Project Wonderful

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

You need to watch this

I'm not posting this about gun violence. I'm posting this about Gabby Giffords. She is just incredible and I wanted you to see.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

It's Election O'Clock Somewhere: Texas State Senate 6

And...speaking of Texas, it's always election o'clock somewhere! In a West Wing-esque show of democracy, State Senator Mario Gallegos died of liver disease in October and was posthumously elected in November's general election.

As expected, today's special election to replace Senator Gallegos resulted in a run-off between two Democrats: Former Harris County Commissioner/City Controller Sylvia Garcia and State Representative Carol Alvarado, who has been endorsed by Gallegos' family. Interestingly State Senate District 6 has the lowest voter turnout of any of State Senate District in Texas. The runoff, which must be set by Texas Governor Rick Perry, is expected to take place in either February or March.

Let's Mess With Texas

National Democrats are taking steps to create a large-scale independent group aimed at turning traditionally conservative Texas into a prime electoral battleground, crafting a new initiative to identify and mobilize progressive voters in the rapidly-changing state, strategists familiar with the plans told POLITICO.

The organization, dubbed “Battleground Texas,” plans to engage the state’s rapidly growing Latino population, as well as African-American voters and other Democratic-leaning constituencies that have been underrepresented at the ballot box in recent cycles. Two sources said the contemplated budget would run into the tens of millions of dollars over several years - a project Democrats hope has enough heft to help turn what has long been an electoral pipe dream into reality.

Remember when I said Jeremy Bird and 270 Strategies would take on bold, exciting projects? I wasn't just whistling dixie. Behold: Battleground Texas. The idea is not new. For years Texas Democrats have been contemplating how to harness the power of Texas' large and growing youth and minority population, but as this Politico article points out, until now that project has lacked adequate funding and national attention. Enter Jeremy Bird and a “a grassroots organization that will make Texas a battleground state by treating it like one.”

On the one hand, having spent this past election day in Texas, I can tell you this is going to be a tough row to hoe. Reports are not exaggerating when they say the project would take tens of millions of dollars to be successful. On the other hand, if done correctly it could change the electoral map a we know it and force national politics in a more progressive direction as the Republican Party is forced to compete for the youth and Latino vote or die. As ambitious as the project is, as an organizer there is something incredibly sexy to me about saying "Let's take this seemingly impossible task, figure out a plan and do it." And I'm not about to be on the wrong side of underestimating expanding the electorate again.

As a very wise cheerleader once said, Bring it On!

Ask An Election Nerd: What Happens to OFA Now?

Okay nobody asked me that, but I asked myself because really, what does? So the answer is two things.

OFA big wigs Mitch Stewart (he'll always be the 2006 DFL State Director to me) and Jeremy Bird (who I can't believe I have never actually met) are starting their own consulting firm, 270 Strategies. Very little is known about the new firm but they did tweet, "We're building 270 Strategies to bring the empowering Obama grassroots model to your campaign. Follow us for updates in the coming weeks ..." As much as I am well-documentedly skeptical of applying OFA strategies to any candidate other Obama, even within the powerhouse that is OFA these are two of the guys I respect the most, plus they know better than anyone how to motivate people, so I am cautiously optimistic and really excited to see what they will do.

As for what will happen to OFA itself, after watching this video, I'm still not exactly sure.
I can tell you that Jon Carson is another one of the OFA pioneers that I greatly admire and have always wanted to meet. Based on his description, it sounds like Organizing for Action will be a lot like Organizing for American was in 2010, (remember the hot minute when I worked for OFA in Connecticut) the big question being whether OFA's new iteration will help campaign 2014 Democratic Congressional candidates as well as the President's issue agenda (which of course will round about help Democrats as well.) You can read more about that concern here.

And then of course there's all of you guys and your various grad school, legislative, military and non-profit plans. I can't wait to see what else we can do together!


Today In Voter Suppression

Thanks heaven, a Montana voter ID bill has been tabled in committee. For once I am posting something because I LOVE the comment below the article, "Could you imagine the outrage if the team with the lesser score were allowed to make new rules in the Super Bowl? If you can't win on talent, vision, or ideas, change the rules." Well done, sir!

