Governing Through a Politics of Conviction

December 19, 2013

If you’ve attended any Wellstone Action event, you know that we empower progressives to take on tough fights and win. We travel the country, teaching progressives the hard skills that make a difference, like leading an effective one-on-one organizing conversation and creating a winning campaign plan. We also spend a lot of time talking about something more fundamental: our values, and what it means to run and win and, yes, govern, through a politics of conviction.

What are we talking about? Meet Joe.

Minnesota State Representative Joe Radinovich, a former labor organizer, represents a wide swath of central Minnesota. This summer, he stood on the House floor and declared his support for marriage equality, “This is a vote about freedom and equality. This is a vote for the rights of all of my constituents.” Earlier that day, a news outlet reported from his district the significant political risk he faced if he voted yes for marriage because his constituents overwhelming supported a ballot measure the year before to limit the definition of marriage. 

But for Radinovich, this vote was about something more than just the next election, “I don’t think when you get into the Capitol you should be thinking about re-election. You should be thinking about doing the right thing.”  

The path to that early spring day, casting a yes vote for marriage equality, went through an unlikely victory after a tough election in a conservative district, spurred on by Wellstone Action’s Camp Wellstone candidate development program. For Radinovich, that Camp was an important step in an ultimately successful campaign:

“I thought it was great, our training was tailored to running a campaign like mine. The material was good, high level, and directly applicable for running a strong campaign. The great trainers had real-world experience that valuably illustrated how to use their lessons in the heat of a campaign.”

Radinovich ended up with a 323 vote victory on Election Day, and he won the Wellstone Way: door-by-door, conversation-to-conversation, person-to-person.

Once in office, the lessons he learned at Camp Wellstone continued to serve him well, “Camp Wellstone covered a lot of material in an engaging way; it’s a reflection of Paul’s legacy of practicing politics with passion. That’s what I’ve focused in on: the issues I’m passionate about like rural education. I really wanted to talk about progressive policies the same way Wellstone did: with conviction, focus, and a deep belief in our ideals.”

When it came to one of the tougher voters of the 2013 legislative cycle, on marriage equality, he took deep solace in Minnesota’s profound history of electing representatives who lead with conviction:

“You can be a politician or you can be a leader or you can be both. For me, looking at what I wanted to accomplish and the reputation I wanted to be proud of, I know that I positioned myself really well. It might have been politically expedient for me to vote against equality but there’s no way I could have justified my vote to my constituents.

Even when people aren’t with you on an issue, if you believe in what you did and can talk about it, people will stay with you.”

Sound familiar? A politics of conviction: that’s what Senator Wellstone practiced every day as an elected official, it’s what we teach with every lesson at Wellstone Action, and it’s what we’re most proud to see our alumni go out and do during the course or their careers.

Without the support of Radinovich and other lawmakers from conservative leaning districts, marriage equality never would have passed. Instead, marriage equality is now law in Minnesota .

So what’s next for Radinovich? It’s time to get to work. “Being excited about what I did in the legislature, from strengthening our rural education policies to that vote for marriage, is going to motivate me this time out to knock even more doors because what we did this year is important for Minnesota and my community. Now we’re getting things prepared for an even better run campaign than the one we had last time. I’m even planning to send a few of my campaign volunteers to a Camp Wellstone so they can learn those same crucial lessons that I did.”

From a tough vote against a popular but unjust war like Senator Wellstone did in 2002, to doing what Representative Radinovich did in 2013 and supporting equality even in the face of political threats, that’s what a politics of conviction is all about.  From building up the grassroots, to winning tough elections, and promoting progressive public policies, that’s what winning the Wellstone Way is all about.

And hey, speaking of awesome Camp Wellstone alums, you should be one! Come to our kick-off camp of 2014, in Minneapolis. Register today!