February 2005 Archives

Learning to Frame

There is a very interesting piece over on Blue Oregon by a guest columnist, Edward LeClaire of Portland, entitled "Dean, Lakoff and the Elephant".  The article is about framing and the author comments on a Howard Dean/Richard Perle debate held in Portland a few days ago.  He gives some examples from the debate and then basically says that good as Dean is on many things, he has to get a better grasp on framing.  He ends with this:

The framing of debates on a national scale has dire repercussions at the local level. Here in Oregon, the national framing has left us victim to national groups that target Oregon and its initiative process. We are left in a strange situation where a popular democratic governor has admitted defeat on the tax front and plans to balance the budget with only current funding. That's what not paying attention to frames gets us. Although I really like Dean and tend to agree with him, his leadership on framing shows me that we must lead him from the ground up, framing the debate for ourselves as we go.

His post resonated because we have pretty similar issues up here.

We can see when framing works well.  When I was at the Clean Car Hearing last Thursday, I saw a well orchestrated, well framed discussion and the Democrats, both panelists and legislators, came off like champs.  If you missed that post, check it out here.

But we are no where near consistent yet.  I am still concerned about the Washington Republicans ploy of calling for a "revote" in the gubernatorial election.  As others have said, the word and the way it is used connotes just one more in the series of constitutionally established vote counts after the three we had last fall rather than an entirely new, extra-constitutional step.  It is being framed as the "fair" thing to do and Republicans continue to send in money to keep that lawsuit going and to keep the issues in the public eye.  It seems to me that the Democrats have still not figured out how to talk about this issue locally or nationally well.

I may feel a bit more concerned than most because I was in California during the six months prior to Governor Gray Davis' recall and the subsequent gubernatorial free-for-all which Schwarzenegger won hands down.  I watched while the Democrats to a person sat back paralysed, seemingly not believing what was happening in front of us.

With luck and a good dose of common sense, we will ride this "revote" nonsense out but if, by any chance, the 2004 governor's election is set aside, I fear that the Democrats will be starting from a cold start while the Republicans are good and revved up.  Learning to frame means working the conversation amongst ourselves, reaching an understanding of what the real issues are and then presenting that in a way that people can understand. 

Environmental Lobbying Day

Last Thursday, environmental groups from around the state provided an opportunity for citizen lobbyists to talk to their legislators about the environmental issues that matter to them.  Jim Dawson and People for Puget Sound did a great job organizing it - providing a space and food and bringing in great speakers and setting up appointments with legislators. This is the 14th year of the event and there were a record 400 people who came together to listen, learn, talk to their legislators and participate in the process.  Environmental groups have focused on four legislative priorities for this session and the day revolved around better understanding and articulating these issues:

  • High Performance Green Buildings
  • Sound Solutions: Saving Hood Canal and Puget Sound
  • Phasing Out Toxic Flame Retardants (PBDEs)
  • Cleaner Cars, Cleaner Air
Lisa Brown

After an overview of the issues in the morning, State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Governor Chris Gregoire spoke.  Brown began by voicing the reason for the importance of citizen lobbyists, saying that "the organized voice of the people is the counter-balance to the big money interests."  She said that with the slim Democratic majority and Gregoire in office, environmentalists can play more offense than defense and provide an important alternative to what is going on in the other Washington.

I missed Gregoire's talk since it was time for me to meet with my own state senator but Charlotte Smyth of Castle Rock filled me in later.  She said that she was deeply moved by what the governor said.  Gregoire very clearly integrated the need for environmental stewardship and economic benefit and talked about they work together.  The less disease, the less pollution we have to clean up, the less long-term expense for the government.  She expressed a passionate concern for the seriousness of the cause and the responsibility we have to take political action to make a difference.

I met a lot of folks at Lobbying Day, people who had been politically active all their lives, others who were relatively new at it or who were returning to activism because the times call for it.

Tom Nivens of Poulsbo works with the Kitsap Conservation Voters to interview candidates about their environmental priorities.  He said that citizen lobbying makes a big difference.  He worked on educating Phil Rockefeller, formerly a Representative from the 23rd Legislative District and now the Senator from the 23rd, on environmental issues over time and says that Rockefeller became ever more willing to support environmental concerns as he saw that his constituents wanted that.  Nivens campaigned for the Representative who took his place, Sherry Appleton, who starts out as a firm supporter of environmental causes.

