As caucuses approach, political training is held

Workshop leader Lauren Harmon teaches activists how to hone their sales pitches.

Workshop leader Lauren Harmon teaches activists how to hone their sales pitches.


“Any of you here want to run for office?” asked Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve.

Schieve was closing the last session of a progressives “summit” for Northern Nevada, held for training and planning purposes.

A few hands went up in response to her question.

“It is not easy,” she said of office-seeking. “I had no idea.”

She also gave it to them straight about what most politicians consider the worst part of running for office.

“I had to call people up to ask for money,” she said. “Do you know how hard that is? … I think it’s the worst part of running for office. … It’s not comfortable for everyone.”

That practical piece of advice may have been a surprise to the young activists in the audience who think the venom in politics is its worst feature. This summit, in fact, was called in part to increase the ability of progressives to deal with the virulent tone of politics.

In one workshop, titled “You vs. Sheldon Adelson (Money in Politics),” participants were taught to re-frame issues when an approach they were using seemed not to work. This is particularly advised when an issue seems too huge to deal with, such as the mammoth amount of corporate money that floods Congress.

Center for American Progress trainer Lauren Harmon said bewailing the corrupting power of money isn’t necessarily the best way to attack it.

“It just seems too huge,” she said. “And saying ’Get money out’ seems unrealistic.”

She suggested breaking it into less unwieldy parts that relate better to the concerns of voters:

•Drug corporations writing health care legislation drives up prescription drug prices.

•When coal companies weaken carbon emission legislation, children end up with asthma and other respiratory problems.

•When the private prison industry can get addiction prevention money killed while pushing through longer sentences, more kids go to jail instead of to school.

One participant in the workshop offered a local variant: “When NV Energy is a political power, we end up with old fashioned energy sources.”

There were indications of some of the dilemmas facing progressives, including the name itself, which gave a defensive tone to the event. The term liberal was avoided.

And the group kept encountering problems in which progressives have often been the worst offenders. During the Adelson workshop, one participant suggested using a pitch that George W. Bush’s closeness to the banking industry had led to the repeal of usury and to payday loan outfits that have enslaved some people to debt.

The problem is that there is an awkward bit of political history to this issue—it was the Democrats who repealed it, back in the days when deregulation was all the rage in Democratic circles.

Author William Greider: “Usury used to be illegal in the United States but it was ’decriminalized’ in 1980—the dawn of financial deregulation. A Democratic president [Jimmy Carter] and Congress repealed all interest-rate controls and the federal law prohibiting usury. Thirty years later, American society is permeated with usurious practices—credit cards charging 30 percent and higher, subprime mortgages and other forms of predatory lending, the notorious ’payday’ loans that charge desperate working people an effective interest rate of 500 percent or more. Businesses, especially smaller firms, are also prey to usury in less direct ways.”

In addition, if progressives get too deep into relating Bush’s money from the banking industry to public policy, it raises one of the issues in the current Democratic presidential campaign—candidate Hillary Clinton’s millions of dollars in fees from financial institutions for speeches whose content has gone undisclosed.

In fact, the Democratic presidential campaign was omnipresent during the summit. Representatives of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were on hand to work literature tables and recruit. Outside the building, the campaign in the third-in-the-nation Nevada caucuses went on.

Campaign trail

With Sanders expected to win the New Hampshire primary three days after the summit, he would be looking for where he could next win. Nevada’s caucuses on Feb. 20 are the next presidential nominating event for the Democrats. Sanders would dearly love to take Nevada, which went for Clinton over Obama in 2008.

This year, Clinton has a highly efficient organization in Nevada. African-Americans—a mainstay of support for the Clintons—are a small group in Nevada, and there are indications that Sanders is gaining with them. Nevada has a large Latino population and a substantial labor union presence in Las Vegas hotel/casinos. Sanders aide Tad Devine told the Boston Globe that internal campaign polls of Nevada show Sanders is beating Clinton among Hispanics under age 50, but he did not provide the polls to the Globe.

Ethnic groupings, in fact—including Latinos, blacks and Asians—are getting the lion’s share of attention in the run-up to the Nevada caucuses.

Although Nevada was selected for an early berth in the presidential race in part because of its Latino population, Latino turnout has not been great. In 2008, Latino turnout was about the same percentage of those attending the caucuses as African-Americans, though the number of blacks in the population is considerably smaller. (The 2012 caucuses are not considered a good indicator because there was no race for the Democratic presidential nomination.) That could be a break for Clinton, because Latinos are less bewitched by the Clinton name. Whites made up about two-thirds of turnout, not the diverse showing the national party hoped for when it designated Nevada an early site.

Nevada immigration activist Astrid Silva’s endorsement of Clinton on Feb. 3 set off an unseemly dispute between the two campaigns when Sanders press aide Erika Andiola posted a tweet: “Difference btw showcasing ’Dreamers’ & organizing w/ ’Dreamers’? 1 will get you a press hit, other 1 will build political power.”

Silva responded with her own tweet: “I crossed a river at 4 years old to get to this country. A little water hardly means anything.”

It’s hard to imagine the flap helping anyone, or the public even understanding it (or the tweets). Another dispute, between the Culinary Union and the Sanders campaign was settled after the union accused Sanders workers of posing as union members to gain entry to casino employee dining rooms, a charge the campaign denied. The Culinary endorsed Obama over Clinton in 2008 but is not endorsing this year.

It all seems like campaigning on trivia.

Clinton campaign people in Nevada seemed comfortable if nervous. If insurgents are successful, their adversaries often do not see them coming, and there has been little indication that Sanders is gaining much in Nevada. However, there have been few indices like polls to provide hard news. Alternet ran a Jan. 20 article with the unwieldy headline “Why Hillary Isn’t Such a Lock to Win the Key Early State of Nevada Anymore,” but the only firm indicator it contained was the Culinary’s declaration of neutrality.

At the summit, Scheive called out, “How many of you are for Hillary”—and then had to specify she was referring to Clinton. She then called for Sanders supporters to raise their hands. There was a scattering for each candidate, but most participants seemed to be into other forms of activism.