On Tuesday, in the first statewide election of the Biden presidency, the progressive won. Dr. Jill Underly beat the Walker/DeVos crowd & was elected Wisconsin’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. It wasn’t close. This is an appreciation thread for those who made it happen. 1/
Before getting into the appreciations—bear in mind that this victory wasn’t remotely inevitable. Scott Walker endorsed. Betsy DeVos’ SuperPAC poured six figures into digital ads in the final days. Early internal polling found the race wide open. https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/wisconsin-underly-kerr-election/
On top of all that—there’s a well-established pattern in politics where the newly-elected president’s party loses ground soon after Inauguration Day. Think of the first wave of Tea Party protests in April 2009. Think of the Women’s March in January 2017. This could've been rough.
The other candidate in this race pushed the national right-wing tropes of the moment—attacking trans girls in sports, demanding immediate reopening regardless of COVID conditions—and strongly backed vouchers. But voters rejected her push for division.
As it turned out, Wisconsin voters love public schools. And a ton of great organizations and leaders worked their hearts out to make sure the public’s values turned into votes. It didn’t happen by accident.
And the center of the story is our candidate—our champion—Dr. Jill Underly. @underlyforwi has been a superintendent, a state administrator, a teacher, a parent, a student… and an activist. She campaigned relentlessly. She’ll serve with integrity.
Dr. Underly wrote her dissertation on poor schools in rural and urban Wisconsin. Her career in education has been fueled by her sharp awareness of disparities, and her refusal to accept them. She knows helping kids in need, white, Black and brown, rural & urban, isn’t zero-sum.
Dr. Underly is the first to admit that she’s not a politician. She’s one of the kindest humans you’ll meet. When she’s fighting for kids, teachers and schools, she’s got a spine of steel. Voters saw and responded. It takes guts to run. Thank you, Dr. Underly!
By the way—join @WisDems in thanking Dr. Underly for her grit, vision, and determination to ensure great public schools for all, no matter where they live or the color of their skin! Sign the online card & we’ll get it to her soon: https://wisdems.org/congrats-underly/?source=socialmedia
Dr. Underly’s win was supported by her family—her husband John Underly, and her kids. This race has been grueling, and they’ve been amazing. Let’s celebrate their work and sacrifice as well, and the other friends and family that helped them through it.
For progressives to win elections, you need a three-legged stool: a great candidate & campaign; strong independent, labor, and grassroots groups; and a strong party. In Wisconsin, because of the work of so many, we’ve got all three.
Dr. Underly was backed by an all-star team. Any candidate, party, or organization would be lucky to work with @skchheda, @austinjkieler, @joshjayh, @alannakconley, @jacksoncweber, @hollyebland, @katieiliff1, and @bnuckels. So thrilled by their efforts & success!
Campaigns involve a constant series of decisions, made in conditions of great uncertainty, with enormous stakes—followed by nitty-gritty execution where details count. Underly’s campaign excelled. Kudos to a great team.
The mighty Wisconsin organized labor, IE, & grassroots infrastructure was essential to winning 2020’s state Supreme Court race, to tipping Wisconsin for Biden—and this spring, it came through once again for Jill Underly—in a huge way.
Workers are at the core of the Democratic coalition. Scott Walker’s endorsement of Underly’s opponent was a continuation of his lifelong assault on organized labor. But the labor movement—and not just teacher’s unions—believes in great public schools, and they fought back.
Enormous kudos to @WEAC, the Wisconsin affiliate of @NEAToday, and to its powerhouse affiliates across Wisconsin. @DuffMartin1, Bob Baxter, @JohnStocks, @AmyMiz, @liloilcan, & SO many other leaders mobilized educators, families, and whole communities statewide.
Like so many kids in Wisconsin, I grew up revering many of my teachers as heroes—and marching with them when administrators and state legislators inflicted policies that undermined their ability to help kids. The GOP has demonized teachers. But teachers have never given up on us.
Huge thanks to @AFTWisconsin, @AFTunion, & @KimKohlhaas—& other labor warriors: @WisAFLCIO & @AFLCIO, @afscme32, @AFSCME, & @JohnGrabel; @SEIUWI & @SEIU; @ibewlocal494 & @IBEW; @UAW; @steelworkers; @ufcw1473, @UFCW & John Eiden; @Teamsters; @WILaborers, @SteveKwaterski, & @LIUNA.
In this election, independent & grassroots groups communicated with voters at scale—on screens, via phones, radios and mailboxes, & at doors. Groups worked in harmony, greater than the sum of their parts. Brilliant behind-the-scenes leadership made that work possible & powerful.
Mega gratitude to @mattullsvik, @DanaLSchultz, Meagan Mahaffey, John Miller, & @PGuarasci. Kudos to @ABetterWis, Jackie Boynton, @nicolemsafar, & @mbrowne87; @wrobin5626, Jasmine Nears & @AmericaVotes, & the inimitable Teresa Vilmain.
Voters heard, hugely, from @ForOurFutureWI / @forourfuture, @DeliverMyVote, @blocbyblocMKE, @VDLF_Action, @CitizenActionWI, @lit_wi, @WIwfp / @workingfamilies, @PPAWI / @PPFA, @OrgEmpowerProj, @WisMuslimVoters, @Fair_Wisconsin, & @BlueSkyWaukesha. Thank you!
Dr. Underly came from a community of activists for public education who have shaped the statewide conversation. Thanks to the @WiscEdNetwork and Heather DuBois Bourenane for their ceaseless organizing & leadership.
