“I think they’ve forgotten that Paul Wellstone worked hard for downtrodden folks everywhere.”
By David Siders
In the Democratic Party’s reckoning following the election of Donald Trump, an unlikely feud has erupted inside an organization at the heart of the progressive movement.
Earlier this year, the board of directors of Wellstone Action — an influential training group formed after Paul Wellstone’s death — dumbfounded Minnesota Democrats when it voted the late senator’s sons off the governing board.
The ouster came after the sons, Mark and David Wellstone, raised concerns about overspending in areas of the organization’s budget — and after a dispute over the direction and priorities of the group.
“When you’ve got people who are hurting and they’re turning to Donald Trump, we’ve got to give them something. … We should be the fighters for all folks who aren’t on top. That’s what my dad always said.” — David Wellstone
Still simmering three months after the brothers’ departure, the rift at Wellstone Action offers an unusually raw glimpse of a larger debate playing out among Democrats nationally as the party ramps up for the 2018 midterm elections and beyond: how to win back white, rural voters who went for Trump in 2016, while also courting an increasingly diverse electorate.
The issue stands center stage in Minnesota, where Trump’s steamroller performance in rural America led to a near-disaster for the Democratic Party in 2016. Republicans took control of the state Legislature, while Trump came within 1.5 percentage points of carrying the state — a feat no Republican has managed since Richard Nixon in 1972.
“It’s certainly something to be concerned about,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee. While Ellison said he has “faith in everybody involved, and I’m sure they’ll work it out,” he cautioned, “Wellstone Action has trained a tremendous number of people very effectively, and there’s a whole lot of people in office today because they got trained by Wellstone Action. A major change in either their branding or the way they do business clearly raises important questions about what’s going to happen next.”
Founded after Wellstone’s death in a plane crash in 2002, Wellstone Action has trained thousands of progressive candidates, campaign operatives and community organizers throughout the country, with alumni serving in local and state offices and in the U.S. House. In 2016, the last year for which tax filings are available, the group reported providing training to 2,135 data and digital strategists, 723 nonprofit leaders and community organizers, and 854 aspiring political leaders.
Abandonment of rural dems
David Wellstone and other Democrats close to his father began objecting last year to what David Wellstone described as Wellstone Action’s abandonment of disaffected Democrats in the rural Midwest — the rural poor were an early focus of the late senator — with an increasingly narrow focus on gender politics and people of color. …