Progressive Group Tries To Diversify Democratic Staffers

Arena is launching mass trainings in Arizona and Texas.

A progressive group plans to spend millions of dollars to train hundreds of potential Democratic staffers in Texas, Arizona and seven other states in the coming months, part of an effort to diversify the staffing pipeline for the Democratic Party.

“People with the energy and enthusiasm to get involved in politics, they still find roadblocks to entering politics as a career, because it’s still such an old boys club, where you need to know someone who knows someone to get a job on a campaign,” said Lauren Baer, the managing partner at Arena. “We want to expand the aperture of who can enter into progressive politics, so it’s more reflective of our country as a whole and our party as a whole.”

The group aims to build up local infrastructure by training staffers who live in key states, making it easier for candidates to quickly find professional help. Besides Texas and Arizona, the group is also working in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania this cycle. It also is trying to help Democratic campaigns hire more diverse campaign staff, a major goal for candidates hoping to live up to the party’s increased focus on racial justice.

Lauren Baer, a former U.S. House candidate in Florida, is the managing partner of Arena.
Lauren Baer, a former U.S. House candidate in Florida, is the managing partner of Arena.
Tom Williams via Getty Images

Arena launched after the 2016 elections and has trained more than 6,200 Democratic staffers and volunteers since then. More than half of those have been women and more than half have been racial minorities, while roughly a third have been LGBTQ individuals.

“We are very intentional about who we train, precisely because Democrats have not been intentional about this for so many years,” Baer said.

The group will also directly fund roughly 40 organizers in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas who will work on state legislative and county-level races, the continuation of a program it first launched for last year’s elections in Virginia.

In Virginia, despite Democratic losses at the top of the ticket, the party won four of the seven state legislative races where Arena placed staffers, including a narrow 400-vote victory in one.

It’s also hosting mass trainings for more than 125 people in Arizona later this month and 600 people in Texas in June.

Baer, a former U.S. House candidate in Florida, said Democrats need to focus more on building long-term infrastructure than on pouring money into individual candidates’ campaign coffers.

“For far too long, Democrats have had what I think I would call a shiny object problem, which is to say, we like to become enamored with and invest in — sometimes over-invest in — candidates,” Baer said. “And we do that to the detriment of building the kind of long-term, permanent, on-the-ground power and infrastructure that is needed to win year over year.”

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