How the Blue Wave Helped Rural Illinois
by Jimmy Naville, County Chair, Greene County Democratic Party, @ILDCCA

Late Tuesday night on November 4th, 2014, Governor-Elect Bruce Rauner declared victory over Governor Pat Quinn, costing Illinois Democrats the Governorship.  Rural counties creating a map of solid red with only a couple small ponds of blue. In Greene County, voters elected Rauner over Quinn by more than 2 to 1.  Had the Republicans really taken over? Surprisingly, Greene County, such as much of the state, also supported Democratic ballot measures advising legislatures to increase the minimum wage, require health insurance plans with prescription drug coverage to cover birth control, and an increase on taxes for people who make over a million dollars to provide schools with additional revenue. These measures passed overwhelmingly in traditionally GOP strongholds all over the state, including places like McHenry County. If pundits are correct that Democrats did not turn out to vote in 2014, how did these progressive measures get passed? Illinois had elected a new Governor who absolutely did not support these interests. Who were these voters? Could they be ours or become so? 2016 dealt us another blow. Clearly, even though many seemed to support Democratic values, Democrats had been unsuccessful in spreading their message. They learned their lesson.  In 2017, “the Blue Wave” became a phrase Democrats commonly heard; however, by November 2018, “the Blue Wave” was a movement which transformed Democratic County Committees through the entire state of Illinois.  The maps of the election do not yet show the Blue Wave in the rural counties of Illinois, but they did experience it in a big way.  The Blue Wave brought rural Illinois county’s leadership, structure, and hope.

During the Blue Wave one of the benefits rural counties experienced was leadership that was involved with and cared about every county in Illinois.  As a young and fairly new County Chair in Greene County, I was and still am conscious I have a lot to learn.  Former IDCCA President and Rock Island County Chair Doug House and IDCCA Executive Director Dan Kovats, as well as other leaders during the 2018 election cycle, provided an example of true and effective leadership that had a huge impact on me as well as other County Chairs and candidates all across the state.  Jersey County Chair Mark Pohlman mentioned in a recent conversation, “When JB called me personally to ask how he and his campaign could help our county party, I knew we finally had found leadership that cared about our rural counties.”  According to County Chair Pohlman, the leadership during the Blue Wave became inspirational to the Jersey County Democrats and he intends to work with the future leadership to take back local offices in 2020.   Through training opportunities such as the County Chair Bootcamp, Candidate Bootcamp, and Precinct Committeeperson trainings, Democrats in rural areas developed new leaders and gave existing leaders a better understanding of their responsibilities.

Providing the resources and education to develop a well-structured organization was another benefit rural counties experienced from the Blue Wave.  In Greene County, we developed a budget for activities, began our social media presence, and had a plan for getting our Democrats out to vote.  Due to a lack of preparedness our execution was far from perfect; however, we added elements of structure to our committee by opening up our minds to new possibilities that will allow us to impact more voters in the future.  According to Calhoun County Chair and IDCCA At Large Executive Board Member Paul “Snow” Herkert, the Blue Wave allowed Calhoun County to reach more constituents than ever using tools like professionally printed mailers that helped get local level candidates elected, building the Democratic vote on the ticket from the bottom up. In our conversations County Chair Snow declared, “the Blue Wave helped us build a solid foundation we will continue to build on well into the future.”  Counties such as my own may not have had a suitable structure to fully execute their plans in this election but will be more prepared than ever for the next election.

The most impactful part of the Blue Wave for rural counties is the new sense of hope instilled in democrats across the state.  Even for the downstate counties remaining red after November, Democrats did not lose.  Democrats are winning with every single new voter they register, every new voice willing to speak out that formerly felt oppressed, and with every idea that went from theoretical to actionable.  In Greene County we have added new precinct committeepersons and have had people approaching us to ask excitedly how they can help get Democrats elected.  During the Blue Wave the Democratic Party demonstrated it is all-inclusive and believes everyone has the right to be heard regardless of race, gender, or sexuality.  According to Scott County Chair Ed Hoover, the Blue Wave showed rural counties the Democratic Party is still strong and stands for the values of rural counties, local communities, and working people throughout Illinois.  County Chair Hoover stated, “the Blue Wave brought awareness even in rural counties that Illinois is a Democratic state.”  I believe after speaking with fellow County Chairs, over time we will begin to show citizens of rural communities Democrats do support their best interests.

The leadership, structure, and hope rural Illinois counties experienced from the Blue Wave of 2018, has laid a foundation we will be able to build on for years to come.  The example set by those who led the Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association during the Blue Wave taught the County Chairs and newly elected officials the true meaning of leadership.  This example will shine through to precinct committeepersons, future candidates, and all citizens in every county. Also, the structure that Democratic County Committees are building will continually increase the effectiveness of the county parties’ operations.  The improved structure has also opened up many rural counties to new ideas and possibilities.  Most importantly, the hope that has spread across the state for all Democrats is motivating current and future leaders as well as citizens throughout all of the counties to get involved and let their voices be heard.  The benefits of the Blue Wave will help Illinois Democrats both retain the state level seats as well as pick up more local level offices well into the future, developing leaders throughout the entire state who will support and fight for the real values of Illinoisans from the north all the way to the most southern part of the state.  As a young Chair, I look forward to participating with the new IDCCA leadership, continuing to build Party structure, and electing Democrats who will enact our shared values.