Stories from the States: Organizing + Elections = Progress!
Unidos MN, who helped win expansion of Minnesota’s state-funded health insurance program
2022 was supposed to be a Red Wave. MVP partners defied the odds, outperformed expectations, picked up a seat in the Senate, nearly held the House, and won a state-level Blue Wave. Even in deep purple and red states, local partners built progressive power.
Now, we’re seeing the fruits of their labor… and they’re just getting started.
At the state and local levels, everywhere we have invested deeply and consistently, organizers have been building and winning huge victories and achieving things that seemed out of reach just a few years ago.
The benefit of MVP’s model of funding local grassroots organizations is that, rather than gambling on candidates or just the big, flashy federal races, we’re driving turnout that helps dozens of candidates simultaneously for the price of one — all while building durable grassroots power to push for policy change.
Table of Contents
Here are some of the under-reported stories from the states, featuring the incredible work of MVP local partners.
- Presidential Swing States: Arizona • Georgia • Wisconsin
- Senate Swing States: Montana • Ohio
- Blue Trifecta States: Maine • Minnesota • Michigan • Oregon
- Closing: What If We Invested for the Long Haul?
From Red to Purple
In 2020, MVP partners made over 30 million voter contacts, helping to flip the U.S. Senate race, the Presidential race (by just 10,457 votes!), a State House seat, and a State Senate seat — coming just three seats shy of flipping both state chambers.
Then, in 2022, they helped flip the Governor’s race by just 17,117 votes — a 0.66% margin of victory. Suddenly, Arizona went from a red trifecta to a state run by a progressive Democrat who could block the entire GOP agenda.
Wielding Executive Power for Good
In just the first eight months of 2023, the new Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs has removed prosecutors’ power to criminally charge abortion providers, and vetoed a record-shattering 140+ GOP-sponsored bills that would have weakened gun safety, attacked the LGBTQ+ community, banned race discussion in schools, enabled more pollution from utilities, and more.
She vetoed over 20 election-related bills alone that would have fueled voter suppression, hindered election administration, and restricted democratic reforms like ranked-choice voting.
2023-2024: From Purple to Progressive
Heading into the 2024 elections, our local partners are planning a coordinated, sophisticated, multi-pronged campaign to:
- Win Arizona’s hotly contested eleven Presidential Electoral Votes.
- Replace the obstructionist U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema with solidly progressive Democrat, Ruben Gallego.
- Flip two U.S. House seats won by the GOP in 2022 by 0.8% and 1.4%.
- Flip the State Senate & House by flipping just two seats in each chamber.
To achieve these goals in 2024, MVP partners are organizing in 2023 to:
- Win Tucson’s municipal elections this November, which will build momentum for 2024 voter turnout in a crucial Democratic-leaning population center.
- Gather signatures for a 2024 ballot measure to create the constitutional right to an abortion — which will likely increase Democratic voter enthusiasm, engagement, and turnout.
- Launch a “leadership pipeline” initiative to recruit and train progressive candidates for office; identify, recruit, and strategically place progressive leaders in key roles in organizations, boards, and commissions; and provide “co-governance education” to help elected officials and progressive organizations coordinate their efforts and operate synergistically.
A Vision for Progressive Governance
By 2027, a majority of Arizonans will be people of color. To seize the opportunity of this seismic demographic change, MVP partners are proactively organizing now, in order to build a durable progressive governing majority in the election cycles ahead.
Knowing this progressive majority is just a matter of “when” not “if,” local partners are proactively developing a clear policy agenda and roadmap of progressive reforms, including:
- Fair Taxes and Revenue: A wealth tax and a more progressive tax code.
- Access to Higher Education: Free college for all and loan forgiveness.
- Affordable Housing: Sustainable public housing and statewide rent control.
- Expanding Democracy: Automatic voter registration and lowering the voting age to 16.
Shifting the Fate of the Nation
In 2021, our partners were pivotal in winning the U.S. Senate runoffs for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, by spurring enormous turnout by voters of color. Black precincts saw turnout at 93% of the general election — 6% higher than white working-class precincts.
