At the top of this page, you can see Blue Virginia’s motto: “think globally, blog locally.” What that means, mostly, is that we believe strongly that while we should remain informed and engaged on national and world issues, the primary focus of our political activism should be at the state and local level. Why is that? Several reasons.
1. Your impact is far, far greater at the state and local level than at the national level. For instance, let’s say you give a $100 donation to a presidential campaign which raises $1 billion. Your donation makes up one TEN MILLIONTH of the total money raised by said presidential campaign. In other words, it’s nice of you to give, but your donation is essentially meaningless in the broader picture. Now, let’s say you give a $100 donation to a Virginia House of Delegates campaign, which let’s say raises a total of $100,000. That means your contribution makes up one THOUSANDTH of the total money raised by said HoD campaign. Proportionally speaking, your $100 contribution to the HoD campaign has 10 THOUSAND times the “bang for the buck” as your $100 contribution to the presidential campaign (one thousandth of the money raised vs. one ten millionth of the money raised). To put it another way, you’d have to give $1 million to the presidential campaign to equal the proportional impact your $100 has to the HoD campaign. Good luck with that.
2. Same thing with your vote. In a presidential election, in the vast majority of states, your vote is utterly meaningless, as your state is likely non-competitive, either “red” or “blue,” and given that it’s generally “winner take all” for the state’s electoral votes. Even in states where your vote DOES matter, we’re talking about millions of votes cast (around 3.9 million cast in 2012 for Obama or Romney), which means your 1 vote is a tiny fraction of that. In a House of Delegates election, in stark contrast, we’re usually talking 25,000-40,000 votes total, with the winning margin in competitive races often just a few hundred, or possibly a few thousand, votes. Thus, your vote – and as many of your friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, etc. as you can persuade to vote – makes a proportionately enormous difference compared to your vote at the presidential level. Your vote also matters tremendously in party primaries, where frequently elections are decided by just a handful of votes. Yet turnout is much higher in “presidential” and “federal” elections than state and local ones. That’s insane.
3. Unlike at the national level, where even if the system wasn’t almost totally gridlocked thanks to Republicans’ nihilistic obstructionism, your chances of having any sizable impact on national policy decisions is not large. At the local level, your chances of making a difference are VERY large. For instance, I was told recently by a Virginia city council official that a handful of vocal citizens at the local level frequently make a huge difference in what the council decides. At the state level, consider what a few dozen (or hundred) passionate voters calling a Virginia Delegate could do to his or her thinking on an issue? And consider how much impact state legislatures have on issues ranging from women’s health to LGBT anti-discrimination to energy and environmental issues to education, taxation, voting rights, you name it. Don’t believe that? Just look at the disaster happening in North Carolina right now, since that legislature was turned over to Republican control in January 2011. How many votes were cast in the November 2010 elections in North Carolina? We’re talking 20k or 30k votes in many of the NC House of Representatives elections that year, with winning margins of just a few hundred or a few thousand votes in many cases. And that has had enormous implications – almost all negative – for North Carolina.
That’s why when I read articles like this one in Politico (“Obama’s states of despair: 2010 losses still haunt”), it utterly infuriated me. A few key takeaways that should get YOUR blood boiling too.
*”Barack Obama has spent well over $1 billion on his political campaigns, but it’s the $20 to $30 million Democrats didn’t shell out three years ago that is costing the White House as he slogs through the first six months of his second term.”
That’s right, $30 million compared to $1 billion is just 3% of the money spent on the presidential race. If that could have saved a bunch of state legislatures, prevented some seriously f***ed up redistricting (and horrible laws passed by Teahadist legislatures), wouldn’t that have been worth it? Uh yeah!
*”It’s now clear that the party’s loss of 20 state legislative chambers and critical Midwestern governor’s seats represents an ongoing threat every bit as dangerous as the more-publicized Republican take-back of the House that same year.”
Right, and groups like ALEC understand this very well. You take control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion, you can then start churning out legislation that’s a wet dream to the Koch brothers, the fossil fuel industries, big business and rich people in general. On the flip side, it’s a nightmare to everyone else. Yet big donors have such large egos, and are apparently so clueless, that they insist on “playing” at the national level, where almost nothing ever gets done, instead of flipping state legislature after state legislature, and then churning out progressive legislation on guns, the environment, clean energy, voting rights, LGBT equality, health care, education, and every other issue they (and we) care about. But nooo…good luck getting these people to put even a miniscule percentage of their vast wealth into a coordinated, intense state-level strategy. That would be too logical, apparently.
*”There was no stopping the GOP wave that year – but strategists in both parties say Obama’s team might have blunted it if they had somehow managed to cut into the GOP’s $30-to-$10 million cash advantage in state house races by making campaigns at the very bottom of the ballot a priority.”
