The election is over. My mind is slowly coming out of its frozen, numb state. I’m beginning to do some deep soul searching as to what happened on Tuesday. While many are mourning over Trump’s election, my tears have been for the State of Wisconsin. Dems did not pick up any seats, in fact we lost some. Russ, our progressive leader, lost to a do-nothing candidate. I lost to an even worse do-nothing candidate. How could this have happened?

I declared my candidacy for Representative to Wisconsin’s 32nd Assembly District in December of 2015. We knew we needed time to build our reputation and get the word out about our campaign and our message of bi-partisan reform. From the very beginning I found myself fighting with the state party and the local, county party over resources, access to the VAN and training. I finally realized none would be coming and I honestly think that’s what saved my sanity through the next 10 months.

We formed a grassroots movement made up of fabulous letter writers, activists and volunteers willing to knock doors and make phone calls and people willing to make videos for us and design websites, flyers and banners. We held listening sessions starting in February. We attended community events and fundraisers. We knocked doors every weekend and even during the week, all while I worked 40+ hours farming and teaching at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. During the last 2 months we upped our game. Wednesday and Friday we held signs and waved at busy intersections throughout the district as people were coming home. Thurs, Sat and Sun we knocked doors to build relationships and let our neighbors know we were going to be there, right by their side, until things improved. Whenever I got a few minutes I worked on my call list of targeted possible Trump Supporters. You see, we knew the stats and reality. Dems can’t win in these districts by only getting out the Dem vote. WI isn’t the 5th worst gerrymandered state in history because of unwillingness to vote. It’s the 5th worst because they (the GOP) did a damn fine job making sure they would never lose a seat.

Even with all of this, I lost. The silver lining is we did do better than both Hillary and Russ in our district so we know we are on to something. This year the anti-establishment craze was so strong, no one even remotely connected to it was safe. My sin was I had a “D” behind my name. Hillary Clinton has 30+ years of ties to Washington and government. While in most years that would be seen as an impressive resume, this year it was the cement shoes that sunk us all. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but some of us have been saying this from the beginning.

I know this will ruffle some feathers, but I don’t blame the people who voted for Trump. I blame the DNC and the DPW. I especially blame the DPW because we all knew how much we needed to pick up some seats in both the Assembly and Senate. There was no mention or support for Assembly or Senate races in the Monday Messages, or the weekly Chair’s Report. Nothing! At the county level, things are so disorganized and short staffed the parties just stood back and let the coordinated campaign take over. Somehow with their fancy “science” and numbers they (The Coordinated Campaign – CC) was able to convince local people, who know the breakdown of D vs R, that it’s ok to just target Dems because, “When people turn out, Dems win!” YAY!!!! Except that didn’t happen. Not only did that not happen, but somehow the GOP got the majority of new voters to come out and vote against someone, instead of for someone, for the first time in a long time.

There were not voter registration drives in my area. There were no listening sessions or town halls to try to spread a message of empowerment and togetherness. Hell, we didn’t even try to talk to people on “the other side” because it was seen as “a waste of time.” A waste of time??? A waste of time to try and pitch your side? To try and see where they are coming from and give them a better option? I was pretty much blown over when I got that response from my local CC organizer. That’s the day I stopped coming into the county office and decided I was officially 100% independent of the party and their support.

Where exactly does the blame lie? I don’t know. I’ll be honest; I don’t know how this whole party thing works. I was naive enough to think if you put yourself out there and sacrificed a year of your life Dems would support you as best as they could. Turns out you have to be in the “inner circle” or a “sure thing” in order to get support and that’s really sad. I honestly don’t know what we could have done differently. We worked our butts off and my opponent literally did nothing.

That’s been the hardest pill to swallow. The fact that an incumbent can have a reputation for not attending district meetings, not responding to citizens’ concerns, and then not even attempt to campaign and still be elected by 20+ points. The reputation of the Democratic Party is so tarnished in the rural areas that a good candidate with an amazing team can’t even have a shot at winning. Where do we go from here?

1) Stronger County Parties
In my experience, county party boards last for a few years, get burnt out and then everyone quits. There are so few volunteers or members the same handful of people gets stuck doing everything. When they do quit there’s no records or continuity so the whole county has to start over. This is the same for candidates who try to run. No notes on where to leave signs, who’s willing to organize, make calls, knock doors, etc. Even though I declared in December of last year, it really wasn’t until July/August that we finally got things semi-figured out and organized. That’s a lot of wasted time.

