Bernstein launches Supreme Court campaign with stellar branding

Richard Bernstein announced this morning that he's running for Michigan Supreme Court. His announcement was accompanied by branding himself the "Blind Justice" - a clever effort on many levels.

For one thing, a catchy tagline ensures people will remember him. Say what you will about Snyder, but "nerd" did stick in many people's minds - enough that he went from almost zero to the governor's office in less than a year.

Second, he's turning what some would consider a negative - his blindness - into a positive. Rather than let others point out his disability (and try to use it to question his ability to serve), he's making it clear that his disability will help, not hinder, him.

Third, he sets forth his idea that justice should be blind. It shouldn't be skewed by partisan (or other) bias - which the current Court is.

Bernstein is seeking an eight-year term on the Court, of which there will be two on this fall's ballot. Brian Zahra holds one of the seats that is up for grabs, while the other seat is being vacated by Justice Michael Cavanagh, who is retiring due to age.

Judge Deborah Thomas is challenging incumbent David Viviano for the two-year partial term of the seat formerly held by Diane Hathaway.


Grand Rapids-area Democrats more organized than ever, ready to win

Dozens of Democratic candidates and activists packed the 3rd Congressional District Democratic Coordinated Campaign office for the office's grand opening Thursday evening.

Located at 345 Fuller Ave. NE (site of the Obama-Biden campaign office in 2012), the office will serve as a hub for Democratic campaign activities in West Michigan during the 2014 election cycle.

Not in recent memory has the Grand Rapids-area Democratic Coordinated Campaign office opened so early in a campaign cycle. In previous election cycles, the Coordinated Campaign office didn't open until July or August; in 2010, it didn't even open until September.

Speakers at the grand opening event included:

  • Bob Goodrich, candidate for Congress, spoke of the need for Democrats to get women to vote.
  • Rep. Brandon Dillon discussed Democrats' effort to win a majority in the State House, an effort which he is heading up this cycle.
  • Rep. Winnie Brinks said she had no interest in politics until just a few years ago, but saw a need to get involved.
  • Lance Penny, candidate for State Senate in the 29th District (challenging Dave Hildenbrand), noted that the district is winnable for Democrats. President Obama carried the district in 2008 and 2012.
  • County Commissioner Carol Hennessy talked about the influence Democrats have gained on the County Commission.
  • Daniel Morse, candidate for County Commission, discussed his race against County Commission Chair Dan Koorndyk in the 18th District. Morse has the support of a number of police, fire, and teachers' unions.
We're just 137 days away from Election Day - and Democrats are doing everything we can to make sure November 4, 2014, is as magical as November 4, 2008.

Live in Michigan? Join the campaign - sign up right now to volunteer.


Free advice

  1. If your Facebook/Twitter feed has a high level of negativity or suckitude, folks probably won't follow it.
  2. Using BOLD AND ALL-CAPS in the body of your emails? Don't expect that to motivate people to get involved in your cause.
  3. If you do feel you need to use BOLD AND ALL-CAPS because people aren’t helping, then maybe you should stop ignoring their offers to help.
  4. Respect, Empower, Include - it’s not just a saying, it’s also sound strategy.

But what do I know, I’ve only been involved in communications strategy and community engagement for a number of years now (including working for OFA in Chicago and being Deputy National Communications Director of the College Democrats of America).


Williams, Casteel, Jewell among new UAW leaders

The United Auto Workers has a new person at the helm - and he's not from Michigan.

The UAW convention a little while ago elected Illinois native Dennis Williams to lead the auto union for the next few years. A Marine Corps Veteran, he is a friend of President Obama and has been the Secretary-Treasurer since 2010.

Succeeding Williams as Secretary-Treasurer will be Gary Casteel, who has served as director for Region 8 (which covers many Southeastern states).

In addition to re-electing Vice Presidents Cindy Estrada and Jimmy Settles, members also elected Flint native and Region 1-C Director Norwood Jewell to serve as Vice President.


