NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

LIVE from Detroit: Making smart investments to build progressive power in 2014 & beyond

Good morn­ing from Detroit! Today marks the first day of Net­roots Nation, the ninth annu­al gath­er­ing of pro­gres­sive activists from across the Unit­ed States and beyond, which NPI has been send­ing staff and board mem­bers to for its entire his­to­ry. Three of us are here on NPI’s behalf and com­mit­ted to bring­ing you live cov­er­age of the con­ven­tion’s hap­pen­ings through­out the next few days.

NPI Pres­i­dent Robert Cruick­shank and I are kick­ing off the con­ven­tion with a pan­el called Pro­gres­sives and the Midterms: Mak­ing Smart Invest­ments to Build Pro­gres­sive Pow­er in 2014 and Beyond. Mod­er­at­ed by Aman­da Terkel of The Huff­in­g­ton Post, this pan­el con­sists of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from three great nation­al pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions, all found­ed in the wake of the rise of the Inter­net, and a can­di­date for U.S. Sen­ate, Shen­na Bel­lows.

Terkel launched the dis­cus­sion by ask­ing the pan­elists to talk about their focus for the cycle. For Shen­na, it’s all about cross­ing the fin­ish line first on Novem­ber 5th.

Shenna Bellows

Shen­na Bel­lows speaks at Net­roots Nation in Detroit, Michi­gan, on the first day of the con­ven­tion (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“I think it’s a real­ly excit­ing year for pro­gres­sives… Races like mine and Rick Wei­land’s are test cas­es,” Bel­lows said, explain­ing that can­di­dates like her are up against a lot of mon­ey and don’t have the enthu­si­as­tic back­ing of the par­ty estab­lish­ment in the Dis­trict of Colum­bia. (The con­ven­tion­al wis­dom in D.C. is that Democ­rats have almost no pick­up oppor­tu­ni­ties this cycle, except for maybe in Ken­tucky and Geor­gia — but of course, that’s nonsense.)

Stephanie Tay­lor, cofounder of the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee (which I worked with last year as an orga­niz­ing fel­low) announced to hearty applause that PCCC has so far raised $1 mil­lion for pro­gres­sive can­di­dates like Bel­lows this cycle. That’s a lot of money!

How does PCCC choose which can­di­dates to sup­port? It does­n’t come down to an ide­o­log­i­cal laun­dry list. “We’re real­ly look­ing for those can­di­dates who are going to be orga­niz­ers and fight­ers inside Con­gress on the issues we care about,” Tay­lor told atten­dees, cit­ing some of PCC­C’s polling on Social Secu­ri­ty and Medicare. “Pro­gres­sive pol­i­cy and pro­gres­sive posi­tions are win­ning positions.”

Nick Bern­ing of MoveOn said that his orga­ni­za­tion’s top 2014 pri­or­i­ty is ensur­ing that Democ­rats hold the Sen­ate, because oth­er­wise, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion’s abil­i­ty to fill judi­cial and exec­u­tive vacan­cies will be dimin­ished (because Repub­li­cans will refuse to con­firm the Pres­i­den­t’s nom­i­nees). Pri­or­i­ty can­di­dates for MoveOn include Bri­an Schatz in Hawaii and Mike Hon­da in California.

The pan­el then delved into pri­ma­ry strategy.

Stephanie Tay­lor explained that PCCC has been keep­ing an eye out for open seats in bright blue dis­tricts, with the objec­tive of find­ing strong pro­gres­sive Democ­rats to run and win. She cit­ed Pat Mur­phy in Iowa as example.

“Pri­maries are healthy for our democ­ra­cy… They make cam­paigns more account­able to the grass­roots,” said DFA’s Annie Wein­berg. She spoke to the need to reward bold Democ­rats like Mark Takano who have been cham­pi­oning pro­gres­sive caus­es like the expan­sion of Social Security.

MoveOn’s Bern­ing said that his orga­ni­za­tion is focused on 2014, but is already look­ing ahead to 2015, 2016, and beyond. He men­tioned that MoveOn recent­ly sur­veyed its mem­bers in Chica­go and found that more than 85% want to see a strong pro­gres­sive chal­lenger to Rahm Emanuel in 2015.

Mod­er­a­tor Aman­da Terkel asked Bel­lows to talk about her race and delve into the dif­fi­cul­ties she’s faced build­ing sup­port for her cam­paign. (Many large, D.C.-oriented pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions that ought to be sup­port­ing Bel­lows — like the League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers — have endorsed Susan Collins for reelec­tion because there are almost no oth­er Repub­li­cans who will engage with them at all.)

“Maine is the only state in the coun­try where Barack Oba­ma won in 2008 and 2012 that has a Repub­li­can sen­a­tor up for elec­tion,” Bel­lows said. “Our strat­e­gy is to be com­plete­ly true to all of our pro­gres­sive values.”

She empha­sized the need for an authen­tic Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date who could present a clear and com­pelling alter­na­tive to Susan Collins.

One of her biggest obsta­cles is a lack of name recog­ni­tion; her cam­paign’s polling has showed that many Main­ers have not heard of her. But she has a plan to intro­duce her­self. She announced that her cam­paign be going up on the air short­ly with its first tele­vi­sion ad across the state. The last thing her fel­low Main­ers need in their next sen­a­tor is “bipar­ti­san­ship in the name of bipar­ti­san­ship, where every­body los­es,” she said, allud­ing to Collins’ lousy vot­ing record.

Ques­tions posed to the pan­elists by the audi­ence ranged from how nation­al pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions can sup­port can­di­dates at the state and local lev­el to the impact that the imple­men­ta­tion of the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act has had on the polit­i­cal land­scape. The pan­elists empha­sized the need to sup­port bold pro­gres­sive can­di­dates run­ning all over the coun­try, even in areas that might not be bright blue, in accor­dance with Howard Dean’s fifty-state strategy.

Bel­lows deliv­ered a par­tic­u­lar­ly com­pelling response, mak­ing a point that is part of our phi­los­o­phy and cre­do at NPI: We can either work to deter­mine our own des­tiny or allow it to be deter­mined for us by oth­ers. “We need to stop say­ing [that’s] impos­si­ble and stop say­ing nev­er,” Bel­lows said.

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