A few weeks ago 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.
Each of the candidates for DPW Chair – Jeff Smith, Joe Wineke, and Jason Rae – were sent the questions at the same time via email, and each has sent back their responses to the questions. I’ll be sharing the answers each candidate gave in the order I received their responses, so today we start with Democratic National Committee member Jason Rae.
The questions sent to Mr. Rae are highlighted in bold, with his responses immediately following the questions. Mr. Rae’s responses were not edited or altered in any way.
What is your plan for rebuilding the Democratic Party of Wisconsin?
Following the election of 2014, we find Democrats holding only one statewide constitutional office and having the lowest number of people in the State Assembly and State Senate since the 1950s. We must drastically change our approach to elections and the way the party works in our state. We need to take action now to ensure we elect Democrats up and down the ballot going forward and reclaim the proud, progressive Wisconsin we all know and love. As Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, I want help regroup, refocus and reenergize the Party so that we can be successful in 2016, 2018, and beyond.
We will build the infrastructure of the party by supporting county parties, building our bench, and expanding our constituency caucuses. I’ve already put forward my first initiative of the campaign – Operation Main Street. Operation Main Street is a comprehensive, collaborative project that will work with our local candidates and our county parties to strengthen and deepen our bench. Through this program, we’ll take parts of Spring Forward and Red to Blue Badgers and build a concrete, comprehensive program to support candidates and county parties with local elections. Under my leadership, the State Party will provide county parties with the tools and resources they need to support local candidates and win.
Second, we will regain our digital advantage. We need to provide candidates and county parties with new tools and technologies that will help them be successful in the work that they do. We need to focus on data and analytics. As Chair, we’ll invest in creating a new digital advantage through new technologies, from improving the DPW website, to working with county parties and grassroots activists on new tools. We must ensure that we are using everything at our disposal to win and grow the party.
Finally, we will put forward a positive, progressive vision for Wisconsin’s future. We need to tell people what we stand for and not just what we stand against.
By investing in county parties and strengthening the party infrastructure, reclaiming our progressive values, and creating a digital advantage, we will win elections and take back the State Senate, State Assembly and the Governor’s Mansion, and elect a Democrat to the United States Senate and Presidency in 2016.
What would the DPW’s messaging look like if you are elected state party chair?
As Chair, we will put forward a positive vision for the future, to show the electorate that the Democratic Party can be an agent of change. We need to stop making excuses for not standing up for our values and be proud Democrats and progressives. We need to start talking about what we stand for and not simply what we stand against. I’ll work with the various entities within the party – from the ADCC and SSDC to the Party’s Platform & Resolutions Committee and County Chairs and other grassroots leaders– and develop a cohesive and strong message that will help us reclaim our progressive values and get a message out that will resonate with voters and help Democrats win.
What are the three issues that Dems should focus their message on?
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin needs to focus on putting forward a positive, progressive vision for Wisconsin’s future. First and foremost, we need to be talking about jobs and the economy. We need to make sure people know that we are committed to growing Wisconsin’s economy and creating good, family-supporting jobs while also protecting the rights of workers. Second, we need to focus on positive reinforcement of the values that we hold dear for our state. We should be talking about our support for public education, marriage equality, and raising the minimum wage, rather than just talking about what Scott Walker is doing wrong. Finally, we need to be talking about the important role that government can have as agents of change to create a shared prosperity for people in Wisconsin.
What would you do to ensure that a quality candidate run in every race regardless if the race is considered winnable or not?
One of our priorities as a party must be in building our bench so we can have candidates for our legislative races if we are to take back the Senate and Assembly. County boards members, city council members, school board members, mayors, and village and township officials make decisions every day that shape the lives of Wisconsinites all around our state – and they are our future candidates.
The only way we will be successful in future elections is if we invest now in candidates at the local level. The trustee we invest in today is our future candidate for State Assembly, the county board member we help is our future Governor.
As Chair, one of my priorities will be building our bench. That’s why I’m proposing Operation Main Street. We will start working with candidates early to get them ready by provide trainings on messaging, voter contact, fundraising and more. Once these campaigns start, we aren’t going to leave our candidates in the dust. We will run a Local Elections Coordinated Campaign to provide innovate tools and resources, access to technology and dedicate funding to help win elections.
If we want to win, we need to build our bench at the local level now. That is something I’m extremely committed to as Chair.
What is a Progressive? Are you one? Tell us exactly how you have walked the talk. Be honest if you’re not.
I am a proud progressive. A progressive is more than just a set of beliefs and values; a progressive is someone who has the courage of their convictions and is willing to fight for our shared progressive values. The great Wisconsin progressives, Bob La Follette, Gaylord Nelson, William Proxmire, and Russ Feingold are all distinguished by values they held and the courage they showed in fighting for their convictions.
The progressive values that I’ll be fighting for as Chair are equality of opportunity, open and transparent government, efficient government that spends tax dollars wisely, the right of women to make their own health care decisions, a clean environment, access to affordable health care and public education, and the right of all workers to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.
