Earlier this year I asked the readers of Blogging Blue what questions they’d ask the candidates vying to replace Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Mike Tate if they had the opportunity, and the questions you all came up with where whittled down from several dozen to ten.
After whittling down the questions, they were sent to each of the announced candidates for DPW Chair – Jeff Smith, Joe Wineke, and Jason Rae. Each candidate sent back their responses to the questions, which can be read HERE (Rae), HERE (Wineke), and HERE (Smith).
Given the entry of Martha Laning into the race, I emailed her the very same questions, and she was quick to respond. The questions sent to Martha Laning are highlighted in bold, with her responses immediately following the questions. Laning’s responses were not edited or altered in any way.
1. What is your plan for rebuilding the Democratic Party of Wisconsin?
I am focusing on messaging, organizational structure, voter turnout, and fundraising to rebuild the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
First, Democrats have to have a stronger message that drives our values, resonates with voters about important issues to them, and is shared year round, not just in the few months before elections. Our party stands for what is right:
- Quality Public Education
- Economic Prosperity
- Valuable, Affordable Health Care
- A Clean, Sustainable Environment
- Equality and Respect for All
We need our message to reflect those values. Lecturing voters about what the Republicans are doing is wrong, and it simply isn’t working. Our message can stand on its own – it’s just, fair, and personal.
The team that develops our new messaging should come from all levels of our party and represent all areas of our state. George Lakoff’s values messaging is working, and our cross functional team needs to get training and then develop and disseminate a strong, values driven message to all Democrats.
Second, we need to strengthen our county parties so that our Progressive message can be shared year round in our communities, not just before elections. When our county parties are weak, under resourced, and unsupported, we have fewer Democratic local leaders and activists who are willing to be vocal about our Progressive values.
Third, we need to continue our strong fundraising while insuring that our funds are used wisely. With my background in business finance, I can help our party do things more efficiently and bring more transparency to how our valuable resources are allocated. Our fundraising efforts must expand beyond the DPW infrastructure. We also need to increase our focus on helping candidates and our candidate committees raise the funds they need to win.
Finally, I will establish a task force to identify the reasons Democratic voter turnout in midterm elections is significantly lower than during a presidential election. By involving election experts, party leaders and members from around the state, we can develop a long-term plan to boost Democratic voter turnout, combat the impact of redistricting on our legislature, and bring back our strong, Progressive Wisconsin.
2. What would the DPW’s messaging look like if you are elected state party chair?
As discussed in the first question, I believe values-based messaging is key to our ability to rebuild the Democratic Party. In order to develop new, more effective messaging, I will:
– Establish a Messaging Task Force of stakeholders from all levels of the party and areas of our state. With the support of messaging experts, Progressive partner organizations, and Democratic Party stakeholders from all levels of the party, we will identify the challenges and opportunities of messaging our Progressive values.
– Ensure our messaging speaks to our Progressive values of equal opportunity for all Wisconsinites, providing access to a quality public education, unifying the people of Wisconsin, and investing in Wisconsin workers.
– Offer candidates and county parties messaging options that simultaneously highlight our Progressive values, and reflect the unique landscape of their individual district.
– Organize regular and comprehensive message briefings with local party leadership, to ensure we as parties are unified in our message and that our statewide message is informed by real-time issues our members are facing in their communities.
3. What are the three issues that Dems should focus their message on?
– Education – Quality education is what has traditionally set Wisconsin apart from other states. Wisconsinites believe everyone should have the opportunity to work hard and build a better life for himself/herself. Quality public education offers that opportunity and has a tremendous payback, to the individual and our communities. Our universities and technical colleges offer community members the opportunity for living wage jobs and also create business ideas that we can foster right here in Wisconsin to grow our economy.
– Economy: When our economy is strong our state is strong and has the resources it needs to support education, municipalities, transportation and health and human services. We need to raise the minimum wage, strengthen labor unions, and support small businesses. If we don’t, a larger and larger portion of our state budget is going to citizens who are forced to turn to public assistance for survival, resulting in fewer funds for education, local municipalities, and transportation. We need to stop subsidizing corporations like Wal-Mart, who, as studies have shown, have plenty of funds to pay a fair wage and don’t, resulting in employees accessing public assistance to take care of their families.
