Op Ed

Democrats Must Change Strategy

Stop bashing Walker and start addressing issues like taxes.

By - Jan 19th, 2017 12:12 pm
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Evan Goyke

Evan Goyke

It’s been six years of Democrats living in the red state of Wisconsin. I’m not a fan of “red state/blue state” terminology but Wisconsinites have, in recent years, shown a consistent trend of buying the Republican message and paying them with votes.

After 2010, Democrats wondered, “How did this happen? How can we change?” The lucky break of President Barack Obama and Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2012 was not felt down-ticket, where Republicans held the advantage in the state Legislature.

After 2014, Democrats wondered, “How did this happen? How can we change?” In 2016, there was an assumption Democrats would ride a wave down-ticket. However, it was quite the opposite. Wisconsin voters favored a Republican presidential candidate for the first time since the 1980s, rejected former Sen. Russ Feingold and further rewarded Republicans with legislative seats when everyone thought Democrats had already hit rock bottom.

Yet again, Democrats are wondering, “How did this happen? How can we change?”

The answer is simple.

First, Democrats need to stop saying, “You’re voting wrong” to people who support Republicans. A vote is a calculation made by an individual based on what he or she feels is best for family, pocketbook and community. It’s a reflection of that individual’s values. Imagine someone telling you that your values are wrong. It’s an easy way to have a door slammed in your face. A voter like that will wonder, “What do they know about my values?” Don’t do it. Ever.

Second, Democrats in the state Legislature have to get to work. They’re in a deep minority, but it’s not impossible to produce results. Democratic state Rep. Evan Goyke of Milwaukee was first elected in 2012, but he’s already authored nearly 30 pieces of legislation based on criminal justice reform alone while having other bipartisan initiatives signed into law. He does it all without ever saying the words “Scott Walker.”

Third, it’s time to get real about the issues that matter. That means Democrats have to start supporting tax reform and address the burden of property taxes while creating real incentives for small businesses and farmers, aka, “Main Street.” Democrats can’t concede this issue because it’s a “Republican issue.” That’s a lazy excuse. It’s time Democrats get tough and talk about the issues that matter most in the small towns and rural communities where they need to win.

Republicans are able to march into rural communities and talk about the plight of the Wisconsin farmer in Fond du Lac County and the taxes that burden the small business owner in Wausau. There’s no reason Democrats can’t do the same while still adhering to their values.

Gerrymandering exists, yes. But Democrats can’t sit around waiting for the courts to draw new maps when they have no real agenda. Voters still will be saying, “They don’t speak for me.”

Democrats need to stop talking about Walker and start talking about their own agenda. Breaking news: Bashing Walker and issuing some press releases has gotten Democrats nowhere. It’s time to start thinking differently. Democrats don’t need expensive long-term studies to realize they can start winning if they have an agenda focused on Main Street issues, show respect to the electorate and produce some results.

With a Republican president, 2018 will see the one (near) certainty in American politics: the midterm effect. While there’s a strong probability a national wave will usher in Democratic candidates across the country, Wisconsin Democrats still need to speak the language of Main Street in order to win.

Democrats can stand up for labor, public education and all the values they hold dear while still delivering a message and results that will make voters think, “They speak for me.”

Politics is simple marketing. The party is the brand, the candidate is the product, the consumer is the voter and the currency is votes. There can be a great product being sold, but if you don’t trust the brand, you’ll stick to what you know. And, right now, Wisconsin loves that GOP soda.

Brandon Savage, M.A. is a political and communications consultant in Milwaukee and associate lecturer for University of Wisconsin Colleges.

This op ed first appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

9 thoughts on “Op Ed: Democrats Must Change Strategy”

  1. Micah says:

    Really property taxes are not my favorite, but better than the other taxes that have replaced them. Wheel taxes, sales taxes fees, parking enforcement, water bills proposed tolls. All are taxes, they create extra burdens on the tax payer, more forms, more large checks, aggravation. At least with income and property taxes, they only appear once a year, represent little paperwork, and as a bonus are easily deducted on federal taxes. Democrats are unwittingly playing into the Republican hands by going along with this rhetoric. Not saying I want to pay more in taxes, but I do not enjoy cutting 100 dollar checks every month for some stupid fine, fee or assessment. Lets grow up, pay our bills, and quit hiding taxes in blizzards of bs paperwork.

