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All Victory Is Local: Recruit Dems for School, City, County, Legislative Races

The Madville Times comment section has been a hotbed this week of post-election analysis and proposals for Democratic recovery, as well as a fair dose of what I hope is cathartic teeth-gnashing. Amidst all that significant sound and fury, an eager reader offers what strikes me as a vital component of a Democratic rebuild—a push to recruit and support viable local candidates:

...Everyone knows door to door is the most effective campaigning. Who goes door to door? Local candidates. How do you find your best candidates for higher office? By having a large pool of locally elected Democrats to choose from. What are the cheapest races to win? Local races. Imagine if we'd taken 1/4 of the money wasted on EB-5 and put it towards our SD Legislative Races a year ago to find the best candidates and convince them to run instead of scrambling for "place holders" and hoping they'd figure out how to raise money, find volunteers, build webpages, run operations, develop strategic messaging, find campaign managers, consultants, direct mailer, fundraisers, donors and still have time to make a living while walking door to door....

I have been proposing what I call THE 2020 PLAN: A Clear Vision for the Future of the South Dakota Democratic Party. I want to go through The Decision Making Process with a group of dedicated leaders from across the state and come up with a long-term plan that focuses entirely at the local level including:

  • School Boards
  • City and Town Councils
  • County Commissions and offices
  • The South Dakota State Legislature

...It will require multiple PACs that are mostly self-sustaining and are not designed to put money into the pockets of expensive consultants, but are there to ensure VETTED Democrats are well mentored, and given the tools for success... [Bajun Mavalwalla, comment, Madville Times, 2014.11.09].

(Money wasted on EB-5? We'll wrestle about that later.)

Consider this local-election plan in the context of three main action points I laid out Wednesday morning:

  1. Money: A deeply involved friend says South Dakota is short on rich liberals willing to spend money on elections. I maintain that we can find enough deep-pocketed Democrats to float our boats, if just offer them products worth their investment. An organized campaign for key, winnable local races is one such product.
  2. Top-tier candidates: Two skilled, sizzling candidates for U.S. Senate and U.S. House can boost any local candidate with stump appearances, donor connections, and Democrat brand-building. Well-trained and -supported local candidates can return the favor.
  3. Initiative synergy: For the umpteenth time, Democratic policies win at the ballot box. If the South Dakota Democratic Party or any other outfit can keep putting progressive initiatives up for a vote, local candidates can jump on those initiative coattails and amplify the message that Democratic policies fit with South Dakota values.

Now I say "plan" a bit too eagerly: the proposal here is not so much a plan as a few broad strokes waiting for smart people to sit down and work out a plan.

So, smart people (yes, you, reading this blog!), what do you think? Multiple PACs focused strictly on school, city, county, and state legislative races, to help Democrats gain governing experience and public visibility to launch them into higher office—can we do it? Should we do it? Who should do it? And how?


  1. Bill Fleming 2014.11.09

    Don't ask me for any money until you show me people who have a backbone, Cory. The next time we run it can't go like this:

    1. Repubs:We're not Obama. Dems: We're not either.
    2. Repubs: We hate the ACA. Dems: Yeah, it could be better.
    3. Repubs: Build TXL. Dems: yeah, okay maybe, lemme think about it.

    Not one dime from me until we have a solid message, and candidates with the guts to stand and deliver it.

  2. larry kurtz 2014.11.09

    South Dakota's Dem legislators should boycott the session, be held in contempt and force a lawsuit.

  3. Tim 2014.11.09

    Larry, what useful purpose would that serve? Elaborate please.
    Agree with Bill, money will be a problem until dems in charge figure out why money is a problem.

  4. larry kurtz 2014.11.09

    What useful purpose will Dem legislators be serving by being gutted by the dominant party, Tim? From a boycott they could negotiate some committee chairs at the very least and order independent counsel in a probe of Bendagate.

  5. Tim 2014.11.09

    Yes, or they could be pointed at by republicans as the out of touch liberals we warned you about, and make matters even worse. I think it's better for them to be in the statehouse and do the pointing and all of the wingnut crap that will surely come out this session. Daugaard has already started.