Cathy Farrar lives in the northern portion of Ballard and is in the 36th District.  She spends a lot of time outdoors.  She has just retired and wants to see what she can do about the reduction in quality of the waterways.  She is committed to fighting for better conditions for the ospreys she likes to watch nesting near the Duwamish River. 

Carol Poole of Kirkland was also here for the first time. She said that she was very impressed with the level of organization for the event. She really respects People for Puget Sound and what they do and finds it exciting to have a proactive agenda rather than have to always focus on harm reduction.

I spent part of my day with the dozen or so other folks from the 36th Legislative District.  We met in the morning with Senator Jeannie Kohl-Welles who was a co-sponsor of every bill we were intending to talk about so we mostly thanked her and asked what we could do, given we're in a District with pretty supportive Legislators.  She suggested that we talk with friends, family and colleagues in other areas and ask them to write letters and visit their legislators.  She also suggested that we support the Seattle Monorail bill which is continuing to meet some resistance. 

Later we met with Nelda Griffiths, the longtime Administrative Aide for Helen Sommers.  We were not as convinced of Sommers' support so we took some time to prepare by deciding who would speak on each of the four issues and how we could get a commitment from Sommers to vote for each of the bills.   It was good practice and we developed some skills in group lobbying.  Nelda, experienced as she is, made it seem as if Sommers would support us on everything.  We'll monitor that. 

The rest of the team also met with an aide of Mary Lou Dickerson, also a strong support of environmental issues and co-sponsor of the four bills we were most interested in.  I took the opportunity to go back to the staging area and sit in on two educational break-out sessions so didn't catch that.

 Later in the day I went back for a Clean Cars Hearing.  Washblog did a nice job in their post on Lobby Day on this hearing.  I want to confirm that it was quite an experience.  The folks at Climate Solutions did a great job of organizing the Pro panels and anticipating the arguments of the Con panels.  The Democratic representatives did a great job asking questions to challenge the patently absurd statistics provided by the industry representatives. It made me very proud that Washington State is in a position to let sanity proceed and made me even more determined to help elect more Democrats to the State Legislature in 2006.

Participation Made Easy - Environmental Lobby Day

A number of environmental groups have joined together to sponsor Environmental Lobby Day in Olympia this Thursday, Feb. 17th.  It's a wonderful opportunity to get some training on how to lobby, to meet your own legislators and to speak up for your favorite environmental causes.  There will be pizza lunch and a small party afterwards to make it even more fun.  Cruise over to People for Puget Sound, the overall organizers, to learn more and sign up.   Or get more information about the day from the Progressive Majority folks on their site.

How Do You Catch a Cloud and Pin it Down?

One of the big challenges/opportunities for Democrats coming out of this last election cycle has been the question of how to harness the energy unleashed by Howard Dean supporters. There is a general sense that none of the other major Democratic figures, including John Kerry, fully understood that desire to be involved and make a contribution. In the end that seems to be a major reason why the Democratic establishment finally turned to Dean as DNC Chair. The grassroots was with him from the beginning.

Ray MinchewRay Minchew and the Democracy for Washington organization have been at the forefront of learning to work with this new grassroots energy.

Democracy for Washington is an offshoot of Democracy for America, the original Dean organization that grew out of his primary race. We interviewed Ray about how his organization has defined itself and what it is doing to build a core of active, effective organizers from the ranks of the people brought more deeply into the political process in this last year and a half.

See the extended entry for the interview. You may also be interested in the interview with Dean Nielsen and Progressive Majority that we did last week. 

Interview with Ray Minchew, Director of Democracy for Washington

Q. Clarify first how Democracy for Washington and Democracy for America work together.

RM: Democracy for America (DfA) deals with the larger national issues. We formed Democracy for Washington (DfW) a year ago as a way of having a local conversation and to serve as a focal point for the Howard Dean organization in this state. There is no sharing of funds. Federal regulation doesn't allow that. We communicate about events and may put things up on each other's blogs. That's it.

