DNC Chair candidates: Recruitment and training works

On Saturday, the Democratic National Committee held their first forum in Phoenix, Ariz. on the way to electing new leadership. I was very excited to see a DNC member from California ask a question about how the candidates for chair would work with partner organizations, including women’s groups, on recruitment and training of candidates.

However, I found it striking that so few of the candidates actually addressed the recruitment and training portion of the question or how they would collaborate with organizations that specialize in this work to strategically fill the pipeline with diverse, qualified candidates. As the Founder and President of Emerge America, the nation’s largest organization that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office, I know how important that aspect will be for Democrats as we work to rebuild our party and take back power where we have lost it. I hope that going forward the candidates better recognize its importance and make it a fundamental piece of their platforms.

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This year, Democrats don’t hold majority power at any level of the federal government. And since 2009, we’ve lost an incredible number of seats at the state level too. Republicans control 68 of the 99 state legislative chambers, more than twice the number that Democrats control (31).

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, that’s more than at any other time in the history of the Republican Party. They also hold more total seats than they have since 1920—more than 4,100 of 7,383. Earlier in the day at Saturday’s DNC forum, our partners at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee did a regional political presentation on how Democrats faired in state houses during the 2016 election cycle where they presented a map of the U.S. colored by which party controls each state’s legislature. It was a sea of red.

Working together to recruit and train candidates to run for these state seats should be our first priority, because if Republicans control an overwhelming majority when redistricting comes around in 2020, it will be another decade before we can take back Congress.

If the Democratic Party doesn’t have qualified candidates who are ready to run and prepared to win, nothing else really matters. You can’t run in races if you don’t have candidates and you can’t win if they’re not equipped with the skills they need. As someone who has been working on the front lines of recruiting and training Democratic women to run for more than a decade, I know that our organization’s work to identify, recruit and train diverse, compelling candidates can make all the difference when it comes time for them to run.

While the prevailing story in the 2016 election was that Democrats lost across the board, 150 of our 213 alums across the country won their races - a 70 percent win rate, which included flipping the New Mexico House and the Nevada House and Senate from red to blue. It’s that simple. Recruitment and training works.

More than just recruitment and training generally, I encourage the DNC Chair candidates to look into the importance of making women candidates a major part of their platform. Not only do women face unique obstacles when they run for office, but they also govern differently and bring much needed perspectives and abilities to the offices they hold.

Just look at the movement that former Texas State Senator and Emerge America Advisory Board Member Wendy Davis was able to build when she stood up to legislation that severely restricted abortion access for Longhorn State women in those iconic pink shoes. Or when the only senators who showed up to govern on the day after the January 2016 blizzard in D.C. were women. Women can build movements and they always show up to get things done. Those are two things the Democratic Party is in desperate need of right now.

So, to the candidates for Chair of the DNC, I offer you this: make recruitment and training a priority. And not just any candidates, focus on women, especially women of color who will bring so much to our party with their unique skills and perspectives. Emerge America and our 17 affiliates offer you our support. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, we’ve been doing this with a proven model for more than a decade. Together, we can forge a positive, uplifting path for 2017 and beyond. It starts with making sure that targeted candidate recruitment and training is made the priority it should always have been.

Andrea Dew Steele, Founder and President of Emerge America


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.