John Tsarpalas: Today on Commonwealthy, I am going to be talking to Ned Ryun, founder and CEO of American Majority. American Majority is a not-for-profit educational group that trains candidates and activists on how to run for local office. Sound familiar?
Ned and I go back a ways, so a couple of times he actually drops my nickname in this podcast. This is Commonwealthy #22, American Majority with Ned Ryun.
Today my guest on Commonwealthy is Ned Ryun, founder and CEO of American Majority. I am really excited to let people know about what American Majority does. This is an organization that was founded to train activists and candidates, similar to what we do here at Commonwealthy. Ned, welcome.
Ned Ryun: Hey, John, great to be with you. It’s a lot of fun to be here with you and be talking about American Majority just because of the history and how long you and I have known each other. You were there at the beginning.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, I was. It was something I really believed in. I’ve always believed in training people. You took the ball and ran with it.
Ned Ryun: You were there when American Majority literally just an idea with no name, no logo, nothing. It was a conversation in the fall of 2007. You and others were like, “We should do something along the lines of identifying and training people to run for state and local office. It needs to happen.” Thankfully I was involved in the conversation, grabbed the bull by the horns, and off we went.
John Tsarpalas: Yup, and you are still going.
Ned Ryun: That’s right. We officially launched January of 2008. Again, the idea being (and you know this, but for those listening) for American Majority is to go identify those men and women to run for state and local office with the belief that we can do a couple of things by doing that.
First of all, we build out a good farm team at the state and local level. It’s something that the left has done very well. Those of us that believe in conservative values of limited government and free market haven’t done this as well.
We want to identify people in a systematic, year in-year out, 24/7 way of saying, “You know what? You should run for school board. Or you should run for city council or county commission,” to get good people involved in those levels of office for a variety of reasons.
One is I am convinced more and more that it’s the state and local officials that impact our daily lives even more so than the federal officials. The second thing is we identify good men and women for that higher office, and we need good men and women in DC fighting the good fight. Seventy percent of Congress comes from state elected office, either the state legislature or statewide office. So understanding where Congress comes from, we have to feed that system.
So, that’s a little bit of why and where we started with American Majority. And then it really built from there. We started really going and saying, “Well, if we are going to identify new leaders, we need to identify the activists around them and equip them to help these new leaders be successful.”
So it’s just really grown from an idea to an actual organization, from a limited curriculum to now we have six or seven dozen pieces of curriculum that people can download at AmericanMajority.org. We are going to break the thousand mark in in-person trainings next year. So it’s kind of fun to see where it has come from, from an idea to where it is now.
John Tsarpalas: Wow. With that whole farm team idea, people are at state rep level and state senate level running for Congress. But you’ve got to take even back. People who have run for their county board or their town board are the ones that feed into the state rep system and then keep going on up the line.
Ned Ryun: Exactly.
John Tsarpalas: That’s one of the reasons I’m passionate about this. And not to mention school boards. Oh my goodness! The budgets, the money that is in education in American and the messages they are teaching- we’ve got to do something about it.
Ned Ryun: First of all, I reiterate you are right. Where do the state senate and state house candidates and even statewide come from? A lot of them come from county commission, city council, and mayoral seats. So you’ve got to feed that system. So it all builds off of each other.
But you’re right; you think about the school boards. I live here in Loudoun County in Virginia. I want to say if it is not at a billion already for the Loudoun County school board, it is somewhere in that vicinity. I think it has exceeded a billion. It’s amazing how much money is going to this education system and the school board is, I believe, nine people.
So it’s something that when you realized the money that is being put into the system, the decisions being made, and the things our children are being taught, you realize this is not something we can ignore. This is something that is actually achievable.
That’s one of the things we do at American Majority; we demystify the process. A lot of people that have never run before are coming into the arena. First of all, they’ve made a big decision that is going to change their lives. Again, I tell people, “Listen, if you are going to run for office, even though it is for school board, it is a life-changing decision.”
So we want to come alongside and say, “We are going to demystify the process. Here are the tools to be successful in running for office so you can be in the right place to implement the right policies.”
I think that’s something we on the right forget too often. We have great ideas; we have wonderful ideas- ideas that have made the United States of America the greatest nation this world has ever seen. There’s plenty of arguments and evidence to show that.
Our problem is we get enraptured with our ideas and we forget the real world politics of the fact that we have to win politically. So we’ve got to get organized politically. We’ve got to equip ourselves to be experts in winning political battles.
So I say politics in policy in many ways. That’s what we teach with American Majority. Here are the tools. Here are the nuts and bolts. How do you put together a Get Out the Vote plan? How do you do a campaign plan? How do you do fundraising? How do you do social media well?