  6. Donald Pay 2014.11.09

    I disagree a bit with this strategy.

    I'd build from the grassroots citizens groups doing work in South Dakota. Organizing infrastructure around certain issues is already at the citizen level, but it shouldn't be used in a partisan way. To me it doesn't matter whether a person is a Republican or a Democrat, as long as they are working on issues of importance. Cultivate the leadership potential in members of those groups.

    As far as money is concerned, Technical Information Project and ACTion for the Environment got most non-foundation money from state Republican donors who were concerned about the state's environment. State Democrats with money tend to be poor or to much in synch with or cowed by Republicans with money to give to grassroots groups.

    Most such groups have the ability to put leadership forward for local offices, but they often need some assistance. Again, don't do it in a partisan way. Municipal government and school boards aren't partisan offices.

    When I was on the RC school board, none of our votes involved partisan issues. I actually resigned my post as head of Democratic Forum in RC, because I thought I should be totally non-partisan.

  7. Tim 2014.11.09

    Donald, that non-partisan,compromise with republicans attitude is part of the problem. You see, back in the day, when republicans actually had moderates in their party that we could work with that attitude was a good thing. Now republicans see it as a weakness and use it against us, quite successfully I might add. It's time we stand our ground.

  8. grudznick 2014.11.09

    If the Democratic legislatures boycotted wouldn't the rest of them just go on without them? There are only a handful as it is and half are probably gone on any given day anyway, just loafing about. I'm sure this is true for half of the Republicans as well. How would anybody know who is boycotting and who is off loafing around at a bar?

  9. grudznick 2014.11.09

    Mr. kurtz, a schism in the SD Democratic party? Is that when 3 (D) senators go to a free lunch and exclude 1 more?

  10. JoeBoo 2014.11.09

    I do agree with recruitment of candidates.

    However, I do see some other things. 1st the state dems have to stand for something. You can play towards the middle without abandoning the democratic party.

    As for who needs to do it? Well I wish it was the branch of the SD party. However I have no faith in them whatsoever.

    I haven't read the entire book, but In what is the matter with Kansas, that is how they did it.

    I also think we need to look at legalizing weed and gay marriage ballot measures. I know so many younger people who don't support the SD dems because of those issues, so they don't vote period. They are political, but refuse to vote for dems who don't support one of those two issues. Get those people involved.

  11. grudznick 2014.11.09

    Weed legalization is insane. Weed is druggie fodder. Weed is bad for you. Bad. Weed makes your mind number than most.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.09

    Bill: message and candidates first? Is there a critical mass of candidates we have to field to make the money flow? Or can we overlap: get two serious, stiff-spined leaders for the House and Senate seat, draw the money, and use some of the money to juice the local races?

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.09

    Interesting tension there, Donald: if we do launch candidates into local, mostly non-partisan offices, can we keep them meaningfully and publicly engaged in party-building activities? Or should I be asking the question the other way: if we have candidates who are visibly engaged in party-building, do those activities hinder their ability to win local non-partisan elections?

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.09

    JoeBoo, we might not need a gay marriage ballot measure; we have the Rosenbrahn court case in the chute. That may do the work for us. Hmm... after that, is there an initiative we can use to mobilize the youth vote around their interest in marriage equality?

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.09

    Similarly, Don, can we tap those activist groups for candidates without draining their own talent pool? Can one be, for instance, mayor of Mitchell and head of a gay rights group? (I'm not asking whether people would vote for such a person; I'm asking whether one can ethically and practically do both jobs.)

  16. Bill Fleming 2014.11.09

    Cory, if you've got a YouTube stule video of two strong candidates delivering strong messages that fire people up and capture the imagination, you can raise money. Think Barack Obama's speech at the Dem convention when he was still just a senator.

  17. Mike B 2014.11.09

    The parties are not looking at the right group of people for their candidates. The ballot was full of middle aged men. Future candidate recruitment should concentrate on those in their 20's and women.