The state party needs to re-allocate their budget. All counties should be able to apply for grants and assistance to keep an office open all year, every year. Parties and party members should get involved in the community on off years by volunteering, helping with community fundraisers or holiday meals, you name it. The more active the party is with their community the more support and resources they get from the state. We need our neighbors to see we value them every day, not just 2 months every 4 years.

2) More resources for training and outreach
We need a new message. We need big ideas and we need the courage to stand behind them. This is going to take a whole new approach to messaging, outreach, and basic community building. We need our neighbors to know we are just like them. We, too, want a brighter future for our kids, roads that don’t send our cars to the shop for alignment problems, better paying jobs.

We need monthly workshops on communicating with other viewpoints, on messaging and organizing. We need committees for aspiring writers who can channel their pain and anger into letters to the editor or opinion pieces. We need small subgroups to keep people involved, engage and active. I don’t know about other areas but we go from 200 members in an election year to 80 members a year later. This has to stop. We have to keep our members and continue to grow our county parties, especially with younger blood! (Sorry, not sorry!)

3) Whole New Approach to Elections
We cannot continue to pander to people for their vote. We need to start building relationships, lasting relationships. Not just to get through the presidential elections. We also need to change our focus from top of the ticket to bottom of the ticket! We need the majority of resources going to local and state races. The presidential candidates can raise their own money and can pay for their own volunteers. We are going to keep ours!

We live in this state. We don’t get to move back to some other area once the election is lost. Start investing in Wisconsin! Start emphasizing the importance of local candidates, assembly candidates, senate candidates. These are the people who are responsible for the majority of legislation that affects our daily lives. Once we turn the focus to local elections and make people understand how important they are, we don’t have to worry about low voter turnout in mid-term years. Every year is important!

This might be a good place to start, but the important thing is we start. If the state party won’t listen, we do it ourselves. What happened on Tuesday can never happen again! Democrats either need to become the Party of We, the People, or we need to replace them with a party who will. I have to say at this point I’m fine with both options. I’m done talking and thinking and “let’s see-ing.” I want change and I want it now.

Christine Welcher
East Troy, WI

26 Responses to Christine Welcher: The 2016 election is over – where do we go from here?

  1. Cat Kin says:

    Christine, first I want to thank you and congratulate you for running. I think the quality of those who want to run for office and maintain what Dana Wachs calls “the Wisconsin Idea” has been a problem for Democrats in this State. Many people have, in their daily frustration with life and “regulations” have been trained by Republicans to blame Democrats who work for the general population and march in protest to public desecration by many big businesses.
    Second, your idea that we need a 24/7 party with specific purposes to grow membership and show appreciation and results for members who strive to help us locally is key to making future progress. “The Wisconsin Idea” is scary to anybody doing well in business, government and academia right now. “Tax and spend” and fear of ostracization from the business community, both local and national.We need world class marketing effort to combat that. The unions have to do the same thing. Union bosses have just not been effective in combating anti unionism in this country. We desperately need competent professional marketing help.

  2. GuyFromWI says:

    Great piece. Christine is one who I was alluding to with my comments yesterday. I don’t see how we can ask people to run in some of these tough districts again, unless things change radically with the state party. Changes need to start happening now, not a year from now, or after the DPW chair race.

  3. Paul says:

    Hi Christine,
    As a Republican, of course I don’t agree with certain parts of your message. However, the core of it, about grassroots support and starting from the bottom up, is great advice for both parties and really applies to any effort at influencing and motivating people. I can tell that you will stay involved for the long haul, and that is heartening for our system – I wish you all the best going forward! Paul

  4. Joe Kallas says:

    Christine Welcher, we need to talk. Email me at ofsjoe@hotmail.com and let’s set up a time to meet. Joe Kallas

  5. Ed Heinzelman says:

    I agree with many of the points made here.

    but on this: “We need a new message. We need big ideas and we need the courage to stand behind them.”

    No, no we don’t. We need to go back up to your comments about listening sessions and the developing local platforms based on what we hear, what the people feel they need. One thing we’ve done too well is preach to them about our ideas our big message. They aren’t hearing that.

    A better explanation might be rewording your statement: “We need our neighbors to know we are just like them” as “WE need to know we are just like our neighbors”.