A Yard Sign I Can Appreciate

Found on a follower's facebook wall. I have searched for this candidate on the internet but I actually can't tell whether the social media surrounding her are real or copycats. The only legit sites covering her simply have a picture of this sign and a comment like "How did she not win?" I'll leave the rest of the commentary to you.

Thank You!!!

I have so much to talk about and I told myself I wouldn't blog until I cleaned my apartment and did my reading for this week, but that has just led to me neither blogging nor reading nor cleaning...and I wanted to write this because it is somewhat time sensitive. I got back from the inaugural festivities on Friday afternoon and I just wanted to say THANK YOU.

To My OFA-ers:

You guys don't know, and I hope you never have to know, what it means to me to be included in our 2012 Presidential victory. When I tried to explain to my first-time field-organizing prom date the weight of the journey between my own campaign virginity and being at the inaugural staff ball, he cut me off. When I roll my eyes at the idea that OFA was the best and the most important campaign and its organizers were better than all other organizers, my OFA babies think I'm being cynical, but in fact I'm just old. If you've never worked on another campaign you are naive, but lucky. If you keep doing this job you're eventually going to lose.

But just like falling in love, you can't really appreciate a good victory until you've had your heart broken. I will share with you that I cried twice in full ball regalia before I even left for the ball this weekend (and more than once at the event itself.) Sure, the entire bottle of wine I consumed while getting ready didn't help, but the truth is I was just so moved thinking about far we've come. (You're welcome, drunk dialed broworkers.) To go from pajamas in the office in the 2008 Iowa Caucus for John Edwards to a ball gown for Barack Obama's second inauguration was nothing short of surreal. To be with the people who have been my mentors, my organizers, my friends, my broworkers, my campaign hookups, my boyfriends, my bosses and and my rivals, who knew me at a time when I couldn't come to DC because I was so disillusioned and so embarrassed of my reputation, dressed up, accomplished and embracing each other is better than the ending to any cheesy movie. To celebrate with them and with you, knowing I was there because you appreciate my contributions to this incredible community because I have and return your love and respect...I guarantee you I have had no wine and I am tearing up writing this.

I have no right to ask to be included. I was stubbornly not on board the OFA train until well into the 2010 elections. For all of my criticism, I've always been a little jealous because let's face it, for the past four years OFA has been the cool kids. I wouldn't trade my experiences for the world, but I sometimes can't help but fantasize about what life would be like if I had taken my 2007 offer with Obama instead of Edwards. You were right. I was wrong. I fucked up and I've never been happier to admit it. It's true, OFA was not the first or the only campaign but there is no denying that it was something very special, something that changed the face of the job I love. I am humbled that you've included me in your lives, your campaigns and your celebrations. I've thought it every time you tweeted, facebooked called or contacted me, but I wanted to make sure I said it explicitly: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

To all my other campaign people:

As I was driving down to DC with two local New York City organizers, we couldn't help remark that after a campaign "OFA gets a ball, everyone else gets a nap." When I brought this up to a first time OFA organizer he answered, without the slightest hint of sarcasm or irony, "You know why, because we deserved it. Because we were the best campaign ever. Seriously that's what they kept telling us that no field team has ever been as good as us." By now I'm sure you can anticipate my reaction this statement because I, like you, have been on the short end of the Obama stick. Don't get me wrong, he should feel that way, every organizer should feel that way...and you should too. I agree with him, the OFA field team absolutely deserves a fancy ball with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, but then again so do you. This was the kind of celebration I have always wished I could give each and every one of you (but mine would have had more food.) I know it's not realistic to hope for that. To those of you who couldn't be there I wanted to say thank you too, for the part your Democratic organizing did in electing and supporting our President and for the important role you played in electing Democrats up and down the ticket.

There are really no words to express how much this community means to me. I love you guys so much. Thank you and congratulations to all of you.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Quite Simply My Favorite Infographic Ever

I know I've said this before, but I love how simply the picture puts it. If you knock someone's door and make contact on election day, they are 10% more likely to turn out AND any registered voter in that person's home EVEN if you don't speak to him/her is 6% more likely. Door hangers increase turnout by 1%.

