Ten Years: Students Moving the Country Forward

Dec 18, 2014Taylor Jo Isenberg

After ten years of engaging young people in the political process, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network continues to push for a system that works for all of us.

In an email to peers at Stanford University students on November 4, 2004, a student attempted to turn the tide on the malaise setting in after a disappointing election night for progressives. He captured the sentiment of the moment:

After ten years of engaging young people in the political process, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network continues to push for a system that works for all of us.

In an email to peers at Stanford University students on November 4, 2004, a student attempted to turn the tide on the malaise setting in after a disappointing election night for progressives. He captured the sentiment of the moment:

Elections are a great time to shape the future of our country, but democracy is not something that happens every four years. We have a lot of work to do … we need to figure out how to explain what we care about in a coherent and convincing way, we need to develop a leadership network to match the conservatives of the next generation, and we need to keep public officials accountable to the issues that brought us all in.

In a follow-up email, he boiled it down to one simple statement: "I'm seeing a student-run think tank that will reinvigorate mainstream politics with a new generation's ideas."

In one of those rare occurrences that indicate that people might be on to something, others were incubating a similar concept. Two friends at Middlebury and Bates also felt compelled to respond to the political moment, and articulated their initial thoughts on a "think tank that unites college students across America under one political agenda aimed at taking back our democracy." Something similar was taking shape at Yale University.

The rest of the story is Roosevelt lore – the late nights, cross-country recruiting trips, the passionate debates about how best to position the organization to effectively elevate young people as a source for powerful ideas capable of policy change.

Yet what makes this particular story potent is that, ten years later, we celebrate not only that vision, but also today's reality. Thousands of students over the past ten years have worked tirelessly to actualize the initial vision that emerged from a bleak moment in our political history. We’ve published 600+ policy solutions that have been read over half a million times; trained thousands on how to challenge the fundamentals of our social, political, and economic systems; and catapulted young people as civic actors into key debates on the policy challenges of our day. Most importantly, the list of student and chapter successes on the ground is staggering in its breadth and depth of examples where young people have taken active ownership of their communities to bring about solutions with meaningful impact.

As a proud Roosevelter, I think we have much to celebrate. We took a few days last week to elevate our work in Washington, DC – a celebration that included a conversation with Representative Rosa DeLauro and members of Congress on how to look to best practices from Roosevelt’s model to effectively engage a new generation in policy and politics, a discussion on the Campus Network’s next ten years, and presentations at the White House featuring our student’s policy work. And of course, we hosted a party for 190+ alumni and supporters (a rockin’ one, according to keynote speaker Jared Bernstein).

Ten years is also a moment to look towards our future. It’s been a common refrain around our office and with our members that there are some unsettling parallels between the post-election reality ten years ago and the one we face today. Distrust of institutions is on the rise, policy priorities with high public support are thwarted by special interests, and our debate is seriously deprived (with a few exceptions) of a vision for what our country can build towards. We’re still in need of a shake up. The upside? Where things are happening, it’s often led or heavily supported by young people – from the ballot initiatives in the 2014 election to the sustained demand for accountability in our justice system.

It’s no secret that the political establishment is perplexed about young people. The media haphazardly jumps between two narratives, unable to decide if we’re self-absorbed, naïve and complacent in the face of our economic future, or the most civically minded quiet do-gooders since the Greatest Generation. Yet many of the major civic and political organizations are struggling with declining membership numbers. It’s not unheard of for organizations to develop “Millennial engagement strategies” to combat this problem.

We think the answer pretty simple: it’s about institutions and systems embracing the shifts instead of fearing them. From the moment they walk through the door, our members are asked to be a part of building something as equals. They’re given the tools to be the architects – and are instantly connected to a network of peers who support them. In a political system more interested in managing young people than tapping into their ingenuity and energy, Roosevelters come to us because they see the limitations of traditional pathways of engagement. As a result, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has remained a network that evolves and shifts as our students lead the way.

We aren’t, of course, the only ones – there is a vibrant ecosystem of organizations and movements that are also innovating and responding to the changing ways people of all ages are expressing their priorities. We could not be more proud of our alumni who have gone on to lead, participate in, and learn from these efforts.

Our successes also beg the question – what does this mean for the next ten years? How do we continue to amplify our strengths and evolve to reflect the moment, opportunities, and risks? That’s the conversation we’re having next – a conversation we want our alumni and supporters to be a part of. In 2015, the Roosevelt Institute will introduce our Alumni Network, which will focus on how to strengthen the Roosevelt community and its potential to influence social and economic priorities. If we are to respond to the call for an economic and democratic system that works for this century, it is going to take all of us.

It is now a Campus Network tradition to close any major convening or retreat with a passage from Jean Edward Smith’s FDR. It narrates President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepting the nomination at the 1936 Democratic National Convention. It’s a famous speech, most notably for his “This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny” quote. We start reading a little earlier – Smith sets the stage, with the country emerging from the worst of the Great Depression. Roosevelt walks to the platform on the arm of his son James. Smith details a powerful moment, where the President sees the poet Edwin Markham, author of Man with a Hoe, reaches out to greet him, and stumbles and falls. People rush to snap his braces back into place. He then proceeds to give the speech, which puts forward uncompromising and substantive statements on political and economic equality. It’s resolute, forceful, and clear – there are wrongs we must right, power that needs to be rebalanced, problems to be solved by the people.