Q. Talk a bit about the Howard Dean phenomenon.

RM: During the primary, Howard Dean meant a lot to a lot of people. He was able to give people a sense that they could be engaged as activists at every level. The campaign put out a blog that was very empowering to people and gave them a sense that they were being listened to and they could have an impact on the Presidential race. 

When I formed DfW, along with some other folks, we came to realize that Dean was what I now call a "value sponge".

Like Bush seems to be? Yes.

People everywhere thought that Dean shared their beliefs, their values. I had never thought that my views and Dean's views overlapped 100%. But when I started to clarify what Dean believed, I got a lot of push-back. People had different understandings of what they thought Dean stood for and it was hard to get everyone on the same page. 

The genius of Howard Dean and Joe Trippi was that they relinquished control. It is a very difficult thing to do. The impulse is to keep control of the reins, not to let it go. It is very gutsy to say that we're going to let the grassroots run this thing. And that's what they did. 

Q: Have any of the other Democrats figured that out yet?

RM: John Kerry ran a very good campaign but he never got that idea of fully engaging activists at every level. Paul Berendt genuinely understands what Dean did and wants to do the same thing. He is struggling with how to do it.

Q: Is there a downside?

RM: Certainly. Howard Dean got into trouble with a lack of message control. He is moving toward more of a middle ground now. I think Paul Berendt is also moving toward that middle ground, like many Democratic leaders.

There are lots of Dean folks in the Party organization now. It will make a big difference. 

Q:  So why and how did you start Democracy for Washington?

RM: Many of the Dean staffers played poker every Tuesday night and we just kept playing and talking even after Dean lost the primary. We debated what to do. Should we join another organization? After a while it became obvious that there needed to be a place where people could go with that energy that had come out of the Dean organization. We looked at how to do that. We didn't want to wait for the DfA to come up with something. 


I kept asking people who we could get to lead this organization. Finally I just did it. Most of us were new to politics so we stumbled around a bit. We turned to our existing network to build an email list and a website. We didn't quite know what we were going to do and worked hard to figure that out. Luckily we had a lot of active people in the Puget Sound area and they showed up and brought friends and became involved.

Initially we saw ourselves as a Dean organization but the Kerry and Kucinich folks asked us to open up and accept new people. Interestingly enough, in the process we lost some of the Dean folks.

Q: What have you done since then?

RM: We organized a successful Democratic gubernatorial forum here early spring with Gregoire, Sims and Talmadge. Other than that, during the campaign season we were part of the general noise, not highly successful. We sent people to work for Kerry and for Don Barbieri. We worked with Jay Inslee to sponsor two showings of "Fahrenheit 9/11" which raised $5,000 that went to some local candidates and to MoveOn.org. 

Q: And since the election? What have you done and what are you planning on doing?

RM: We held a meeting to get organized and pass some bylaws. Next, we are going out around the state to talk with local activists in Yakima, Spokane, Bellingham, Vancouver and Olympia. We want to teach people at the local level how to identify people who can win elections. And we want to find out what they want DfW to do.

Once we get through the initial round of meetings, we'll start talking about the 2005-2006 elections. We want to be out in front, organizing in neighborhoods. We will start focusing on networking events and pull people together to go out and do the work that needs to be done. Politicians need to see that DfW can help them. We want them to see that we will cover their backs so that they can take more risks.  We believe that recruiting progressives is critical.  We want to find our own people and build our bench. 

Q: How do you work with other organizations like the Democratic Party and Progressive Majority?

RM: We haven't worked really closely with the Democratic Party lately other than helping them to advertise events. The Party has been responding to the Republican re-vote campaign and that's not really our role. But we are sending people into the Democratic Party. We hope to be more closely aligned with the DNC, especially now that Dean is the new Chair.

We work closely with Dean Nielsen, Director, and Edie Gilliss, Political Director, over at Progressive Majority. They have a lot more political experience and are helping us get organized. We meet every few weeks to talk about goals.

Q: What do you see changing as a result of Dean becoming the Chair of the DNC?

We believe that Dean was our Goldwater, changing how people view politics. His campaign will affect campaigns moving forward. We are asking our base to donate monthly membership dues right away to the DNC to show our support for Dean.

