Yes, the national news is an epic spectacle, a seemingly endless ribbon of majestic trash unfurling by the minute before our eyes. And the wide Democratic presidential field commands (and demands) a lot of attention. But we have to tear our gaze away from the national stage and look down-ballot. To get into the long game of progressive opportunity and strategy, we have to focus on state legislatures – right now.
Let’s be clear: 2019 is not an off-year. As of today, it is two weeks until the 2019 general elections, and they are absolutely critical for Democrats. The marquee contests this year are in Virginia, which is a blue state trapped in a purple state’s district lines. After historic gains in the state house in 2017, Democrats are poised to flip both the state senate and the state house this year. This would deliver a blue trifecta to Democrats in a critical battleground state.
As I wrote a few months ago, flipping Virginia blue is not going to be a walk-through. These are tight contests, and Democratic success is not guaranteed. The good news is that it is not too late to get involved. If we all pitch in just a little to these small races, we can work together to ensure Democrats succeed in VA, which would have tremendous national implications.
I. Two Reasons to Care about State Legislatures:
1. Most States Control Redistricting
In 37 states, the state legislature is in charge of redistricting. Although we’re the only industrialized country in the world to do it this way, once a decade, the political party in power gets to redraw both state and congressional voting district lines. When the lines are manipulated strategically (“gerrymandered”), it allows the party in power to win a rigged, unfair number of seats for the next ten years.
State legislatures have been a secret weapon of Republicans for decades. Democrats were blindsided by Republicans’ evil genius REDMAP strategy to take over state legislatures in 2010, and lost 20 state legislative chambers in just one night. Republicans were then able to draw the maps across the country, baking in their power until 2020. Our next shot is NOW: this year and next, we will elect the state legislators who will be in power during the next round of districting. These state races are our last chance to change the balance of power for the next decade.
2. The Supreme Court is Dead, Long Live the Supreme Court
State laws have a profound, and growing, impact on our daily lives. Although it’s hard to pass policy at a national level, state legislatures can get things done. Access to education, healthcare (including abortion), the environment, voting rights and various aspects of census implementation are just a few of the areas within the purview of state legislatures.
The growing power of states is aided by an increasingly conservative Supreme Court, which is working hard to narrow the ways in which federal laws can protect us. Recent Supreme Court decisions gutting the Voting Rights Act (Shelby v. Holder) and holding that federal courts cannot remedy partisan gerrymandering (Rucho v. Common Cause) are part of a broader trend in which the Court is defanging federal laws and rights. The constitutional buck, so to speak, increasingly stops at the state level. And this trend will continue regardless of who occupies the White House or Congress for the next generation. This makes electing progressives to state legislatures everywhere more important than ever before.
II. Two Reasons to Care About Virginia’s 2019 Races:
1. Virginia is a National Bellwether
OK, so states matter. But why Virginia? First of all, Virginia’s ‘off-year’ contests tend to be a critical bellwether for the following year’s national elections. Political pundits and leaders look to Virginia’s pre-presidential year elections for indications of how voters are feeling about policy issues, campaign messages, and to gauge party momentum. Because VA’s state legislative elections this year are widely seen as a test case for next year, they are attracting donations from big donors including the Koch brother and the NRA, as well as appearances by national politicians including Mike Pence, Beto O’Rourke, and Cory Booker, each of whom has campaigned alongside Virginia’s state legislative candidates and caucuses this year. Flipping the state legislature blue this year would give Democrats tremendous momentum going into next year’s national races, and demonstrate the party’s organizing power and energy.
2. A Blue Virginia Will Help All Americans
Also, a blue Virginia would deliver nationally-relevant policy gains to all Americans. One excellent example of this is that Virginia is poised to be the 38th, and final, state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Virginia House Delegates Jennifer Carroll Foy and Hala Ayala (both Sister District endorsees!) have fought hard to have the VA legislature take up the ERA, but their efforts have been thwarted by the Republican majority. Flipping VA blue this year would mean a near guarantee that the state legislature would indeed pass measures to allow ratification to proceed. This would have profound national implications for all of us.
III. Two Ways To Get Involved Right Now:
Fantastic Democrats are running for the senate and house this year. My organization, Sister District, is supporting 4 candidates running for the VA senate and 8 candidates running for the VA house. You can learn more about them, and donate to our 2019 slate. All funds donated go directly to the candidates; Sister District does not take any cut.
2. Volunteer – From Near or Far.
When you sign up with Sister District, you’ll be automatically routed to your nearest team, and given opportunities to volunteer. We have about 75 teams across the country, and each one is working hard to elect a couple of our endorsed candidates this year. You can canvass, phonebank, textbank, and postcard. If you prefer to do those activities on your own, that’s ok too. And if you’re already part of a different volunteer group that might like to take on some Sister District activities, that’s great too. We’ve got affiliate groups all across the country. Feel free to email us if you have any questions about how to get involved – info at sisterdistrict dot com.
This year and next, dozens of states will be holding ‘last chance’ races — these are the last chance to elect more Democrats ahead of redistricting. Sister District and our allies will be working hard to drive resources and attention to these critical races. These are small races with budgets often in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars — compared to the multi-millions required for any federal race. A little support goes a very long way, and state races provide us all with tremendous bang for our volunteer (and literal) buck. If we all mix a bit of advocacy toward state races into our volunteering and donating portfolios, we can collectively ensure fairer districts and feed our progressive leadership and policy pipelines for years to come. Let’s all work together to flip Virginia blue!
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