.

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