I have a somewhat unique insight into what it takes for members of the House of Representatives to get reelected year after year. It is crucial to understand this so the Democrats maintain their majority in the House in 2020. I am basing the following on what I learned from my goddaughter. She first worked in Representative Debbie Stabenow’s Washington office as a legislative aide (L.A.), and then when she was elected senator she worked in that office. She worked her way up to being one of her top aides, and then she moved to her Michigan as head of all the state offices.
Making sure our new Democrats remain in control of the House not for two, but at least for four years is of the utmost importance for our democracy. If Trump is still president after 2020 ongoing oversight and investigations under Democratic control must continue. If we lose the House and Senate and Trump is reelected all the progress of 2018-2020 could be lost or set back. Then we could be well on its way to becoming an autocracy, perhaps even a near dictatorship.
We can learn a lot about grass-roots power from Michigan. The state went from having a Democrat, Jennifer Granholm, as governor to electing far-right Gov. Rick Snyder of Flint water crisis infamy. Now thankfully they have elected Democrat Gretchen Witmer who conducts an excellent campaign as their new governor. Even when Rick Snyder was governor Stabenow won handily in every election which speaks to what politicos call having an excellent ground game.
Also representing Michigan is Democratic Senator Gary Peters. I don”t know much about him except that he must have done a lot right because he was the only non-incumbent Democrat to win a 2014 Senate election and the only Democratic Senate freshman that year.
I know that Debbie won her fourth term because she always paid attention to the concerns of her home state residents, be they Republicans or Democrats. She managed to take positions on issues like gun control that even the many hunters in her state accepted as reasonable, a tricky road to take without alienated her progressive base.
What I learned from my god-daughter is that the winning Democrats who have unseated incumbent Republicans and newly running Republicans is that it is relating to your constituents that makes the difference. Despite those voting against Trump, a number which is growing in significance, when it comes down to elections for the House, I think the saying “all politics is local” could aptly be rephrased today thanks to the president as “almost all politics is local.”
When the newly elected Democrats are sworn in from day one they have to assure that their home state and Washington offices are well staffed with people who are responsive to constituent needs. Phone calls and emails have to be answered promptly and whenever possible problems are either solved or at least the constituents feel every effort was made to solve them.
There is no substitute for the Representative to be seen all over their district at different venues and holding many town meetings, basically going to where the people are. If every voter doesn’t shake hands with a representative every voter ought to have a friends or acquaintance who did. Senators can get away with playing catch-up a year or so before their next election but representatives can’t. When the brilliant, funny, and irascible Barney Frank was my congressman in Massachusetts I was at small gatherings where I met him and heard him talk three or four times.
The front-line congressional staffers are among the hardest working unsung heroes of Congress especially the new aides and interns who are working for members whose budgets aren’t as large as the more senior members and thus they have smaller staffs having to do the same amount of work. The new members staff tend to be young and enthusiastic and can ultimately make or break their members bid for reelection.
As an aside I would note the following. Not only do the newly elected members of the House have to begin to prepare for the next election, so do those Democrats who lost governors races. Beto O’Rourke can challenge Texas Senator John Cornyn and Stacey Adams can run against Senator David Perdue in 2020. If Bill Nelson doesn’t pull a surprise victory in the Florida Senate race over Rick Scott he can run against Marco Rubio in 2020.
If Democrats play their cards right they stand an excellent chance of not only keeping the House in 2020 but also winning the Senate because many more vulnerable Republican Senators are running in 2020 than ran this year.
And if they really play their cards right they will field candidates for president and vice president and take control of the White House and both the Senate and House. Then they will have the arduous task of hoisting our democracy back from the precipice of autocracy and near despotism where it is already teetering and place it on firm enough ground so good people can assure that never again does a movement like MAGA sweep over the country.
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