Follow-up on the Democratic Party Election

Last weekend the Washington State Democratic Party reelected Paul Berendt as Party Chair. Paul needed 86 votes to win and received 100 with the remainder spread between the three other candidates. It is possible there would have been a different result except that there was a sense on the part of the elected officials that, with the lawsuits pending from the gubernatorial election, this was not a good time to change leaders, and they made their preferences known.

Paul said that he is going to focus on developing the grassroots in 2005, including the addition of a full time organizer in Eastern Washington, grant funding for district projects, enhanced outreach to Latino communities, improved voterfile data and systems for PCO's, and expanded low-donor internet fundraising. This is a good agenda to work from. 

As a follow-up to our series of interviews with the candidates prior to the election, we have asked the folks who didn't win - Greg Rodriguez, Kat Overman and Bill Phillips - what advice they have for Paul, what they might emphasize and what they might add to flesh out that agenda. We figure that the forty percent of the electors who voted for an alternative candidate had some specific things on their collective minds. Here's the abbreviated list of what Greg, Kat and Bill think the Democratic Party needs to do to thrive in this state:

  1. Develop a presence in Eastern Washington
  2. Upgrade the technology
  3. Knock on doors
  4. Establish better relationships with the full range of Party members at all levels
  5. Invest in races at the local level
  6. Reach out to Unions and other progressive Organizations
  7. Operate like a business
  8. Increase the level of customer service
  9. Craft and communicate a message that resonates beyond the red wall

Together these three tell us that if we have the messages honed well and have a smooth operation, especially a smooth communications operation, we can change the political landscape in Washington State. We can engage that large group of people who became more involved during the last election cycle and move past putting Washington securely into the blue column and help change the way the people here think about democracy and think about their role in government.

Read more on each of the above.

  1. Develop a presence in Eastern Washington - Establish a satellite office east of the mountains, develop a strong message that reaches folks outside the urban areas, and raise our visibility all over the state. There is a sense that Democrats in Eastern Washington do not feel like they are getting the help they need to elect Democrats.
  2. Upgrade the technology - Make absolutely sure that our data is accurate and provide PCO's and other on-the-ground canvassers with the technology they need to manipulate the data and get it back into the databases. . and, as anyone who had to work with the data from this last election knows, we need better voter data.
  3. Knock on doors - Working house by house to develop relationships and understand people's issues is critical to changing the political landscape. Kat calls it "cultivating gardens". It also keeps good people involved in the process and it is the only way to get good voter data.
  4. Establish better relationships with the full range of Party members at all levels - Learn, utilize and model the inclusive networking skills that make people want to be part of the Party apparatus. There is a strong sense that the Party needs to reach out to new people who've become active in the last year or we will lose that energy to other organizations or just lose it period.
  5. Invest in races at the local level - Create and support a farm team of Democrats to run for the School Boards, the City Councils, the Mayoral races. This not only provides a stronger Democratic presence at the level of governance that is closest to most people but it builds a farm team of people available to run for higher office.
  6. Reach out to Unions and other progressive Organizations - Mend fences with the Unions and strive for Party unity. Again, unless we do, we will lose a lot of people or at least diminish that solid support.
  7. Operate like a business - As Greg kept saying, treat the LD and County folks like managers. Provide leadership; involve them in the decision-making and the message-crafting. Share best practices. Develop and share great training programs for PCO's and garden tenders and citizen lobbyists. Highlight issues and give direction about what people can do to influence decisions about the issues they care about.
  8. Increase the level of customer service - Anyone who calls the office or volunteers or deals with Democratic officials, friendly or not, needs to be respected and served as well as possible.
  9. Craft and communicate a message that resonates beyond the red wall - Bill talks eloquently about the importance of understanding what will win people over and about the different ways to think about approaching urban and rural voters.

If the Democratic Party were starting up today it might look a lot like Progressive Majority:

  • It would be lean and visionary and offer tremendous opportunities for progressives to take part in deepening our democracy and refocusing this country on a heartfelt progressive agenda, one that the majority of people could get behind.
  • It would have up-to-date databases and a website that was updated regularly and kept people excited about what was going on.
  • It would routinely ask its members about their concerns and it would pay attention to their answers.
  • It would bring cool speakers to town and it would stay connected with the other progressive organizations in town and across the country.

