Barca: Assembly Dems plan listening tour to connect with voters

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Assembly Dems will stage listening tours in 2017 to better connect with residents and revamp the ADCC after this fall’s disappointing election results, Minority Leader Peter Barca tells WisPolitics.com

The listening tours, part of a Capitol-based effort to reach out to the state’s working class, will be held by members of the Dem caucus, numbering 35 in the upcoming session; they will start early in the year, Barca, D-Kenosha, said.

While Dems have held listening tours in the past, Barca is prioritizing more extensive efforts for caucus members to share initiatives about “rebuilding the middle class” and get feedback from residents.

Barca said that over the last six years, “there’s no question” the state Dems are “standing up for working-class people,” but that hasn’t necessarily translated to votes, especially last month.

“We’ll be much more focused on talking about these working class issues,” he said.

Rejecting a comparison between the Dems’ tour and Gov. Scott Walker’s listening sessions, which Barca called “campaign events,” Barca said the upcoming listening tours would be “much more open to the public and broadly advertised.”

He also pushed back on jabs, levied by critics after Nov. 8, that elected Dems are more focused on Madison and Milwaukee than the state as a whole, although he acknowledged that “perception can be as important as reality.”

Also heading into 2017, Barca said he’s looking to expand the Dem leadership team within the Capitol to involve more people. In addition to the elected leaders, including minority leader and caucus chair, Barca said he’ll more fully involve others, like the caucus secretary and sergeant-at-arms.

This also includes a separate expansion of ADCC involvement, and bringing back co-chairs to lead the caucus.

The ADCC didn’t have co-chairs in the last cycle because no one took on the roles, but it did have regional coordinators, Barca said. Still, he said, even without the co-chairs, ADCC saw a greater participation among rank-and-file Dems this cycle than in the past.

That participation also showed itself in “strategic” and “aggressive” fundraising, Barca said, especially from rank-and-file Dems who funneled more contributions toward ADCC. He added that more than a dozen members stepped up, which allowed them to raise more money this cycle than in past ones.

A WisPolitics.com check of campaign finance records showed rank-and-file Assembly Dems in non-targeted districts upped their fundraising in the 2016 cycle compared to 2014 and more than doubled how much they donated to fellow candidates, the caucus and Dem parties.

They collected an average of $21,874 in 2016 and contributed an average of $6,571 to other candidates and state party organizations. In 2014, rank-and-file Assembly Dems raised an average of $18,274 and donated an average of $3,165 to candidates and state party organizations.

WisPolitics.com did not include fundraising of the top two leaders in the caucus for each cycle or members who were in targeted races.

The 2016 numbers were skewed somewhat by Milwaukee Rep. David Bowen, who received an influx of donations this year after Dem presidential candidate Bernie Sanders encouraged his national network of supporters to support the state lawmaker. Bowen, the only superdelegate from Wisconsin to back Sanders, raised $80,959 through the pre-election period and finished with $65,500 in the bank.

If Bowen’s numbers are factored out, the average raised by rank-and-file Dems drops to $19,904 and average candidate and state party organization donations drop to $6,432. Both of those figures still exceed 2014 levels.

Barca predicted fundraising will only improve as ADCC works to better coordinate with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the State Senate Democratic Committee going into next year.

“We saw in this election cycle, unfortunately, the Trump wave didn’t show the kind of results we hoped for, but we did get broader participation than we’ve had in awhile,” Barca said. “And we hope to build on that.”

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