I was talking with Melanie D'Arrigo yesterday. Because her Long Island district has been seriously redrawn to include silvers of the Bronx and Westchester counties, there are more candidates rumored to be jumping into her race aside from the 2 Manchin-Sinema types (corporate conservatives Jon Kaiman and Josh Lafazan) and the transactional Hillary Clinton/Chuck Schumer guy (Robert Zimmerman) who doesn't stand for anything at all. She noted in the conversation that there are "candidates who are running for a seat and there are candidates running to get something done for their communities." Basically, this is the difference between a careerist (and usually a narcissist) and a true public servant.
I also spoke with former Florida congressman-- and current candidate for Marco Rubio's Senate seat-- Alan Grayson. I mentioned what Melanie had said and asked him if he sees it the same way, sincere's already been in Congress for several terms... and passed more legislation than any other member while he was serving. "Being elected to public office is, essentially, a character test," he told me. "Elective office, especially legislative office, provides endless opportunities to get nothing done. This is true particularly in our system, with separation of powers, bicameral legislatures (except Nebraska’s), filibusters and quorum requirements. Every time you pass progressive legislation, you make two friends and 17 special-interest enemies. So it really comes down to what’s in your heart-- what does the responsibility mean to you? Voters, activists, volunteers and donors should think about this. It’s really not that hard to tell the difference among the candidates; just listen to him or her for five or ten minutes. Career politicians try never to talk about issues or goals; they usually talk about themselves, or the log cabin they grew up in, or how they’re the first in their family to do this or that or the other thing. Avoid them; they will disappoint you. What you want are the idealists, like Robert F. Kennedy: 'Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.'"
Grayson wasn't the only candidate who quoted a great progressive leader in his response. Denver progressive Neal Walia said that the "U.S. is in the middle of an identity crisis. For generations, our nation was seen by the world as a land of opportunity, a beacon of hope, and a place where current and future Americans all had an opportunity to achieve the 'American Dream.' In 2022, however, that America is a reality only obtainable for the wealthiest and most privileged amongst us. Poverty and systemic racism are destroying our communities. Corporations continue to fracture our national politics. And now, right wing extremism, coupled with a culture of fascism, is growing at an unprecedented rate. As the ugly reality of the new American identity unfolds, a new generation of political leadership must emerge to address the most pressing issues of our time. We cannot rely on the same politicians who helped create the problems, either directly or indirectly, that plague our nation. We no longer can elect individuals who are more interested in being politicians than they are public servants. Now, more than ever, we have to elect leaders who put people over profit, party, and politics. In the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, 'we need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.'"
Between Alan's, Neal's and Melanie's remarks, I felt so inspired that I reached out to some of the other Blue America candidates and asked them for their thoughts on the same topic. I asked Jason Call how he sees it in the light of the incumbency of his corporate opponent, the anti-hero of this song Jim Lough wrote and recorded. He told me he has frequently questioned "why Rick Larsen wants to continue representing this district. Is it the paycheck? Surely he could make more as a corporate lobbyist, which is the career he had prior to his election in 2000. Many of his constituents are deeply dissatisfied with his corporate-centric representation, and don't believe he has a vision for addressing climate concerns in particular (we are a coastline-heavy area), but also he won't support universal healthcare, and he's deeply entrenched in policies of militarism. While we have naval bases in the district, these policies are simply not representative of the majority, but due to the vast amounts of corporate cash he takes, he's managed to fend off challenges. Until now. I've been an activist for peace and justice causes, universal healthcare, environmental justice, and racial/social justice since I was 18. My no corporate money campaign seeks only to serve my constituents and a better future for our kids and grandkids. We need long term holistic thinking and solutions that aren't based solely in corporate profit and increasing the wealth of billionaires. I know why I'm running. I can't for the life of me figure out why he is."
The Blue America-endorsed House candidates like Jason and Melanie have all sworn off corporate PAC money. I recall when a corporate conservative in Iowa, Cindy Axne didn't really feel it, just used it as a talking point and a stunt. I new at the time shows full of shit. And, needless to say... in the words of today's Des Moines Register, she's doing what all corporate conservatives do: "Cindy Axne has begun accepting donations from corporate political committees after swearing them off in previous campaigns." A New Dem, she's also representing special interests instead of her own constituents. In her most recent fundraising report, she's taken around $36,000 from corporate backs representing the likes of Archer Daniel Midland and Berkshire Hathaway Energy, more than 50% of her haul.
Before she began her campaign for the open Ohio Senate seat, Morgan Harper co-founded Columbus Stand Up! which distributed over 30,000 masks, drove hundreds of people to their vaccine appointments, and drove voters to polls during the 2020 election. This morning she told me that "We need politicians who prioritize their own communities over big corporations and billionaires. That starts by electing leaders who have a proven track record of community engagement at the grassroots level, and who don't rely on corporate money. You're not going to find that in the Republican Party. And unfortunately you're not going to find that with some establishment Democrats, like Tim Ryan who rely on donations from lobbyists to fund their campaigns."
