Solveig Torvik

A Great Civic Awakening is sweeping across the land, and for this we must thank Donald Trump. Slumbering citizens are rubbing the sleep from their eyes and paying attention to that is doing what to whom in their name.

Commendably, they’ve set right to work, marshaling resistance to bad lawmaking. But if you want better laws, people, you have to get better lawmakers. Precisely as our Founders intended.

 That’s why the single most important thing citizens who want political reform must do is focus on the 2018 mid-term elections. Yes, even here in Rep. Dan Newhouse’s dependably Republican 4th Congressional District.

Which brings us to the Democrats. In Donald Trump, they’ve been gifted with manna from heaven. Nevertheless, it’s an open question whether they’re capable of capitalizing on it at the polls.

With promises to help “the Forgotten Man,” Trump has stolen the Democrats’ thunder, theme and many of the party’s voters. How did this happen?

Short version: Democrats stopped being Democrats. In the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave the ravaged nation the New Deal to help the impoverished. In the 1960s, Lyndon Baines Johnson gave us the Great Society — Medicare, Medicaid, the War on Poverty and the Voting Rights Act.

 But critics rightly credit William Jefferson Clinton with walking away from the spirit of the New Deal in the 1990s, shrugging off working-class people, and turning the party into free trade capitalists who espoused limits on welfare and tighter budget controls. One upshot was the export of Democrats’ jobs, not just American goods.

Barack Hussein Obama continued in this vein when he refused to prosecute Wall Street bankers who caused the Great Recession. Bad political karma: giving taxpayer bailouts to irresponsible banks but throwing millions of these banks’ customers under the bus.

Lost roots

Democratic social programs are what helped turn the offspring of blue-collar parents and grandparents into today’s white collar Democrats. Now Democratic Congressional districts represent the wealthiest communities in the nation while Republicans represent the poorest, according to ProximityOne, an economic/demographic analysis firm.

Yet Democrats lost track of their roots. Focusing — rightly, in my view — on cultural justice, they managed to give the misfortunate impression of downplaying economic justice. If they had a persuasive bread-and-butter/jobs message, they stepped on it, seemingly most concerned about racial/sexual/gender identity politics. This turned out to be an irrelevant mismatch for many people who otherwise might have fit the traditional Democratic voter profile.

The numbers tell this story:

Republicans now control both houses of the legislatures and the governorships in 25 states. Democrats control only six.

Democrats lost 69 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 13 seats in the U.S. Senate, 910 state legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers and 11 governorships during Obama’s presidency. Today there are 45 more Republicans than Democrats in the U.S. House and two more Republicans than Democrats in the U.S. Senate. And in 2018, Republicans have to defend only eight U.S. Senate seats while Democrats must find funds to contest 25.

Rather than attending to strengthening his disorganized party, Obama set up his personal presidential Organization for Action outfit — his version of Trump’s Twitter bypass — that reportedly diverted donations from the party’s organizing efforts. Now Obama is making belated amends by mounting an attack on legislative gerrymandering.

Congressional and legislative district boundaries are adjusted after each census, typically at the behest of state legislators. Republicans have more lawmakers in Congress and legislatures largely because they excel at gerrymandering boundaries so that, in effect, politicians choose who their voters will be. 

Republicans have been more strategic thinkers and more disciplined than Democrats, who have all but ignored down-ballot congressional and statehouses races and tended to foolishly pin everything on winning the presidency. But the invertebrate Republican Congress is all the evidence Democrats need to show why states must redistrict in a way that permits voters to elect lawmakers capable of blocking presidential misbehavior.

Time to challenge

The leaderless Democratic Party finally will choose a chair of the Democratic National Committee next weekend. Perhaps they’ll even decide on a campaign strategy? Meanwhile, the Koch brothers’ Republican donors already have boots on the ground in 35 states and hundreds of millions in hand for the 2018 election. Their strategy seems well in hand.

This state’s Democratic Party in recent years hasn’t troubled itself to seriously contest eastern Washington congressional or legislative races. Maybe they’ve forgotten that Spokane’s 5th District produced a Democratic Speaker of the House, Tom Foley, and that our district elected a guy named Jay Inslee to Congress in 1993.

But things may be looking up for Washington Democrats. Their Democratic Central Committee has a new chair, former Seattle City Council member Tina Podlodowski. She’s indicated that Democrats are through ceding eastern Washington without a fight and that a Democratic Party office will open on this side of the Cascade Curtain.

And Newhouse? He’s the most vulnerable of our 10 House members. He defeated his tea party opponent by 1.6 percent. This is not a mandate.

So we have to ask: Given the right message and meaningful financial support by the Democratic Party, is it really possible that in a congressional district that runs from Oregon to Canada, one with 700,000 souls (56 percent white, 36 percent Hispanic, 2.3 percent Native American), not a single capable Democrat can be found to contest this seat?



Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.