I hope that our members take two things away from the passage. First, that every individual can’t do it alone. Second, that it is possible to stand for something that upsets the current balance of power – and to see the country move forward as a result. It’s a valuable reminder today, when all seems hopeless in the face of stagnation and entrenchment.

As we look to the next ten years, that’s the question Roosevelters will continue to ask, and will eventually answer. What do we stand for, and how will we move this country forward?

Taylor Jo Isenberg is the Vice President of Networks at the Roosevelt Institute.

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The Budget Fight Was the First Skirmish in the War for the Soul of the Democratic Party

Dec 12, 2014Richard Kirsch

Democrats had the leverage to nix a deal that opens the door to more Wall Street bailouts, but they caved in to Republican blackmail.

Progressives lost the battle over the budget last night because President Obama and a minority of Democrats took the side of Wall Street. It is the first of many losses we will see in the next two years as Republicans relentlessly pursue their corporate agenda. The bigger question is whether progressives will lose the war in the Democratic Party.

Democrats had the leverage to nix a deal that opens the door to more Wall Street bailouts, but they caved in to Republican blackmail.

Progressives lost the battle over the budget last night because President Obama and a minority of Democrats took the side of Wall Street. It is the first of many losses we will see in the next two years as Republicans relentlessly pursue their corporate agenda. The bigger question is whether progressives will lose the war in the Democratic Party.

Blowing up this budget deal should have been easy for Democrats. They were handed a perfect message: the Republicans are willing to shut down the government so they can bail out Wall Street the next time it wrecks the economy.

Democratic votes were needed because a group of 67 right-wing Republicans opposed the bill on the grounds that it did not go far enough in opposing the president’s executive order on immigration. The Republican split gave Democrats the leverage to demand that the bank bail-out provision be stripped from the bill.

But with President Obama twisting enough Democratic arms (57 in total) to give in to the Wall Street-engineered Republican blackmail, that powerful, winning message was diluted.

Democratic negotiators also agreed to the deal to repeal a provision of the Dodd-Frank law that prevents government bailouts of banks who engage in a form of risky trading. Their argument was “Republicans made us do it; it’s the best we could do.” But of course, with all the Wall Street money going to Democrats, that’s a convenient excuse. They can turn around and wink at the lobbyists who deliver Wall Street campaign contributions, playing a game in which the dupes are the American people.

The bailout of banks and Wall Street speculators remains deeply and broadly unpopular. It is an issue that generates anger among grassroots activists on the left and the right. For Americans who see Wall Street billionaires getting richer by gaming the system while families struggle to meet the basics, there could be no clearer contrast.

Progressive Democrats fought back. In a rapid-fire display of the energy and nimbleness of progressive organizations and champions in Congress, the deal was quickly exposed.

Senator Elizabeth Warren laid it out clearly on the Senate floor: “We put this rule in place because people of all political persuasions were disgusted at the idea of future bailouts… Republicans in the House of Representatives are threatening to shut down the government if they don’t get a chance to repeal it.”

In the House, progressive Democrats joined the call. California Rep. Maxine Waters, the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, said, “We don't like lobbying that is being done by the president or anybody else that would allow us to support a bill that ... would give a big gift to Wall Street and the bankers who caused this country to almost go into a depression.”

The vigorous pushback from progressive groups and their allies in Congress convinced Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to break with the White House. Pelosi said that they were being “blackmailed” to vote for the bill, which she called “a moral hazard.” Still, Pelosi did not use her considerable powers of persuasion to get fellow Democrats to vote no.

For the next two years we will see Republicans do everything they can to deliver for corporate America at the expense of the American people. The only question is whether Democrats will enable them. Will President Obama continue to make compromise after compromise? Will Democrats in the Senate use the filibuster to block the Republican attack on working families? Will enough Democrats in the House keep coming to the rescue of a divided Republican Party?

We will see the same fight in the Democratic primary for president. Will Hillary Clinton break from the Wall Street wing of the party with which she aligned as a senator from New York? Will her challengers make the same sharp contrast that Senator Warren did, when she began her speech on the Senate floor by asking, “Who does Congress work for? Does it work for the millionaires, the billionaires, the giant companies with their armies of lobbyists or lawyers? Or does it work for all the people?”

As I wrote after the election last month, Democrats who used a populist economic message – who named the corporate villains and declared that “we all do better when we all do better” – won. Democrats who ran to the mushy middle lost.

But this is not just a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party, it’s a fight for our very democracy. As Justice Louis Brandeis said almost a century ago, “We may have a democracy or we may have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

Americans are yearning for champions who stand up for them. If we have any hope of changing the direction of our economy from enriching the rich at the expense of the rest of us and of recapturing our democracy from the CEO campaign contributors and Wall Street bag men, it will be because progressive forces and elected champions stand up not just to Republicans but to President Obama and any Democrat who takes the side of Wall Street against America’s working families.

It is clear that progressives and the American people will lose battle after battle in Congress over the next two years. The real question is whether we will lose the war. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - December 4: Fixing Overtime Will Boost the Economy

Dec 4, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

An Overdue Fix to Overtime (Other Words)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch argues that raising the salary limit for mandatory overtime pay would help the underemployed, too, as they would likely get more hours.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

An Overdue Fix to Overtime (Other Words)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch argues that raising the salary limit for mandatory overtime pay would help the underemployed, too, as they would likely get more hours.