Give them the nuts and bolts so they can be successful in running and winning so they can be in the right place to implement policy.
John Tsarpalas: So, how does someone start? I guess at AmericanMajority.org, right?
Ned Ryun: You start at americanmajority.org/resources. Again, we’ve got a lot of good things that are posted there. I always encourage people it is one thing to go download resources. Again, we try to make as many available as possible. But come to an in-person training.
One of the things I tell people, especially those that are considering running for office that haven’t done it yet and are thinking about it- might not be running in this election cycle, but they will run in the future- is to come to a candidate training.
At the candidate training, we are going to talk through all of the things that they should be thinking about if they are thinking of running for office, going through a checklist. You’ve lived in this district how long? What’s your overall message? What are your three main points that you are going to be discussing? What are historical voting trends for the seat? How much money is it going to take?
The people can really start to think about some of those basic numbers of, “If I am going to run for this seat, I know that I have to get this many votes. I know I am going to have to raise this much money.” All of these things are laid out in a very systematic way.
So what we really try to teach, too, is a very systematic, metric-driven approach to running and winning. It’s all about the numbers. And you know this.
I remember you telling me a very funny story at one point how you were doing some Get Out the Vote efforts in precincts up where you are at. You were working on organizing and getting the votes counted up. You were talking about the guy from the union who was like, “Oh, we got this.” And you are like, “How do you know?”
John Tsarpalas: That’s right.
Ned Ryun: The guy was like, “Because we’ve already counted all the votes. We’ve gone through and gotten all our supporters.” And before Election Day, they knew they had won. You were like, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” And sure enough, you were like, “They won” because they had done all of that work.
But it’s a numbers game. So again, some of the stuff we try to really drill into people, especially at school boards, city council, and county commission, even a lot of times at stat house and state senate. This is not rocket science. It’s about looking at the right numbers, having those as you goal, and saying, “We have to hit these numbers. If we hit these numbers, we are going to give ourselves a really, really good chance of winning.”
John Tsarpalas: I am sitting here thinking, “I haven’t told that story for awhile.” That was my moment of epiphany about Get Out the Vote and voter ID operations. We were so naïve back then. This was ’96. After that, I was on a mission to change the world and get people to realize that.
Ned Ryun: This is something that the left (I tell as many people as I can) is doing 24/7, 365 days a year. We in conservative and Republican circles seem to think that, “Well, we are on a six month crazy dash towards elections. Then we’ll take a year and a half off.” And then six months again.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Ned Ryun: We can’t do that anymore if we are going to be successful.
John Tsarpalas: Right. And the left is not only doing it through party, but they are also doing it through organizations- unions, Sierra Club, MoveOn.org. In my old neighborhood, MoveOn.org worked the heck out of it in terms of registering people, ID-ing people, and getting out the vote. And they did that the year before the election, that summer.
Ned Ryun: Exactly.
John Tsarpalas: We weren’t even thinking about the primary even and they were out there working and working and working. We don’t and that has to change. Hopefully American Majority and this podcast is changing that mindset.
Ned Ryun: Right. It’s just got to be a shift (I hate the word paradigm; it’s seems overused) in our paradigm of understanding. At some point, at some level, we have to be doing something if not every day, then every week. That’s going to help us organize to be successful in winning.
There is so much at stake. I hope that everyone that is listening understands national debt, the growth of government, and all of these decisions that are being made. Really, the fight that is coming even to the state and local levels is on life choices and decisions.
There is so much at stake for what’s going to happen and the direction of this country. We have no choice but to do something.
John Tsarpalas: And not only the direction of this country, but also the direction of your local community. Bring it down to your town. Bring it down to your village.
Ned Ryun: Exactly.
John Tsarpalas: Things are changing there, too. So let’s go back to you offering candidate trainings. When are they offered? Where are they offered? How does someone find out more about that?
Ned Ryun: The idea with American Majority is we try when we are really going to do aggressive identifying of good men and women who we think have the potential to run for office… We have full time staff. We’ve had upwards of seven or eight offices. Right now we are at three, but I think we are going to build out to another seven or eight again in 2016. So where we have full time offices, we are doing candidate trainings on a very regular basis.
In states where we don’t have full time staff, we encourage people if you are close to where we have candidate trainings going on in a state, go to one of those. If you think you’ve got ten or twelve people that are thinking of running office and maybe have fifteen or twenty activists around them, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Say, “I’d love to do a candidate and activist training.” We’ll come in.
