Dear Team Sanders,
Thank you for your commitment to elect Bernie Sanders.
Your work has not only changed the national narrative, but you have also revolutionized the potential for grassroots engagement and democratic fundraising in America.
I will make three quick points regarding the narrative that I heard and read after the results in Wisconsin on NPR, MSNBC and in memes on social media:
1. Secretary Clinton is pragmatic. She will incrementally improve upon President Obama’s legacy and lock in the gains from the last eight years.
ANSWER: As a former Mayor myself who has met and interacted with a number of municipal leaders, I can attest to the qualities that are needed to lead a municipality. Pragmatism is near the top of the list along with vision.
Former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner was correct to push former Massachusetts Congressman, Barney Frank, back on MSNBC with her citations of Bernie’s record and experience as the Mayor of Burlington. Bernie was instrumental in providing a vision as Mayor and working with many other local leaders to set a foundation for what Burlington is today: a great place to live, to work and play.
Furthermore, Congressman Frank attempted to instill a fear of a Sanders candidacy and potential Presidency by claiming in part that he would not be an incrementalist and thus a Bernie presidency would risk some of the gains of the Obama presidency on issues like health care and the Affordable Care Act.
This is hogwash.
The Commander-in-Chief is a position of leadership and vision as opposed to the Industrial Engineer-in-Chief that the Clinton campaign and her surrogates are marketing to the body politic.
A vision is what moves people and makes the change happen.
Bernie is providing a coherent vision that he supports with a strong and consistent message.
He is highlighting the issues that need to be addressed.
Again, we are not electing a CPA in Chief and I will remind Americans to recall what happened when we elected our first MBA recipient, George W. Bush, to the highest office in the land: disaster.
Remember, Moses was leading his people to the “Promised Land” not advocating to make marginal improvements to living conditions in the Sinai for his people.
Moses had a vision.
He personally never made it to the “promised land”, but his people did.
In a more modern context, Martin Luther King, Jr., once said:
“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”
The issues facing our next President are far too important to run on a default setting of incrementalism.
In 2008 I became a personal friend with former UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor, Paul Hardin, whose father was one of the recipients of Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. Chancellor Hardin told me that initially he had agreed with his father’s position on incrementalism, but as the family became friends with the King family and began to understand the struggle more deeply he came to realize as he got older that Dr. King was correct and the clergy who supported his father’s notion of incrementalism regarding social justice and the pace of change were incorrect.
In conclusion, it is the same situation today for America and the Democratic Party: we no longer have the luxury to dither and debate we must follow a clear vision forward to reform the system and address the debilitating ills of Citizens United, social injustice, structural racism, the Prison-Industrial Complex the Military-Industrial Complex and wealth and income inequality.
2. Secretary Clinton is a true Democrat and she will be better for the down ballot races across the country.
ANSWER: The Democratic Party is essentially a distillation of foundational core values such as community, opportunity, equality, fairness and justice.
We elect public officials to govern on the basis of these foundational values and implement public policy rooted in these values.
Senator Sanders represents a clear connection to the ideals and aspirations of the New Deal, New Frontier and Great Society in a 21st Century context.
The truth is simply that a significant number of Independent or Unaffiliated voters are progressive and share some and/or all of the values and vision of Senator Sanders. (Many were once registered Democrats and became disgusted with “centrism” and the triangulation tactics of the Democratic Leadership Council.)
Many of these voters are leery of organized party structures and the small “c” conservative “group think” that establishmentarianism tends to promulgate and breed in ossifying local and state party structures.
(I write this as a former public official in the South who ran and was initially elected as a progressive Independent. I later joined the Democratic party in order to bring those ideas and energy to the local party.)
Finally, the success of down ballot races can be directly correlated to the work of the DNC, State Parties and County Parties and not simply a top ticket Presidential campaign.
By utilizing and marketing a consistent “Blue Ballot” that is available in every county and distributed during early voting and on election day the drop off from the top of the ticket can be ameliorated and thus down ticket races benefit.
We found this to be especially true in 2014 in North Carolina as Sen. Hagan lost a tight race to NC Speaker Thom Tillis yet counties who utilized the Blue Ballot and its training from the State Party were able to increase performance by 7% and we were able to elect 3 judges to the NC Supreme Court, two judges to the Appellate Court and pick up 4 seats in the General Assembly while the rest of America (especially in red states) were overwhelmed in a Koch fueled wave election.
If Bernie wins the nomination, he should pledge to run open and transparent coordinated campaigns with the State Parties nationwide that focus on distributing a coherent and branded “Blue Bernie Ballot” or “Bernie Ballot” in every single precinct in all 50 states.
This will leave an indelible mark and will work and elect Democrats up and down the ballot.
3. Secretary Clinton has signed agreements with the DNC and 33 Parties to jointly fundraise and thus she is “helping Democrats”.
ANSWER: This new spin is a cynical attempt to divert attention away from the fact that this arrangement between the Hillary Victory Fund, the DNC and the state parties helps her campaign as well by allowing her to raise nearly $350,000 from a single donor including incredibly wealthy hedge fund managers that she claims on the stump that she will regulate.
These arrangements always have a number of caveats that essentially impound or “control” the use of the money that flows to State Parties. (Technically these coordinated campaign arrangements may be legal, but in practice they tend to skirt spirit of the law and FEC regulations and even occasionally cross the line.)
Senator Sanders can make a big splash and show a facet of his political revolution is the democratizing of the fundraising.
If his campaign were to highlight that a) his form of small donor fundraising is more democratic and b) that his donor base could be tasked to democratically rebuild the failing state party infrastructure by focusing some of the contributions to state parties or even large county parties Bernie could alter the political landscape up and down the ballot in America.
Imagine if Senator Sanders announced that he would be using some of his campaign treasure trove to directly contribute to the state parties of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and California as well as other state parties across America.
And consider the impact if the Senator called a news conference in New York City to discuss the importance of democratizing the party apparatus and handed a One Million Dollar check to the State Chair of the Democratic Party of New York and said let’s win races up and down the ballot in New York.
This will make a statement and have a significant impact.
In closing it is my understanding that the Hillary Victory Fund has only distributed roughly seven million dollars to the state parties with the other eighteen million dollars remaining in the fund itself or landing in the coffers of her campaign and the DNC. (According to FEC reports filed on 12/31/2016.)
If the Sanders Campaign were to make this a strategic imperative by investing in state parties and pushing that he would be the best candidate to win races up and down the ballot the result would likely be a) a lot of love and support from the underfunded state parties and their vast network of volunteers; b) a direct impact on the ability to elect Democrats this fall up and down the ballot; and c) a shifting the allegiance of some of the super delegates.