Study Finds Violations of Wage Law in New York and California (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse reports on a new Department of Labor study that finds that in 2011, between 3.5 and 6.5 percent of workers in New York and California were paid less than the minimum wage.

Even the Night Owls Need to Go Home Eventually (Pacific Standard)

Jake Blumgart looks at the Philadelphia subway system's shift to 24-hour weekend service, which was advertised as a nightlife service but has been heavily used by workers who get off late.

Legislator to Introduce Right-to-Work Legislation (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Todd Richmond reports on the Wisconsin GOP Assembly member who plans to introduce the legislation despite warnings from Democrats that it could lead to protests like Wisconsin saw in 2011.

Are Cities the Next Front in the Right’s War on Labor? (The Nation)

Moshe Marvit looks at anti-union groups' plans to push right-to-work laws on a local level, which has no legal precedent but is likely to be attempted anyway in labor-friendly states.

Democrats, It’s Time to Move On (WSJ)

Focusing on the could'ves and should'ves of the midterms won't deliver the economic momentum that American voters want, writes William Galston. Democrats need to instead focus on these next two years.

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Daily Digest - November 19: Why Do So Few Workers Get Overtime Pay Today?

Nov 19, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Whatever Happened to Overtime? (Politico Magazine)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Whatever Happened to Overtime? (Politico Magazine)

Nick Hanauer says that raising the earnings threshold for mandatory overtime pay would kickstart the economy by either ensuring workers have more money or forcing companies to hire more workers.

Can Republicans Shut Down the Government Without Actually Shutting Down the Government? (WaPo)

Paul Waldman explains the GOP plan to stop any executive action on immigration without shutting down the government. The strategy: to pass spending bills that exclude the offices that would work on that issue.

Over Bentley's Objections, Golden Dragon Plant Votes for Union (Montgomery Advisor)

The Republican governor of Alabama urged workers at a copper plant to vote against unionizing with a letter distributed directly to the plant workers shortly before they voted in favor of their union.

Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions (NYT)

Thomas Edsall points out that while Republicans demonize unions, and public sector unions in particular, the Democrats aren't doing much of anything to push back on labor's behalf.

When Mega Corporations Get Mega Tax Breaks, We All Pay (The Nation)

Katrina vanden Heuvel, a member of the Roosevelt Institute's board of directors, says that closing corporate income tax loopholes could fund incredible projects, like national universal pre-K.

Here's Why Conservatives Will Never Give Up Their War on Obamacare (TNR)

The "partisan incomprehension" that follows the Affordable Care Act around in the news is primarily based in the fact that Republicans lost a highly partisan fight, writes Brian Beutler.

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News Flash: Progressives Have a Winning Economic Narrative -- and Democrats Who Used It Won

Nov 11, 2014Richard Kirsch

Democrats can connect with voters by telling a story about how they'll make the economy work for all of us.

The big post-election consensus is that Democrats believe, as The New York Times put it, they were missing “a broad economic message to enthuse supporters and convert some independents.”

Democrats can connect with voters by telling a story about how they'll make the economy work for all of us.

The big post-election consensus is that Democrats believe, as The New York Times put it, they were missing “a broad economic message to enthuse supporters and convert some independents.”

So what would that missing narrative be? The point of a narrative is to give people an explanation of what they are experiencing that includes what is wrong, who is responsible, and what we can do about it.

Take a look at two explanations of what’s happening that are very similar but different in important ways.

The first, from Republican message guru Frank Luntz, writing in The New York Times: “[F]rom the reddest rural towns to the bluest big cities, the sentiment is the same. People say Washington is broken and on the decline, that government no longer works for them — only for the rich and powerful.”

The second, from Democratic message advisors James Carville and Stan Greenberg, along with Page Gardner: “People believe that the rich are using their influence to rig the system so the economy works for them but not the middle class.”

The big difference here is how the common sentiment among Americans – that the rich call the shots – is framed to suggest a solution. By focusing on the government, Luntz sets up the Republican push for limited government. Or as successful Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst said in a debate, “When Washington is picking… winners and losers, it’s almost always our Iowa middle-class families that lose.”

For Carville, Greenberg, and Gardner, the focus is on the economy being rigged. Or as one ad for Oregon’s Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said, “It is Jeff leading the fight to hold Wall Street and big banks accountable when they prey on working families and small businesses. ”

Merkley won and so did Ernst. The explanation, according to progressive pundits, is that Democrats like Merkley who used a populist message – which means they connected people’s economic concerns to the rich and powerful who are responsible – were successful while Dems who ran away from that message lost. As someone who has been leading the Progressive Economic Narrative (PEN) project, I really wanted to believe that. But as it seemed too easy, I decided to look at some campaigns and see whether it was spin or the truth. It turns out to be the truth.

The first case I looked at was Minnesota Democrat Al Franken’s campaign. After eking out a victory in the great Democratic year of 2008, Franken won handily this year, even as Republicans took over the Minnesota House of Representatives. Imagine my smile when I quickly found Franken ads based on the key value statement in our Progressive Economic Narrative, “We all do better when we all do better.” This was also a key theme of Minnesota’s great progressive senator, Paul Wellstone.

