State and local policymakers have been and remain on the frontlines of addressing the biggest challenges facing our country, from the public health response to COVID and the economic consequences of the pandemic to climate change and systemic racism. The 10th annual NewDEAL Leaders Conference offered reasons for optimism about the potential for progress on these issues and more, showcasing the results-driven approach of NewDEALers and looking forward to the opportunities for innovative leaders outside Washington to partner with the Biden Administration.
We also highlighted the release of policy recommendations to address the education/jobs mismatch from our sister organization – the NewDEAL Forum. Check out those concrete ideas for providing high-quality college and career pathways for all students and responding effectively to the COVID crisis by expanding broadband access and supporting the most vulnerable students. Thank you to the more than 80 rising state and local leaders, as well as our public and private sector partners, who participated. See below for more details on our discussions about policy ideas and the key lessons for Democrats to take from the 2020 election.
If you missed anything, click over to the other tab on this page to watch full recordings of plenary sessions. We hope you will join us in the new year – for our virtual programming around the Inauguration and at what we hope will be a return to in-person events later in 2021. Stay tuned for more details!
The Conference kicked off with inspiring remarks from long-time NewDEALer Pete Buttigieg, who emphasized that so much of our nation’s ability to overcome the barriers to a just, safe, and prosperous future depends on the work being done at the state and local levels. “It is even more true when you have a friendly White House that is seeking to do the right thing but frankly can’t solve these problems out of Washington — shouldn’t be expected to. We should in many ways be taking the lead from the bottom up and then inviting federal leadership to reinforce, amplify, and circulate the good ideas.”
We also heard from the latest NewDEALer to win a race for Congress, Representative-elect Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), as well as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is one of the NewDEAL Leaders playing a crucial role in protecting our democracy, and U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene, the new chair of the New Democrat Coalition, which continues to be an outstanding partner in supporting NewDEAL’s work.
U.S. Senator Chris Coons, a NewDEAL Honorary Vice-Chair, talked about his hopes for the Biden Administration and the opportunity to restore U.S. leadership around the world. However, he emphasized that none of those efforts will matter “if democracy doesn’t work at home. …The crises that we were facing before the pandemic still stand in front of us, and NewDEALers will be the ones to deliver ideas, initiatives, and results.”
Nationally renowned public health expert Dr. Leana Wen set a sobering tone for our discussion about the pandemic, outlining her concerns about the outlook for how the coming winter could play out, but also reminding us, “it doesn’t have to be this way. There are things that we can still do right now in order to prevent that awful trajectory from taking place.” She emphasized the important role of all NewDEALers in a successful roll-out of a vaccine, noting that leaders must “demonstrate to their communities that no shortcuts are being taken and that the vaccine is safe and essential to our recovery.”
In a discussion on racial justice, former U.S. Secretary of Education John King called on leaders from every part of society to build on the positive rhetoric responding to this year’s protests, saying, “The statements are nice but it’s the policy that matters. If you’re a corporation and you put out one of these important statements of solidarity in the spring, what does your c-suite look like?… What are you doing to make real that rhetoric? If you’re a school district, who is in the AP classes?”
A panel led by Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read covered solutions for immediate and long-term solutions to strengthening the social safety net and revitalizing communities. “You can’t discount the fact that not only could the social safety net be rebuilt, but it could be rebuilt better, using technology differently, new materials for housing construction, distance learning,” said Laurel Blatchford, a former chief of staff at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who also offered specific housing policy ideas to limit evictions. Dayton, OH Mayor Nan Whaley talked about the vision she and her colleagues in other Midwest cities have set out to work with the Biden Administration on a Marshall Plan for Middle America that includes a big investment in green jobs.
Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes addressed the urgency of state-level action on climate change and the need to bring together diverse coalitions to make progress. He was joined by meteorologist Bernadette Woods-Placky, who urged us to “meet people where they are” to get them on board with climate action. Expanding on that adage, former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu urged leaders to “talk about water quality and air quality – things are tangible and that affect our constituents every day.”
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Maricopa County, AZ Recorder Adrian Fontes shared their experiences with the unique challenges of administering an election during a pandemic and emphasized how successfully the election was run despite the false charges coming from the White House. “For me, it was really important to demonstrate that it was possible to hold a safe and fair election, on time, in a pandemic. And not only did we hold the election, but we did so with record turnout,” said Benson, referring to how Michigan’s spring elections set the tone for November. “I give credits to the folks that we hired… the folks who worked the vote centers, the folks who talked to voters on the ground… they were incredibly ready to respond and willing to respond,” added Fontes.
Looking ahead to the future of the Democratic Party and the continuing need to improve among rural voters and other key constituencies, former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp and noted Democratic campaign strategist Patti Solis Doyle stressed that success emanates from the bottom up. “We really need to get back to looking at our party beyond the five or six people at the top,” said Heitkamp. “We need to have an engagement at a local level. The only way we change that is we get Democrats in positions like secretary of state, like county registrar… they become the voice of the Democratic party locally, and I think then that changes the brand. We cannot change the Democratic brand from the top down.”