In the aftermath of the most consequential election in our lifetimes, I thought I’d take this opportunity to offer some free advice for state Democratic parties interested in attracting even more new voters and turning more red state legislatures blue:
Let’s put a lot more focus on two issues that are critically important to building a stronger, more informed voter base, and have the potential to excite and unite both rural and urban communities…
1. Better, more affordable access to broadband internet service
In a digital age, access to fast, secure internet service is not only a basic human need–akin to utilities like electricity, water, and gas/oil–but it’s a requirement for candidates building a digital campaign infrastructure. Not being able to reliably connect to persons in remote areas of your state, or to those who live in urban areas plagued by internet deserts, severely hampers the ability to convey a candidate’s or party’s message, policy beliefs, or positions on issues. It also leaves persons without reliable internet access to the mercies of our information sources like Fox News or the Detroit News–meaning that they are less informed than someone with no media access at all.
2. Improve support for public education, including community colleges and state universities
One of the single largest predictors of voting patterns is the level of education among a group of potential voters. In general, the more educated a person is, the more likely that person is to vote, and to vote for Democratic candidates. Areas and states with a lower percentage of college-educated voters tend to vote Republican, and more educated areas tend to vote for Democrats. It just stands to reason that increasing the number of college-educated voters would lead to a more Democratic populace.
At the same time, the concerted attacks on public institutions under Republicans have decimated public schools in both our largest cities and the most sparsely populated regions in the country. Aside from race and ethnicity, the demographics and socio-economic issues in cities and rural areas are surprisingly similar–including the damage that has been done by Republican and neoliberal ed reform policies to students, teachers, and schools in both urban and rural communities.
- Imagine a Democratic platform that features free community college tuition and affordable access to state colleges and universities, and a return to the kind of financial support from state legislatures that was common as recently as the late 1970s.
(For a bit of context, higher education funding from state government across the country has flipped since the 1980s;
- the state aid v tuition ration was 70/30 in 1979–which is to say that state funding provided 70% of the costs associated with running a state university, while tuition dollars covered around 30% of those costs
- as of 2014, that ratio had essentially “flipped” to 21% of funding coming from state sources, and 71% from tuition fees (and 7% from “miscellaneous sources”)
This “flip” has shifted the burden for *public* higher education from the public to individual students and families…and has led to an unprecedented student loan debt crisis.)
- Imagine a Democratic platform that clamps down on predatory, for-profit colleges, a group of institutions that have both driven and profited from the above mentioned student loan debt crisis–and done so largely by preying on the most vulnerable persons in the applicant pool–single parents, returning veterans from our military ranks, and those living in or near the poverty level. And a group of predators that have been aided and abetted by the soon-to-be-unemployed US Secretary of Education and Michigan-native, Betsy DeVos.
- Imagine a Democratic platform that eliminates standardized testing requirements for the nation’s school children, and invalid teacher evaluation systems for the nation’s school teachers.
- Imagine a Democratic platform that includes a massive investment of federal and state resources to repair, maintain, and improve badly dilapidated school facilities and infrastructure, especially in rural and urban communities.
- Imagine a Democratic platform that eliminates financial support to for-profit charter schools and private school vouchers that divert public tax dollars to private and religious schools.
- Imagine a Democratic platform that strengthens the teaching profession by supporting traditional routes to teacher certification through schools and colleges of education, and enacts much more stringent regulations on “back door” entrances to the profession, such as Teach for America, the Relay Graduate School of Education, and other “alternative routes” to certification.
- Imagine a Democratic platform that includes a 21st Century PWA New Deal bringing high-speed internet access to every remote rural community in the United States.
- Imagine a Democratic platform that includes new regulations making internet service easily accessible to everyone living and working in our nation’s urban centers.
- Imagine a Democratic platform that makes access to high-speed broadband internet service a public utility, like water and power.
If we are serious about using the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as an opportunity to both repair the damage done to our country over the past 4 years, and forge a new path forward to a better, more equitable society, then we need a bold, positive agenda that marshals the considerable resources of this nation to improve the lives of all Americans.
And that starts with a return to the things that can truly make America great–strong public schools, and a well-informed, well-educated citizenry.