  18. Bajun Mavalwalla 2014.11.09

    Failing to plan is planning to fail. My proposal is that Democrats make a PLAN.

    I suggest that the model we follow is the Colorado Plan because it worked. And the Colorado Plan was a more modern version of what George McGovern did in the 1950s and 1960s in South Dakota. The difference is merely that McGovern was analog and Colorado was digital.

    The key was NOT the money so much as the PLAN... Organization and discipline will win elections.

  19. Donald Pay 2014.11.09

    I guess I'm jaded that anyone can jump into the Pierre cesspool and come out smelling any other way than like shit. Look at Wismer. Maybe she was good on some issues, but she supported Daugaard's public-private partnership (hat tip to Sibby) to put a nuclear waste dump in South Dakota. I'd rather find folks (both on the right and on the left) who I can work with on a few issues, and agree to disagree with them on others. After all, I think the right has figured out how corrupt the Pierre elite is. So have most of us on the left. But that's just me. I'm not interested smelling like shit, just to get elected.

  20. Open Mind 2014.11.09

    Generally, I am not in the midst of the political links, but I think school board people are one key link. The republican party has not met the needs of the children in this state when it comes to education. It is one huge shortfall that seems to me could be "exploited" to MOVE THE POPULACE of this state.

    Now, Mr. Fleming says we need such and such democrats, but I think democrats need to to find the weaknesses (issues/needs the republicans are failing to meet in SD) in the republican party that South Dakotans are actually in favor of and can identify with--and educate, educate, educate local, local, local organizations that are dealing with those things on the front line and can't get traction on their issue. From my perspective, many people go into the voting booth in South Dakota and vote republican without knowing that something they advocate heartfelt for is NOT a priority to republicans.

    E.G., there are all kinds of community education programs that go on in larger towns and cities here in SD where "educational" information can be imparted. It is subtle effort to raise consciousness. Get someone to put on a community education program on dyslexia and interject that into the education funding debate. And there are church groups open to adult forum education presentations.

    This probably sounds like a far out idea, but in my mind, democrats need grass root efforts to move the populace on their issues. It may take years, but better late than never.

  21. Connie Mogen 2014.11.09

    I think we do need to have a plan, a strategy...whatever you want call it. We absolutely need to get a backbone and have the courage of our convictions. I did some door-to-door this election and found one person who knew Obama had done a lot of good things but "just didn't like that Obama". I think I had more influence on people through developing relationships with everyone I met. We abandoned our message and our best messenger. We also let people forget about the government shutdown and the Republicans obstructionism. While people needed to know about EB5, they needed to know that unemployment and the deficit are down, that the uninsured rate is way down, that Medicare is now more secure as well as the things that conservatives did that hurt their everyday lives.
    I'm probably rambling a bit here because I don't have the magic formula. But I'm going to do what I said in another thread. I'm going to attend local governmental meetings and start building a group of people of similar beliefs and see what happens. If a plan evolves from this group or others that we can all get behind, that's great. If not, well, at least I'm doing something.

  22. mike from iowa 2014.11.09

    Start at the grassroots level and wingnuts will disparage them as Obama style community organizers and hopefully be distracted enough for Dems to conquer and kill 'em all.

  23. Pac Man 2014.11.09

    A "revival" of the Democratic Party in this state isn't going to start from "within." It won't start or happen with any high level involvement from the readers of this blog or existing party leadership.

    It is much much more likely to occur from the bottom up --- the very "bottom" ---meaning a political newcomer who has had no party involvement in the past.

    We don't yet know who this individual is, but it's bound to be someone pissed off enough, has the ability to inspire, the ability to raise money, and literally has no political baggage whatsoever.

    The entire paradigm needs to shift, be twisted, and turned inside out --- and repeated multiple times. I'm not talking about the issues and policy stances. I'm talking about organization, messaging, and the general business of politics as handled by SD Dems.

    I don't know exactly how to get there or how things will end up. But I'm convinced it's going to take a complete outsider to give the entire system a serious shakedown, shakeout, and rebuilding.