Franken’s progressive populism makes a key distinction when he uses the key word in that values phrase, “all.” As he says in another ad,  “I work for all Minnesotans. Wall Street wasn’t happy about that. But I don’t work for Wall Street. I work for you.”

The name of our Progressive Economic Narrative is “An America that works for all of us,” which is central to the aspirational power of our story. However, what is needed for that message to win is to make it clear who is not included in “all of us” (i.e., the wealthy). A poll of voters last spring found that voters preferred “growing the economy” over “an economy that works for all of us” by 10 percentage points. By contrast, voters chose “an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy” over “growing the economy” by 22 points!

Merkley was also sure to name the villains of the economic story throughout his campaign, as in the Wall Street ad mentioned above.

So what about those Democrats who lost in purple states? I would have thought Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who founded the populist caucus when he got to Congress in 2007, would have run a populist campaign. Instead, Braley ran on working across the aisle to get things done in Iowa and not “letting the extremists from either party get in the way.” Because voters are skeptical about anything getting done for them in Washington, his message fell flat.

Braley listed progressive issues, but without a narrative to link them together. His only villains were the “Koch brothers and their extreme agenda,” but he didn’t say what made their agenda extreme. Contrast that with how Merkley described “the billionaire Koch brothers,” who want to give “more tax breaks to millionaires and reward companies that ship jobs overseas.”

What about Mark Udall in Colorado, another Democrat who lost in a purple state that Obama carried? Udall built his campaign narrative around a war on women by his opponent Rep. Corey Gardner. He, like Braley, ticked off a list of progressive issues – from minimum wage to pay equity to protecting Social Security – without providing any framing story to link them together. He left out who the villains are in the story.

Udall also committed the ultimate narrative sin: delivering your opponent’s story. Here’s the closing line of a Udall ad: “I’m Mark Udall. No one – not government, not Washington – should have the power to take those rights and freedoms away.” Voters who wanted the anti-government candidate chose the real thing!

Udall would have had a much broader audience for his “war on women” message if he framed it as part of a broader war on American families by the rich and powerful. It is easy to make opposition to pay equity or a woman’s right to make her own decisions part of this broader story, which speaks to Americans’ deep concerns about their families.

One part of the story I didn’t see in the candidate ads was how Democrats should address Luntz’s “blame government” narrative. The answer, as Hart Research pollster Guy Molyneaux explains in The New York Times, quoting almost verbatim from the Progressive Economic Narrative, is that “the important question facing America today is not how big government should be so much as who government should work for: corporations and the wealthy, or all Americans?”

As Molyneaux points out, “That is a debate Democrats can and will win.”

What even progressive Democrats need to do better is tell a story about how to create that economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy. This is a matter of both clear narrative and bold policy.

The core of our economic theory is, as we say in the Progressive Economic Narrative, “working people and the middle class are the engines of the economy.” Another version of this, popularized by the Center for American Progress, is “we build the economy from the middle-out, not trickle-down.”

The story we are telling is that people are the job creators, not businesses. That raising the minimum wage is not just about fairness, but about creating economy-boosting jobs that put money in people’s pockets to spend in their communities. “We all do better when we all do better” is not just a statement of values; it’s the progressive belief about how the economy works.

Our narrative connects to policy with the phrase “we build a strong middle class by decisions we make together.” Democrats need to step up with bold policies, many of which are already out there, waiting to be championed. Here are just three:

1.     A massive public investment to dramatically increase the use of clean energy  – which would at the same time tackle the challenge of climate disruption – with a requirement that all the jobs created pay wages that can support a family.

2.     A $15/hr minimum wage that grows with productivity, so that workers get their fare share of the wealth they create. 

3.     A robust system of public financing that would allow candidates to win office without taking big campaign contributions from anyone, addressing the public’s belief that the rich call the shots.

One thing Democrats had better not say is “Oh, what’s the narrative? What do we say about the economy?” Progressives have a powerful narrative and bold solutions to create an America and an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy. Candidates who run on this have won and will win. And an America that runs on these policies will do to what too many Americans no longer believe is possible: provide a better life for our children. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

2014 election results map courtesy of Politico.

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Expand Registration Efforts on Campus to Increase Youth Turnout

Nov 10, 2014Megan Ernst

A little-known provision of the Higher Education Act which creates a federal obligation for colleges to help with voter registration could be a key for youth turnout efforts.

A little-known provision of the Higher Education Act which creates a federal obligation for colleges to help with voter registration could be a key for youth turnout efforts.

After a disappointing election night, it’s time to start thinking about the effects of the collective decision our country has made. Despite the importance of Tuesday’s election for determining the direction of policy for the next two years and setting the tone for the 2016 presidential campaign, youth turnout was low – as it almost always is. Youth aged 18 to 29 made up only 13 percent of this year’s voting electorate, even though we represent nearly double that percentage of the population. Additionally, approximately half of 18-year-olds aren’t registered to vote.

Understanding and increasing youth turnout has been the topic of many policy papers and op-eds. The problem is twofold – we must register young voters in higher numbers, and then increase the number who show up to vote. Here’s the difference: often, it’s adults pushing registration and get out the vote efforts on newly eligible voters. What if, instead, we took the initiative to encourage our peers, create policy, and hold institutions accountable in order to get more youth engaged, registered, and voting?