For candidate trainings, usually it’s a full day training from 9 am to 5 pm. For activists, it’s usually about half a day, four days. And then in people want to do a candidate/activist training, we really try to split it up. With social media and some of those other topics, we do joint sessions. And then usually the afternoon is just fully candidate focused on campaign plan, fundraising, messaging and all of those things.
Again, if we are not in the state where people are at, they just email us to say, “We’d love to do a training.” Our usual response is, “Try to get thirty people in a room. Commit to that and we’ll come.” We will bring in one of our trainers and do a full day training.
John Tsarpalas: So if you’ve got an organization out there- a group, a Tea Party group, a Republican group, or whatever your group may be- find some local candidates and put together a pool. Perhaps pool with the next county over so that you can get enough people together. Get a hold of American Majority and get them out.
Ned Ryun: Yup, exactly. Again, we are getting close to that thousand mark of doing in-person trainings. We’ve done a lot since 2008. Essentially if people will commit to get people in the room, we will come because we are that passionate about what we are doing, what we know needs to be done, and equipping people.
Here’s the thing that I tell people about American Majority: We bring together a knowledgeable set of people that have been involved in federal politics, state politics, local politics, who have organized campaigns, who have organized grassroots, and who have organized statewide grassroots efforts. We compress all of our knowledge into our materials and we want to be able to pass that along to as many people as possible to say, “Here’s what works.” Quite frankly, sometimes it is what doesn’t work..
But we are really trying to help people to get successful as quickly as possible, find the right leverage points in politics, and be focused on the right things, activities, and numbers. So we want to empower you to be successful.
This is our mission: to empower as many people as possible to do the right things to be successful so we can win. I’ll shut up here in a moment, but we want to focus on the state and local because I am a passionate believer in the real national, generational change that we want to see happen and know has to happen. It’s not going to begin at the top. It’s going to begin at the bottom.
The reason I know that it works is because all I have to do is look at history and look at the progressives and see what they did about a hundred years ago. The progressive movement started as a state and local reform movement. It percolated from the ground up.
It really was about a twenty-five year period. By the time the twenty-five year period was done (it was about 1895 to 1920), they had gotten to such power not only at the state, but also at the federal level. They passed four constitutional amendments. They created so many new bureaucracies that they fundamentally restructured our government, and in many ways our society.
So we can reverse engineer this, but it doesn’t begin at the top. It begins at the bottom. If we can get enough people doing the right things in their local communities and their states, we can begin that ground swell. We can start to get that movement headed back in the right direction, rising from the ground up.
I think some people get discouraged. I’ll admit sometimes it looks very discouraging. I am convinced we can pull this off if we will commit to doing the right things. We can do this. We can reverse engineer what happened a hundred years ago and reverse that process. We can start to dismantle.
Listen, we know that there is a very limited scope and size of federal government that should be there. It has gone way, way past what it should be. We know, and I believe this, that we can get it back into its proper scope and size. We can get some of the power back to the state and local officials and closer to the people for more accountability. We can do this.
You know this, Tsar. We have not been focused on doing the right things long enough to have the impact that we should. This is not going to be an overnight thing. We’ve just got to be sustained in our efforts, much like the left has been.
John Tsarpalas: Right. We understand that there are laws in economics and they are being bent and bent. They can only bend so far and then you are Greece. Being a Greek, I could see it coming over there. We are on that same glide path.
So I don’t necessarily want to use the term personally of turning back. We’ve got a new vision out there for a better world and it’s based on freedom. It’s based on economic principles. It’s based on people going about their enlightened best interest because it is what’s best for everybody in the end.
Ned Ryun: That’s right. It is one of the mysteries to me why this younger generation, although I think they are very much waking up now seeing as they can’t find jobs, would be enraptured with someone and people that basically propose a one-size fits all state-ism in a day and age when young people live in an iPhone/Apple store age, where they want to customize it. They want to pick and choose. They want to be their own unique person.
John Tsarpalas: I have a theory on that. I think it is because they grew up in a one-size fit all public school system that preached the good of the community and the good of the group and the good of the committee. They did all of these projects in committees.
If you ever worked in a committee, you know that one person does most of the work, one person does nothing, and the rest kind of flounder around. The world doesn’t move forward that way. It’s moved forward by individuals who take the lead on something.
What I hope with this podcast is we are going to get some people motivated to take the lead.
Ned Ryun: Right, exactly. The other thing I would say is the one-size fits all approach to governing and to trying to implement healthcare or whatever other life decisions that should be left up to the individual being forced upon us, really does take away the fact that each one of us is a unique human being. That’s something I obviously deeply believe in.
