Blogging Blue Interview: Eric Finch for Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin

I forwarded nine questions to the candidates for the Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. I will share them with you this week as we get ready for the state party convention on June 2/3.

To try to be fair I am publishing these in the order they were received. The responses from Eric Finch!

1) Why are you running for chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin?

I’m running because we only have one chance to get this right. The wind of the resistance is at our backs, but we need major gains in 2018, not just a few seats. This is our only shot at the governor’s mansion & half of our state senate. A loss in 2018 may be impossible to surmount in 2020.

Our party must move forward to victory. We must pursue new digital strategies, but we can’t forget our roots – the hard work of traditional organizing. We need realistic logistical solutions. We also need to put forward bold ideas, standing firm on our principles – things like truly universal healthcare. We can’t just bury these policies in our platform, but we must go to groups active on these issues and show that we care. We need to be tabling at environmental fairs and fairs to end marijuana prohibition – places were I’ve seen libertarians and socialists table more often than our party.

We must be flexible to grassroots preferences in organizing. We also have to incorporate strategies for dealing with voter suppression into everything we’re doing. Even our court success on gerrymandered districts may not hold at the conservative US Supreme Court. On the other hand our victory in court may just be a fresh chance for the republicans to have a soft reset on their districts in our state. We can’t just copy plans from Minnesota or try to recreate what worked 20-30 years ago. We must be agile. We must innovate. We must move forward to victory.

2) What experience and skills do you bring to the role to insure your success as chair?

Over the last 15 years, I’ve been preparing for a role like this, although I had no idea it would be this role! I’ve been on the ground in seven states and I’ve advised in many others. I committed my life to liberal politics, so there are more things I’ve learned over the years than will fit in this space. It started out with a political science degree and volunteering on campaigns. I’ve gone on to run multiple businesses, served as in-house counsel for a quarter billion dollar a year manufacturer, fought against big banks for those facing foreclosure, been the final legal word on multi-million dollar real estate transactions, worked as a community organizer right out of law school, worked in cutting-edge software, successfully lobbied a foreign parliament, knocked thousands of doors, made thousands of phone calls, and more. It’s going to take all of that experience to succeed in this role.

Perhaps my most relevant experience is in bringing people together. When I first opened my law firm, my biggest practice area by time (but not by revenue), was helping non-profit organizations in times of crisis. We need someone with experience bringing together stakeholders, often under some difficult organizational structure, and moving forward to accomplish goals. Our party must heal divides, both nationally and locally. Certainly, I won’t apologize for being from the most liberal wing of the party, but I recognize that it is going to take a diverse coalition of all of us to beat the very real threat of corporate fascism in our country.

2016 was a big disappointment for Wisconsin Democrats with Donald Trump winning the state and Senator Ron Johnson’s re-election.

3) What could we have been done better in 2016?

2016 was a perfect storm of events. I think there are a number of areas where we could have improved. After all, we in Wisconsin failed the first woman to win the popular vote for the presidency in US history. Our data was terrible. The state party made a decision to let the national campaign run all the data instead of having our own models to ensure that the national campaign was doing a good job. Of course, in 2018, there isn’t a national campaign to rely on to the same degree, so it’s all on us.

One little-known missed opportunity from 2016 was that the state party failed to ensure that the national Bernie campaign also included Kloppenburg in their efforts, the party only coordinated with the Hillary campaign, and there was a gap in Bernie voters not voting for Kloppenburg.

There’s more we could have done in areas of voter protection and ballot access. We needed a greater presence up north. We also may have missed opportunities to call out Ron Johnson’s hypocrisy as someone that claims to be Christian, but cuts food stamps for the poor.

4) What did work or what worked better than expected in 2016?

I think the potential for building on some of the national voter protection tools that were in use last year is very high. Certainly the spring has shown that the resistance is robust. This spring, I’ve met a numbers of fantastic women that have emerged onto our bench for 2018. We have to capture this momentum.

5) What other takeaways do you see from the 2016 election cycle?

Well, obviously the game has changed in that even the most ridiculous racists are recharged to vote republican. It’s like the original southern strategy all over again. To me, many of the take aways are those that I learned as a community organizer when I was first out of law school. We need to stand for something, we need to find common ground. We need simple messages that connect. We must be direct and to the point.

Donald trump didn’t win with a ground game. He won online, and we need to massively upgrade our digital marketing efforts. We need someone with real software management experience who understands the digital landscape.

6) Watching social media we often see a dichotomy in the public perception on the DPW’s role in picking candidates. Some feel that the party finds candidates and foists them on the membership while others think the party doesn’t do enough to recruit qualified candidates. What do you think the party’s role is in developing candidates?

Well, most importantly is that however candidates wind up in the race, we must have truly democratic primaries. All our candidates need support and development, and it may look different for different candidates. Some may need training on public speaking, others may need help on how to fundraise. But our candidates need more than a stump speech – they must be well rounded on policy, and I’m excited to help ensure that we have a robust field of candidates.

7) 2018 promises to be a tough election cycle. How do we defeat Governor Scott Walker and Speaker Paul Ryan while re-electing Senator Tammy Baldwin?

Also, as someone on the liberal edge of the party, I feel like it’s important to remind my fellow progressives that Tammy is one of the most liberal people in the senate. With Mike Pence in office, she is more important than ever as the first openly gay senator in US history. Of course, those that know Tammy know that she’s more than just a symbol – she is a fierce and brilliant advocate for the people of Wisconsin. We must have a democrat in that seat. Failure would give total control over our state and federal government to these corrupt republicans.

As for Walker and Ryan, we need to hit them with attacks actually land right now, but by next spring, we need our candidates to be painting a positive vision of the future. The left must be inspired to go vote. We also have to be careful that republican kingmakers could decide it’s time for Walker or Ryan to get their gold watch so to speak. It’s unlikely, but we may need to deal with a tea-party candidate in Ryan’s district. Does anyone remember what happened to Eric Cantor? We must be prepared for whatever the republicans throw our way.

8) Do you foresee any changes in the DPW during your chairpersonship?

The party would fight for policies that are unabashedly liberal. At the same time, we’ve got to be very friendly and wide open – we need to have a broad spectrum of people united to win.

I’d like to immediately form transparent ad-hoc committees based on our 33 senate districts. It’s by organizing at the district level that democratic parties in similar states have had success. These groups would likely disband and reform upon new district formation depending on the gerrymandering court proceedings. I’d want to invite as many local leaders as possible, like the folks that have run for those seats and each of the three assembly seats in each district, along with other local electeds and party activists, so that our leadership is actually working based on local knowledge & relevant geography.

Otherwise, we must build upon our existing structure. The county parties are the backbone of our party, and I can’t imagine trying to change that. We should be sending resources to them, not bleeding them dry.

9) What other thoughts would you like share with the readers of Blogging Blue?

While I don’t enter action without a plan and real solutions, I don’t claim to know everything by any stretch of the imagination. I’m always interested in listening to other people’s ideas for how we can move forward to victory. We must truly listen and be flexible if we are to build a diverse, lasting grassroots presence around the state.

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