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.09

    Mike B, you ask for women. Women occupied two of our top three ballot slots. No poll showed either of them drawing higher support among women.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.09

    Pac, involving no one reading this blog? Are you sure about that?

  26. W R Old Guy 2014.11.09

    It appears that even local nonpartisan elections are trying to be influenced by the Koch brother's PACs.

    This article is from the New York Times.

    I have also seen other reports of outside PACs tied to the Koch brothers trying to influence local elections to school boards, township boards, and other governing bodies.

    It makes sense for them to try to sway the voters at the local level on the premise that they will be more likely to vote for the "chosen" candidates at the state and national office level.

  27. leslie 2014.11.09

    yes, they are involved locally in KS, MO buying young people's education in nefarious ways, in FLA, other major universities influencing curriculum, ect. will provide some cites.

  28. grudznick 2014.11.09

    It's always the phantom nuclear waste dump with you, Mr. Pay, and the secular humanists with your road dog Mr. Sibby. You two really need to find some new conspiracies.

  29. Bajun Mavalwalla 2014.11.09

    A group is meeting in Rapid City Saturday morning to start The Decision Making Process and draft a plan. PAC MAN, Leslie, Connie, Cory - and anyone who is interested in seeing the agenda, keeping up with the plan, giving input, or joining us live or via teleconference feel free to let me know.

    We are not excluding anybody. Those who choose not to participate are still welcome to contact me. The point is not to find MY answer, The point is to find the right answer.

  30. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.11.09

    Does Democracy In Action still exist in Rapid City? I was a member in 2005-6. It was made up of very dedicated women. I wanted them to be bolder, but that wasn't the vision the founding group had in mind. Still, they are really smart women who would make strong, smart assets for this work.

    You brave South Dakotans have my real, heartfelt support. I'll do what I can from MN to help.

  31. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.11.09

    That's a good article Jerry. Elizabeth Warren is the real thing, an American for America.

  32. jerry 2014.11.09

    Yes, Warren is a gunslinger and that is what is needed, a new sheriff in this burg.

  33. Patrick Duffy 2014.11.10

    You need to be able to convince a blue-haired little old lady from Tabor that the only thing that can kill her before her decapitation by ISIL on YouTube is death-by-diarrhea-by-Ebola, unleashed by a dark, shadowy Muslim president with absolute power over her life, and that in a world so savage and chaotic as this, only a fully-loaded B1B bomber can possibly save her now.

    Or a gun. Both of which are despised by Democrats who kill unborn babies and waste money whenever they can get their hands on it.

    Organize around that. GOP campaigns are won by those with an appetite for blood and circuses.

  34. JeniW 2014.11.10

    Patrick D. If only the Republicans were much more pro-active in encouraging men and women to use any and all forms of conception prevention to prevent unwanted conceptions, there might be fewer abortions.

  35. Bajun Mavalwalla 2014.11.10

    Patrick - There is an old joke about two guys out in the woods who are suddenly confronted by a grizzly bear. They take off running, but suddenly one stops, and takes off his boots and puts on his running shoes. His buddy says, "what are you doing? You can't outrun a bear!"

    He looked up and said, "All I have to do is outrun YOU."

    The SDGOP has a majority and money... But they are NOT organized. In fact the SDGOP boat is listing far to the right with all the Tea Party and Libertarians who are zero-sum thinkers.

    We don't have to organize the entire party. We just need buy in from enough dedicated and smart Democrats to build enduring mechanisms. Those who choose to join in will find the GOP is a lot easier to outrun than some people think.

    South Dakota is no more Red than it was in 1960 when McGovern's hard work started to grow legs. Colorado turned around that state from solid red to solid blue in 4 years. This isn't pie in the sky. It can be done with a few dedicated people.

    All I can say Patrick is to ask Bernie and Colin if they think I'm smokin' something.

  36. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.10

    Elizabeth Warren—great, fine. Is she going to help us recruit and support local candidates?