Colleges have a federal obligation to “make the voter registration forms widely available to your students and distribute the forms individually to your degree or certificate program students who are physically in attendance at your institution.” If every “covered institution” made the broadest effort under this provision of the Higher Education Act, they would make sure every student at that university or community college was provided a voter registration form and the necessary instructions to complete it. Universities could also make registration change forms readily available to students who registered to vote in their parents’ district, but would prefer to vote in their school’s district. This would minimize the burden of voting on students as they could fulfill their voting responsibilities locally.

Here’s the first thing students can do: If students think their institution falls under this requirement, they should make sure it is fulfilling its obligation to its student body. If not, they should talk to administrators to try to find out what more the college or university can do.

In the state of Georgia, individuals are eligible to register to vote six months before they turn 18. Given the age range of most entering college freshmen, schools could provide voter registration forms at college and university orientation, as well as a time and place to complete the form and return it for mailing. This is such a simple policy change at the university level that could have significant impact. If students can prove to colleges that they are required to do this, and that they can fulfill this obligation in one fell swoop at orientation, why wouldn’t they?

Even if colleges have responsibilities to their students regarding registration, these institutions don’t necessarily provide unique opportunities to increase voting. Countless student organizations, nonprofits, and campaigns run get out the vote efforts on campuses, but universities themselves aren’t doing anything to increase turnout. Colleges could take responsibility for providing absentee ballot request forms in the same manner that they provide registration forms.

Some states provide special voting provisions for college students. Pennsylvania offers emergency absentee ballots for voters who could not apply for an absentee ballot by the regular deadline. One of the qualifications for receiving an emergency ballot is status as a college student. These ballot requests must be placed by the Friday before Election Day. States could help students (and other voters) apply for absentee ballots online, minimizing the burden on young voters to participate in this process.

Another chance to speak up: Students should talk to their colleges about what opportunities exist on their campuses to make voting easier. Students can help administrators devise or improve plans to offer absentee ballot request forms for students and could also develop policy proposals to take to their state government that argue for broader options in applying for absentee ballots.

Not all youth are in college, though, and a majority of engagement efforts targeting this demographic focus on college campuses. Even though there is significant room for improvement in those initiatives, we must also look at broader policy that could reach every eligible youth. The state of California opened online voter registration for one month before this year’s election. Though it was only open for a short time, the results are “striking.” Online registration appeared popular with all voters, but young voters in particular utilized this new method of registration. Thirty percent of online registrants were under 25, and this led to an eight percent increase in turnout in that age bracket.

Time for another action step: Roosevelt Institute Campus Network members should write policy proposals to bring online voter registration to their states. California’s success is an important metric to show lawmakers and stakeholders in other states that this form of registration is a viable option.

Colleges have historically been hotbeds of political activity and activism. It’s time to capitalize on the enthusiasm of young students and translate that into votes. Additionally, we should spread the spirit of political engagement on college campuses to youth outside the ivory tower. We need to be inclusive when it comes to youth registration and voting efforts, targeting nonstudent youth through statewide efforts. Expanding registration efforts, which by necessity involves talking to young people about voting, will make a big difference on Election Day 2016.

Megan Ernst, a senior at the University of Georgia studying journalism, political science, and public administration, serves as the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Senior Fellow for Education.

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With This Political Scene, Millennial Turnout Isn't a Surprise

Nov 6, 2014Alan Smith

Millennials aren't engaged in the current model of partisan politics, but true networks of engagement would bring far more young people into the political fold.

Millennials aren't engaged in the current model of partisan politics, but true networks of engagement would bring far more young people into the political fold.

As pundits predicted (Nate Silver really has taken the drama out of election returns) the Republicans swept to a classic 6th year victory, winning senate and gubernatorial majorities on the backs of disillusionment with Obama and low turnout across the board. Also as predicted, young voters’ share of the electorate dropped: from 19 percent in 2012 to 13 percent this year. This pretty much mirrors the turnout in the last two midterm elections, and we can safely call this a trend in Millennial political engagement.

I'm not going to spend time trying to debunk the notion of Millennials as lazy or disengaged. I don't buy those narratives, either anecdotally or statistically, but what's important today is that we've seen the confirmation of a very dangerous trend: this moment of low turnout is perfectly in line with an all-time low in people's faith in our institutions of government.  If what we want from voting is for people to engage more with the rules that govern their lives, we need to make the process of engaging much more meaningful that what currently passes as voting.

I can't blame us, either. The connection between voting and positive change has never been so tenuous. The elimination of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has opened the door for disenfranchisement movements around the country, and there will be more felons prevented from voting in Georgia then the entire Alaskan electorate (who, by the way, still got to pick a senator). Money, as the Daily Show observed, pretty roundly trumped ideas in this election. Even worse, zooming further out reveals a federal government that seems pathologically incapable of doing anything at all. Why should we care that the senate swung red, or a congressional seat remained blue? We have passionate debates about global warming, about immigration, and about how to fix a healthcare system and an economy that both leave out large numbers of Americans, but when we get to the ballot box those debates seem very removed. How do you know if your vote is a vote for a carbon cap-and-trade program, or against gun control? You don't, and you can't, because the systems that govern our democracy are simply not that responsive.

