Ten questions from Blogging Blue readers to DPW Chair candidate Martha Laning

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:

  1. Quality Public Education
  2. Economic Prosperity
  3. Valuable, Affordable Health Care
  4. A Clean, Sustainable Environment
  5. 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.


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22 thoughts on “Ten questions from Blogging Blue readers to DPW Chair candidate Martha Laning

  1. Do you all feel as if you are having déjà vu reading these responses? Martha Laning has had weeks and weeks of reading and following the other candidates, and their responses, and her responses sound eerily familiar, almost Jeff Smith-like. In one of her Senate video ads, she did not once say the word “progressive”. In fact, she touted that good ideas come from both sides. She is doing a complete 180. Martha Laning is Martha “Confusing” me.

  2. There are many good candidates running for Chair. Of course, much of what they say will be similar. I am curious however. Was Martha Laning recruited by the SDCC or DPW? And if she wasn’t, how did she make that crucial decision to run for the Senate. Martha, if you see this, please respond.

  3. “Of course what they say will be similar.” I also noticed Marhta’s responses touched upon some of the hot button issues that followed in the discussion threads as well.

    What also bothers me is her entry into the race, weeks after the other candidates for chair announced. Mary Solinger announces she’s pulling out of the race, Martha is taking her place. One corporatist to replace another. (The third being Rae) The website roll out, with Martha being talked about as “she” instead of “I”. Like this was all very hurriedly put together.

    It gives me that insider coordination vibe.

    Nimera said it best, ” In one of her Senate video ads, she did not once say the word “progressive”. In fact, she touted that good ideas come from both sides. She is doing a complete 180. Martha Laning is Martha “Confusing” me.”

  4. Another candidate, Stephen Smith, will be at the Jefferson County Democratic Party’s meeting tonight. Has this blog reached out to him yet?

  5. @Nimera and @CJ McD — I don’t really have a skin in the game, but I want to point out a few things in the interest of fairness.

    1) The Senate ad was made in the context of running in a conservative district — Sheboygan, for goodness’ sake. No Democrat would get anywhere in that place without acknowledging that many of the potential constituents and voters are rock-ribbed Republicans. Seriously, how far or deeply do you think an explicit progressive message would resonate? Martha Laning acted progressively, bringing together competing interests in helping to establish the Plymouth community center. That was surely no easy task. To demand that Democrats in hard-right districts hew to a progressive message is to ask for their sure defeat, isn’t it?

    2) Is there an “insider coordination” vibe? Or is it just a vibe that Martha Laning has supporters who are not regular posters on Blogging Blue? Who is the insider that pushed Mary Lang Sollinger out? As far as the state party is concerned, Kathleen Vinehout is no insider. It takes a pretty convoluted conspiracy theory to get there.

  6. Good answers. I agree that it’s too bad she announced late as the outcome seems inevitable. Rae can’t do much worse than his predecessor at least.

    1. I sincerely wish I could be as concise as you are. Thanks. DPW chair candidates opposing Rae are likely incapable of cooperating to defeat him.

      1. And even less likely to appreciate the value of an organizational whiz. It’s all about whether someone is Progressive enough by some mysterious code not even LaFollette could crack rather than creating conditions in which Progressive ideas have a shot at becoming policy.

        1. Agreed, and the consideration which I think Sen Vinehout is applying here, also, i.e. organizational wizard.

          Experiment for Dems to try. Email your Administrative CD chair and rep and two personally known members at large near you and ask them who they intend to support or are now supporting for DPW chair. http://wisdems.org/OurParty/admincommittee

          I’d skip the top leadership on the page, but it would be interesting to see anyone who actually gets a reply to report it here.

    2. Is Rae really that inevitable? I see a lot of publicity and promotion for him, but actual support from mainstream party members? Not so much.

