Gloria Totten is the savvy executive director of Progressive Majority–and she’s bullish about Howard Dean’s ascendance: he will speak “with a clear voice,” pursue a “movement-building politics” and “bring a well-rounded [states-based] approach to the chairmanship.”
Indeed, the former Vermont Governor and former head of the Democratic Governor’s Association shares Totten’s commitment to rebuilding state parties, mobilizing new voters and using new technologies and fresh ideas to inspire the grassroots. In short, Dean gets it–and so does Totten.
In 2004, Dean’s group Democracy for America endorsed scores of candidates running in local and state races–from a school board member in Huntsville, Alabama, to a mayoral contender in Salt Lake County, Utah. Working with like-minded progressive organizations such as Progressive Majority and 21st Century Democrats, DFA sought to give back power to citizens, and recruit and support the next generation of grassroots leaders.
Looking ahead, we need to see action and real muscle behind the commitment to localism and fighting in the states. We’re now well into 2005, and for Dean and Totten, it’s a chance to build on their work of the 2004 campaign.
Dean told state party leaders that if he became DNC chair, “strengthening the state parties” would be among his highest priorities. In a recent Nation cover story, John Nichols argued that the 2006 state and local elections are one of “Dean’s best chances to prove himself.”
Thirty-six governorships will be at stake. According to nonpartisan political analyst Charlie Cook, seven of these GOP-held governorships are considered toss-ups; six, he says, lean Republican. In contrast, only two seats, now held by Democrats, are toss-ups–and only one Democratic seat leans Democratic. Thousands of municipal offices, control of state legislatures and redistricting in 2011 will be on the ballot.
As those in DC focus on national races in 2006, I still think the states represent the brightest hope–in these times–as laboratories for bold reform experiments. At least 14 states have raised the minimum wage in recent years; a number of states, including Kansas, are encouraging the buying of low-cost prescription drugs from state-approved pharmacies in Europe and Canada; clean money and clean election laws are on the books from Maine to Arizona, and 30 states have rejected a depreciation provision written into the tax code by Republicans for their corporate allies in March, 2002.
Gloria Totten knows that building a progressive majority in America requires patience, as well as the creation of a “farm team,” which is an essential piece of this puzzle. On this front, her organization, Progressive Majority, is blazing the trail for 2006 and beyond.
Progressive Majority supported 100 candidates in the 2004 general election and 41 of them were victorious. Of the 59 candidates who fell shy of the mark, 33 of them, according to Totten, plan to run in 2006. Progressive Majority targeted the then-GOP controlled Washington State Senate–and Democrats now control the chamber. Totten’s organization has offices in five states–Washington, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Arizona, and it plans to establish footholds in five more in the next two years–including, potentially, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Minnesota and New Mexico.
In the 2005 and 2006 elections, Progressive Majority intends to assist some 270 to 300 candidates local and statewide, providing one-on-one training as well as other support. The group will help to raise money, sharpen their daily message operations, refine their stump speeches, offer media strategies, and encourage the candidates to connect with voters by speaking from their guts. Other goals: help candidates pay attention to “what voters care about,” avoid sounding like “policy wonks,” and encourage “nontraditional candidates” like firefighters and teachers to run for office.
Some of the PM-supported candidates include people like Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, a rising star in Washington State. Running for the State Senate, Ward is a Japanese-American civil rights attorney from Auburn, Washington, a past President of the Asian Bar Association of Washington, and she’s not given to pretensions: she rides a Harley and wears steel-toed boots.
Progressive Majority will focus on recruiting more women and union members to become candidates–and its Racial Justice Campaign Fund “focuses exclusively on raising money and enhancing the recruitment of candidates of color,” says its 2004 Year-end Report.
Progressive Majority also will continue to team up with groups like the National Committee for an Effective Congress to target key districts in the redistricting battle in 2011–its effort to “strengthen the connection between state and local political targeting and overall national priorities.”
Progressive Majority doesn’t buy the political equivalent of “instant gratification;” instead, it is setting its sights on a long-term agenda. In addition to focusing on redistricting in 2011, Totten has urged Democratic national leaders to “take a longer view of things” instead of devoting a disproportionate amount of energy to the hottest races in any one election cycle. Totten understands that, like the Right, progressives need to think strategically, not lurch from crisis to crisis or candidate to candidate. Totten has learned from the opposition, and studied the past; “75 percent of federal officials started their careers” in local or state government, she reminds us.
Progressive Majority is the most successful progressive organization working to enact positive political change in the states. Click here to check out what it’s up to and how you can help. As Totten so eloquently reminds progressives, “our future is in the states.”