Grand Rapids to Koch Brothers: Oh No You Don't!

Thinking they could send an anti-tax message ahead of this year's midterm election, the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity shoveled nearly $6,000 into the River City and tried to deceive people into opposing investment in infrastructure.

Spoiler alert: They failed.

Harsh winter weather has long left Michigan with some of the worst roads in the country. This past winter has been even more brutal than normal. Despite that, Michigan ranks dead-last - 50th out of 50 - in per-person road funding.

Grand Rapids has a city income tax; in 2010 voters increased the income tax from 1.3% to 1.5% to keep essential services covered through the recession. The tax was set to revert back to 1.3% next year; however, city leaders proposed extending it through 2030 to cover road work.

Take note of that - employees wouldn't be paying higher taxes than they have been for the past few years; rather, they'd pay the same amount through the end of next decade to ensure that they don't have to keep spending time and money getting their vehicles fixed.

But the Koch Brothers thought they could pull one over on the people of Grand Rapids.

They used their typical trickery language to try to confuse voters. They called it a "tax increase" when it wasn't. They said it was a "bailout" for Grand Rapids's outstanding city leaders. (GR is one of the best-run cities in the area - and they have progressive leadership, which could explain that one.)

You can't fool Grand Rapidians.

Today, almost 2/3 of Grand Rapids voters voted to keep the tax at 1.5% so area roads can be, you know... navigable.

That $6,000 they spent trying to fool people? Wasted.

The Koch Brothers' attempt at sending an anti-tax message in this election year? Failed.

Instead, it was Grand Rapids that sent the Koch brothers a message: We need infrastructure. We need taxes.

We the People need government to work.

And we're not going to let a bunch of billionaires buy our elections!


Filing deadline offers few surprises

It's 5:30 - do you know who your candidates are?

Here's the unofficial list of Democratic and Republican candidates for Governor, US Senate and House, state legislature, and judgeships. Keep in mind that candidates have until 4:00 on Friday to withdraw.

Gongwer had a piece today about some of the big surprises of filing deadlines past, including the Great Schmidt-storm of 2012 and a guy who tried to run for Governor against Posthumus and Schwarz but who didn't get enough valid signatures.

No huge surprises of that sort today, but a few remarks:

Governor and US Senate

No surprise here. It does seem a little odd that, in a year in which the governorship is hotly contested and the US Senate seat is open, neither race has a competitive primary.


It will officially be a three-way battle with Barnett, Bishop, and McMillin in the 8th. Meanwhile, John Moolenaar's path to Congress is complicated by the candidacies of Paul Mitchell and Peter Konetchy (the latter of whom got in the race while Camp was still expected to run).

I'm surprised that Jeffrey Hank (D-8th) and Raymond Mullins (D-12th) ended up filing. Brian Ellis only turned in 1,200 signatures in the 3rd, while Douglas North only turned in 1,110 in the 7th. Given that 1,000 of them need to be valid, don't be surprised if Amash and Walberg supporters challenge these signatures.

State Senate

District 2 features five Democrats, including incumbent Bert Johnson, John Olumba, Some Dude, and - get this - two people named Lemmons who live at the same address! I'd expect one of them to withdraw their name before this Friday's withdrawal deadline.

After filing only 551 signatures (cutting it close, since 500 needed to be valid), Patrick Colbeck withdrew his candidacy and then re-filed with the $100 filing fee.

In the open-seat 28th (a reliably Republican seat), current Rep. Peter MacGregor faces off against a guy named Kevin Green (who may or may not be this Kevin Green). Also in the race: Tommy Brann of Brann's steakhouse fame. More people are running for the right to Replace MacGRegor in the 73rd House seat.

Geoff Hansen (R-34th) has to face a primary challenge from Nick Sundquist for the right to lose to Cathy Forbes in the fall.