While I've heard plenty of arguments that yes, this is how representative democracy is supposed to work, it seems to me that we risk a generation of voters systemically having their worst fears and cynicism (and thus disengagement) re-enforced by real results.

It's a real problem. So what? 

My title at the Roosevelt Institute is “Associate Director of Networked Initiatives.” I often end up trying to explain to people what, exactly, that means. Sometimes I'm not sure myself. But if we know that traditional institutions - from Beltway politics to social structures - are crumbling, then how can we take that knowledge and make something positive from it?  So the challenge of my position at Roosevelt is to figure out how organizations that already exist, and those that are starting every day, can work independently while being a part of a network.

In this, there is a vision for how we think about political parties. Not as top down institutions, but as networks of people who support and push each other toward social change, and then are moved to vote as a part of the process they are already engaged in.  

We know that Millennials are civically minded from extensive polling. We are interested in starting our own organizations, and are passionate about many issues. This is not, simply put, a generation that has checked out on change. We're running divestment campaigns, we're starting non-profits, and we're throwing ourselves into the breach as teachers. But with so much re-inventing of the wheel, the Millennial generation's activism is not reaching the scale that we need.

For our Federal government to work at all, we need people to buy in as voters. We need people to show up, to use voting as a starting point, and to assist on projects for the greater good. What if, instead of looking for people to joining the organizations that already exist to build to federal levels of power, we were looking instead for an affiliation of organizations? We are, at this point in our technological history, capable of communications structures and consensus building that is far more complex and more nuanced than it has ever been. And we're also at a point where simply repeating the same tired political process is not just not working, it's actively driving people away.

I am not suggesting creating a loose coalition of organizations, where people sign off on national legislation, or add their votes to other people's petitions. Roosevelt is a network in the sense of communicating between different nodes: active sharing of ideas and information and resources, as well as shared problem solving, to go along with the combined sense of purpose, and shared values. Imagine with me, a party that recruited organizations that already existed, without trying to change their mission. Education organizations, environmental groups, crowdfunding platforms, and better business bureaus with a shared set of values, sharing their work and collaborating with each other. Imagine a network, in the truest sense, that takes what is the same about local problems and elevates the core issues to a national platform, while giving each local group the agency to tackle things the way they need to be tackled. Instead of making voting the core part of how we engage as active citizens, let's make it an end product for engaged people who realize that they've reached the logical end of what they can do locally, and thus need to pass some power up the chain to a Federal government that is ready and waiting. 

There was a glimmer of this process in last night, with organizations that were able to move important issues like minimum wage hikes in Nebraska and South Dakota and soda taxes in Berkeley. A network of organizations that supports local groups, finds candidates that share similar values, and passes on best practices? That sounds like a network that Millennials are already engaged in.

Today, America is angry at Millennials for not voting. Instead, I would suggest that we should be angry at an American government that has passed on actual democratic principles in exchange for the consolidation of power. I think Millennials are smart enough to see this, and that we're building different civic infrastructures, some of which will eventually grow to scale. 

Could political parties be one of these things? Maybe. But they would need to embrace the grassroots, and stop worrying so much if that means getting some grass stains on their message. 

Alan Smith is the Roosevelt Institute's Associate Director of Networked Initiatives.

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Daily Digest - November 6: Electoral Cycles Aren't Enough for Voter Engagement

Nov 6, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Understanding the Electorate (All In with Chris Hayes)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Understanding the Electorate (All In with Chris Hayes)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren says that political parties need to figure out a way to engage voters outside of the electoral cycle if they're going to increase turnout in the midterms.

Private Equity’s Sunshine Problem (PE Hub)

Chris Witkowsky builds on Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti's recent letter to the editor in The New York Times, creating a proposal for some private equity fund terms to be made public.

A Big Night For Minimum Wage Increases (FiveThirtyEight)

Ben Casselman says that voters' approval of minimum wage increases and Republicans winning statewide office may seem at odds, but these votes stem from the same economic fears.

Three States Could Have Ended Legal Abortion. Only One Did. (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger reports on the failed personhood measures in Colorado and North Dakota, as well as Tennessee's successful one, which is expected to lead to extreme anti-choice laws.

Voters in Seattle Just Taxed Themselves to Pay for Preschool for the Poor (WaPo)

Emily Badger looks at one local progressive win from Tuesday's elections. The Seattle proposition will fully subsidize preschool for families earning up to 300 percent of the poverty level.

New on Next New Deal

In Blowout Aftermath, Remember GDP Growth Was Slower in 2013 Than in 2012

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal reminds us that the Great Recession isn't actually over. The data explains why voters, still worried about the economy, are expressing such discontent.

Leadership Wanted: Pushing for More College Attainment? Start in Public Housing.

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Leadership Director Kevin Stump argues that public housing creates an opportunity to bring together resources to help needy students where they live.

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Will Kansas Voters Choose to Continue Their Governor's Economic Experiments?

Nov 3, 2014Andrea FlynnShulie Eisen

In the past four years, Governor Brownback has brought radical tax cuts to Kansas, and the gubernatorial election will show if Kansans approve of the result. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

In the past four years, Governor Brownback has brought radical tax cuts to Kansas, and the gubernatorial election will show if Kansans approve of the result. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

Kansas governor Sam Brownback – one of the most conservative leaders in the nation – is in a close fight to prevent State Representative Paul Davis (D) from taking his seat. Four years ago Brownback took office with hopes of making Kansas a "real, live experiment" to create a mid-western conservative utopia. He has slashed business regulations; privatized Medicaid delivery; cut taxes for the wealthy; and practically eliminated income taxes, a move that Mother Jones recently described as putting the state into “cardiac arrest.”