Each one of us was created to be a very unique person, therefore even though we live in an imperfect world with imperfect human beings, we need to have a government that was structured (this was our founders’ vision) in such a way to give everyone the greatest opportunity to become everything that they should be as that unique human being instead of trying to compel them to be something quite frankly they weren’t meant to be.
So, you are right. Our education system has done us zero services. Did you see the Norman Lear comic the other day where he stood up and said, “I am actually fairly conservative and I think one of the greatest disservices we’ve done in our education system is that we no longer teach civics.” He’s like, “If I was in charge and had anything that I could do in our education system, I would say we bring back our civics courses.”
I think that’s something that would be a great starting point. Let’s bring back our civics courses and really teach the young people this is why America is great. Are we perfect? No, we’re not perfect. Nobody’s perfect. We live in an imperfect world.
But we have been able to give the people the greatest amount of freedom to pursue their ideas and their dreams to become everything they could and can become in the history of the world. It’s made us truly one of the most unique, but one of the most successful nations the world has ever seen.
But people don’t know why. I think that is one of the greatest concerns. If we don’t know why who we are who we are, then we don’t know where we are going to be going and we don’t understand what works and what doesn’t work.
So again, I completely agree. These young people I think are waking up to the very harsh reality of, “Yeah, we are taught these ideas. It sounded good in the classroom, but real world it doesn’t work.”
John Tsarpalas: Right. Let’s back to getting people trained. Okay, you’ve got resources on your site. You’ve got people hired that are experts in different areas.
Let’s go through some of those areas. You’ve got, for instance, someone in social media. I am going to have her on this podcast in a few weeks. Talk a little bit about who these people are that you have recruited and what some of the specialties’ are out there.
Ned Ryun: So Aubrey Blankenship, you are right, is going to be on the podcast in the near future. She is our social media and communication expert. Again, Aubrey goes in and demystifies anything from how do you really get started on Facebook to how do you get started on Twitter. We talk about Instagram, Pintrest, and all of these other things.
But she really tries to focus on the two big ones, Facebook and Twitter. How can you get started? Here are some successful tips. Really it’s anything from here’s the content that is going to get retweeted and reposted the most to here are the best times in the day. None of us has the time to be on Facebook and Twitter all day, so here are some tricks of the trade to help you be more successful in the social media.
With Matt Batzel in Wisconsin, he’s the national executive director, but he’s been working Wisconsin since we hired him October of 2010. He’s been out there and he’s really done a really great job of just going and really taking people through the process of, “Here, I’ve been on the ground in Wisconsin almost five years now. Here’s what the real world looks like in a very heated political climate,” and identifying people to run.
We’ve had almost a 130 American Majority trained and identified candidates that have won office in Wisconsin in the last few years. We’ve trained five thousand people. So here’s a guy that knows grassroots in a very contested political climate.
John Tsarpalas: Right. Yes, but let’s put a little credit where credit’s due. I believe part of the reason Wisconsin and Scott Walker have been so successful is American Majority’s presence there.
Ned Ryun: I am biased, but I would agree.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. It’s hard to measure. I understand that. But things have gone on in Wisconsin behind the scenes and American Majority is one of them.
Ned Ryun: Yeah, we have been there since October of 2010. We’ve fought the good fight. We’ve done all of these trainings. But we even did, for example Tsar, that big first public demonstration of support for Walker’s union reforms in February of 2011 with some local tea party groups. We got 10,000 people out on the steps of the state capital in Madison saying, “ This is a good thing for the state of Wisconsin. We are out here to publicly support Scott Walker.”
So you are going to have people who have been in the fight with Batzel. I’d love for Batzel to come aboard even with you on the podcast and talk a little bit about Wisconsin and what’s going on.
Another person that we have trained now not only with American Majority but also with Gravity is Chris Littleton, who is going to come on I hope in a short time to talk about more specifically Voter Gravity.
Littleton ran American Majority Ohio in the 2012 cycle, not only the C-3 side of it, but also the C-4. So he gives a lot of good insights on to how to do a very target door and phone program.
He was part of a successful issue three campaign, being one of the main organizers for that entire statewide issue in Ohio to prevent and try to block Medicaid expansion and Obamacare expansion into Ohio. So he knows how to organize statewide grassroots efforts.
Matt Robbins is on our end. He has been involved in managing state and local campaigns, so he is going to bring his experience as well to the table. He’ll say, “First time candidates, here is what you have to go through on the checklist. These are the things that you should be thinking about.”
One of the things we train first time candidates on is basically going back and doing some self-opo research, saying, “You need to go do your homework and understand what your weak points might be. Address those. But also be prepared to talk about them because guess what? In this heated political climate of 2015 in America, the odds are if you have something in your past, your opponent is going to find it. How are you prepared to address that and really deal with that issue?”