Democrats Chris LaMarche and Chris Germain filed to run against Tom Casperson in the 38th. LaMarche only filed 566 signatures (again, cutting it very close), while Germain went with the filing fee. I don't know much about LaMarche, but I do know Germain is kind of young. Oftentimes young candidates running in swing districts are met with skepticism in terms of their ability to win a tough race, but we'll see how it all plays out.

State House

Three candidates will vie for the right to lose to Winnie Brinks in the 76th: Keith Allard, who ran as an independent in 2012, as well as former GR city comptrollers Donijo DeJonge and Stan Milanowski.

One of the few other area in which Dems have to play defense is the 91st district - Holly Hughes, who was elected in 2010 but lost in 2012, has two primary opponents.


Vote, run, and get trained

A few quick things for your Tuesday…

1. Today, many communities and school districts - not all, but some - are holding elections for such things as millages, bonds, and the like.Click here to see if your community is holding an election, and if so, remember to VOTE!

2. A week from today, May 14, is the deadline to file to run for local office in Michigan this year. Many cities are electing mayors, city commissioners/councilmembers, and so forth. For more information on running, contact your city clerk's office. We need good progressives at all levels of government - so please consider running for office!

3. Be sure to apply for Center for Progressive Leadership's training in Kalamazoo. Applications are due a week from tomorrow!


Social media, brand management - and Michigan Democrats

(As we head into the final 24 hours of a hotly contested campaign for MDP Chair, I wanted to express a few thoughts regarding what Democrats - not only on Townsend Street in Lansing, but Democrats in general - need to do regarding communicating our message and managing the Democratic brand.)

Three years ago, we saw one of the most egregious attacks on our Republic since its founding. The Citizens United decision posed - and continues to pose - a substantial threat to the integrity of our elections. Later that year, we saw just how detrimental unregulated corporate funding of our elections can be to our Party and our civic process.

One of the major reasons Citizens United is such a detriment to our elections is that it enables politicians and corporations to manipulate the message voters hear by buying up hundreds - even thousands - of points in TV advertising, plus countless lit pieces, robocalls, and the like. (For those who don't know, for every 100 points of TV advertising bought by a campaign or company, the average viewer will see their ad  once. For example, if a campaign buys 700 points' worth of TV advertising, then the average viewer will see their ad(s) seven times.)

While Citizens United puts progressives and democracy itself at a disadvantage, we have a powerful tool up our sleeves. A tool which, if used effectively, can neutralize the harmful effects of Citizens United. A tool which Obama used very effectively in 2008 and 2012 - and one which we Michigan Democrats need to use effectively in order to elect Democrats up and down the ballot.

That tool is social media.

Social media and brand/reputation management
When I say the words "Ann Arbor," what comes to mind? It probably involves the University of Meeeeeeeee-chigan.

What about "Detroit Tigers?" Perhaps you think of one of their players, either past or present. Perhaps Jim Leyland, Sparky Anderson, or Ernie Harwell come to mind. Maybe you think of the 2012 AL championship, Comerica Park, the Illitch family, or perhaps their losing ways of just a few years ago.

Let's try another one: Unions. Many of us on the left think of the word "Solidarity," while others think of good wages and working conditions. Sadly, some think of "union bosses" and "thugs."

What are three things that people associate with you? What are three things they associate with Obama? Romney? Snyder? Urbanowski? (Just kidding - 2022 is still a few years away.)

I could go on, but the point is, your average John Q. LionsSuck is going to associate certain entities with certain things. They draw on those things when deciding what to buy, where to shop, what to watch - and yes, how to vote. The point of brand management is to ensure that people associate you, your campaign, or your company with only positive things - making them more likely to vote for you or buy your product or service.

In 2008, people associated Obama with hope and change, while they associated McCain with "more of the same" (i.e. more Dubya). In 2012, it was Obama's "Forward" versus the out-of-touch Romney. In both years, OFA used social media to effectively paint both Obama and his opponent as they wanted. In 2010, on the other hand, we saw "one tough nerd" beat "the angry mayor." As Bernero's fate reminded us, we can't always control our reputation - but we better do what we can.