In 2022, MVP partners knocked on 5.9 million doors in 28 days for Senator Warnock’s U.S. Senate runoff, helping to re-elect the progressive pastor and secure a 51-49 majority.
Gaining Ground at the State Level
In the 2022-2023 legislative seasons, even amidst a GOP trifecta, MVP partners helped pass bills allowing time off for early voting and expanding medicaid coverage from 6 months to a full post-partum year; and helped defeat bills seeking to xenophobically restrict land ownership for individuals from certain countries, and to defund public schools by $190M.
As one highlight, MVP partner Georgia Youth Justice Coalition played a key role in protecting public school funding, registering five paid student lobbyists who organized testimony in committee hearings, catalyzed op-eds, and activated and mobilized 500 student advocates, to defeat Senate Bill 233.
In 2024, we have the chance to win Georgia’s 16 Presidential Electors and seven State House seats, trimming the GOP majority by 37%, from 19 to only 12 seats out of 180 total.
In the long term, with sustained investment, we believe we can turn Georgia’s state house blue between 2028 and 2034, and also win the Governorship in 2026 — thus leading to more fair redistricting maps in 2031, in time for the 2032 elections.
In 2023, MVP partners are building power by:
- Expanding the electorate among Black, brown, immigrant, Latinx, AAPI, and young voters.
- Defending democracy by working to protect voting rights and boosting turnout in over 1,000 municipal elections taking place in 2023.
- Fighting back against harmful legislation designed to restrict Democratic votes and fan the culture war flames to rile up the GOP base.
- Protecting the freedom to organize, including a 2023 referendum campaign to protect the power of Atlanta voters to decide on the fate of “Cop City.”
In 2016, Trump won the state by 22,748 votes (an 0.8% margin). In 2020, Biden won the state by an even smaller margin, 20,682 votes (0.6%). In 2024, the road to the White House will once again run through Wisconsin.
Blue for Biden, Staving Off a GOP Supermajority
Since 2019, MVP has helped move $7.2M+ in partisan funding to 44 Wisconsin groups, including Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC), Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), Citizen Action Wisconsin, and Voces de la Frontera Action.
In 2020, MVP partners reached 2 million voters in 72 counties, helping to flip Wisconsin for Biden and mobilizing enough voters to block a GOP state legislative supermajority — empowering Democratic Governor Evers to veto any harmful GOP-sponsored bill that comes across his desk.
In 2022, MVP partners helped narrowly win the Secretary of State race and to block the GOP supermajority again, this time by just 2,499 votes between two Assembly seats.
Warding Off GOP Bills, Winning 400 Years of School Funding
From 2021-2022, Governor Evers vetoed a record 126 GOP-sponsored bills — 32% of all the bills he received. In July 2023, he elevated the veto power to an art form, invoking a “uniquely powerful” line-item veto to block tax cuts to the wealthy.
Using this same veto power, Gov. Evers increased K-12 school funding for four centuries — until 2425. (Yes, really. In Wisconsin, the line-item veto lets the Governor do really good things as well as block really bad things!)
The Gamechanger: Winning the Judiciary in 2023
Then, in April 2023, in one of the most consequential elections of the year, local partners helped flip control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court to Democrats, giving them a 4-3 majority.
MVP helped move over $1M to our partners for this race — including over $130K raised by dedicated MVP donors from their own friends, families, and networks.
MVP partners have not waited a moment to seize the opportunity of this win. The day after the new liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge, Janet Protasiewicz, was sworn in, MVP partners including Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC) filed a lawsuit asking for the state Supreme Court to throw out all GOP-drawn legislative maps and hold special elections for all currently-elected officials.
For progressives, this lawsuit could change everything. Party affiliation in Wisconsin is evenly split, yet Republicans hold both the State Senate and Assembly by 66% and 64% respectively. If this lawsuit succeeds, Wisconsin Democrats will finally break the stranglehold of the GOP’s extreme partisan gerrymandering. With fair maps, MVP partners could likely make Wisconsin the next progressive trifecta, and pick up as many as two U.S. House seats — which could help flip the entire U.S. House for Democrats.