In the last few years a number of new national-scale progressive organizations have been started to help fill some of the roles that the Democratic Party has been unable or unwilling to fill on its own.  In Washington State, one of the most robust of these "shadow party" organizations is Progressive Majority. We recently interviewed Dean Nielsen, Director of Progressive Majority in Washington State, and learned a lot about how the organization came to be, what their vision is and where they're headed in the wake of a 2004 election cycle that was tough nationally for progressives, but a bit sweeter closer to home.

Read on for the full interview...

Q: How did Progressive Majority come to be and who are you?

DN: The national organization was founded in 2001 by Gloria Trotten. As it became clear that the Republicans were taking the helm of all our national political institutions, it occurred to us that maybe it was the wrong strategy to put all our eggs in the Presidential basket. Perhaps it would make more sense to focus on the House and Senate. The organization took a look at the success and tactics of Emily's List, another progressive organization, and began raising money by bundling checks from individuals and sending that money, $1.2 million in 2002, directly to the candidates we were supporting.

After the 2002 debacle, we examined what had happened to the Democratic Party and why it was so terribly unsuccessful going up against the Republicans. We looked at the different strategies the two parties had taken back in the 1970s, the last time there was a round of campaign reform in both parties, a time when the Republicans were in far worse shape than the Democrats.

The left choose to organize around constituency groups, i.e. environmental groups, women's groups, labor and so on. The right took a different tack. They became multi-issue. They started think tanks and multi-issue political action committees to do candidate recruitment and training at a national and local level. GOPAC, for example, was founded in 1974 by Pierre DuPont and then taken over in 1984 by Newt Gingrich. By 1994, when the Republicans took control of Congress, 100 of the Republicans in Congress had been through GOPAC.

So, in 2003, Progressive Majority launched a competing program for recruiting and developing candidates. They selected three states to start in - Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington. They wanted different geographic locations and they wanted each location they chose to be a swing state at the Presidential level, the Congressional level and the Legislative level. They also wanted states with bi-partisan Congressional re-districting and large minority groups if possible.

Election year 2004 was the launch. Progressive Majority opened the Washington State office in April of last year and asked me to be Director here. Although they came in too late to recruit, Progressive Majority endorsed and supported 51 candidates statewide, mostly at the Legislative level, although they also targeted three of the Washington State Congressional candidates.

Nationally, Progressive Majority targeted 10 House races and 4 Senate races. Two of the 4 Senate candidates won and 9 of the 10 House candidates.

Q: What did you do for these candidates?

We hosted a lot of political training sessions where candidates and their staff can go to learn about fund-raising, organization, messaging. We are very aggressive about messaging. We have a public opinions and messaging specialist we bring in to help. We work on framing, organizing responses and getting across the messages of the left.

And we keep helping these folks throughout the campaign.

Q: And now that the election is over?

DN: Now we're really getting active. Unlike other organizations, we are actually doing more now. We are hosting and publicizing events of interest, such as the recent visit by Robert Kennedy Jr., and encouraging more membership involvement. We just hired Edie Gilliss as Political Director and Christine Clapp as the Finance Director, both of whose bios are on the website. We are very bullish on Washington State and plan to be very active in 2005 and 2006.

Q: What are you doing to partner with other progressive organizations?

DN:  We are reaching out and engaging progressives at the grassroots level. We are asking people to help us develop our agenda. That method was one of the reasons the Howard Dean campaign was so successful. We want to enable the progressive community to find our own voice and set the agenda that makes sense to us collectively. It also needs to be an on-going strategy, about the ideas, such issues as health care for children and protecting the environment.

Progressive Majority has a Council of people who help us establish our agenda from many different progressive organizations in the state.  It includes people from the Washington State Labor Council and many individual labor organizations, both the state Senate and House Democratic Campaign Committees, NARAL, the WEA, Washington Conservation Voters, the Washington State Trial Lawyers and many others. We are aggressively expanding that Council and are particularly focused on involving communities of color. This Council is designed to help clarify issues and prevent potential difficulties that can arise between different constituency groups, such as labor and the environmental community. This is a place where everyone can come together and find candidates that we agree on and support them.

