By Eric Sundquist
It may seem that for Democrats and other progressives, winning elections in Dane County is more or less a given. Not so.
In the 1990s we had a Republican Congressman, in the 2000s we had a conservative-controlled county board, and in the 2010s we had conservative-dominated councils in Verona and Sun Prairie. That’s all changed now, and while some of that progress can be chalked up to demographic evolution, that’s far from the whole story. Democrats and other progressives have worked hard, cycle after cycle, to find and train candidates, and to support them through tough campaigns.
And there’s more to do. Many town boards in the county are controlled by Republicans and, through those town boards, the influential Towns Association. The county as a whole votes blue in statewide elections, but every year there are thousands of potential Dem voters who fail to show up at the polls, making statewide victory that much harder.
In recent months, the party has enjoyed a big increase in meeting attendance and volunteering (in large part due to Trump). In fact, we just had our first contested board election in memory! The party has also been more intentional about supporting like-minded progressive organizations, including Indivisible Madison, whose leadership in resistance activities has been invaluable.
The county party needs to resist Trumpism (and Walkerism) and next year’s elections will be critical in turning back the tide. This fall, both candidates vying to take on Paul Ryan, two gubernatorial candidates, and one Supreme Court candidate have spoken at our monthly meetings. And, in January we will hear from Tim Burns, candidate for Supreme Court, and Tony Evers, candidate for governor.
We will also be making endorsements, starting with local races at our January meeting. Endorsements not only provide candidates with a stamp of approval but also help us target campaign resources.
On another front, we are working with the state party to modernize our tactics. We know that a large part of our potential electorate is young and/or mobile, people who often don’t appear on voter lists at their current addresses. We’re experimenting with new data sources that can help us reach out to these voters. The goal is increased voter turnout in the spring, when low turnout means every vote is critical, and again in the fall, when we must reclaim power at the state level.
Some other facts about the county party:
We are 100 percent volunteer-run, with an annual budget of about $20,000 from memberships and small donations.
In addition to working on elections, we have a Resolutions Committee that works on policy. Sometimes even our friendly endorsed officials need to hear from us, as they did when the county and city of Madison repeatedly fumbled efforts to open a day resource center for the homeless; today the Beacon is finally open.
Eric Sundqiust is the Vice Chair of Communications for the Democratic Party of Dane County. Learn more at https://danedems.org/