People are busy. They hear dozens - even hundreds - of messages each day telling them what to wear, what to drive, where to vacation, and what to eat. During election season, they also see hundreds of messages about how to vote. As you can imagine, it can be hard for the brain to retain all that information. Indeed, the brain only remembers so much about certain entities. That could explain why, with all the ads you have heard over the years for a certain shoe brand, you still associate said brand with the phrase "Just do it."

If a voter sees a TV commercial saying "Vote for X," and then they see something on Facebook saying "Vote for Y," they get two conflicting messages - but one campaign paid a considerable amount of money to spread that message, while the other campaign likely spent little, if anything. (NB: the impact of Facebook ads is not the same as the impact of a TV commercial, which is not the same as the impact of a lit piece in the mail, etc.)

This is why campaigns and parties need to be careful how to spend their communications dollars. Just as the candidate with the most money doesn't always win, the candidate with the most likes and retweets won't always win. Just like money, social media must be used properly and effectively by candidates, in order to ensure that voters have a favorable view of the Democratic brand and its candidates. As George W. Bush would say, candidates need to use "strategery."

When used effectively, social media can also:

Help candidates and electeds stay in touch with their voters. People are more likely to vote for candidates if they feel connected to those candidates.

Remind supporters to vote. Two things are well documented: (1) More Americans lean Democratic than Republican and agree with us on issues - yet (2) Republican voters are more likely to vote consistently, in every election, without missing one. While it's hard to forget about a presidential election - and while few people miss a presidential election because they forgot to vote - people are much more likely to forget about voting in a midterm, primary, or local election. Social media can, and should, supplement phone banking and door-to-door as effective GOTV tools. (Notice I said "supplement," not "replace" - social media cannot replace these more traditional GOTV methods!)

Educate people about issues and candidates. Why is it important to raise the minimum wage? Why should we buy local? What is it about Candidate Z's character that would make her an impeccable public servant? Social media can be an effective way of getting people to understand issues and candidates.

Educate people about the voting process. The 2012 ballot was one of the more confusing ballots in recent Michigan history. Result? Some voters voted straight Democratic, not realizing that that they hadn't voted for our Supreme Court candidates. (Judge Connie Kelley got 45% fewer votes than Obama.) Not understanding everything on the ballot, many people voted No on all 6 statewide proposals. Yet consider the example of Justice McCormack, who credits her victory to Facebook ads, among other things.

Refute lies. True or false? In non-"right-to-work" states, you must join a union and pay union dues in order to work in a unionized environment. That, of course, is false. Thanks to a long-ago Supreme Court ruling, no American is required to join any union under any circumstances. It is shocking how many people don't realize that. Yet because they don't, Right-to-freeload supporters are more likely to get away with their lies."If the Republicans will stop telling lies about the Democrats," Adlai Stevenson promised, "we will stop telling the truth about them." The way things are going, we won't have to stop telling the truth about them anytime soon. OFA's Truth Team was a great example of using the power of the Internet to speak the truth about the President's record.

A look at demographics
With any type of marketing, you have to know your audience.

Pew recently published a report on internet users and social media. Among their key findings: Social media users tend to be younger, with 83% of 18- to 29-year-old Internet users on at least one social network. Internet users who make less than $30,000 per year are more likely to use social media than those who make more than $30,000. Furthermore, among internet users, women, residents of urban areas, and minorities are more likely to use social media than men, rural residents, and Caucasians, respectively.

Youth, lower-income Americans, minorities, women, urban residents... Notice a trend? This is our base! These are the people whose support we need in order to win. These are the people to whom we need to be reaching out.

Because it is such a new phenomenon, the role of social media on politics is the subject of much debate. But there is little doubt that social media does play a role in elections by affecting how voters view candidates and brands. For this reason, unless you are a 'paper candidate' who has no chance of winning (as this blogger was in 2012), your campaign needs to use social media. And that is why social media needs to play a bigger role in Democrats' communication efforts going forward.