November’s election ripped off the Band-Aid covering a long-worsening wound for Democrats. Control of the White House made it easier for members of our party to brush off dramatic down-ballot losses the past six years. Now it is clearer to everyone that the picture is bleak.
Fewer states are positioned to counter the agenda of a Trump administration and a Republican Congress, and we are in desperate need of new Democratic voices to rise up the political ranks and lead our party at all levels of government.
Before November’s results, Republicans already controlled both the governor’s mansion and legislature in more than 20 states. (It’s now 24.) The GOP also controls about 70 percent of state house and Senate chambers nationwide.
The results have meant a lot more than bragging rights. Republican-dominated state governments are limiting key benefits to working families like paid sick leave, cutting education funding across the spectrum — from early childhood to public colleges — and restricting access to voting through partisan gerrymandering and other maneuvers to reduce the influence of minority groups.
Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory and the continuing run of GOP dominance show that Democrats can’t count on demographic advantages to do our work for us. We need a vision and a message that resonates with Americans from all backgrounds.
A different approach
The encouraging news is that we have a road map to rebuild our party’s foundation by looking to success stories at the state and local levels. Progressives in red and blue states have found success campaigning and governing with the simple philosophy that voters respond to good ideas that improve their lives and address their communities’ concerns.
More than 150 leaders have joined an organization called NewDEAL, which is focused on helping Democrats develop and spread innovative ideas to spur economic growth that is broadly shared and sustainable. We are committed to forging the solutions that transcend political ideology and have appeal in communities nationwide.
In my hometown of Cincinnati, we have transformed all of the schools in our district into what we call Community Learning Centers or Town-Square Schools — taking underused schools and rebuilding them into hubs of opportunity for mentoring, learning, and health care access for the entire community.
In Tennessee, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke has ensured that a municipality-owned electric utility is giving more families reliable access to the high-speed broadband that should be every American’s right in our increasingly-connected world.
A St. Louis college savings program, championed by City Treasurer Tishaura Jones, is investing in the future and giving families peace of mind in the present, each year, by providing thousands of kindergarten students a savings account seeded with $50 to start a college fund, with money raised through public-private partnerships and crowdsourcing.
A Louisville initiative by Mayor Greg Fischer provides teens living in public housing with technology and business skills training. They are using what they learn to help community businesses improve their web presence.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is empowering residents with citywide data and analytical tools to see how their neighborhoods fare across a variety of metrics and create the impetus for everyone to work together to make improvements in areas in which their communities struggle.
And, as Washington prepares for a debate on whether and how to invest in our infrastructure, an idea from one of our members, Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read, is already working. The West Coast Infrastructure Exchange leverages private investment throughout the region to rebuild roads, bridges and more, allowing major investors, like unions and public employee pension funds, to invest in the very projects on which their members might work. That achieves savings and efficiencies, while creating jobs.
Those are just a few of the solutions from NewDEAL leaders that we’ve seen generate enthusiasm among our constituents, no matter their political party. The more Democrats can come together around these types of efforts, the better we will fare in winning elections, driving the policy agenda at the state and local levels, and building up more candidates with the skills, experience, and popularity to run for higher office.
Shaping the message
The news from last November’s election isn’t all bad for Democrats.
Our presidential candidate won millions more votes than her Republican opponent, and the party improved our performance in some key states, including Texas and Arizona.
But we cannot afford to continue on a path that has relegated us to a minority party in so many ways. We can earn the support of the coalition that has won Democrats the popular vote in six of the past seven presidential elections while also delivering a message with broader appeal.
Shaping that message should start with the policies implemented by pro-growth progressives across the country who have proven that we can address the challenges that touch voters’ lives in meaningful ways every single day.
P.G. Sittenfeld has served on Cincinnati’s city council since 2011 when, at the age of 27, he became the youngest person elected to that position. He is the co-founder and assistant director of the Community Learning Center Institute in Cincinnati. Sittenfeld sought the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Rob Portman but lost in the Democratic primary to former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland last March.