I’ve never been to the Brunch before

//I’ve never been to the Brunch before

I’ve never been to the Brunch before
by Cynthia Given, Richland County Precinct Committeewoman and candidate for State Representative (109th District), @downstatedem

I live in a rural part of southeastern Illinois that has not elected a Democrat for the Illinois House, Illinois Senate, or United States House in over a decade. My state house legislative district includes all or part of nine counties and contains just 100 miles of interstate highway. I attended this year’s brunch because I wanted to know our party’s strategy to win the next election. My goal: return to Richland County with a plan to elect Democrats at every level.

Three highlights of my brunch experience: reconnecting with friends, listening to party leaders about their plans to improve our great state, and discussing ideas to share with Democrats in southeastern Illinois.

I arrived in Springfield too late to attend any of the organized events on Wednesday night. Instead, I helped plan an independent meetup with first-time candidates who attended the IDCCA Boot Camp in May. We discussed how to effectively connect with local leaders and constituents. We also shared our own ways to raise money, network, and communicate. Though I am not shy in a crowd, I rarely eat breakfast with 1,800 people. The pre-brunch meeting on Wednesday night helped me feel more at ease on Thursday morning.

The dining staff never seemed to stop moving. They were friendly throughout the event, continuously replacing tray after tray of food. They did an excellent job of keeping us happy, and I thanked them for feeding a room full of hungry Democrats.

I ate brunch quickly. I knew I only had a few minutes to walk across the room, and I wanted to say thank all nine of my local county chairmen for helping me prepare to run for state representative. Though I missed a few people, I checked in with the event staff.

The check-in staff was very pleasant. A few staffers remained at the information desk throughout the event. They let me see where my “missing” chairmen and women were seated. I thanked the staffers and asked if they were heading to the fair. Some of them admitted they had never visited the fair! I encouraged them to visit the famous butter cow (and calf).

I did not expect to see more than a few chairmen from southeastern Illinois at the brunch. I was pleasantly surprised! Democrats from all 102 counties made the trip, and I spoke with every chairman, committeeman, and Boot Camp graduate that I recognized. Every single one of them has helped me become a better Democrat.

As a candidate for state representative, I am in contact with every local chairman. There is a measurable increase in participation and interest in the Democratic party in southeastern Illinois in the past year. The local leaders are working hard to promote a progressive plan for southeastern Illinois. As of this summer, three of the nine chairpersons in my district are female (Tonya Loker in Wayne County, Nancy Mitchell in White County, and Brenda Britton in Richland County).

I was most excited to see Nancy. Not only does she lead the White County Democrats, Nancy is also my cousin. She has always provided me with the best advice and even better hugs. I was also delighted to see Kappy Scates. Kappy worked in the downstate office of Senator Dick Durbin when I was an intern in 2003. She also gives great hugs.

I was most surprised to be seated near the Mercer County Democrats. Three of their best Democrats gave me practical tips for the campaign trail during the May County Chair luncheon in Springfield. Their presence served as a reminder that while we were there to listen to speakers and get energized, small gestures can make a big difference to voters. The advice included tips I have never considered, such as carrying dog biscuits and a Sharpie when knocking on doors. They also advised me to order any personalized campaign items well before election day. I had not considered this, but the Mercer County Democrats confessed one candidate’s order of personalized hair combs did not arrive until after the election. Apparently, some Democrat leaders still use these combs, and you can get one if you know who to ask (regretfully, I do not know who to ask).

If those county leaders are experts at getting things done, the event speakers are experts at motivating local leaders. When President Doug House described Congresswoman Cheri Bustos as a “tireless party builder,” I had barely heard of her “Build the Bench” program. After the brunch, I applied. I completed her program this month, and I feel inspired by her team’s willingness to train future candidates to bring progressive change to every level of government.

President House defined the IDCCA as a “strategic grassroots foundation to elect Democrats in Illinois.” He praised the countless volunteers in each county who make up the IDCCA, and he reminded us that progress is only possible through working together.

United States Senator Tammy Duckworth called for “a better deal” for Americans: affordable housing, college tuition, and healthcare. After citing Governor Bruce Rauner’s inability to move our state forward, she promised to work hard to “get Illinois back on the right path.”

United States Senator Dick Durbin called for unity in moving our state forward. He praised Senator Amy Klobuchar for working hard, connecting with the people of Minnesota, and being elected “one pancake breakfast, lawn sign, and parade at a time.” As Senator Durbin introduced Senator Klobuchar to the audience, he cited her passion, leadership, and dedication to progressive values.

United States Senator Amy Klobuchar answered the question, “What do we do now?” with action. She has visited each county in her home state of Minnesota every year for twelve years. After referencing several pieces of proposed legislation by Democrats in the Senate, she challenged all of us to “show the Illinois that the Democratic Party will leave no one behind.”

As a 2017 recipient of the Democratic Party Builder award, Hon. Lauren Beth Gash reminded Democrats that “political organizing should not begin the day you decide to run, and it should not end when you leave office.” She laid out a comprehensive list of actions that people are already doing in her Congressional district to increase election turnout and elect Democrats. If you’re not convinced that grassroots activism still works: her efforts helped an entire slate of Democrats to defeat Republican incumbents in Vernon Township (Lake County).

I was equally inspired by the Honorable Bill Houlihan, a 2017 recipient of the Democratic Party Builder award. He brought his entire family to the brunch, something I find relatable. Just as Bill helped his father at a young age, I can remember helping my dad in the union hall when he served as chief steward for the local chapter of AFSCME.

Hon. Bill Houlihan called for precinct committeepersons across Illinois to deliver the vote. I truly believed Bill when he said that the people of Illinois will elect a slate of great Democrats if we keep knocking on doors and contacting voters face-to-face.

After the brunch, I connected with some of the people I missed. I enjoyed a warm hug from Comptroller Susana Mendoza. I cracked a joke to Senator Daniel Biss that made him double over. And Governor Pat Quinn was nice enough to pose for a photograph with me after I nearly physically ran into him. I was most embarrassed about accidentally stepping on Hon. Bill Houlihan’s foot as he warmly greeted me by name. After I told my cousin Nancy about it, she said, “You’re making an impression, Cindy.”

I could complain about the short time available to mingle before the speaker program, I prefer to focus on positive solutions, such as planning additional brunches in Springfield and in other regions. I left feeling the brunch confident about my role in the Illinois Democratic Party. For Democrats who were unable to attend: contact your own precinct committeeman now to begin organizing for the 2018 March primary. Early organization at the local level will make it easier to connect with voters and win seats in the 2018 general election.