And guess what: history appears to be repeating itself right here in Virginia in 2013. Here’s what we’re talking about right now: as of July 17, “Republicans hold a 2:1 cash-on-hand advantage over Democrats heading into House of Delegates races this fall, according to campaign finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections.” Basically, we need about $4 million or so right now to match Republicans for the House of Delegates races. WHERE IS THAT MONEY? I mean, it’s great to recruit strong candidates in many districts – which it looks like we’ve done pretty well this cycle – but it’s not much good if we don’t FUND those candidates. So, again, where’s that money? Hello rich people? Hello not-rich people? Hello Democratic delegates in deep-blue districts (e.g., Arlington, Alexandria)? What in god’s name are you DOING?!?
*”It might be the greatest opportunity cost of the Obama Era in terms of sheer damage to Democrats, a gift that keeps giving to the Republicans in the form of GOP-dominated redistricting and a barrage of state actions that challenge Obama’s core agenda on health care, civil rights and abortion.”
Again, this is the type of damage that can be done when we ignore and/or shortchange the states. It’s so stupid, I almost can’t believe it’s possible. Can Democrats really be THIS stupid? Or is it a matter of Republicans having access to a lot more money at the state level, given that a lot of their donors come from the super-rich, entrenched, and (ironically?) taxpayer-subsidized resource extraction industries (coal, oil, natural gas)? My guess is it’s both, but whatever it is, it’s not acceptable.
*””Everyone is focusing on the House as hampering us, but no one has really focused on losing all those governerships and state legislatures.”
Whoever is failing to do this needs to be fired, immediately, if they are employed by any Democratic organization anywhere. Why? Because they are utterly incompetent and have no business being in their jobs. Replace them with people who get it – the Democratic equivalent of Ed Gillespie, Lee Atwater, etc. That is, assuming we HAVE an equivalent of Ed Gillespie or Lee Atwater.
*”…when it comes to redistricting, the damage has already been done. The next chance Democrats have to fight back comes in 2020, seven long years away.”
Sad to say, but that f***up in 2010 has harmed the Democratic Party, not to mention the country, for many, many years to come. True, it was a moment of madness (and racist backlash) with the Koch-funded, “useful idiot” Tea Party movement, but that doesn’t mean we can absolve Democrats for sheer incompetence in their neglect of the state legislatures. Inexcusable.
*”At the presidential level, Democrats are able to match up with Republicans. At the state level, where spending has a more potent effect, they are less competitive… They’ve lost control of those elections and now they are at the whim of all these [conservative] superpacs.”
Well, it’s time to take back control of the state-level elections. And we can start doing that right here in Virginia in 2013, where every seat in the House of Delegates is up for grabs – including the 18 or so Obama and/or Kaine districts currently held by Republican delegates.
Oh, and of course we’ve also got important elections for Lt. Governor and Attorney General. Right now, both Ralph Northam nor Mark Herring need a LOT more resources than they’ve got. So…where are those resources? Do Democratic money folks not realize the enormous importance of controlling a) the Virginia State Senate; and b) the Virginia Attorney General’s office? If not, well…WTF? Meanwhile, at the grassroots level, where are the national progressive blogs and activists on all this? As far as I can determine, they’re totally unfocused, flitting around from this issue to that issue to the other issue, instead of focusing intensely on what they can actually do to make a difference: donate to candidates in Virginia, help fight back in North Carolina, organize to take back state legislatures and governor’s mansions across the country in 2014 and beyond, etc. Sure, it’s fun to endlessly debate the NSA, Edward Snowden, the latest crazy Republican comments, whether President Obama’s progressive enough, who our nominee should be in 2016, blah blah blah…all kinds of stuff we have almost no influence on, to be frank about it. Also, all that’s essentially worthless compared to focused effort, RIGHT NOW, on winning back state legislatures in 2013 here in Virginia, and in 2014 in other states around the country. But yeah, that would take actual work, and who wants to do that? (snark)
And perhaps THE most infuriating quote of all from the Politico article:
*”Another Democrat, directly involved in the effort to raise cash for the state efforts, said ‘we could never get our big donors to give a damn about the states. The Republicans have always been more aware of the value of the states.'”
Let me put this as bluntly as I can. Any Democratic donor who doesn’t “give a damn about the states,” and gives money only at the federal level because it’s more glamorous, because it strokes their gigantic egos, and/or because they like hanging out at soirees and cocktail party fundraisers with Presidents, Vice Presidents, First Ladies, U.S. Senators, yada yada, sucks. How do they suck? Let us count the ways, starting with the fact that they’re selfish, short-sighted jerks who think they’re doing good, but are probably hurting things more than helping, as much as they like to think of themselves as knights on white horses. Sorry, but if they let ALEC et al. run roughshod over Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, etc, etc, then those are the kinds of “friends” we can do without.
So, anyway, that’s my rant for this fine Saturday morning. I fully expect it to be completely ignored, but nonetheless, I feel better for having said it. Which, in the end, is one of the main reasons I blog…to get these frustrations out so I don’t end up punching walls and breaking my hand or whatever.