Read more about this very promising case here.
The 2024 Senate map for Democrats is daunting — but there is a narrow path to a narrow but powerful progressive majority, and it runs through Montana and Ohio.
If we can save Senators Jon Tester’s and Sherrod Brown’s seats respectively — and win back the U.S. House, and replace the obstructionist Senator Kyrsten Sinema with reliably progressive Ruben Gallego in Arizona — we could find ourselves with a narrow but progressive governing majority, which would open the door to filibuster reform, codifying abortion rights, voting rights, and more.
Even in Ohio and Montana, which we have yet to turn reliably purple, years of sustained grassroots organizing have brought about substantial victories which could give voters an actual reason to vote and change the course of history in 2024.
Montana is one of the oldest states in the US and is the fastest-aging. Because Medicaid reimbursement rates have fallen far behind costs, 20% of the state’s nursing homes have been forced to close, resulting in low-income seniors being moved hundreds of miles across the state.
MVP partner Big Sky 55+ partnered with nursing homes and an independent research firm to establish a recommendation for Medicaid reimbursement rates that would prevent further closures, and ran a bill, HB649, to increase them. The bill passed unanimously out of committee and ended up largely intact in the GOP governor’s budget. As a result, Medicaid reimbursement rates were ultimately increased by 23%,
It’s an enormous victory to get anything like this passed through the Montana GOP supermajority. The organizing that went into this win will potentially stave off future closures of senior living facilities and build power toward our partners’ efforts to hold Montana’s crucial U.S. Senate Seat in 2024, when Democratic Senator Jon Tester is up for re-election.
On August 8, MVP partners led the charge to defeat Issue 1, a ballot measure that would have made it harder to change the state’s constitution — including in November 2023, when Ohioans will vote on codifying abortion rights.
If Issue 1 had passed, it would have:
- Made it harder to pass constitutional amendments, by raising the ballot vote threshold from 50% to 60%.
- Made it harder to put amendments on the ballot, by requiring signatures from voters in all 88 counties, instead of 44.
- Removed citizens’ 10-day “curing period” to replace ballot signatures deemed faulty by the secretary of state.
Thanks to this victory and the months of tireless organizing to achieve it, our partners now head into this November’s abortion rights measure with momentum and enthusiasm on their side.
Efforts are also now under way to gather signatures for a 2024 ballot measure to establish an independent redistricting commission, which will be crucial in undoing Ohio’s extreme gerrymandering.
It also clears the way for other potential 2024 ballot measures to:
- Raise the minimum wage,
- Increase school funding, and
- Enact automatic and same-day voter registration.
Instead of working in silos, MVP partners built a collaborative, powerhouse operation greater than the sum of its parts — which builds power moving forward into 2024, when we need to defend Sherrod Brown’s highly-vulnerable U.S. Senate seat.
As our colleague Misha Barnes at the One Person One Vote campaign said: “We got here together. We formed one of the largest coalitions Ohio has ever seen. We invested in groups on the ground, so they could stretch their organizing muscles early and hit the ground running. And we left nothing on the table.”
Here are some policy wins that show us what’s possible when we organize, win big, and build the power to pass bold policies:
In 2022, MVP partners helped Dems pad their State House majority to 82 seats against the GOP’s 67, specifically supporting a 1,352-vote margin across three close races.
As a result of this ascendant Democratic power backed by organized public support, Maine just passed an important abortion rights law, expanded child care funding and eligibility, and became the 13th state to guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid leave.
It’s worth noting that our partner Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) was a central driver in passing paid family and medical leave. In 2022, MPA helped collect 80,000 signatures for a 2024 ballot referendum in the event that the legislature failed to act on it themselves — essentially giving lawmakers the “political cover” to move forward.
Here is MPA’s 1-minute celebration video.
In 2022, MVP partners helped win a state trifecta for the first time in a decade, by holding the State House and netting two State Senate seats for a one-seat Democratic majority won by just 1,024 votes combined.