The Kansas City Star recently wrote that Brownback’s dream is far from a reality. Since his radical tax cuts took effect “31 other states have added jobs at a faster clip than Kansas,” state revenue is hundreds of millions less than expected, and Kansas’ public services – particularly K-12 education – are seriously imperiled. And as a result, Brownback’s leadership is also in peril. Recent polls have the two candidates virtually tied. The victor on Tuesday will dramatically influence a number of important issues in Kansas, perhaps none more than those that have a disproportionate impact on women and their families. And the candidates couldn’t be further apart on those issues.

Where do women in Kansas stand?

As we described in our analysis of the Kansas Senate race, women in that state face high rates of poverty, un- and underemployment, and a persistent wage gap. Many still lack insurance coverage, suffer from a lack of paid sick and family leave, and have an unmet need for quality, affordable health care, particularly reproductive healthcare. Kansas is not participating in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), leaving nearly 80,000 adults currently uninsured, half of whom are women, who would have otherwise qualified. Kansas is also the only state in the country that saw its uninsured rate significantly increase in the last year.

Where do the candidates stand?

Affordable Care Act

Governor Brownback has refused federal funds to participate in Medicaid expansion under the ACA, and signed a bill that devolved the authority for Medicaid expansion to the legislature, where hell might freeze over before one of the main pillars of President Obama’s signature policy achievement is fulfilled. This move has guaranteed that even if Davis wins, Kansas is unlikely to see an expansion of Medicaid anytime soon, even though 52 precent of Kansans are in support of it. Forty-one percent have said that Brownback’s failure to expand Medicaid would make them less likely to vote for him.

Davis has said that expanding Medicaid is “the right thing” for Kansas to do.

 

Family Planning

Under Brownback’s leadership, Kansas passed a law in 2011 blocking all federal Title X family planning funds to clinics and other entities providing abortions, drastically limiting financial support for Planned Parenthood and other providers. 

Paul Davis has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

 

Abortion

Kansas has passed a number of restrictions on abortion, much of it under Brownback’s leadership, including, among other restrictions, a 24-hour waiting period; state-directed counseling; the requirement that an optional rider must be purchased at additional cost for abortion coverage in private insurance; the prohibition of telemedicine for medication abortions; parental consent for a minor; and an ultrasound requirement. Many of these requirements were passed in an omnibus bill, KS HB 2253, in April 2013 and are currently being challenged in two different lawsuits.

Brownback is one of the country’s staunchest abortion opponents. In his 2014 State of the State address, he went so far as to equate recent anti-abortion protests with the abolitionist movement and abortion with slavery (he was later criticized roundly for it).

Davis’s record on abortion is mixed but he is seen as largely pro-choice, and was endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. He has voted for a state requirement that abortion providers report the medical basis for their determination to perform an abortion to the Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment, but he has voted against a number of other state restrictions, including a state ban on so-called partial birth abortion and the 2013 bill, KS HB 2253.

Minimum wage and the social safety net

In 2007 and 2009, while serving as U.S. Senator (1996-2011), Brownback voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (meant to restore protections against pay discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion, or disability). Under Brownback’s leadership, 15,000 people have been kicked off welfare rolls. He also cut child tax credits, eliminated tax rebates for food and rent that had been aimed at the poorest residents, cut taxes for the rich and raised them for the poor, and changed the state’s food stamp rules, pushing 20,000 unemployed Kansans out of the program.

There is no public information on Paul Davis’s stance on these issues.

 

Economy

Brownback stands by his sweeping income tax cuts. "The state's economy is good and growing," Brownback said recently. "Overall, this economy in this state is performing well." The Kansas City Star reported that the state has seen “more robust growth in private-sector employment since Brownback took office in January 2011.” In the past few years the state gained more than 70,000 private sector jobs and its gross domestic product rose by 6.1 percent, a bit more than the United States overall. However, the paper also pointed out that “Kansas’ private-sector job growth was less robust than the nation's as a whole … And the state's private-sector job growth slowed after the tax cuts took effect in 2013 and has been about half the national figure since December 2012.” Additionally, unemployment rates have fallen less than in neighboring states, while payrolls have increased less. More people moved out of the state than moved in, and the tax cuts are blamed for the massive cuts in education spending – the state spent $100 million less on schools in 2014 than in 2009. But it appears as though Brownback would stay the course if re-elected.

Davis has argued that Brownback’s economic policies are a “failed ideological experiment that is bleeding state government while endangering public education and many other services.” But Davis is reluctant to say what policies he would put into place to address the state’s economic woes. He recently said that he is “spending a lot of time talking to business leaders and community leaders about how they believe we ought to grow the economy.”

Read the rest of this series here.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Shulie Eisen is an independent reproductive health care consultant. Follow her on Twitter @shulieeisen.