    • Steve Carlson says:

      Ed,

      Christine had it right the first time. The Sanders campaign is proof of that. A big message, containing big ideas, combined with the courage to speak it loudly and with conviction, is exactly what’s been missing from democrats and our candidates for years. I haven’t heard an establishment Dem candidate deliver a big message in strong tones in almost. well, since Obama in 2008. All Clinton did was talk about how Trump was a maniac, and all her supporters did was talk about how if you didn’t vote for Hillary it was because of your privilege. The Sanders campaign nailed it, with a big message containing big ideas, delivered with courage and conviction. It really is just that simple.

    • Christine says:

      Ed, I did hold listening sessions. I appreciate your comment, but I actually did what you were suggesting. I have been very vocal about condescending, finger pointing, know-it-all Dems. That is not me. I have many friends on both sides and I, personally, am not a partisan person. I would rather have the best, strongest solution than a “right” or “left” solution. Since you don’t really know me I’m sure it’s easy to misinterpret from 1 blog post. No hard feelings.

      • Ed Heinzelman says:

        Christine, I wasn’t dissing you…I was piling on the party. And as I said in my earlier comment I agree with almost every point you made. Thanks for writing this post.

  6. Suzanne Miller says:

    You’re story and observations are not unique, I’m sorry to say.

    I have agreed to stick with the party gor one more party election at my county level. Beyond that, I’ve had one foot out the door for 3 years.

    Will there be any discussion about the death of democracy? The failure of the party? I can hear it now; we don’t need to dwell on the past.

    This isn’t the past. Its the present and the future. That’s pretty scary stuff.

  7. Duane12 says:

    Christine, I would add one more point in the form of a question that seems to cause unnecessary division, rancor, and confusion to our party’s goals and success as evidenced even on this blog.

    What’s in a name; that is, are we Democrats, Progressives, Liberals, Greens, or whatever?

  8. nonquixote says:

    All this talk and still no one is addressing the problem. Total subservience to capitalism reigns in both wings of the oligarchy.

    Where to begin to turn away from is absolutely clear.

    • nonquixote says:

      I guess my simple comment was too obtuse a concept for Hillary Democrats for a thoughtful response. A strong messages spoken forcefully isn’t going to make any more of a difference than it did on Nov 8, when Democrats FAIL again to realize they still aren’t grasping the basic problem at all.

      “There already is an ongoing disaster in the world. It’s called capitalism. The global form of this capitalism is imperialism, a world shaped by capitalist social relations. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump vied for leadership of the country that is the linchpin of this ongoing disaster. For this job, there is no doubt that Clinton was the best candidate–there was probably never a greater example, at least in the United States, of the ruling class lining up behind a candidate, than Clinton’s candidacy. And you, Clinton supporters, lined up with them. A Trump presidency is the result–this is your result.”

      http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/25/the-self-justifying-fantasies-of-clinton-democrats/

      I didn’t vote for either of them. If you don’t see global imperialism in action, try seeing Standing Rock and ask “Where is Barack?” I didn’t vote for him either.

    • Christine says:

      nonquixote, while I do agree with you that money & corruption have completely taken over our country, sadly it didn’t play a roll in my race. Yes my opponent raised more than I did, but he didn’t spend it. No mailers, no ads in the paper or radio. Nada! It was such a gut punch to know he was able to sit home while I’ll worked my butt off for months & it didn’t matter.

      • nonquixote says:

        Thanks for responding, Christine. We had a DPW administrative committee member acting as the supposed, “in name only,” campaign manager for our mostly independent state assembly candidate (because someone needed to put their name on the line to legally file the election forms) who then took the figure-head position to personally micro-manage most of the campaign despite the rest of the steering committee and candidate objections against following DPW inflicted process leading up to the election.

        The county DEMs then operated with no consideration for us, under the orders of the Hillary Victory Fund directives from HRC’s appointed local campaign coordinator and we lost votes specifically because of the registered county Dems who inserted themselves into using our candidate to try to further HRC’s ends.

        Questions to the county dems as to why they were using our mostly independent and populist (and district-wide popular candidate) and question to Laning and her staff from me were totally ignored. Still are ignored.

        Because we knew we couldn’t meet the ADCC demands of contracting to promise to be raising $150K and committing to document 50 hours a week of campaigning to be considered for support from the WI Assembly Dem committee, we did the best we could and we did fairly well at educating the public to the local issues harming the public interest and grew a base of support.

        So I’m still not clear if a DPW Administrative committee member is committed to put the DPW agenda or the particular candidate, as first priority. Laning has refused to list the administrative committee members on the DPW website. Why?