– Equality and Respect: All people deserve the same opportunity to live their lives, support their families, and engage in their community safely, free from harm, and with dignity and respect. From protecting a woman’s ability to make her own health decisions, to addressing the inequalities that LGBT and people of color experience, Wisconsin must return to our rightful place as a civil rights leader.
4. What would you do to ensure that a quality candidate run in every race regardless if the race is considered winnable or not?
Recruiting candidates in every race – regardless of numerical winnability – allows us to get our message out and make sure that Republican candidates and elected officials are held accountable for their stance on issues. As a former candidate in a majority Republican district, I can say with confidence that ensuring that we have quality Progressive candidates in every race requires year-round candidate recruitment and deep candidate support programs.
We need to work with our local parties to identify community members that would make great representatives at the state and local levels. We need to do this on an on-going basis and in all areas of the state. Candidate recruitment should also be coordinated with membership recruitment efforts to ensure we are building a strong, inclusive network of Democrats that becomes our bench of future candidates.
Next we need to train and mentor these individuals to help them become successful candidates. Candidate support programs should include providing candidate trainings, crafting a comprehensive campaign manual of best practices, sample messaging, fundraising, etc., developing an apprenticeship program for potential candidates to work on a similar campaign, and leveraging the networks of our county parties to build solid campaign teams and organizing programs.
5. What is a Progressive? Are you one? Tell us exactly how you have walked the talk. Be honest if you’re not.
I am absolutely a Progressive. In fact, I believe that being a Democrat and a Progressive should be one in the same.
A Progressive is an individual that looks at social and economic injustices in our society and believes that the role of our government is not only to treat the symptoms of that injustice, but also to create fundamental, lasting reform to prevent further exploitation of at risk populations.
Today, in Wisconsin, many individuals and communities continue to face inequalities that we are a long way off from correcting.
As a Senate candidate, I vigorously campaigned for an increase in the minimum wage. We cannot be a state that allows greedy companies, like Wal-Mart, to take advantage of employees and taxpayers by not providing a livable wage. In addition to this, I stood with labor unions in their right to collectively bargain for a safe and fair workplace; in fact, I was endorsed by many labor unions because of our shared values.
I earned the endorsements of Emily’s List and Planned Parenthood because I believe the simple idea that women should have equal pay for equal work. I believe that women should be able to make their own healthcare decisions without the government restricting their rights and without the stigma coalitions against Roe vs. Wade put on them.
I stood up to people that attempted to rationalize voter ID and school vouchers because the intent of these laws was so clearly to suppress elderly, minority, and low income voters and dismantle our public education system – two things that disproportionately affect our most marginalized citizens
I celebrate the arrival of marriage equality in Wisconsin, and was proud to have the endorsement of Fair Wisconsin in my senate campaign. I also believe that we need more protections for our transgender brothers and sisters in Wisconsin. Currently, our state does not have any statewide law that would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity in housing, employment, or public accommodations.
6. How will you manage your role between the Assembly & Senate caucuses and the County Chairs Association?
All the Democratic entities want the same thing – for Democrats to win. But to achieve that goal, we need to work together, trust each other, and communicate regularly and with transparency.
I had the pleasure of working with several county parties and the SSDC during my State Senate campaign and found both to be valuable resources.
Though we all need to work together to achieve our shared goal of electing Democrats, campaigns are a messy business. That’s why my background makes me a strong candidate for DPW Chair. I have pulled disparate teams together to align around a shared vision and mission and successfully meet goals and objectives. I would engage with the leadership of the SSDC, ADCC, and County Chairs Association regularly to open the lines of communication, understand the needs of each group, and ensure we are working together to win in 2016 and beyond.
7. What will you do to change/modernize our image to something appealing to people that are not active members?
Expanding the membership of DPW is critical to our future success — but achieving that goal is about more than internal systems and structures. We need to make the Democratic Party THE place to be if you care about the future of Wisconsin. I believe we can do this through messaging and investing in our county party structure.
As I outlined in previous questions, developing new messaging that better reflects our Progressive values is one of my top priorities as DPW Chair. We need to ensure that our messages are tailored to resonate in local communities across Wisconsin. When we can better appeal to voters and inspire them to action, we can also better recruit them to become DPW members.