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Control of the Senate Could Lie With Kansas

Nov 3, 2014Andrea FlynnShulie Eisen

The Kansas Senate race could determine control of Congress - but there isn't a Democrat involved. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

The Kansas Senate race could determine control of Congress - but there isn't a Democrat involved. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

Kansas is in the midst of not one, but two, close-call midterm races: the Senate race between Senator Pat Roberts (R) and Greg Orman (Independent), and the Governor’s race between Governor Sam Brownback (R) and State Representative Paul Davis (D). The Senate race has been closely watched since the Democratic candidate, Chad Taylor, dropped out in September, launching Orman, running for Senate as an Independent, into the hot seat and giving the political landscape in Kansas an extra dose of unpredictability. Orman bills himself as “fiscally responsible and socially tolerant,” and it is unclear which party he would more closely align himself with if elected. What is clear is that Kansas voters are still undecided, with almost every poll predicting a different election outcome. The race for this Senate seat in Kansas may very well decide which party controls Congress, and women voters in Kansas could determine which way the tide turns.

Where do women in Kansas stand?

  • As in most states, women in Kansas face higher poverty rates than men, and women of color experience rates almost twice that of white women.
  • Over 40 percent of female-headed households live in poverty.
  • Kansas is the only state in the country that saw its uninsured rate significantly increase in the last year. Fourteen percent of women (18 percent of African Americans and 28 percent of Latina women) in Kansas (age 19-64) are uninsured.
  • Kansas is not participating in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, leaving approximately 78,000 currently uninsured adults, half of whom are women, who would have otherwise qualified, without coverage.
  • Sixty percent of minimum wage earners are women.
  • According to the National Women’s Law Center, the unemployment rate for women in Kansas in 2011 was 6.2 percent, a 2.1 percentage point increase since the recession began in December 2007. 41.7 percent of jobless women workers in Kansas had been looking for work for 27 weeks or more.
  • Women also face a persistent gender wage gap – while women overall make only $0.76 for every dollar a white man makes, African American women make $0.66 to the dollar and Hispanic women only make $0.50 to every dollar.
  • The state has no paid sick leave or family leave policies.
  • Kansas passed a law in 2011 that blocked any clinic or provider that provides abortions from receiving Title X federal family planning funds (federal law already prevents Title X funds from being used for abortion but does allow providers to use other funding sources to pay for such services).

Where do the candidates stand?

Affordable Care Act

Senator Pat Roberts has consistently opposed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and is a vocal critic who advocates for complete repeal of the law. He was the first to call for the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius, the then-Secretary of Health and Human Services, and supported the federal government shutdown during the debate to defund the ACA. In the past, Roberts has supported federal health care spending, voting for the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit and supporting efforts at the federal level to expand access to health care service delivery options in rural areas.

Greg Orman has criticized the ACA as an expansion of a “broken system” and says he would have voted against it if he had been in the Senate, but has said he does not support repealing the entire ACA. He has also said that Governor Brownback made a mistake in not accepting federal money to expand Medicaid in Kansas.

Family Planning

Roberts supported the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, saying “Every American has a right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to our Constitution.” Roberts voted no on adopting an amendment to the Senate’s 2006 budget that allocated $100 million to increase funding and access to family planning services (including creating and expanding teen pregnancy prevention and education programs).

Orman disagreed with the Hobby Lobby ruling, saying on his website that the case “is a dangerous precedent to set and opens the door to many more court challenges from private employers.” He also says that, “As a man, I’ll never face some of the decisions women have to make. I know the women of Kansas are smart, and I trust them to make their own decisions about their reproductive health.”

Abortion

Kansas has passed a number of restrictions on abortion, including, among other restrictions, a 24-hour waiting period, state-directed counseling, the requirement that an optional rider must be purchased at additional cost for abortion coverage in private insurance, the prohibition of telemedicine for medication abortions, parental consent for a minor, and an ultrasound requirement. Many of these requirements were passed in an omnibus bill in April 2013 and are currently being challenged in two different lawsuits.

Roberts is a staunch abortion rights opponent and has voted a number of times in support of federal restrictions on abortion access, including an amendment prohibiting minors from going across state lines for abortion services, a bill that would make harming a fetus during a violent crime a criminal offense, the 2003 “partial-birth” abortion ban, and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. In a recent debate with Orman, Roberts blasted him for suggesting that a debate on abortion was detracting from other important issues. "Get past the rights of the unborn? Get past the guarantee of life for those at the end of life? ... I think that's unconscionable," Roberts said.

Orman has said he supports access to abortion services and that he believes “it’s time for our government to move past this issue and start focusing on other important issues.”

Violence Against Women

Roberts was one of 22 Senators to vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2013. It was his second time voting against the bill. Many who opposed VAWA considered it an overreach of the federal government to include specific new protections for immigrants, gays, and Native Americans.

Orman's campaign materials and website do not mention violence against women.

Minimum wage and the social safety net

Roberts does not support raising the minimum wage. Roberts also added an amendment, which ultimately did not pass, to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (the Farm Bill) to cut $12 billion in addition to the $4 billion already in the bill that did pass from the SNAP program (also known as food stamps).

Orman supports tying a federal rise in the minimum wage to inflation, and believes that areas with higher costs of living should have a higher minimum wage. He has not said anything publically on food stamps or other social safety net programs.

Read the rest of this series here.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Shulie Eisen is an independent reproductive health care consultant. Follow her on Twitter @shulieeisen.

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