If there is one takeaway from my 2018 run for Illinois State Representative, it is this.
The Illinois Democratic Party doesn’t have a winning strategy in rural communities. Now, that is a hard truth to admit, but a truth none the less. For too long, Illinois Democrats downstate have been stagnating with the decline in unionization. While more urban downstate strongholds have managed to revamp their strategies to fit a more progressive, metropolitan Democratic base, rural communities have tried to maintain the status quo with little success.
To turn this corner and stop the bleeding from the Democratic party in rural communities, we need a strategy. We need an agricultural, Progressive platform that speaks in the language of Clinton, Cairo, and Carlinville. And to do that - we need need to dig into the data to determine where we can see gains, explore issue development to find what inspires rural communities, and educate candidates on how to win in farming towns.
My suggestion is to create a Rural Democrat Subcommittee for the Democratic Party of Illinois, including current / retired legislators and state officials as well as fresh voices. We need to include people from higher education, businesses, farms, and nonprofits in this region to help shape what the Rural Democratic message is and how we can use it in 2020 and beyond.
This subcommittee will be focused on achieving the following goals:
Increasing Democratic Party support throughout the state of Illinois, with an emphasis on rural communities.
Increasing voter turnout by 35% by the 2020 election cycle.
Establishing collaborative partnerships with like-minded organizations, including but not limited to the Illinois Farm Bureau, Rotary International, Action Illinois, and Indivisible.
Expanding the reach of every county Democratic Party through social media and digital platforms.
To achieve these goals, the Rural Dems must establish a group of both experienced legislators, activists, less experienced rural candidates, and local rural leaders. I am currently working on a list of such a group, and if you would like to be included, please email me at Jen@TheFutureOfIllinois.com.
In the short term, the Rural Dems goal will be to analyze the 2016 and 2018 elections, looking for areas of success and failure. This is not. This is not meant to be a punitive action, but rather an assessment of how to shape the Democratic Party in rural Illinois. From there, the Rural Dems will turn to similar regions throughout the United States, looking for strategies that have been successful.
Long term goals must be to create routes to leadership for new, energized Democratic leaders from every part of the state. This includes continuing and expanding the National Democratic Training Committee bootcamps for candidates and those interested in politics through the Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association, as well as fostering relationships at every high school and institution of higher learning in the state.