Blogging Blue Interview: Martha Laning 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. And the responses from the incumbent, Martha Laning!

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

I first ran in 2015 because I believed the party needed a leader who would bring together voices from across the state and at all levels – from grassroots to our elected officials and our progressive partners – and someone who could build the financial resources of the party to help build a strong infrastructure that was active every year. We needed to get a strong, values driven message out to voters too. We have made great strides in those areas, but our work is not done. That’s why I’m running for re-election. I have a vision for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which is supported by grassroots, party leadership and legislators, in which we are all working together to elect Democrats and I want to finish implementing the plan to attain that vision.

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

a. Leadership/Team Building: I have a proven record for taking on complex challenges, building the cross functional team needed to address the challenge, gaining support for the plan and then executing it. For the past two years, I have worked tirelessly to build a stronger party that activates our greatest resource – the people. I’ve put over 60,000 miles on my car traveling to every corner of the state to meet with DPW members, grassroots organizers, candidates, donors and legislators. Through these discussions we have refined a plan that builds our party from the grassroots up. Now we are executing that plan.

b. Experience as Chair: The experience of being chair is invaluable. I know where the challenges are as well as the strengths we need to build on. I have become known as the face of the Party with our county chairs, grassroots organizations legislators, caucus staff, and donors. They know me. They trust me. No other candidate has made those connections and are party needs to capitalize on that. A new chair would waste precious time between now and the 2018 elections establishing connections I already have.

c. Fundraising: As DPW chair I have raised over $1.5 million for the party so we can improve candidate’s support and build our party from the grassroots up. No other candidate for this office can claim that accomplishment. My experience in nonprofit management and business, as well as my education, have enabled us to create financial and personnel policies and procedures that ensure our party is strong. We have streamlined our work and better organized our data, ultimately improving the foundation upon which our candidates can build a plan to win.

d. Plan in the Field: My plan isn’t on paper: it’s already in the field. We have a field organizing staff that is permanent and will not disappear after our election year, thus improving the stability of the party and allowing interested candidates to get a leg up before the crunch of campaign season. We have a Candidate Services department now that helps general election candidates in red and purple areas and is helping county parties build the infrastructure to work in spring elections. We are very close to rolling out our final piece of the program to build a stronger party and that is improving our communication. We want to add to our communication staff in order to provide the messaging support our local parties, candidates and activists need to get a strong values driven message out to every corner of our state.

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?

While the DPW, our candidates, and our members worked so hard in 2016, the results showed that we have a long way to go to build the party we need to get a message out in every corner of the state and provide the support candidates need to run effective campaigns. Our team is already implementing changes that will address the lessons we learned. Our coordinated campaign could have started earlier and had better defined plans that included activists and addressed local issues. We worked with state legislative candidates through our Red to Blue Program and received great reviews, but we needed that staff earlier so our trainings could be done earlier and we could expand to congressional candidates too. We learned a lot from all our stakeholders by having 11 debriefing sessions around the state and are taking the lessons learned and applying them to improve our plan. Our 2018 program is already started as we collaborated earlier than ever before with our coordinated campaign partners to define our roles and define our goals so we have smoother collaboration and greater success in 2018.

Ever since the Citizen’s United ruling allowed unlimited big money into politics, elections have been largely controlled by the top of the ticket and this is risky – success depends on the candidates plan and the resources they have to roll out the plan. In 2008 and 2012, President Obama came into Wisconsin with a community-organizing model. His campaign spent $12 million dollars to empower grassroots activists and ensure that every corner of our state received his message of hope and change, and we saw great success. His model empowered the people to talk to their neighbors. When we have candidates that are driven by a top down model or don’t have the resources to reach out to all corners of the state, Wisconsin loses. Therefore it is imperative that we build a State Party from the grassroots up so that all candidates get the support they need to win and we ensure that our progressive message is heard around the state. That is the party we are building right now.

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

Adding the candidate services department, which ensured that candidates in red and purple areas had training opportunities, support and a key contact in 2016, was awesome. I don’t know that I would say it worked better than expected, but it certainly worked well. DPW worked with 29 candidates and, of those that actively engaged with our team, 40% did better than Hillary Clinton. The review given the team was a 4.2 out of a 5-point scale, which is pretty amazing considering they were hired only 6 months before the election. We will build on that program every year and make it better.

Collaboration from different parts of the Democratic Party was better in the 2016 election than it has been in decades, and it’s getting even better. Last year the Senate and Assembly Democratic Committees shared responsibility with DPW for helping candidates and this year we are collaborating more to make sure we offer a wider variety of support. We also provided more resources last year like free VAN to Red to Blue candidates and opposition research to candidates.

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

There can never be an “off year.” We must run candidates in every race, and get our message across 24/7.

2016 proved our goal of building a strong infrastructure in the DPW from the grassroots up is critical in order to:

a. Ensure we recruit great candidates to run in local and legislative races that represent their districts well,

b. Leverage our greatest asset, the people – We must get party activists the training they want and need to support candidates and get a values-driven message out in every corner of the state, and

c. Provide the resources to support the needs of our activists, legislators and candidates so that they have what they need to win.