And no matter which candidate you support in an election, all of us who believe in democracy owe a debt of gratitude to the poll workers, election administrators, municipal leaders, and civic engagement groups who make rule by the people possible.
We had a great campaign. A dynamite grassroots network. And we had the critical third ingredient of success: a strong party—in fact, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is stronger than it’s ever been in a spring election after a presidential year.
The @WisDems executive director—my close partner, a transformative manager and leader, a brilliant strategist and tactician, and an organizer’s organizer, is @NellieBme. She makes more happen every day than any five other people you could name.
Living legend @annasurrey25, and her unstoppable deputies @GabbieStasson @realchadenhart @eavila_rg, led our statewide organizing team through its third straight statewide victory. This leadership team could be running a presidential field operation. So glad they’re in WI.
The organizing team’s Regional Organizing Directors, Youth Organizing Director, field organizers, and (paid!) organizing interns—working w/ our county parties & hundreds of local teams, recruited more volunteer shifts than in WI’s spring 2020 Supreme Court election. Amazing work.
Side note: @WisDems is hiring field organizers! It’s a great, unionized, well-paying job working with inspiring people to change the world. Learn more and apply here: https://wisdems.org/get-involved/join-our-team/careers/field-organizer/
Senior elections director @remiker_devin oversaw our strategic engagement in this race and served as the bridge to Team Underly & allies, & managed our stellar data team and VoPro shop led by @DaveKronig. @bhaviklathia’s brilliantly creative digital team dominated cyberspace.
Nick Truog, aka @LiberalStallion, led our political team, including deputy @_hmullen, and @anniemakielski on candidate services—working with dozens of great local candidates this spring. Local candidates build our bench, our party, & our society. Thanks to all who ran!
Jade Tacka led our juggernaut of a finance team, which made the rest of the work financially possible. @ahmirrashid’s operations team made it all logistically & legally possible. @joe_oslund, research & comms, ensured we told our story & got the facts right.
And a ton of staff not tagged here played critical roles at every stage. It’s an astonishingly strong team, and I’m grateful every day that I get to work with all the folks who make it roar.
Everyone who works on an election, from candidate to neighborhood team leader, had backup. I’m so grateful to my own family—especially my amazing wife Beth; our three kids; & my mom Lynn and stepdad Mike who helped w/ kids at clutch moments.
The @WisDems statewide leadership is elected every two years at our state convention. I’m lucky to serve with First Vice Chair @LadyHawkeLesia, Second Vice Chair @SnodgrassforWI, Secretary @kringlemeg, and Treasurer Randy Udell. We’re all up again this June!
The five of us work with a slew of elected leaders—of county parties all over the state, of our 8 Congressional District subunits, of our caucuses, of the youth affiliates @YoungDemsWI @CollegeDemsWI & @hsdemswi, and of the national @DNC.
In this election, Dems dominated the yard sign wars. That’s thanks to rural caucus chair Nate Timm & our regional distro hub leaders: Jeff Leverich @portagecowidems @lacrossedems @BrownWIDems @mkedems @EC_Democrats @jeffcodemswi—who, together, sent out 20,000 signs!
The volunteers who make up our county parties and other subunits, and our hundreds of local neighborhood action teams, are the lifeblood of the party. They power every electoral victory, they hold the Party to its values, and they make democracy work.
If you’re a Wisconsinite and at least 14 years old, you can become an official member of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin here. You’ll also be joining your local county party—the building blocks of the state party. Join! http://wisdems.org/join
And all of these grassroots Democrats elect Democrats to office—who then help elect other Dems to office. Our whole Congressional delegation pitched into Underly’s campaign. Tremendous thanks to @TammyBaldwin @Gwen4Congress @MarkPocan & @KindforCongress for lending your voices!
So many other elected Democrats at the state, county, and local level helped out—kicking off virtual phone banks, speaking to the press, lifting up Underly & her message on social media, helping with fundraisers, recruiting volunteers. Everyone pulled together magnificently.
And there wasn’t just one candidate on the ballot—there were thousands of local elections. To all the reelected and newly-elected local Democrats & progressives: Thank you. And thanks for helping turn out voters to power statewide victory too!
All of those people and organizations—from the campaign to the groups to the party, working towards a single mission—added up to a 16-point landslide, 526,286 votes to 386,392. Underly carried 2/3 of the state’s counties, rural & suburban & urban alike.
This doesn’t mean Wisconsin is suddenly a bright blue state. Not remotely. One way to think about this election is that Underly and her supporters mounted such a strong effort that the GOP machine decided not to fully engage.
We should see the results from Tuesday’s election as evidence that what we do matters—that it’s worth investing funds, time, and organization into races every year, not just once every four years. But we can’t let this win lull us into false security.
This election was vitally important by itself, but it’s also an opening act for 2022. Next year, Ron Johnson hopes to ride a backlash to a third term. Republicans want to defeat Governor Evers, so they can pass voter suppression laws in ‘23 to win WI & the White House in ‘24.
We learned a ton this spring. We’ll learn much more as we pore over the data. But one lesson is clear: we should keep organizing, keep communicating, keep building. We’re simply never going to stop. That’s how we win.
If you’d like to help, please: Become a monthly donor. Recurring gifts let us budget—and give us the confidence to keep expanding our team. Sign up as a monthly supporter here: http://wisdems.org/monthly
And wherever you are, let’s use the energy and inspiration from this win to keep ourselves driving forward in the ups and downs of the coming year. There’s no statewide election in Wisconsin until November 8, 2022. But there’s a lot to do from now till then. Forward!