Tina Podlodowski is hell-bent on reshaping the state Democratic Party

SEATTLE — Tina Podlodowski, the new chair of the Washington State Democratic Party, is making the rounds with the faithful and telling it like it is: the party has ceded massive ground to Republicans across the state over the last 10 years and she is hell-bent on reclaiming that territory.

A multi-pronged offensive is being launched.

Aggressive outreach, consistent messaging, improved fundraising and critical investment in state-of-the-art technology are among the keys to winning more elections, Podlodowski told a May 18 Capitol Hill gathering of Democratic loyalists.

Communicating better with young people, communities of color and rural voters are a particular focus, she said.

Part of the Democrats’ decline over the last decade — marked by significant losses in the legislature (seven seats in the Senate, 12 in the House) and local races throughout the ballot— is due to complacency, Podlodowski said.

With Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell in the U.S. Senate, a three-decade lock on the governor’s mansion and a reliable swath of blue in presidential races, there’s a mistaken sense that Democrats have firm control in Washington.

The reality is far different, she said, noting for example that Republicans control 32 of 39 county auditor positions — positions that dictate where election-day drop boxes are located, or more saliently, not located.

She is calling the rebuilding of the state party infrastructure the 7229 Strategy, in reference to the 7,229 precincts across the state.

In many of those precincts east of the mountains, Democrats haven’t been fielding candidates in local races. There will be no more forfeiting of positions, Podlodowski said, no matter how red a region may be. Aggressively recruiting and organizing volunteers and better communicating the stories and values of the Democratic Party are key to challenging for every position in every corner of the state.

In 20 legislative races last fall, Democrats did not run a candidate. Deteriorating party infrastructure and lack of messaging has contributed to the Democrats’ demise east of the mountains, she said. She offered up examples of how Democrats can differnetiate themselves from Republican candidates in those areas:

By ushing to bring high-speed internet access to rural communities; and by focusing on jobs creation -- including jobs created via infrastructure improvements in those communities.

If the party and its volunteers clearly communicate on the issues that resonate with voters, she says, Democratic candidates will make inroads in largely Republican precincts.

In addition, she said, Democrats can get a boost in rural communities if the number of ballot drop-box locations are increased, thereby making it easier for more people to vote. She noted that statewide there are 1.8 million Washingtonians who are eligible to vote who have not registered. Installing more drop boxes in rural areas and on Tribal lands could go far in getting some of them to vote.

CRITICAL NEAR-TERM OBJECTIVES, she said, are expanding the two-seat Democratic majority in the state House and reclaiming control of the Senate, where the Republicans hold a one-seat edge.

In 2017 there will be eight special legislative elections, including the highly anticipated Senate race in the 45th LD, where Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund and Democrat Manka Dhingra will square off to replace the late Andy Hill.

LD 45 encompasses Kirkland, Sammammish, Redmond, Woodinville and Duvall. This race — with control of the Senate in the balance — is estimated to generate a collective $8 million in spending between the two sides.

Following her formal presentation, Podlodowski sat down with Amplify Washington for a quick Q & A.

AW: In the next year, what would you say are the two most important public policy issues for the Washington State Democratic Party?

Podlodowski: I think that we need to look at the issues of income inequality around the state, such as rebuilding the working class, and healthcare for all. I want to make sure that healthcare is happening for everyone in the state of Washington. We have a fairly robust program, and the question is how we will make that happen, and how we can make sure that at the national level that healthcare is not taken away from folks.

AW: Talk more about the dynamics of the eight special elections in the state legislature this year.

Podlodowski: In 2017, Washington State will have eight different special elections, which means legislative elections in an off-year cycle. All of those races are important, but the biggest one is in the 45th District, known as the Microsoft district in Redmond, and that’s the district that could potentially get control of the Washington State Senate back to Democrats. Also, the 31st District in South King and Pierce County and the 7th District way up in the upper right corner of the state; it’s a five-county area made up of Okanogan, Stevens, Ferry, Pend Oreille and a bit of Spokane County.

AW: What is the biggest obstacle to achieving statewide Democratic success?

Podlodowski: I think that the obstacles that we need to face are having people out there telling our stories and helping to understand the values of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party has worked long and hard to build up every place and every race in the country to serve as springboards to city councils and county councils, and that is no exception in Washington state. We need to break their hold on the county councils around Washington and be able to win those races so that we can regain control of the legislature and beyond. The bigger prizes are the congressional seats. We really want to get rid of Cathy McMorris Rodgers in Congressional District 5, Dan Newhouse in CD 4, Jamie Herrera-Butler in CD 3, and of course Dave Reichert in CD 8.

NOTABLE:

• While winning a race in Legislative District 7, the northeastern part of the state featuring Colville, Tonasket, Chewelah, et. al., is a tall order for a Democrat, Podlowdowski says Karen Hardy — “a smart lady with a dog and a gun” — is the type of can-do, plain-talking candidate who can help make inroads in rural areas. Hardy is taking on Republican Shelly Short, who was appointed to that Senate seat in January when Brian Dansel left for a position in the Trump administration. Healthcare, working-class wages and rural high-speed internet access are among the issues Hardy is building her campaign around.

• In order to fund grassroots activists in all of the state’s 7,000-plus precincts, Podlodowski is introducing a two-tiered donation structure patterned after the ones used by Bernie Sanders and Al Franken. “The Resistance” category is for monthly donations of between $5 and $500 and “The Risers” category is for larger, annual donations ranging up to $10,000. Podlodowski hopes that the combined efforts from the Resistance and the Risers will add up to $600,000 by the end of 2017.

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