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00000179-e1ff-d2b2-a3fb-ffffd7950001WNIJ's Friday Forum features in-depth interviews with state officials, community leaders, and others whose decisions influence your life. You can hear it every Friday during Morning Edition on 89.5 FM and WNIJ.org.

President Trump Inspires Local Grassroots Action


Pres. Donald Trump has been in office for 100 days -- and one week. He promised to shake things up in Washington. How do his policies and actions at the top trickle down to local political organizations? We asked a couple of local party leaders for this week’s Friday Forum.


Paul Stoddard chairs the DeKalb County Democratic Party and Jim Thompson is Winnebago County’s Republican Party chairman.


So, about those first 100 days of the Trump Administration... Paul Stoddard, the Democrat, said he has a "very difficult time seeing anything he has actually accomplished. There's no legislation, his campaign promises have gone nowhere so far. Whether or not you agree with his platform, I don’t see that he has accomplished anything yet."


Quite the contrary, said Republican Jim Thompson, "I think he’s done many things exceptionally well. I think as with any new administration, there will be bumps in the road. He certainly has had those as well.

I think a lot of people who supported him in the general election did so with the thought he would slow or reverse some things done by the prior administration, and I think he has taken some significant steps in doing so."


Grassroots Activism


Political differences aside, there’s something both local Republicans and Democrats have to give Pres. Trump credit for: His election sparked a lot of activity at the grassroots level. Thompson said more people are attending his party's meetings, volunteering, and even taking on the often-overlooked role of precinct committeeman. Stoddard called the increased Democratic involvement "amazing."


Thompson said the excitement that started with Republican wins last fall has carried through the first four months of this year, translating into more telephone traffic and a doubling of the number of people who have become precinct committeemen since March 2016. He added, "And I think there’s just more general excitement about what the future may hold."


While Democrats are experiencing a different kind of excitement, the results have been the same, according to Paul Stoddard. He said, "Our meetings probably get triple the number of people showing up as before November. There are various grassroots groups that have sprung up, too, a couple of Indivisible groups, and they are pretty active. They have their action steps they take, they call local representatives, they're on a first name basis with the staff. They're very, very active. A group that was started by a couple of people involved with the Women’s March is so charged up. Now they're 200 or 300 strong."




So who are all these newly-motivated, charged-up Democrats? Stoddard said they're "single mothers, academicians, and people who work in box stores. They're from any walk of life. Younger, older, retirees. People who have always held more liberal views and have felt like the country was going in the right direction. We had setbacks sometimes, but it never felt like the liberal agenda was under serious attack until the last election results. That's a lot of things people were fighting for, equal rights for women, for racial minorities, for LGBTQ+. Their gains are threatened. They want to see them maintained and further advances made. Never before have we felt as threatened."


The wave of Republicans finding inspiration in Pres. Trump’s election may not be marching in the streets, but Thompson said they're showing their enthusiasm by becoming involved in the party and other conservative organizations. "Some are middle-aged people that I think Trump resonates with," Thompson said, describing his party's newest activists, "As far as looking out for and being concerned about standard Americans instead of this class or that class. Also, a number of people are under the age of 30. And I think that bodes well for this organization's future."



Thompson said he’s heard the issue motivating these active newcomers is a traditional one: they're against government overreach. "We who support our party believe in limited government and want to see a more streamlined approach from Washington," he explained, "Whether looking at a proposed tax plan with 3 tax brackets instead of 7 or focusing on our defense strategies instead of other things prior administrations did. I think that’s the underlying theme for middle-aged and younger people getting involved."


Stoddard said for Democrats, the issue is Donald Trump: "A lot of them are very concerned about what he has proposed in terms of health care and defunding Planned Parenthood. Most see it as a real provider of women’s health issues. The ACA is threatened every time we turn around. People look at the president and are not convinced he knows what he is doing. He admits he doesn’t get what’s going on, health care is more complicated than he thought, and the presidency is hard work, it comes as a surprise. People see that and are concerned about who is running the country these days. And it’s one thing if the president is not where you want him to be, it’s another thing when his party acts as enablers rather than a check on a president who isn‘t going in the right direction."


The next 100 days


Looking ahead to the next 100 days -- and beyond -- Republicans like Jim Thompson are enjoying the ride and the feeling that their issues are getting pushed forward. Thompson said he's "pleased with the fact we have a new Supreme Court justice. That’s one hurdle we don’t have to deal with. In the next 100, I’d like to see continued efforts on tax reform and health care reform. Those are big targets for Pres. Trump."


Democrat Paul Stoddard said he hopes “cooler heads will prevail” as we get into the next 100 days of the Trump presidency. For Stoddard, "the the parties recognize that governing from the extremes, catering to the extreme wings of the party, gets us nowhere. This is being illustrated today. If Congress come to its senses, if Springfield can come to its senses, we could move forward. But it doesn’t feel like we are doing this today."


WNIJ's Jenna Dooley and Public Radio 101 graduates Austin Hansen, Maddee Muuss, Dana Vollmer, and Michelle Kittling-Brewer contributed to this report.




Susan is an award-winning reporter/writer at her favorite radio station. She's also WNIJ's Perspectives editor, Under Rocks contributor, and local host of All Things Considered.
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