1/10/2018 11:30:00 AM Sister Districts want to make red "ayes" blue
Active in the Skagit Valley and nationally Sister District, a grassroots, volunteer organization with local teams throughout the nation, including the Skagit Valley, has identified a pragmatic strategy that is helping win elections. Five women from the San Francisco Bay area started Sister District on the heels of the 2016 presidential election. Their goal is “to help Democrats win critical legislative seats” and their political strategy is unusual – Sister District pairs residents in “blue states,” those with elected officials who are already predominantly Democrat, with upcoming elections in locations that are “red,” Republican-dominated. Volunteers work to elect state legislative candidates in sister states across the country. Sister District now has 25,000 volunteers in all 50 states. Impressed by the proposed strategy, Alix Foster, a greater La Conner resident, signed up to be a District captain shortly after Sister District’s formation. She hasn’t been disappointed, saying “results in recent elections show how well this model works.” Sister District supporters were heartened by 2017 election results, where Sister District-supported candidates won 14 of 15 state legislative races. This included a win for Manka Dhinghra, the new District 45 Democratic legislator whose election flipped the Washington State Senate blue, giving Democrats control of the state legislature. Says La Conner resident Jan Tivel, a family nurse practitioner, “We all have a limited amount of time and energy and funds. The issues at stake, such as the environment and healthcare, are too critical to sit back and do nothing – so how do we get involved? Sister District is very effective. I have finally found the group that is going to make the changes that I’d like to see happen.” Rita Bosworth, a Sister District co-founder, explains the organization’s origin, “I’ve never been involved in politics and I’m not a campaign person. After the  election, I was distraught that a majority of this country elected a candidate who did not end up being our president. We have the majority of the population but we do not have power – in any branch of government – not the presidency, not Congress and not the majority of the states. Sister District focuses on races for state legislative positions, rather than higher profile national races. Traditionally these races receive less attention and less campaign funding. They are often decided by small vote counts, and as the recent Virginia legislative battle illustrates, they can even be determined by a single vote. Yet state legislatures can have a far-reaching impact. Gaby Goldstein, a Sister District co-founder, points out, “States are policy laboratories for legislation. Things that happen on the state level end up on the national level, so it’s important to have good legislators, so we’re getting good progressive policies.” Working on the state level also creates a “pipeline of candidates,” as Goldstein puts it, to feed into national elections. Finally, many state legislatures draw the lines for congressional districts. Sister District identifies past redistricting practices as key to Republican control in states that are actually dominated by Democratic voters. States Goldstein, “Republicans have gerrymandered themselves into power.” With limited resources, Sister District doesn’t take on every race. In 2018, they will target races where they can flip state legislatures from blue to red, maintain Democratic majorities in states (like Washington) where the margin is narrow or make effective inroads into Republican-dominated legislatures, especially where they can affect 2020 redistricting decisions. Sister District volunteers choose their level of involvement – donating directly to candidates, phone banking, text banking, writing postcards, traveling to other states to canvas or participating in research to identify likely races, candidates and local issues. In 2018, they will add voter registration to their list of activities. Sister District tested its abilities in the relatively few elections of 2017, but they have a chance for greater impact this year. According to Ballotpedia.org, 82 percent of the nation’s 7,383 state legislature seats are up for election in 2018. Beverly Faxon is a Skagit Valley resident, writer and editor.