We must define our own destiny as a state and not rely on the national party or the national candidates as heavily as we have in the past. It was a crushing reminder that we need to continue to develop a long term, sustainable program of party growth and involvement if we are to realize gains at the state or national level. A strong DPW is not only good for down ballot candidates but for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nominee too.

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?

Recruiting people to run for office and developing their ability to run successful campaigns is a core aspect of winning elections. The DPW has and will continue to play a critical role in candidate recruitment efforts, which is something we do alongside the legislative caucuses, progressive partners, our county parties, and DPW members. It takes all of us to identify potential candidates who are a strong match for their district and the race in question.

The DPW helps candidates understand what running for office really means; how many hours you’ll spend, how much money you’ll likely need, how demanding a candidate’s schedule truly is, how many miles you’ll drive, how many chicken dinners you’ll eat, and how much this will impact every aspect of your life.

Once all those things have been considered, and the candidate decides that running for office is something they are willing to undertake, the DPW then helps develop the candidate by offering resources for actually running the campaign. Since we started the Candidate Services department in 2016 we now are building a team that ensures every candidate gets support and training. We are Turning On the Off Year, this year and providing training to our activists to learn how they can volunteer to support the candidates in specific areas like communications, field, finance and fundraising. The party’s job is to be sure that candidates have the answers they need to run effective campaigns and that we provide as much support as we can to help them reach their goal.

Recruitment of candidates happens on many different levels by many different people for many different reasons depending on the office in question. DPW does and should continue to play whatever role it can in recruiting candidates while leveraging our strength in connecting people and providing the resources for candidates to ultimately succeed. But we should leave the selection of our nominee to the people. (One exception is when we have a Republican running on our ticket and then the Administrative Committee can choose to endorse the other candidate(s) – An example would be Sheriff Clark’s opponent was endorsed by the DPW Administrative Committee.)

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?

We will succeed in 2018 by continuing to implement the field plan connecting the party to the people, so the candidates are able to hit the ground running on local issues without having to develop that ground game first. We’ll do that now, in 2017, so they don’t have to do it later. It’s efficient and will certainly give good candidates the jump-start they’ll need. Having neighborhood teams across Wisconsin will help with messaging too.

In addition, our expanded Communications Team, that I am fundraising for right now, will hold President Trump, Governor Walker & Speaker Ryan accountable for the mess we’re in and emphasize how their policies negatively affect our communities, our citizens and our state’s future.

But most importantly, the Communication Team will highlight the great work Democratic leaders like Senator Tammy Baldwin, our representatives, and state legislators are doing on behalf of Wisconsin residents, and we will ensure we have the resources to get that message out to every corner of our state. Whether it is the call to ensure tax dollars are used to buy American made product to build a stronger economy here in the US, our congressional legislators working to ensure every American has access to quality healthcare, or our state legislators fighting for better education and transportation funding, we want to ensure all Wisconsinites know that the Democrats have a plan that will build an economy that works for everyone, because they know that when all Wisconsinites have an opportunity to succeed our communities thrive.

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

My vision for the party is rooted in my belief that we need to continue to collaborate to build a stronger Party from the grassroots up so we re-elect Senator Tammy Baldwin, replace Scott Walker as Governor, and elect Democrats up and down the ticket. We’ve built a solid operational foundation during the first two years of my tenure as Chair, and moving forward we need to implement the next phase of our plan, including:

a. Connecting our DPW Regional Organizers with county leaders, party activists, and our nonprofit partners to support effective actions that will both help us win in November of 2018 and strengthen the long-term progressive fabric of Wisconsin.

b. Increasing the effectiveness of candidate development by continuing to expand the services of our Candidate Services team. Our off-year coordination activities will be enhanced by developing our Turn on the Off Year initiatives of connecting with Candidate Development Coordinators and County Communication Coordinators across the state.

c. Partnering with leaders in communities of color, through our newly hired Constituency Outreach Organizer, to collaborate and organize with them on initiatives and build our collective voice.

d. Expanding efforts in 2017 to build a robust and effective Voter File (VAN), including recovering data from GOTV walk lists, cross-referencing databases, and other innovations.

e. Maximizing the effectiveness of local activities through the implementation of a “best practices” book for candidates.

f. Initiating community organizing training programs that understand state and local social networks and structures and work to build local grassroots teams to influence issues and local/state/national elections

g. Engaging donors from all socioeconomic backgrounds to increase fundraising efforts

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

In 2015, I pledged to develop new messaging, build unity in our party, and strengthen our ability to engage DPW members at every level of our party. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made building a stronger infrastructure. Though the 2016 election results weren’t what we hoped, I know that the DPW is in a stronger position to tackle the challenges ahead of us. It has been my honor to be DPW Chair for the past two years. I’m proud of the tenacity and work of the party and our members and I hope to earn another two years as Chair so that we can finish the job of building the party we need to return Tammy Baldwin to the US Senate, defeat Scott Walker, and elect Democrats up and down the ticket in 2018.


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