  2. Caligula says:

    A lot of truth in what you say. Democrats keep losing for one reason though, hubris. The fact is, a true progressive like Bernie would’ve won Wisconsin and the Presidency but the Democratic Party conspired against him and sided with the big corporate-statist Hillary instead. Big mistake. All Democrats need to do in Wisconsin is run a real grass roots progressive campaign and they will win.

  3. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    This article is why Dems lose. Failing to accurately brand Scott Walker as A BS’ING LIAR WHO DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT 99% OF WISCONSINITES is inexcusable, and doing so has the added benefit of being true. Instead we get this milquetoast, debate-society “work together” garbage that has no relevance to the vast majority of people, and looks pathetically weak when Republicans refuse to be as nice and respectful.

    Another thing Brandon totally avoids is the fact that the Republicans have a propaganda machine that tests, reiterates and focuses their message for hours each day. The DPW clings to this outdated thought that the way to reach people in rural and low-info white Wisconsin is to waste time in your car and knock on their door, and those 15 minutes will somehow counteract the numerous hours of GOP-perganda that those people are exposed to. And then the Dems react by starting to run ads in October when casual people never want to see ads. Dems should be investing time and money in a messaging machine, complete with billboards, events and even bought time on local radio, but instead they allow GOPs to take up all the noise for months at a time.

    Dems shouldn’t be selling convoluted “incentives for small business,” and chasing soccer Moms. They should be hammering on the INVESTMENTS THAT MAKE WISCONSIN A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE- good public schools, green spaces and outstanding scenery that people want to see, high-quality infrastructure instead of pothole-laden traffic jams, and a tolerant, smart populace that looks out for its fellow citizen.

    And you know what especially the DPW needs to do? STOP WORKING WITH LIFETIME POLITICAL SUITS LIKE BRANDON SAVAGE! This is the type of hotshot city pro that has never held a real job and never had to make ends meet (or certainly doesn’t act like he does), and blue-collar voters can spot a phony like this guy a mile away. Nation Consulting and similar chop shops where guys like Savage are hired guns who only care about grabbing commissions, and care a lot less about whether real change for the good ever happens. Seriously, outside of some 6-figure paychecks, what has this guy ever won to make himself some kind of political expert?

    Get more people who won’t apologize about being progressive Dems, won’t back down from the right-wing lie machine, and are in it to end this disastrous Age of Fitzwalkerstan and restore most of Wisconsin to somewhere that can attract talent and raise a family in (because it’s not anymore). Use the legit anger that small-town white guys have from being stuck in a no-win situation, and direct them to the people that are really screwing them- corporate America and their GOP puppet politicians like Scott Walker. Do that, and you’ll win in 2018 and many years afterwards.

  4. happyjack27 says:

    When Walker stops doing horrible stupid corrupt crap, we’ll stop reporting on it.

    Deal. We all have to deal with the consequences, the least you can do is deal with knowing about them.

  5. happyjack27 says:

    I 100% agree with Jake.

  6. Jeff Olson says:

    I agree that the Dems have to come up with some appeal to the voters other than “You voted for that “BS’ING LIAR WHO DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT 99% OF WISCONSINITES” because you are an idiot, but if you take this smart pill, you’ll be smart enough to vote for us.

  7. Jeff Olson says:

    I agree that the Dems have to come up with some appeal to the voters other than “You voted for that “BS’ING LIAR WHO DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT 99% OF WISCONSINITES” because you are an idiot, but if you take this smart pill, you’ll be smart enough to vote for us.”

  8. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Jeff- The 25% deplorable crowd won’t care that Walker is called a liar, and a sizable amount of those who do care will nod and say “THAT SOB LIED TO ME!”

    I’m really tired of wasting time worrying about the feelings of a few snowflakes who aren’t tough enough to admit a mistake. Given Walker’s low-40s approval, it’s obvious many Wisconsinites already know they screwed up. Now it’s time for Dems to remind those peopke that the only way to change the downward course of this state, and the only way to stop the corruption is to KICK THE GOP OUT.

    Misdirected anger worked for Drumpf, no reason legitimate anger can’t work for Dems.

  9. happyjack27 says:

    Well there’s the fact conservatives process information differently (and i use that phrase loosely): https://braindecoder.com/post/politics-neuroscience-1282982492

    So it’s not necessarily symmetric.

    I’d still agree though – just keep speaking the truth. But in the meantime, do studies, try to figure out how to get new information into the conservative brain. It’s an enigma.

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