Ensure that being a Democrat stands for something positive: Our party has too often been defined by what the Republicans are doing in Madison. In order to expand our membership, we need to be clear about what it means to be a Progressive and a Democrat in Wisconsin. We must show people our vision for the future of Wisconsin and that it’s a vision they should invest in.
“If you build it, they will come,” isn’t just a line from the movie, “Field of Dreams”. I believe it is true about our party as well. By investing in our local county parties, launching innovative membership recruitment and incentive programs, and expanding the visibility of our local activists, we can demonstrate to non-members that joining the DPW is worthwhile use of their skills, time, and financial resources.
8. How do plan to bridge the gap between local candidate recruitment efforts and the legislative caucuses?
Again, we need to lay out expectations and work together. We all have the same goals, so let’s work together, eliminate duplication, frustration, and get the win. County Chairs should be involved in the candidate recruitment process and be a member of the candidate support team just like the SSDC or ADCC. We have to ensure that all voices are heard because each organization has a different perspective and valuable input. We are one team, and we need to the strength of every Democrat to win.
9. Demographics alone won’t win elections, so which populations do you think the Dems can improve with for future years, and how can you win those voters over?
The DPW has an opportunity to deepen our relationships with many diverse communities across Wisconsin, such as people of color, women, the LGBT community, and middle-class voters that used to be the heart of the Democratic Party. In general, I think we need to strengthen the ability of our constituency caucuses to participate in building the DPW, develop our messaging, and recruit new members.
Specifically, I believe we need to focus on the next generation of Democrats.
Every county party I talk to is concerned about the decline of young people in our party and the past election turnout on our campuses. We need to work more with younger generations and we have a perfect opportunity with our College Dems. I would like to see us invest greater resources in the College Dems to help them provide programming that attracts young people to the DPW and conveys the importance of getting involved in politics. We also have to be sure that the county parties help our candidates reach out to College Dems and any other young Democratic groups in their area. Finally we need to ensure that young Democrats are included and able to participate in local and statewide programming.
The next generation of Democrats is the future of our party and they understand our Progressive values in different ways, as my kids remind me constantly. If we don’t find a way to engage younger Democrats, we are missing out on an opportunity to build a robust DPW that will galvanize the voters of our state for generations to come.
10. What are your life experiences including formal education, past and current employment, service or religious affiliations, persons, and events which you believe have contributed to make you the person you are today and in what way?
I have spent my life bringing people together to solve problems and build strong neighborhoods. I have organized parents and community leaders to make vital improvements to schools, raised millions to build an intergenerational community center in Plymouth, and have proven that people from different backgrounds can work together to overcome any challenge.
I was born and raised in a middle class family in rural Central Wisconsin. My parents instilled in me early on, the values of education, hard work, and the importance of giving back through volunteering. After high school, I got my degree in Business and Accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison while working at the local unionized paper mill in summers to pay for my education. It was at the UW that I met my husband Wayne, and we were married in 1990.
Throughout the next decade, work opportunities would take my family around the state and around the nation. I gained valuable project management skills at Target Stores Corporate offices, and, when coupled with my Masters in Business Administration obtained in 2002, my skills allowed me to make a real difference in the business world and my community – especially in the local schools our three beautiful children, Katie, Maddie, and Alec attended.
When faced with underfunded schools that lacked a library or playground, I organized parents and community members – raising over $160,000 to build a playground and purchase thousands of books for a new library. Several years later, when I discovered that many students did not have access to a good breakfast, I worked with a group of parents and the district administration to create a breakfast program at our school.
I also focused my efforts on enhancing curriculum and giving students the tools they needed to succeed in the 21st century. I spearheaded efforts to build a new computer lab to ensure that students would have access to the technology they needed to succeed, and I brought parents and faculty members together to create new programs that gave children who excelled in Math a way to challenge themselves further.
After moving to the Sheboygan area, I took a job with the Plymouth Intergenerational Coalition to help get their new project off the ground. When the economy collapsed, many believed the project would fall apart – but I persevered. I brought together business and community leaders to raise $4.6 million for the project, which was completed in May 2011. The building now serves as a community center bringing seniors and children together, and this collaborative effort has been labeled a model for the State of Wisconsin.
In the fall of 2014, I ran for the Wisconsin State Senate because of my deep concern about the direction our state was headed. I am running for the Chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party because I know that I have the skills to build a stronger party, and together, we will bring back our strong, fair Wisconsin.