In my professional and personal capacities, I’ve always worked to help support progressive causes and issues. I’ve worked at People For the American Way and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. I’ve served on the board of nonprofits like Fair Wisconsin and the Governor’s Commission on the United Nations.
In specific when it comes to the party, I spent four years as Chair of the DPW Platform & Resolutions Committee and worked to put forward three platforms during that time that expressed our progressive ideals as a party.
I am a strong and proud progressive.
How will you manage your role between the Assembly & Senate caucuses and the County Chairs Association?
As Chair of this Party, I will commit to working with Democrats at all levels to help us be successful as we plan for elections in 2016, 2018 and beyond. I believe that we need stronger county parties and will work to build our infrastructure of the party and support local parties.
A lot of people talk about the need to build the party from the ground up and support local county parties. They are right, and I have extensive experience in growing helping to build local county party infrastructure. I rode my bike to Barron County Democratic Party meetings before I could drive and helped organize in rural Wisconsin.
As Chair, I will be an advocate for County Parties and grassroots activists when it comes to working with the legislative caucuses. Each organization has an important role to play in our party and I’ll work to make sure our leaders on the ground are heard in Madison.
What will you do to change/modernize our image to something appealing to people that are not active members?
Our party needs to do a better job of listening. Too many people all across the state, but especially outside of Milwaukee and Madison, do not feel that the Democratic Party listens to them or cares what they have to say. That needs to change, and when I am Chair, I promise a more inclusive party that listens to party members all across Wisconsin, acts on their concerns, and appeals to the middle-class values that our party is built on. Having gotten my start in politics by organizing in rural Wisconsin, and now living in Milwaukee, I can be the bridge between urban and rural parties in our state. I am committed to traveling the state and meeting with activists and party leaders during my time as Chair so people know that the State Party cares about them and is appreciative of all the work they do.
How do plan to bridge the gap between local candidate recruitment efforts and the legislative caucuses?
As Party Chair, we will work closely with legislative caucuses and our local county parties to recruit candidates. We must build our bench now at all levels. If you look at the current makeup of the State Senate, 29 of 32 members held some sort of prior elective office. Through our Operation Main Street campaign, we will support county parties and local candidates so we have a solid bench of people to run for legislative office.
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 importance of this question cannot be understated. We are the party of working people and the middle class, and our agenda puts them first, but there is an obvious disconnect between our party and too many middle-class voters. Republicans have become masters of simplifying their message and using wedge issues to peel away white, middle-class voters from our coalition. Additionally, whether this is true or not, Scott Walker has convinced enough people in this state that he is a good steward of their tax dollars. We must recognize these challenge and combat them.
The solution to these problems begins with a strong, progressive legislative agenda. We have to have something to sell to voters, and we have many young, new, and talented elected officials representing us in Madison who are capable of crafting a substantive agenda that appeals to a wide variety of voters.
We cannot win elections in this state without voters in places like the Fox Valley and northern Wisconsin. I am the only candidate in this race that has roots in rural and urban Wisconsin, and this unique experience will help our party reconnect with voters and sustain our base. I understand urban and rural politics and know what it takes to win in communities all across Wisconsin. Democrats need to do a better job engaging voters in rural Wisconsin if we want to win and I’m the candidate to help do that.
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 care deeply about our party and the people we fight for. This passion started at the Barron County Democratic Party meetings where I would ride my bike to county party meetings in my hometown of Rice Lake years before I could even vote. Soon I was elected Vice Chair of the Barron County Democratic Party and started on a path of service and commitment to the Party.
What I learned in Barron County is still what I know to be true today – Democrats need to compete all over Wisconsin, especially in the rural communities, if we want to be successful.
For more than a decade, it has been my honor and privilege to represent Wisconsin on the Democratic National Committee. I’ve worked hard since my election in 2004 to help elect Democrats up and down the ballot and to continue to expand and grow the party. Through that work, I’ve served on the DNC Executive Committee, on the DPW Administrative Committee, and as Chair of the DPW Platform & Resolutions Committee. I have experiences at all levels of the party and believe that helps me understand how we can make changes and grow successfully.
I graduated from Rice Lake High School and then went on to attend Marquette University where I earned my Bachelors of Arts Degree in Political Science in History. At Marquette University, I learned about the Jesuit values that guide my actions today. Those values are to use our education and knowledge as tools in the service of others. We were taught to be men and women for and with others and that has guided me in my life.
Since graduation, I’ve worked at Nation Consulting, a Milwaukee-based public affairs firm, where I have specialize in political campaigns and non-profit management. I’ve worked with candidates and organizations on how to tell their story and gain attention for the work they do. I’ve helped elect seven of the last eight judges in Milwaukee County. I founded the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce to help promote a progressive business voice in our state. The organization has grown to include more than 275 businesses as members from all around the state.
I’ve been active in the community for years, serving on the board of a number of non-profit and advocacy organizations. I regularly attend services at a local United Methodist Church, a faith of which I’ve been a part of my entire life.
I’m proud of the experiences I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned. I know that all of these experiences will help me be successful as the next State Party Chair so we can win elections in 2016, 2018 and beyond.