  37. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.10

    Mr. Duffy accurately identifies the absurd propaganda, both subtle and gross, against which we labor. That's actually another reason I like the idea of working on local races: I've found that when I sit down with the craziest of Tea Party neighbors, I can find common ground on local issues. National talk radio doesn't issue prefab messages on county commission issues. Prejudice about Barack Obama doesn't seep into discussions of building a new gym. The GOP still finds ways to drag the crazy into the state legislature, but we have more practical insulation from the crazy in conversations about votes in Pierre.

  38. Bill Fleming 2014.11.10

    There are two or three showdowns on the horizon nationally. Immigration, ACA, and KXL pipeline. They all affect South Dakota, but the ACA probably affects South Dakotans the most. I'm wondering if SD Dems have a consensus position on any of these three issues.

    If the Supremes decide that only those states that have exchanges get to offer their citizen the Federal benefits associated with the ACA, what do the SD Dems do about all the people in our state who will suddenly not be able to afford health care coverage. Who is going to ring that bell in the legislature and the Governors office?

    Part of being a good party is being proactive, and being the first ones to show up with an analysis of a problem and a good, workable solution.

    The other part, besides not going off half cocked, is knowing when and when not to pull the trigger, even when your guns are fully loaded.

    As always, our choices are to lead, follow, or get out of the way. Are we prepared to lead on the ACA issue?

  39. Bill Fleming 2014.11.10

    P.s. ACA might be a good one for all Dem leaders to come together and speak out about as a group. Is that even possible?

  40. larry kurtz 2014.11.10

    None of the dairies in Brookings County speak English and why should they, really?

  41. Steve Sibson 2014.11.10

    "Mr. Duffy accurately identifies the absurd propaganda"

    He missed the South Dakota hates women, so elect a Democrat line?

  42. Open Mind 2014.11.10

    Exactly, W R Old Guy!

    Subtle, start with 5, 10, 15, or whatever locals every election cycle. Pretty soon, you have 25, 50, 75 locals that you can cull through for articulate, I know you, you know me locals that will lean your way.

  43. Open Mind 2014.11.10

    Yes, "Leslie," funding a chair (in economics??) at our local Augie, no less, as I heard it.

  44. Open Mind 2014.11.10

    And, definitely Bajun's message. Don't want to leave that out.

  45. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.10

    If this discussion turns into a plan, we may want to talk to Nick Rathod and his new State Innovation Exchange, a new group focused on fighting ALEC in state legislatures. From Politico:

    SiX ultimately plans to raise as much as $10 million a year to boost progressive state lawmakers and their causes — partly by drafting model legislation in state capitols to increase environmental protections, expand voting rights, and raise the minimum wage — while also using bare-knuckle tactics like opposition research and video tracking to derail Republicans and their initiatives.

    “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,” said Nick Rathod, a career Democratic operative who started and will run SiX [Kenneth P. Vogel, "Democrats Create an ALEC-Killer," Politico, 2014.11.09].

  46. Mike B 2014.11.10

    Cory, why should politics be dominated by middle-aged men?

  47. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.10

    No reason, Mike B. I'm just asking: are you encouraging the parties to recruit 20-somethings and women because it will help them win elections or because it's the right thing to do?

  48. Bajun Mavalwalla 2014.11.10

    Open Mind - Thanks... You're absolutely right: We have to start small and build. When I was re-learning to shoot with the Special Forces guys I was lucky enough to go to Afghanistan with they taught us my the numbers and said "Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast".

    A few hours later and my shooting improved greatly. 12 years later i got my first pheasant using those lessons just last week.

    If we focus on the basics - we'll always be able to put people into local offices. Like Cory said, local candidates can find that common ground to START the conversation.

    I'm still looking for more input and participants regarding THE 2020 PLAN. We have a pretty good group meeting Saturday in Rapid City. I hope people will join in or otherwise provide input.