Powerful stuff!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Some OFA Staffers Complain About Inauguration Snub

Read about it here!

For what it's worth there are lots of former OFA people who are working on the inaugural committee. And guys, I gotta say, whether I agree with them or not, it is not good form to complain publicly and vocally on the internet about the people who are in the position to give you your next job. I've been pretty obviously absent from the PIC stuff because other than the opportunity get drunk and wear a fancy dress, I care very little about it, so I can't speak on the subject one way or another. I can say that "don't talk to the press" more or less extends to after the campaign, into your candidate's term of office, if you know what's good for you.

Said one former OFA staffer, "I'm a bit of an ass. I consider it to be a part of my charm. However, you don't go into this thinking that you'll get something out of it. Hell, I was happy I had healthcare."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ask An Election Nerd: How Do I Break Into Communications?

This is by far the most frequently asked question on my blog or maybe it just feels this way because my answer is "I have no freaking clue." Like working on the hill, or running for office, working in communications is one of those campaign worker fetishes I just don't understand. Look forward to a post on my intense dislike and suspicion of the press later this month.

Luckily I am blessed with many friendships within our little subculture and as Bob Einstein says to Jerry Seinfeld in a delightful episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee you are never too big to use your friends. (Watch that show, by the way. I have been home sick all day watching it and it is hilarious.) So, I asked Communications Guru and ultimate FOCS, Austin Webster, to help us out. This is seriously great and well thought out advice. Please feel free to tweet Austin and thank

1) Who are you?

My name is Austin. I live and work in Sacramento, California as an agency public affairs and legislative relations staffer for the state. Additionally, I do consulting for political communications and strategy for various Democratic candidates and elected offices. I have been a part of at least one campaign every year since I was 16, and have experience working in local, state, and federal elections. I’ve done everything from volunteering and field manager to communications director and campaign manager.

2) What is the difference between communications on a campaign and in a legislative office?

There are a number of differences between communications on a campaign and for a member of the legislature (or any other elected official). On a campaign, communications staff focuses more on the candidate. This means a lot of messaging, managing the constant media flow, and a very high level of intensity from start to finish. This also encompasses a lot of other things like designing lit, ads, and getting your candidate as much face time with the press as you can. Your number one goal is to win the election.

Communications in an office tends to be focused a little less on the person and more about the bills authored or sponsored by your member. Once elected, the legislation proposed or passed by your member basically speaks on their behalf. Communications is handled differently for each office, depending on the rank of your member. A Speaker, Pro Tem, or party leader will often have 1 or more communications staff where as a freshman member usually has their communications handled by their Chief of Staff. Some offices leave a majority of their communications to their district offices. Another key difference is you will often work with other offices (mostly from your party) to draft a cohesive message on a bill or issue.

Regardless of campaign or office however, both situations have one common element: your job is to make your candidate/member look good and keep their name known to voters. Remember, even if you just won, the next election cycle is already right around the corner.

3) What do you do in a typical day?

On a typical day, either on the campaign trail or in a legislative office, I try to start by reading over any news that may have been run that morning about my candidate/member. If you have staff, it is great to have someone put together a report for you highlighting anything of interest. If you don’t have staff, I recommend using Google alerts in addition to checking the major media outlets in your area. If you are senior staff on a campaign, you will likely spend a great deal of your day in meetings, talking to the press, or attending events with your candidate. Mid-level communications staff will be doing a lot of the day to day work of drafting press releases, managing social media, etc. On smaller elections, where you may be the only communications staff, it is really just a balancing act.

If you work in a legislative office, always try to get at least 5-10 minutes face time with your member first thing, even if it is just to touch base. Many members will try to do a daily briefing with their COS and Communications Director, but during session it can be difficult to find the time to meet for an extended period more than once a week. As I mentioned, a lot of your day will be centered around responding to press inquiries about legislation or working on other projects your member may be pushing at the time.