In 2023, this emboldened trifecta has enacted an almost-dizzyingly vast progressive agenda including 100% carbon-free energy by 2040, abortion rights, restoring voting rights for 50,000 formerly incarcerated citizens, gun safety, paid leave, $1 billion for affordable housing, trans health refuge rights, universal school meals, and more. As Governor Tim Walz (D) put it: “[Our] wish list is a to-do list and we’re checking it off.”
What Governor Walz did not say is that these policy breakthroughs didn’t just happen overnight — they were the result of a coordinated, decade-long organizing strategy by progressive grassroots groups.
Organizers around the country are now looking to the grassroots leaders in the state in order to learn how they can replicate the famed “Minnesota Strategy.” Listen to our partner Doran Schrantz, Executive Director of Faith in Minnesota, walk through the “Behind the Scenes” story.
In 2022, MVP partners helped win the first Democratic trifecta in 40 years by just 2,770 votes across a 2-seat margin in both the Michigan House and Senate.
So far in 2023 — thanks to both newfound governing power and grassroots pressure to provide political cover — Democrats have passed new laws repealing an abortion ban and anti-union legislation, as well as instituting clean energy expansion, gun protection, LGBTQ+ rights, a Working Families Tax Credit, and more.
All of this took years of organizing, culminating in a series of hard-won democracy and voting reforms that led to dramatically increased voter participation and fairer representation.
Watch Jamila Martin, MVP’s Michigan State Advisor, talk about how local partners have organized toward this trifecta for years, and are now using a bold legislative agenda as part of their 2024 strategy to grow state legislative majorities, secure the state’s 15 crucial Presidential Electoral Votes, and win the open U.S. Senate seat.
Since 2019, MVP has made relatively small investments in Oregon — helping move $100K+ in partisan funds to 6 groups — but has also successfully advised other funders to allocate additional funding to local MVP partners.
Oregon has a Democratic trifecta, making it a perfect place to push for more progressive policies. This legislative season, MVP partner Next Up Oregon came close to passing SB 579, which would have restored voting rights to about 12,000 incarcerated people; and helped pass HB 2107, which expands automatic voter registration to include participants in the Oregon Health Plan (OHP – the state’s version of Medicaid).
This is a significant victory for expanding the electorate: Many OHP participants do not interact with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which has been primarily where Oregon residents have benefited from automatic voter registration. It’s projected that this bill will automatically register 117,000 new voters once implemented.
With Oregon’s 5th Congressional District considered a flippable toss-up race in 2024 — and with control of the U.S. House likely hinging on a few thousand votes across a few seats — this voting rights advancement could be one of the tangible improvements that spur more Oregonians to vote, and help change the trajectory of the whole nation in the process.
The stories above are just a few examples of MVP’s hundreds of local partners winning elections and delivering results – from federal policy to school boards.
What can we learn from these success stories? Elections matter, organizing works, and investing for the long haul has enormous dividends.
Looking at the victories above, we have to ask: How many lives could we improve if we scaled up our investment in expanding state-level progressive governance?
- What if we could make blue states more progressive?
- What if we could make purple states blue?
- What if we could make red states purple?
Remember, the history-defying Blue Wave of 2022 didn’t come out of nowhere — it took years of organizing.
The kind of sustained organizing to make this happen requires year-round funding, not just “boom and bust” donations that come right before big elections.
If the progressive donor community were to make a decision to invest in strategic long-term funding starting now, it would set us on a path to winning progressive governance in as many as 28 or 29 blue and purple states (that together represent about 70-75% of the US population) over the next decade.
This would mean holding all of the 17 current Democratic trifecta states, plus picking up 11 or 12 more, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, and New Hampshire (all of which have major potential to go triple-blue over the next decade).
What would it be worth to us if we had progressive governance in most of the United States?
Editors’ Note: February 25, 2024 – This post originally misstated the amount of funding MVP helped move to Wisconsin since 2019, as well as the number of grantees. These figures have been corrected.
Resource for supporters
Want to share these success stories in a group setting? Here is a Slide Presentation summarizing this post.