The Clock Is Ticking
Deadlines are Approaching to Run for ‘24; Take Ownership
Gerrymandering is such a poison to our democracy. The root cause of so much that’s happening. We must fix it. And that will take time and relentless activism.
But do you know what makes it even worse?
And is something we can fix NOW?
The Crisis of Unaccountable Extremism
What makes gerrymandering so much worse is when we reward it by not running in so many places across this country. By leaving right-wing extremists entirely uncontested, in far too many districts!
That lets these legislators pass extreme laws—often unpopular to the point of being toxic—yet they return to office as if it’s not an elected office at all. More like a reappointment. Often, the elections are just cancelled outright.
Think about what that does if you’re an officeholder. If that’s what you experience. You’ll do whatever you did before all over again. And again. And again. You’ll go further.
Why wouldn’t you? Because as damaging as what you do may be, as unpopular, you don’t even face an opponent. Your election to get back into power is cancelled.
Play this out over time, in enough places, and lack of opposition converts jobs and entire institutions that were once about public service, into a warped inversion of service—serving private players and extremist groups at the expense of the public.
This diagram (yes, I’ve shared it before) shows how it works:
These politicians feel accountability to private interests and extreme groups (who can end their careers by supporting a primary opponent, or boost their careers in a future primary), but not to the general public, because they face no opposition in general elections.
So they have an incentive to serve the former at the expense of the latter. And that upside-down incentive system, playing out year after year, is why our politics are so broken in so many places.
And when an entire generation of politicians has lived within this stale system of guaranteed elections and no accountability to the general public (the current speaker, Mike Johnson, personifies this crew) it explains so much of what ails us at the moment.
How bad is it?
Look at these charts (which I also share frequently)—these are the % of red districts in ‘21 and ‘22 where there was no opposition:
In some states, it’s the majority of the seats! Others, it’s 40% or more. Still others, 30% or more.
And as you look at these appalling numbers, remember some of the behavior that is being rewarded by these sky-high numbers:
Some of those not being challenged are the people who deprived water from voters in long lines at Georgia polls and banned drop boxes in Texas.
Some kicked out their colleagues in Tennessee for joining gun violence protests.
Some did phony audits of Arizona’s election.
Some gerrymandered the hell out of Ohio.
Some banned abortion in countless states.
Some attacked public schools, upended universities and loosened gun laws.
And so much more.
And even though most of these things are actually unpopular in their own states, many or most enacting them don’t face opposition in their next campaign. Or any campaigns.
Which means not a single door knock explaining to their own constituents what they are doing.
No forum where they have to answer unscripted questions.
No debate where they actually have to make a case for their reelection.
Nowhere do they have to defend their toxic positions.
Heck, with no opposition, almost no one in their district even knows what they’re doing. And when they describe what they’re doing as a legislator, they can say whatever they want, and there’s no one there to set the record straight.
And even if some voters do figure it out, on Election Day, they are given no choice to express their view. They either vote for someone they don’t agree with, or don’t vote at all.
All these extremists have to do get their jobs back is gather some signatures, pay a filing fee, smile and wave in a few parades, and they’re back in office to double down on all the damage they’re doing.
Never facing one iota of accountability, except from the people pushing to do all the wrong things that the public ultimately pays the price for.
And as those charts above show, what I’ve just described is the state of things in anywhere from 30-65% of red state districts. It’s what tens of millions of Americans face every campaign cycle.
SO as I said, beyond the original sin of gerrymandering, the lack of opposition everywhere is a crisis. Doing untold damage.
What To Do: Take Ownership
BUT, we can do something about this crisis right now.
YOU can do something about it.
What can we/you do about it?
We all have to see it as a crisis, finally and clearly. Recognize the damage being done.
We have to start caring about these seats as a crucial part of the front line in the overall battle for democracy (after all, most of the far right agenda is being accomplished through these seats). And we have to see the enormous value to our democracy if we actually run for them.
We have to see how much more damage we can avert if we end the cycle of non-accountability—if we bring accountability back to politics to so many places and for so many politicians who haven’t experienced it recently . . . if ever.
And we CAN do it.
We just all have to recognize the crisis, and take ownership over it.
The Best News: It’s Happening!
And the best news is that there are heroes doing this right now . . . heroes showing the way.
In North Carolina, the new Democratic Party Chair—Anderson Clayton—has taken ownership of this issue.
She is declaring to all who will listen that she and her team value people running for these long-overlooked seats. She has a name for those running in the toughest districts: Champion Candidates. Because by stepping up and running hard, these patriots “are championing the Democratic cause and values.”
With that new moniker, Chairwoman Clayton is working tirelessly to recruit for these races. And it’s working!
The North Carolina filing deadline to run for 2024 is Dec. 15. And even with several weeks remaining, Chairwoman Clayton—in only her first year as chair—has already cut the number of uncontested seats in half!
But she wants to fill even more seats. All the seats, if possible. So help her get there if you can.
Or there’s Will Watson and the new leaders of the Arkansas Democratic Party, equally passionate about running everywhere. I had a chance to talk to Will Tuesday night, and he fired me up.
Will and his team are setting a record for how many candidates they recruited to run for the Arkansas statehouse next year. And that includes contesting a dozen seats that were left unchallenged in 2022.
Also this week, I caught up with a grassroots effort in Arizona that’s working hard to inspire a team of candidates to file and run hard across the state, including in districts that typically go uncontested.
Think about it: Arizona. All of American politics runs through Arizona next year. So this work not only means more Champion Candidates to take on previously uncontested extremists in a statehouse that is within reach to flip. But by running, these candidates will also lift turnout and carry a message everywhere in a state that will determine who wins the Presidency and the U.S. Senate.
And of course there’s my friend Jess Piper in Missouri, and so many of you involved with Blue Ohio, Blue Texas and Blue Tennessee, all building an infrastructure to support running everywhere in our states. There’s Run for Something, working all across the country to inspire people to run and give them the tools to do so effectively. And Leaders We Deserve, which is working to inspire the next generation to step up and run for statehouse seats across the country..
The point is…it’s starting to happen. People are seeing the crisis, and the need, and they are answering the call.
And almost ANYONE can take ownership of this crisis of uncontested races and cancelled elections. Anyone can turn it into an opportunity to bring needed accountability to these races and politicians.
So, wherever you are, take ownership:
Are you “represented” by an extremist who’s doing damage to our democracy, and to your community?
Does he or she face an opponent? Check to see.
If so, great. Help them run.
If not, take ownership:
Find the deadline to file (only a few states’ have already passed), and commit that before the deadline passes, you will work hard to be sure someone runs.
It may be you. It may be someone you know. Best of all, maybe a group of you comes together to find that Champion Candidate among all those you know. And you and your group together commit to help that Champion wage that patriotic run that needs to be waged, as robustly as possible.
Whatever you do, commit that you won’t just sit and watch as some extremist waltzes back into office with no opposition. Empowered once again by a cancelled election.
Commit to yourselves: Someone. Will. Run.
If we each do that—if we do what Anderson Clayton, Jess Piper, Will Watson and others are now doing—showing how much we value these races and those Champions who take them on, we move the needle in democracy’s direction.
If we do this right now and in every cycle, pretty soon, our new default will be that we always run everywhere. In our long game to save democracy, it’s just what we do.
And it’s what our democracy requires—always, but at this pivotal more than ever. When all hands need to be on deck everywhere in America.
Time is wasting.
Let’s fill all these districts.