We have a particularly strong partnership with Democrats for Washington and Democrats for America, both formed out of the Howard Dean campaign. In August, Howard Dean was in Seattle and we announced a partnership. We think that is very important. We talk together. We see lots of ways that we can bring the power of the large DfW and DfA memberships together with the in-depth understanding of the Progressive Majority membership.

Q: What about Eastern Washington?

DN: We had a campaign training in Spokane in July, the only training that I know of there in the last 10 years. We supported a candidate in the 6th LD in Spokane, Laurie Dollan. She lost but she got an amazing 49.1 % of the vote. She is now Policy Director for Gregoire's administration.

Q: What is your connection to the Democratic Party?

DN: A group like this needs strong ties with the Democratic Party. I was President of the Young Democrats and have been a long time activist in the Democratic Party in this state. I don't see us as being adversarial. I know most of these folks and have long-term relationships with them.

Because of the internal structure of the DNC and the state parties, it is very hard for the Party to focus on the long-term. The Republicans do a far better job of this. There is an Office of Strategic and Long-term Planning in the RNC. They make strategic decisions that effect elections years out ahead. It shows.

Learning to Lobby - Another Step in Citizen Responsibility

future_citizen_lobbyists_2.JPGA couple of weeks ago on this blog [Evergreen Politics], Jon posted information on a session that the Sierra Club was holding to teach people how to become citizen lobbyists. It was held on Sunday, January 23rd in a library in Olympia. It was a blast, both informative and fun.

There were about thirty people from all over the Western part of the state in attendance. Some were long time active Sierra Club members; others were newly involved in the political process. When Holly Forrest, the facilitator, asked us what our burning issues were, they included urban sprawl, car efficiency and alternative fuels, global warming, toxic substances and green buildings.

Holly is the Legislative Chair of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, the Cascade Chapter, which includes all of Western Washington and some of Eastern Washington. She developed this program to engage interested citizens in the process. They are hoping to develop a corps of folks across the state to influence their legislators to help pass upcoming environmental legislation, assist in educating the wider public on the issues and elect more environmentally friendly legislators over time. As Holly said of the current Sierra Club strategy in a recent press release,

We have a strong agenda, some new environmental leaders we helped elect, and we're getting a lot of Sierra Club member who want to get more involved because they're so frustrated with what the Bush Administration is doing.

Holly ForrestDuring the four hour program, we got a basic rundown of how bills make it through to becoming laws from Nick Forrest, Holly's husband and a professor at Clark College in Vancouver and then a lesson in the political realities of Washington State from Craig Engelking, the Sierra Club lobbyist in Olympia. Craig talked about how the different individual legislators tend to vote on various environmental issues, what has changed since the last session and how the different voting groups can best be influenced.

Then Holly and Craig, along with other Sierra Club staff and volunteers, talked in more detail about what lobbying entails and how to be effective and then talked about the critical environmental issues that are on their agenda for this session. They stressed how much legislators want to hear from their constituents and how willing they are to listen to us. They suggested we all get on the email or mailing lists of our legislators and make ourselves known to them as people in their districts who are interested in key issues.

I personally signed right up with my State Senator as soon as I got home. A few days later, we got an email with two pages of opportunities to practice our new lobbying skills. There were notes on hearings to attend, calls to make and days set up to spend time with our legislators discussing environmental issues. They even make calls to set up appointments with our legislators for us at other times if we want. These guys are pros!

What jumped out for me is how much people are willing to go to the next level in making government work in this state and in this country. There were thirty people there and an equal number had been unable to make this session. Many of the participants had become involved in the elections last year and now wanted to be part of whatever comes next. They were willing to take the time to learn to lobby, to develop relationships with their own legislators and to learn how to influence others to do the same.

It is indicative of the resolve that I saw come out of the elections last fall. We seem to be ready to take our citizenship more seriously. I am hoping that the Democratic Party and other progressive organizations begin running similar sessions for their members and others interested in taking our involvement to another level. Holly said she'd be happy to assist any other progressive group develop their own lobbying program. You can also email her if you would be interested in attending the next session.


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