4) How do I get a job in communications a) on a campaign b) in a legislative office?

a)Much like Nancy says in her post about finding your next campaign, getting a position in communications on a campaign is mostly about finding a “sponsor”. Many communications staffers start out as vols, interns, or FOs who express interest in communications early on and have a member of the senior staff who is willing to support them. Drafting a few good press advisories or designing an awesome piece of lit can get you in the door, but it ultimately comes down to someone being willing to tell your candidate or CD that you can do the job.

b)Positions, communications or otherwise, in legislative offices can be incredibly difficult to get at times. I currently work with a member of the California State Senate, and many of the positions within the state legislature are filled without being advertised anywhere. Often, staffers will pass the word of a vacancy along to people they feel may be interested and the position is filled that way. If a job makes to the point it gets posted, it often isn’t well paying or for a member you want to work for. In other words, it’s who you know.

If you are dead set on working for the legislature and didn’t get brought on when your candidate won, try getting an entry level legislative aide or reception position. Always be sure your values are a least mostly in line with your member or you may find yourself working on legislation you don’t believe in or are totally against. If you can’t find a member or open position, drop off a resume and ask to intern. A few months of an internship with the right member can help you get in with other offices much easier than being an external applicant.

5) What skills are transferable between communications and field?

A lot of the skills you need for field are transferable to communications. It can be a lot of long hours, high energy, and a lot of interacting with people. I think you need to be dedicated, believe in your candidate, and be good at talking to people to do both jobs.

6) What's the biggest difference between communications and field?

It may be because I started in field and still love it, but I always try to think of communications and field as being two sides of the same coin (or whatever analogy works best here). Field and communications are all about getting your candidate’s name recognition up. The biggest difference is how. Field staffers go to the voters to give them the information, where as communications tends to be enticing the press to come to you to get the information. Communications staff also determines the message that field delivers, but both are integral pieces of the same program. I am sure other communications and field staffers would have a different opinion, but that just tends to be how I look at it.

7) What else should we know?

A few tips:

•Communications on a campaign is all about your message. Design a strong message, stick to it. Your message should answer “Why is your candidate running?” and should be incorporated into everything that your campaign sends out.

•Keep your messaging, slogan, and lit simple and consistent.

•Nancy and I joke about it quite often, but I am completely serious when I say field staff should NEVER talk to the press without expressed permission. Instruct your field staff that if a reporter approaches them in the field that they should give the reporter your contact info, a piece of lit, and politely tell them to get in touch with you.

•If you are on the communications staff, every other staff member (campaign or legislative office) should know how to get in touch with you. Your email, phone, and cell phone number.

•Always respond to press inquiries ASAP. Know your press corps and don’t play favorites.

•Don’t hide your candidate from the press and don’t shy away from negative press. Bad press is a political fact of life, have a game plan for every potential negative situation and get out ahead of it when it breaks. Bad press will not just blow over.

•Have fun and be creative, but don’t go overboard. Voters like something that is new and fresh but not something that is too far from the norm.

•Remember that your job is all about managing perceptions. We all know the semi-organized chaos that a campaign really is, but most voters don’t. If your campaign at least looks well run from the outside, it can win a lot of voter confidence in your candidate.

I feel like I put a ton of information on here, but also feel like I barely scratched the surface. If there are specific questions you guys have from the campaign trail or other communications things you are interested in please let me know and I’d be more than happy to answer them. You can either contact Nancy or contact me directly at my contact info below. Good luck out there!

You can bother Austin @AustinJWebster on Twitter.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Second Time Around

Take it from a pro, there's nothing quite like the first time. You're awkward, you're nervous, you don't know quite what to expect, but somehow it's just so magical. It's the first time you work on a campaign.

Many of my favorite followers are embarking on their second campaign adventure, or considering doing so and I wanted to offer my sage advice. Don't get me wrong you should absolutely keep campaigning, I'm just telling you to go into things with your eyes open.

My second race was that oft blogged about cautionary fail, the Edwards campaign. Aside from you know choosing the wrong candidate, one of the biggest mistakes I made was going into the 2008 Caucus without the open mind that I had on my first race. When I joined the Minnesota Coordinated Campaign in 2006 I didn't even know that we wouldn't have days off, I naively thought that I would get to choose between canvassing and call time and I had never (knowingly) met a union member. I look my Regional's word as gospel, because I had nothing else to go on, I canvassed like every door could mean the election despite my candidate's persistent 20 point lead and I loved every minute of it.