  49. jerry 2014.11.10

    "Elizabeth Warren—great, fine. Is she going to help us recruit and support local candidates?" Well, actually, yes. There has to be a real leader to focus on that sets the stage for what you are trying to accomplish. Warren is not going to carry the place on her own that is a given, but with her history and her strong positions on what matters, she will help.

  50. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.10

    A meeting in Rapid City! Did you catch that, interested readers?

  51. Lynn 2014.11.10

    Where is there more information regarding this meeting in Rapid? How many from Madville going? Just curious.

  52. Pac Man 2014.11.10

    I'm not suggesting reform won't or shouldn't involve any of the readers of this blog. I'm suggesting the best ideas and leadership ---that will produce success --- will come from an outsider.

    As far as what exactly needs to happen? I have my own ideas and have been formulating a 6 year, $6 million plan. Designed to coincide with the 2020 legislative redistricting. Yes, it will take that long, and yes, it will take at least that much money. Later this week I will have an opportunity to finish it up, proofread, and send for your perusal, Cory.

  53. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.10

    Jerry, when we talk about finding the right Presidential candidate, we are talking about something immediately tangential but ultimately related to the local victory plan. The organization necessary to mobilize and support school board, city, county, and legislative candidates must not be tied to any one nominee or superstar candidate. It needs to work whether the 2016 and 2020 Presidential candidates are Warren, Clinton, Kucinich, or Jon Stewart. However, once that organization gets rolling, it can certainly gain extra traction from effective national and statewide candidates. If we have a national Democrat who we aren't afraid to embrace, we simplify our message and clarify our brand.

    But remember, identifying our local candidates with national Dems is how the SDGOP has ground some SD Dems into defeat. Are we ready to accept the double-edged sword of synergy with the top-ticket Dems?

  54. Bajun Mavalwalla 2014.11.10

    TIME : 9 AM to 12 Noon on Saturday 15 November, 2014
    PLACE: Shelter50, 602 St Andrews, Rapid City, SD.

    We'll have coffee, donuts and fruit.

    email me if you'd like the agenda and concept slides - I'm working on the product template that we will "fill in" when we meet and have input from subject matter experts and interested parties. If there is interest outside of Rapid City we can make it a conference call so you can participate.

  55. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.10

    Donuts! Now that's how you organize a meeting! (I'm not kidding.)

  56. bearcreekbat 2014.11.10

    I have enjoyed the various posts analyzing why so many South Dakotans vote against their interests, rather than for liberals and progressives that advocate for them. I encountered an interesting essay by Michael Lerner that offers a perspective that may be worth considering. The lede or headline is a bit misleading, but the content that analyzes how many voters think, and how churches and right wingers exploit this thinking, is well worth thinking about.

  57. jerry 2014.11.10

    So even though the church goers knew rounds was a deceitful crook, their religious beliefs overrides the facts and they voted for him. I wonder then how do you go about winning against the churches who clearly are not religious in their beliefs? The Devil himself could win with an R beside his name then, amazing how they have gone so far into the abyss.

  58. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.10

    Gary Peters senator elect from Michigan, is the only Democrat that asked for and received President Obama help with his campaign.
    The political newcomer has the courage to ask for the presidents help and campaigned on Obama' successes.

  59. leslie 2014.11.11

    good points, bf. KXL, ACA & EB5 (i mean immigration!). Rick can handle keystone and healthcare (we could rally around him or a dem legislator; not sure on immigration. SD dems have any expertise on that?

  60. Open Mind 2014.11.12

    Jerry at 19:36 entry: Kind of related--How is it that the populace will go into the voting booth, vote for the Dem's ideals on initiated measures; then turn around and vote in Republicans for all the offices? It makes me honestly think that a lot of South Dakotans are stupid or maybe the Democrats don't talk the walk enough to make them smarter. Which is it? I am completely baffled by this.

    It just seems to me that there are a ton of South Dakotans that go into the voting booth and vote against their own self interests--and it is like they don't even know it! But they vote Republican in this state because for some unknown reason, it is the elusive, "preferred" vote of choice. I am not smart politically to figure out how to change this--but this particular things need changing.

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