Wisconsin has an especially proud conservationist tradition stretching back to John Muir, father of America's national parks. Yet in recent years Republican policymakers have swung state law and policy in favor of powerful interests that pollute Wisconsin's air and water. (Extreme gerrymandering has helped the GOP keep both houses of the Legislature despite losing the popular vote.) The Republican failure to uphold our tradition of good natural resource stewardship offers Democratic candidates a chance to sway voters who haven't fully reckoned with the recent GOP tilt. In early 2017,
I started building a statewide network of Party leaders, and we were constituted as a caucus within Wisconsin Democratic Party—with me as chair—at the 2018 state convention.
At the WisDems 2019 state convention, the Environmental Caucus achieved a major success with adoption of our party platform resolution calling on Democratic candidates at all levels to campaign on environmental issues. In the preceding months Caucus members pushed for our resolution to be endorsed at congressional district conventions in five of Wisconsin's eight CDs—much broader support than had been organized for any other resolution.
Crucially, the resolution does not specify particular issues for the candidates to highlight. We took this approach in recognition that different issues will resonate in different parts of our state. The job of our Caucus is to help our candidates—especially for swing Assembly and Senate districts—run and win on the most salient issues.
In playing that role, we look for the best issues and messages to inject into the electoral arena. Based on input from a Listening-and-Introduction Tour of meetings with local Party leaders around the state, we're currently tackling three sets of issues that appeal to particular segments of voters. And as we work on them, a three-stage method has emerged:
Step 1 -- Home in on the strongest, most resonant issue
Step 2 -- Craft political messages that will appeal to swing voters and deflect counterarguments
Step 3 -- Identify our best channels to spread those messages
For example, we got a lot of advice pointing to nitrate pollution from industrial mega-farms as an issue with a lot of appeal for rural communities where local water has been polluted or threatened. The next step was to hone concise messages that speak to concerns about nitrate pollution while countering GOP-fostered ideas of Democrats being anti-farming. We're now producing short videos featuring people affected by mega-farms as the third step.
Looking toward appealing to swing voters who hunt and fish, our group decided to highlight the Legislature's failure to reauthorize the Stewardship Fund or fund our state parks. We've developed two versions of a concise message on protecting natural habitat—one focused on public lands as a legacy for each generation to build on, another highligting the economic importance of tourism. The active hunters and anglers in our Caucus are also serving as resource persons, offering message coaching for candidates who aren't themselves outdoor sportsmen or sportswomen.
The third issue track is focused on NextGen voters and the climate crisis. Our initial ideas are to attack Republican climate denialism, affirm the challenge of de-carbonizing the economy, and acknowledge the next generation's special concern about the crisis.