Wis­con­sin pro­gres­sives need a big­ger boat

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - The Arena - Scot Ross and Analiese Eicher

The say­ing goes: A ris­ing tide lifts all boats.

Na­tional po­lit­i­cal trends and the di­vi­sive, dis­tracted, dis­ap­point­ing quar­ter cen­tury of Scott Walker as a Wis­con­sin elected of­fi­cial could mean pro­gres­sives and Democrats in Wis­con­sin will need a big­ger boat in 2018.

But what­ever waves are roil­ing the na­tional po­lit­i­cal scene, the key to elec­toral vic­to­ries is al­ways the same — get­ting more votes than the other side.

There is a for­mula for pro­gres­sives to achieve what has re­cently been the all­too-elu­sive goal of elec­toral vic­to­ries. But it re­quires the courage to change.

For the last 25 years, the eco­nomic mes­sage out of Wash­ing­ton D.C. for Democrats has cen­tered on So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care and “my em­ployer-pro­vided pen­sion is un­der as­sault.”

These are all crit­i­cal is­sues. But for those of us un­der age 50, it doesn’t re­late to our day-to-day lives and fails to speak to many con­cerns of women and peo­ple of color, bedrocks of the pro­gres­sive elec­torate.

The broad swath of younger, di­verse vot­ers are, on is­sue af­ter is­sue, more pro­gres­sive than the Repub­li­cans who cur­rently hold power here in Wis­con­sin and na­tion­ally.

Post-baby boomers face a different eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion than our par­ents or our grand­par­ents had. But the eco­nomic mes­sage of Democrats does not yet re­flect that.

Gen X and mil­len­nial vot­ers care about af­ford­able child care and fam­ily med­i­cal leave. We think about how we are go­ing to re­tire, since we are over­whelm­ingly re­ly­ing on 401(k) ac­counts. Our per­sonal bud­gets are bur­dened with debt older gen­er­a­tions never had, in­clud­ing stu­dent loans. Women and peo­ple of color share these con­cerns, in ad­di­tion to deal­ing with race and gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Fail­ure to en­gage these vot­ers on the is­sues they deal with ev­ery day has trans­lated into lack­lus­ter po­lit­i­cal per­for­mances from pro­gres­sives and Democrats. That needs to change.

The Novem­ber 2016 elec­tion shows why hav­ing a mes­sage that res­onates with and mo­ti­vates younger vot­ers is so crit­i­cally im­por­tant.

Com­bined, mil­len­nial and Gen X vot­ers ac­counted for the ma­jor­ity of the bal­lots cast na­tion­ally in the Novem­ber 2016 elec­tion, nearly 70 mil­lion. Fur­ther bro­ken down, vot­ers be­tween the ages of 36 and 51 cast nearly 36 mil­lion bal­lots while even younger vot­ers cast roughly 34 mil­lion.

As shown in the re­cent Alabama U.S. Se­nate race, when en­gaged, African Amer­i­can women are a po­tent po­lit­i­cal force, with the power to de­ter­mine elec­tion out­comes.

Pro­gres­sives won’t come out on top in a race again­stc Scott Walker in Novem­ber just by say­ing the gov­er­nor is go­ing to make Wis­con­sin worse.

Scott Walker can be beaten by a can­di­date who con­nects with vot­ers on the is­sues they care about, a can­di­date who shows how he or she is go­ing to make the state bet­ter.

Make no mis­take, Scott Walker holds the ad­van­tage as an in­cum­bent. He can go any­where around the state and hold a press con­fer­ence where he re­fuses to take ques­tions and gets to deliver his mes­sage, and get won­der­ful cov­er­age.

But now, there are also 15 Democrats who are trav­el­ing the state, even where there are not a lot of pro­gres­sive mem­bers of the state Leg­is­la­ture, to ar­tic­u­late the prob­lems with the Walker agenda.

That’s half the equa­tion. They must also ar­tic­u­late a vi­sion for the di­rec­tion in which Wis­con­sin needs to go.

So get with the pro­gram, pro­gres­sives. Let’s come out with an eco­nomic mes­sage that speaks to the is­sues Gen X, mil­len­ni­als, women and peo­ple of color care about. Let’s talk about it re­lent­lessly, in ev­ery cor­ner of the state.

If Democrats want to ride a blue wave in 2018 and yank con­trol of state govern­ment from the jaws of the ma­chine cre­ated by ca­reer politi­cian Scott Walker, they’re go­ing to need a big­ger boat.

Scot Ross is the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor and Analiese Eicher is pro­gram direc­tor of the pro­gres­sive ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion One Wis­con­sin Now, and mem­bers of Gen­er­a­tion X and the Mil­len­ni­als, re­spec­tively.


The car­toon­ist's home­page, pnj.com/opin­ion


Wis­con­sin Democrats need to ar­tic­u­late a vi­sion for how they would gov­ern the state, write Scot Ross and Analiese Eicher.

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