San Fernando Valley progressive Shervin Aazami is another Blue America-endorsed candidate who doesn't take a dime from corporate PACs, while his opponent is swimming in corporate financing. "Mutual aid," he told me, "has been the foundation of my advocacy work for my entire career. As a public health professional, I understand that inequities in individual health are tied to the built environment (i.e. your zip code)-- meaning your ability to access healthcare, the pollution levels in your neighborhood, the militarized police presence in your community, the availability of affordable housing, the employment and education opportunities, and so forth. And as a progressive, I believe there are essential services that government must provide for the betterment of all-- universal healthcare and housing, education through 4-year college, clean air and water, workers rights, public transit, and so forth. Mutual aid is necessary work because our government-- run by corrupt, corporatist politicians-- have consistently chosen poverty over equity. They’ve chosen oppression over liberation. They’ve chosen to sloganeer on good government while their actions make government only work for the rich and powerful. So for me, it was never a question of why mutual aid is necessary. Just look around you. How many people around you are living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to put food on the table, or experiencing homelessness? If you only see your incumbent doing community service around Thanksgiving and the holidays, how committed do you think they are to eradicating poverty? If they only talk about reparations and ending our criminal injustice system during Black History Month, how committed do you think they are to racial equity? Doing the work of protecting and empowering your communities is either in your blood or it isn’t. If it’s there, your first impulse when your community is suffering is to serve with humility and to stand in solidarity-- often without any recognition. If it isn’t, your first impulse is how to exploit others pain to entrench your own power by making yourself front and center."
Jamie McLeod-Skinner is running in a new district and her opponent is one of the worst members of Congress in the country-- not just someone who helped tank lower drug prices, but the only Democrat currently in the House who voted against raising the minimum wage-- Kurt Schrader. Last night she told me that "We're in a time of great despair: working people are exhausted, our climate crisis is destroying homes and businesses, and our democracy is on the ropes. We also have the potential for great hope: we just need to work together to elect leaders who care about people and our planet. We need Representatives who understand the urgency of now and are willing to work to get things done. When I was a child, my schoolteacher mom told me to 'always leave a place better than you found it.' That has been my guiding principle. I have always put people-- not politics or profit-- first. Last year, I led wildfire recovery efforts in a Southern Oregon town that had lost a third of its homes and businesses to wildfire, displacing mostly farmworkers and seniors on fixed incomes. I worked hard to get tangible results for those families and help them rebuild their lives, including pushing federal agencies to engage onsite, provide language-appropriate resources, and ensure that families seeking relief were not going to be intimidated by ICE. Across the political spectrum, people don’t want watered down policies-- they want solutions."
Late last night L.A. Assemblywoman and congressional candidate Cristina Garcia told me that "Growing up in southeast county (SELA), I was surrounded by injustice-- industries spewing toxins on schools and homes, police brutalizing street vendors, domestic violence and government corruption being ignored and normalized, severely underfunded schools. I could go on and on. While in high school, another injustice called Prop 187, punched my community and my family in the face-- really hard. The initiative would have sent immigration agents into schools and denied any public aid to undocumented people and their children. My dad had been undocumented until the late 80's and I remember the stress suffocating our household when he had to go to back to Mexico to bury my grandmother, it wasn't clear how he'd return afterwards with "no papers". Prop 187 felt like a personal attack and brought up all the trauma and past anxiety of living in a blended immigration status home. I joined a generation of young LatinX activists and fought against the Republican led Prop 187. We like to say our upbringing made us aware of oppression but Prop 187 want to do something about it. I went on to help clean up local government corruption with a group of like-minded activists in the City of Bell. Against the odds, we exposed massive fraud and embezzlement and the city council's collusion. Those corrupt elected officials and city administrators went to jail for their crimes against the and the City of Bell has seen a renaissance of governance and hope. On the strength of our organizing, I decided to run for the state legislator. I ran against one of the oldest political dynasties in SELA and every special interest in Sacramento. Still, I won. In the state capital, I am known as an independent progressive who doesn't like to play establishment politics. That doesn't mean I have not been effective. I have written landmark legislation for environmental justice, for women's rights, mentrail equity, and of course to make government more transparent and ethical. I don't normally like to say a whole lot about my opponent. But the so-called establishment candidate running against me for Congress is trying to pass himself off as a progressive. I will point out two facts about his record. When Prop 187 was politizing an entire LatinX generation my opponent choose to become a Republican and even chaired young Republicans for George W. Bush while the rest of us watched Al Gore get the election stolen from him by the Supreme court. A few years ago, I was working to shut down a highly toxic incinerator in Commerce. My opponent, who is the mayor of Long Beach, went to Sacramento and testified in the committee (I chaired... sat on) and testified on granting an extension for that polluting incinerator in Long Beach. Either you're on the side of the people or you're really not. My record will tell you what side I'm on."