        No DPW party leadership transparency, apparently covering their own asses, appears a big part of the problem. I worked my butt off for a candidate and had to work equally as hard against the DPW itself to attempt to win a seat. Does that sound like a party that any of us should be worried about the continued existence of? Just saying.

        • onevote says:

          Thanks, nonquixote

          No words could be more true! We want the Democratic Party to represent our interests, but when we bust our ass for them, we’re told to just go along to get along.

          I was called by our local Democratic “Hillary Victor Fund” Party rep many months ago, asking whether I was “with” them. Actually, I was, but was not on the whole HRC bandwagon, having greater interest in Sanders. To this rep, I asked, what she thought about progressive ideas, and she assured me that she was progressive because she was from Oregon.

          In 2012 I worked tirelessly to promote Obama, because I felt the Romney/Ryan choice was so dangerous for this country. I canvassed hundreds of miles, my right leg grew swollen to half again it’s size, and the local party bosses seemed to be oblivious about the people they were administrating, only caring about their DPW and DNC overlords.

          We had meetings where I told them about (WEDC) corporate welfare locally, and they ignored it. This last year I asked them to deliver signs for the local candidates, and they wouldn’t bring them over to display in our front yard. Thanks Dems, you cared soooo much, and now look at what you’ve got.

          • nonquixote says:

            Morning onevote,

            I’ve likely stated this about three times since 2012 the HVF rep (or OFA rep) was given all the resources of the county party, office and volunteers for phone banking for HRC. Posts by this rep regularly appeared on the county D website and one local person, “webmaster,” not even on the county D exec committee had absolute and final control of every comment submitted to the website.

            Digital submission of comments and questions to the county level leadership (in the supposedly open comment feature) were never published online, much less ever answered. Nothing strictly DNC/DPW approved saw the digital light of day and the, “webmaster,” apparently answers to no one else in the county party either. Been this way with the same digital gatekeeper since before the recalls started in late 2011.

            Being on the DPW mailing list (not a party member) Martha tells us again yesterday that there is a lot to be learned from the election and she’s now figured out that the party needs to be relevant to young people. Sounds like deja vu all over again.

      • Cat Kin says:

        While I wouldn’t call it corruption, money does play a part in whomever gets elected just about anywhere. Because the Republicans support news radio hosts and entire networks and newspapers throughout the year they have established a culture, aided now because of the abortion issue by ALL evangelical churches, of conservatism and against most progressive Democratic thought.To combat this, will take 24/7 modern professional marketing expertising–which costs money!
        So, instead of getting unbiased, competent marketing help and direction, we listen to folks who might have an ax to grind or sore to console and the blind rush out leading the blind.who will soon have issues to console.We have to make our culture more appealing to everyone in the electorate. We have to grow our culture.

  9. Aaron Camp says:

    Christine, if you’re reading this comment, you can email me at aacforward@outlook.com if you feel like you need to talk to me about anything. As a Democrat from a small town in Illinois, my experience with the Democratic Party here in Illinois would probably be similar to yours, if not worse, if I ran for public office in my part of the country, which I have no intention of ever doing. I’ve long believed that the Democratic establishment has a cavalier attitude to the idea of actually trying to win the votes of people.

    Thanks for running for public office and advocating for a stronger Democratic Party in your home state!

  10. AJ says:

    I appreciate Christine Welcher’s review and good points! I think more of Number 3) Whole New Approach to Elections is what needs emphasis the most. Although money is important in campaigns especially if you are getting heavily outspent, money was not the case in the Presidential election or the Senate or competitive state senate seats. What needs to happen are candidates running for state legislature and local office all over the country in ever district that are getting new voters to the polls. Just because the Republicans love Business and that is what Donald Trump is doesn’t mean our party hast to be that way. Candidates who may be a student, secretary, teacher, farmer, assembly worker, computer tech, ect. may do very well connecting with voters.

    When we look too much at the amount of money that needs to be raised and time a potential candidate has available to campaign we limit the candidate pool. Ideally its nice if a candidate has lots of time to devote to the campaign but in an ideal sense you should not have to sacrifice 6 months of a paycheck to win a campaign and I also think not showing up to work for 6 months can hurt a candidate with the people who should be their closest supporters.

    As for the VAN, it can be an important tool, but getting outside the VAN is key when finding new voters.

  11. Randy Bryce says:

    Christine, were you a participant of the DPW “Red to Blue” program that gives help to candidates running in Republican leaning districts?

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