Blue Jean Nation is about empowering citizens and engaging communities to break the grip big money has on our democracy and get the political establishment to change its ways so government can work for all of us and not just a privileged few.
Blue Jean Nation works to transform democratic institutions that are failing America and reinvigorate our republic through community outreach, civic education and engagement, grassroots organizing, and public policy advocacy and social action.
What’s the point?
The point is to get ordinary people – we the people – back in the driver’s seat of our government at a time when the political system is failing us. Citizen-centered, people-powered politics, that’s the point.
How do you do that?
From the ground up, with plain people leading the way. There’s no waiting for political messiahs to come along. When past generations changed the face of American politics on multiple occasions, they started by shedding old labels and fashioning themselves a new identity. They attached their hopes and dreams and ambitions to those new identities and built citizen movements around them. They used the power generated by these movements to make the system change. Such efforts succeeded more than once. We need to apply these lessons to current conditions and modern circumstances.
Is this about creating a third party?
No, it’s about changing how we talk to each other and how we act as citizens so at least one party is reliably doing the will of the people and puts common people first, ahead of the royals of American politics, namely the wealthy donors and powerful special interests and their lobbyists. Today both major parties are putting the money ahead of the many. They are too busy catering to the royals to truly represent and serve us commoners. That has to change.
Why not a third party?
For better or worse, like it or not, the U.S. has a two-party system. We do not have a parliamentary democracy where competing factions can join forces to form coalition governments. It’s not possible here for a third or fourth or fifth party to align with a second party and establish a ruling alliance. We also do not have fusion voting, or instant runoff voting, or proportional representation, or any other such mechanism or structure enabling third parties to be consistently viable contenders in our elections. Third parties are aptly named because they are destined to finish third in elections. Third parties appeal to the fringes of American politics – to the left of the Democrats or to the right of the Republicans. Blue Jean Nation wants a first party, not a third party. One that reaches out to and competes for the affections of all voters. One that puts the needs of regular people first and has broad enough appeal to come in first in elections.
Isn’t there a danger that a “first party” could become the only party?
America is far too diverse for all people to be well represented by a single party. Also, one-party rule is incompatible with a true democratic republic. Blue Jean Nation aims to reinvigorate America’s democratic republic. The purpose of our first-party movement is to reinvigorate and strengthen the two-party system, to make the political establishment change its ways. When past generations put this strategy to work, in one instance a major party was driven to extinction and replaced by a new one, and another time both major parties adapted to the citizen movement and were transformed. The major parties are failing us again. It’s time for another makeover.
You say Blue Jean Nation is a movement of “commoners.” Explain.
The true dividing line in American politics today is not between left and right, it’s between those on top and those at or near the bottom. It’s between those who have seized power and those who’ve had it taken away. Those whose voices are amplified and those whose voices are muffled. Those who’ve used the system to enrich themselves beyond imagination and those struggling to make ends meet.
When we say we are commoners, we simply are distinguishing ourselves from the royals of American politics. As past generations did, we are fashioning a new identity for ourselves as we build a political household that regular folks will actually want to belong to and live in. Large numbers of Americans have little use for either major party and are feeling politically homeless, reflected by the fact that the percentage who refuse to identify themselves as either Democrats or Republicans is at its highest level in three-quarters of a century. Most believe the political system is stacked against them. Most believe their voices are not being heard, their wishes are not being represented or even taken seriously, and their interests are not being served. They have good reason to believe these things, because the political system has been rigged in favor of the royals. Blue Jean Nation sides with the commoners.
Are commoners liberal or conservative or somewhere in between?
You will hear no talk of liberals and conservatives from us. Or left and right. Those terms have acted as convenient shorthand used to label people, but the words no longer mean what they once did. The code has become garbled. The labels are obsolete and only serve to divide people who actually have much in common, so we throw off those labels. We want common sense to be less uncommon in politics. We look for common ground. Our end goal is advancement of the common good. To reach that goal, we work against political privilege.