These are just some of the people that have been involved. Tayt Brooks up in Vermont runs our Vermont chapter. He’s been involved in politics for who knows how many years. He’s been doing a phenomenal job up there of identifying and getting people to run for the state legislature. He had a lot of success last fall. We had twelve of our candidates run and win.
John Tsarpalas: Wow, that’s fantastic.
Ned Ryun: Yeah.
John Tsarpalas: So I know you have in-state training. We just heard about some of the excellent people you have on staff; there’s a whole lot more. But another way I know you reach out to people is through webinars.
Ned Ryun: That’s right.
John Tsarpalas: Give us some idea on how people get involved there.
Ned Ryun: They can go to AmericanMajority.org, check out the website, and see when the next webinar is coming. They can also join our email list. They can sign up for our email at AmericanMajority.org and get on the email list to get the alerts saying, “Here’s another webinar.”
We’ve been averaging in the summer about one a week. Again, it is anything from sometimes we do deep dives on Facebook to deep dives on Twitter. Sometimes it is on Get Out the Vote. Sometime it is on organizing a campaign.
So I encourage people if for some reason you are not near where a state chapter is or you are not sure you can get thirty or forty people in a room, check out our webinar series. They are about an hour long.
We encourage people if you can’t be on the actual webinar, we do record them and then we post them. Again, it is another way for us to get more good information out there to people who want to become better at what they are doing, whether a better grassroots activist or a better candidate.
John Tsarpalas: I have looked at some of your recorded webinars and they are excellent. They have good information and they are easily and readily available. So just go for it. A long time ago I did attend some of your live trainings and they were excellent as well.
Ned Ryun: I know I mentioned AmericanMajority.org/resources, but I again encourage people to do that as well, even those people who have come through the in-person trainings. You can only cover so much in an in-person trainings.
So go check out the website. Check out our resource page. We post some of our pressies. We post our manuals. We post our workbooks. We have a vote goal worksheet. So there’s a lot of good resources that people can tap into at the website as well.
I always encourage people, too, to follow us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. It’s facebook.com/AmericanMajority. Our Twitter handle is @AM_National. That’s our main American Majority Twitter handle.
Follow us. We are going to be throwing out resources. We are going to be talking about training people. We are going to be talking about a variety of things.
But follow us. Join our email list. Then you can really stay up to speed about what we are doing, where we are going to be, when the next webinar is.
Again, one of the things that we are going too is just encouraging people we are out there. We are a resource. We are there to help you to be successful whether it is organizing at the local level in a grassroots project or running for county commissioner or state house, or any of the above.
John Tsarpalas: Right. And if you believe that training is key and important, you can donate to American Majority. I assume there is a donate page on the site.
Ned Ryun: There is. You can just go to AmericanMajority.org and hit the donate tab. Any and all donations are welcome. All support is welcome.
John Tsarpalas: Absolutely. This is a group I believe in. This is a group I got involved in as we started off back in 2007. This is a good place for anyone who wants to be a more effective activist or who is thinking of running for office who wants to understand the campaign side of politics.
Go to American Majority. Check it out. Thank you, Ned. Where can people reach you? Do you have an email address or a Twitter handle?
Ned Ryun: You can follow me on Twitter. It’s just @NedRyun. Remember to put that U instead of an A in. You can email if you want more information about American Majority- email@example.com. You can check us out there. Again, follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Again, just get the word out. Come be a part of it. Empower yourself to be successful. If we do enough of this, we start that ground swell. If we start that ground swell, I am optimistic about our future.
John Tsarpalas: For those listening, if it is maybe not you that’s interested in running, but do you have a friend? Is someone in your local group that you are aware is thinking of possibly running and needs a little help and a little nudge? One of the ways to get help is AmericanMajority.org.
Ned, it is fun to talk to you. I appreciate you coming on today. I hope we gave people some idea on another way they can go to figure out this whole campaign process and get involved. I look forward to talking to some of the others that are involved in your organization in future podcasts.
Ned Ryun: That’d be great.
John Tsarpalas: If you have questions, feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to answer questions any time. We are here to help. We are here to give you training. We are also interested in wanting to what you need to know.
Please pass this on to friends and others who might be interested in campaigns and politics. Let them know that we exist. Subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher. Feel free to leave us a review on our website as well as in iTunes and some of these other sites. A review on iTunes really would help us out.
I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. We always have show notes and transcripts on the website at Commonwealthy.com.
Ned Ryun: It’s about looking at the right numbers, having those as you goal, and saying, “We have to hit these numbers. If we hit these numbers, we are going to give ourselves a really, really good chance of winning.”