House Democrats are forming the Heartland Caucus. That’s good, but it needs to be just the first step.
Led by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan), a group of Democrats from the Midwest has formed the caucus. They hope to grow the group to around 40 members, but it already includes prominent members like Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib, also from Michigan. Omar and Tlaib are more known for being hard-left flame throwers than practical Midwesterners, but I was glad to see them join the centrist (geographically, anyway) cause. It was encouraging that at the announcement Tlaib talked about the fact that 25% of the country’s trade moves through her state. That’s the kind of nuts-and-bolts stuff that the party needs to emphasize.
Apparently not present at the news conference announcing the new caucus were Wisconsin’s two remaining House members, Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore. Let’s hope they join soon.
Dingell pointed out that none of the House leadership is from the Midwest. California and New York dominate. That coastal bias was obvious last fall when the national party gave up on Senate candidate Mandela Barnes as well as Brad Pfaff who came within a few point of keeping the Third Congressional District in Democratic hands. Both candidates might have won had the party invested in their races.
But what’s happening nationally is just reflective of what’s going on at the state level. We’ve become the party of Dane County. When Tony Earl won the 1982 governor’s race he won 40 counties and got about 9% of his vote came from Dane County. Forty years later Tony Evers won with only 16 counties, but 17% of his vote came from Dane.
The party of the coasts, big cities and college towns is not a party I want to belong to and not one that can win a lot of legislatures. It will struggle to gain and keep majorities in Congress.
The very formation of the Heartland Caucus is a good thing, but just as important is its focus. The Caucus should concentrate on practical things — like clean water, infrastructure and the region’s research universities. And it should welcome Republicans because this isn’t just about Democratic Party strategy. It’s about the future of our home.
Welcome to Midwest, an occasional feature here at YSDA, where we explore what’s good about the center. Want to read more about why it’s best to be in the middle? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.