Democracy Alliance Blog / From The President / December 16, 2016

The Next Elections Will Determine This Country’s Future. We Need to Start Working on Them Yesterday.

“Right-wing extremists now have virtually total control of state and federal offices in 30 states.”

Progressives are mobilizing to resist the many assaults – on democracy, human rights, the safety net, the environment, and diplomacy – that are coming from the Trump administration-to-be, as we must. His government is shaping up to be the most right-wing and anti-worker in history, a collection of billionaires, corporate chieftains, generals and ideologues sworn to undermine the agencies they hope to lead. We must clearly communicate to the American people the values that undergird our resistance. But we dare not lose sight of the fact that right-wing extremists now have virtually total control of state and federal offices in 30 states.

Everywhere they have taken power they have rolled back rights and hurt working families – from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s war on labor unions to the draconian anti-abortion law signed this week by John Kasich in Ohio. Their extremism knows no bounds. When Democrat Roy Cooper ousted Pat McCrory, the Governor who signed the notorious anti-LGBT law, HB 2, veto-proof majorities in the North Carolina legislature have already moved to restrict the incoming Governor’s power.

Just as with Donald Trump, the extremists who have taken over many of the nation’s statehouses were swept into power by the vote, and they must be taken out by the vote. Progressives who want to take our country back have to focus their passion, time and resources on this electoral path.

The first opportunity to do this is less than eleven months away, with critical elections for the North Carolina legislature, and for Governor, other state officials, and legislative chambers in Virginia and New Jersey. One year later, 38 governorships and legislative chambers in 48 states will be at stake – not to mention the composition of the U.S. House and Senate, which must be a critical check on the Trump administration. These elections will be critical bellwethers in standing up to Trump and his enablers, and will play a huge role in determining the balance of political power in the United States for years to come. If we don’t focus on them immediately, we’ll have an even steeper uphill battle than we face now, and it likely will be too late to reverse threats to our democracy. To be blunt, we have to mobilize to win.

“The right has been at this a long time, funded by the powerful Koch network, among others, and progressives have built truly competitive capacities in only a handful of states.”

Right-wing Republicans made huge gains in the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014 because a smaller, older, whiter, richer midterm electorate handed overwhelming control of government to Tea Party and other ultra-right Republicans in state after state. The right has been at this a long time, funded by the powerful Koch network, among others, and progressives have built truly competitive capacities in only a handful of states.

Our challenges and opportunities are clear. We need urgently to build powerful, enduring activist progressive political capacity in at least fifteen more states — and do it with the diverse leadership and the necessary resources to deliver the highest quality performance. We know how to do this – as we have in the last decade in Minnesota and Colorado, which have resisted the red tide better than most, and more recently in North Carolina, New Mexico and Nevada, which saw significant progressive gains in last month’s election – but we have to step up with the necessary resources to sustain it, improve it, and spread it. And we have to dedicate ourselves to both ongoing, authentic identification of gaps or weaknesses in our models, as well as sharing of best practices about what’s working.

“The political imbalance in the states is a crisis and the need to mobilize is urgent.”

To ensure progressive electoral victories in 2017 and 2018, we must break the “boom and bust” funding cycles for critical electoral infrastructure and forge relationships with new donors that share our values. Regardless of what a Trump administration means for the Republican party and its infrastructure, we know that the Koch network is stronger than ever and will remain as focused on states as they have been for decades.

The political imbalance in the states is a crisis and the need to mobilize is urgent. Accordingly, in March, 2017, the Democracy Alliance in partnership with the Committee on States, will host a Donor Summit to bring together progressive donors from all across America to focus exclusively on state politics. The Summit will be an unprecedented opportunity to discuss lessons learned, review strategies going forward and unveil plans to assure that the leadership is recruited and the financial resources generated to win in key states in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

This work is crucial. Regaining political power in this country – federal and state – flows through the states. And the consequences of elections these past three cycles have been devastating.

Right-wing government has been disastrous for the states in the past eight years – repressive voter ID laws; attacks on women, LGBT people, refugees, Planned Parenthood and labor unions; tax cuts for the rich; and budget cuts in vital human services for the poor and middle class. Right-wing Governors and Attorneys General have made their states ground zero for efforts to destroy Obamacare and EPA clean power rules. And for communities of color, there has been intolerable voter suppression and a shocking level of inaction regarding criminal justice reform to repair the fundamental erosion of trust and faith in our institutions of public safety.

But the stakes in 2020 are monumental. The outcomes of the 2017 and 2018 elections will determine the partisan composition of state governments tasked with redrawing Congressional and state legislative redistricting lines. After the disastrous 2010 midterms put Republicans in the driver’s seat in key states, they gerrymandered districts to lock in their power. And they did it so successfully that despite more Democratic votes for Congress, they keep falling short of taking back the House. States are the epicenter of American politics. Progressive donors must focus time, energies and resources as if the lives of all Americans depended on it. Because they do.