      1. If my internet and social media feeds paint an accurate picture of the DPW Chair’s race (remember that I’m an IL resident who follows WI politics), it’s a three-way race between Jason Rae, Jeff Smith, and Martha Laning, with a few Joe Wineke supporters out there and virtually no support for Stephen Smith that I’m aware of. Rae has very few supporters outside of the fairly long list of individuals who Rae lists as endorsements on his website, Smith has the most support from progressives, and Laning might be the Susan Happ of the DPW Chair’s race (i.e., an insurgent candidate who entered relatively late in the race, although it remains to be seen as to whether or not Laning can get the late momentum in this year’s DPW Chair’s race like Happ did in the Wisconsin AG Democratic primary last year).

        1. I disagree that Joe Wineke has “a few supporters out there.”

          I think his support is actually deeper than that, and I’m inclined to think it’s really a four person race now that Martha Laning has entered the fray.

          1. Aaron needs better sources. Jud Lounsbury (former Feingold press spokesman) said on my blog that he expects Wineke to win “in a landslide.” That surprised me, but when you realize that most people like Joe and that Dane County has a huge amount of delegates to the convention, it’s not so surprising.

  7. @Joanne Brown- Mary Solinger was pushed out? I thought she withdrew from the race after a replacement was found. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  8. I agree. Martha has had the benefit of jumping in later and reading everyone else’s responses. I would say that she did make herself look pretty good here. The biggest criticism against her among other things is whether she has “progressive Cred”. She gave a specific values based set of responses which served her well.

    I think she brought up a good point by mentioning Lakoff and the need to re-frame the debate. Why are conservative voters called “values” voters? We must reclaim our values in peoples aspirations. Every elections must be a values clash and a clash of ideas about values.

    Martha says a lot of good things. I am undecided. I think the question is-why didn’t it work for her in Martha while she was running in a rural district. If she can’t do it there; can she do it everywhere else?

    Nice start though.

  9. Pretending to be a moderate isn’t exactly what Democrats should be doing, I don’t care if you live in Sheboygan or not. This tells me that she’s not as strong of a “progressive” as she claims to be. This whole moderate milly routine is one of the reasons the party has become obsolete. And, I do have a problem with her being a corporate tool of Target Corporation. TArget is extremely anti-union. What is Kathleen Vinehout thinking endorsing her? There is a progressive candidate running from her district for cripes sake.

  10. @Joanne Brown- “The Senate ad was made in the context of running in a conservative district — Sheboygan, for goodness’ sake. No Democrat would get anywhere in that place without acknowledging that many of the potential constituents and voters are rock-ribbed Republicans. Seriously, how far or deeply do you think an explicit progressive message would resonate?”

    That is precisely the same type wrong minded thinking coming out of the DPW today. And it is a problem. It’s time for progressives to distinguish themselves with a polulist message. Not tamp down their values so the “fit in” with conservative ideals. No wonder Democrats keep losing.

    An explicit progressive message might actually get complacent voters off their lazy a$$es and gve them a reason to vote FOR something.

  11. FWIW, Stephen Smith and Martha Laning were both at the Jefferson County Democratic Party meeting last night, and they were both given the chance to speak. I thought both came off well, though very different in presentation. Stephen Smith reminds me a bit of Jeff Smith (go figure, having the same last name)…little bit older fellow with rural roots, blue collar background, etc. Came off as down to earth. Laning is an extremely polished speaker who played up her fundraising successes, but also talked about working with the local county parties, etc.

    I think both came off very well. I asked them what they would both do with current staff in Madison…both said they would give current staff a chance to keep their jobs, but made it clear that change would be needed. Stephen Smith was a bit less veiled in showing that he was displeased with Tate, etc. He mentioned how he had called the DPW office recently, and it took three days for his phone call to be returned, and also that he disliked all the fundraising emails. Laning agreed and said there needs to be better messaging (and also leadership from DPW on that issue). She also mentioned helping local candidates getting good websites up, which was nice to hear.

    Also, since it’s relevant to this thread, I did not get the impression that Laning is just some corporate insider candidate as some are claiming. She seemed very passionate and knowledgeable about the current state of the party. Take this post for what it’s worth from someone who is a recent new member to the party, but has been trying to follow the DPW chair race as closely as possible.

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