About Our Founder
Blue Jean Nation founder and president Mike McCabe is the author of Blue Jeans in High Places: The Coming Makeover of American Politics and for 15 years was the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group that specializes in tracking the money in state elections and works for reforms aimed at making people matter more than money in politics. During his time with the Democracy Campaign, Mike was a leading government whistle blower and earned a reputation as one of the nation’s best political money trackers. Under his leadership, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign was named the Citizen Openness Advocate of the Year in 2012 by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and the state chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2013, Community Shares of Wisconsin honored Mike with its Community Leadership Award, and in 2015 the Wisconsin Farmers Union gave him its “Friend of the Family Farmer” award. Mike is a Wisconsin native and was raised on his family’s dairy farm. He is a 1982 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism, which honored him in 2015 with its Distinguished Service Award. He was a candidate for governor in Wisconsin in 2018.
Before joining the Democracy Campaign’s staff in 1999 and becoming its director in 2000, Mike worked for six years as communications director and legislative liaison for the Madison Metropolitan School District. Before that, he ran a statewide civic education program for the nonprofit Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. He also formerly worked as a newspaper reporter and as a legislative aide for three Republican members of the Wisconsin State Assembly. In addition, he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African country of Mali. While at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Mike co-authored Democratic Renewal: A Call to Action from America’s Heartland for the Midwest Democracy Network and while at the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance co-wrote The Framework of Your Wisconsin Government as well as a curriculum guide on state and local government for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. A much sought-after public speaker, Mike has made more than 1,500 presentations to a wide range of audiences over the course of his professional career.
About Our Board of Directors
Joining Mike McCabe on the Blue Jean Nation board of directors are eight citizens with a broad range of experience in varied capacities.
Katie Schierl, a Neenah homemaker and longtime advocate for people with disabilities, is the board vice president. She formerly worked for WGBA-TV 26 and Guardian Life Insurance Company. She is active in Wisconsin United to Amend.
Mark Scheffler of Appleton is the board secretary. He is the founder and senior portfolio manager at The Appleton Group, with nearly two decades of experience in the financial services industry.
David Pauly of Plymouth is the board treasurer. He retired in 2013 as chairman and chief executive officer of Capitol Insurance Companies after a lengthy career in the insurance industry.
Sarah Lloyd of Wisconsin Dells farms with her husband and his family in Columbia County. Sarah also works for the Wisconsin Farmers Union on local and regional food system development and sits on the National Dairy Board.
Avi Lank of Whitefish Bay was for almost 40 years an editor, columnist and reporter for newspapers in Milwaukee. He also is a published author.
Cheryl Mader of Prairie du Chien is a retired management accountant who was licensed as a Certified Public Accountant. She is an active Rotarian, serving as chair of her club’s foundation as well as at the district level assisting four Rotary Clubs in southwest Wisconsin. Cheryl also is active in her church, serving as the treasurer. She also works as a substitute teacher in the Prairie du Chien schools.
Joe Mastalski of Hazelhurst owned and operated an independent pharmacy, optical business and gift shop for over 35 years. He also started and operated the inpatient pharmacy in a local hospital as well as the pharmacy in the local medical clinic. He has been active in two local Rotary Clubs, the Northwoods Wildlife Center and the local Chamber of Commerce. He was an active Republican who has morphed into a blue jeans commoner.
John Small of Marathon is the nonpartisan village president and a member of the Marathon County Board of Supervisors, having been reelected to both posts five times. He is the past president of the Marathon County Economic Development Corporation, Wisconsin League of Municipalities and Alliance of Cities, and served on the Wausau Area Chamber of Commerce executive board of directors for two years.
About Our Staff
Beth Hartung joined Mike McCabe on Blue Jean Nation’s staff in 2018 as Operations Director after finishing a year-long stint as events and fundraising coordinator for Mike’s campaign for governor. Beth lives in La Crosse and grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Dunn County in western Wisconsin. She spent 10 years in Japan teaching English before moving back to Wisconsin and earning a master’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She has extensive experience with educational programming and social service delivery as well as nonprofit organization management. Her professional and volunteer work has focused on social justice issues.
Beth was drawn to Blue Jean Nation because she firmly believes it can connect people who are frustrated with the current political system and provide them with tools and support to create positive change in their local communities and in our state and nation.