Here is where we have to have a heart to heart. If you have only worked on one campaign, even if you have worked on that campaign for multiple years in multiple states (cough, cough OFA) prepare yourself. Not every election is the same and the wisdom that you've acquired, while valuable is not exhaustive. Take the following into account when choosing/embarking on your next race.

1) It's not the size of the election, It's how you use it. It's the age old debate, national/federal vs. local elections. Local campaigns criticize bigger organizations for trying to force a national model where it doesn't belong. Larger races often feel that local candidates and campaign staff can be too big for their britches especially when it's the big campaigns that bring major resources to the table. I've said it before and I've said it again, no campaign is more important than any other. Many people never make the the switch between local and federal because of these prejudices. Having done both, let me pro/con this ish for you a little bit.

A larger campaign offers more of the big family feeling, for obvious reasons. Often big campaigns provide more national/larger scope networking opportunities and your candidate will have more name recognition and more resources. If you're looking to manage staff there are more opportunities on a big campaign and you will likely have more staff under you.

A smaller campaign tends to be more self-directed (for better or for worse) and further removed from national organizations. Staff members tend to wear more than one hat, have more responsibility and more access to the candidate, so it's a great way to get exposure to different aspects of campaigning if you've only ever done field or finance. It's also more about retail politics (your candidate will attend lots of small, local events) and local issues. If you have a big interest in policy, in general the more local your campaign the more people who do pay attention to your race (and there will be fewer) will be concerned about your candidate's stance on the issues beyond national policy affiliation.

No matter which you choose, leave your prejudices about other campaigns behind. The best coordinated campaign is one that truly coordinates.

2) You are not special. No matter which campaign you worked on last election, however much of a rockstar you were or whatever your relationship with your previous bosses, realize that you are starting from scratch here.

I was blessed to fit in seamlessly coming in last on my first race in Minnesota. I had a great relationship with my boss, my volunteers, and my coworkers and was able to impress everyone with the work ethic and energy I brought in for the last few months. At the same time, I was cursed with this hubris going into Iowa for a longer and different campaign. I took myself entirely too seriously and did not prepare (despite warnings) for the marathon as compared to the sprint I was used to. Recognize that this is a different race and you will have to prove yourself all over again. This means going in with an open mind, sitting back and listening and being flexible.

If this is your second campaign no matter how good you are there is no way you don't have something to learn. In time you'll come to see what works for some races and not others, what's universal, and what kind of leadership structure works for you. However once you've taken this job, you're there. Check your preconceived notions at the door and just as you did on your first race, in time you'll find your niche and the best ways to contribute your own style and opinions.

3) Hitch your wagon to the right star. It is surprisingly easy to get stuck as a perpetual field organizer. Last cycle someone had the gall to offer me a deputy RFD position despite the fact that I had 3 years more experience than her. YOU need to take responsibility for the direction of your career because as Ace of Base says, "no ones gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong."

It is tempting when you feel particularly campaignsick to take the first offer that seems somewhat reasonable, but I urge you to be judicious. Especially if you're thinking of making a career out of electoral politics, think about what you need to get you there. If you want to break into communications, find a race that will give you exposure to press either as a deputy on a particularly large campaign or on a smaller race where the CM will let you draft press releases.

If you want management experience, who is most likely to help you foster those skills and be in a position to promote you on your next campaign? One of the toughest career decisions I ever made was turning down a job working for my favorite boss because an acquaintance offered me a better region with more responsibility. Don't confuse a mentor (someone who can give you great advice and who you seek to emulate) for a sponsor (someone who will spend political capital to help you advance your career). Loyalty is a two way street.

That said, don't underestimate the value of a great boss. If you have a good opportunity with someone you work well with by all means take it. If you don't know your potential supervisor, find out. The same way your employer will ask around about your reputation ask a trusted former boss or someone with more experience about your potential boss. It's important to work for someone who respects your talent and experience and from whom you can learn.

I cannot wait to hear about your latest successes and find out where you all wind up!

Happy New Year!