Alex Morse is taking on Rep. Richard Neal, Trump’s Favorite Democrat

Most of the time, this newsletter focuses on flipping Republican seats blue and retaking legislatures from the GOP. But if you really want to enact progressive change, it’s not always enough to just have a Democrat in office — in seats that are comfortably blue, we’ve got to have Democrats who actually listen to voters. 

The dynamic playing out in Massachusetts provides a perfect example: Congressman Richard Neal, who represents the state’s 1st district, has time and time again blocked popular progressive priorities as the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. He’s received more lobbyist money and enjoyed more lavish parties than anyone in Congress and has more than returned the favor, blocking everything from the Paycheck Guarantee Act during this pandemic to Medicare expansion. He also deliberately slow-walked the request for Donald Trump’s tax returns and did not support impeachment until it became an inevitability — all while representing a district that Hillary Clinton won by 20 points and he has “represented” for 30 years.

This year, he finally faces a real primary challenge from a dynamic progressive who could not be any more different than the 70-year-old Congressman, who hasn’t held a town hall in years. And if you’re skeptical, all you have to do is compare their records.

When Alex Morse unseated a long-serving local politician to become mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, he vowed to revive the struggling former mill town where he’d grown up. He faced long odds and internal resistance, but he was determined to restore a community that had spent decades reeling from the same factors that hollowed out small cities across the United States between the 1970s and early 2000s. When he took office at City Hall, he was immediately faced with a decision that would set the tone for how he planned to govern.

Morse’s predecessor as mayor had requested that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development clear the way for the demolition of Lyman Terrace, one of the city’s largest public housing properties. The complex was located right in the center of downtown Holyoke, so the plan was to knock Lyman down and bring in some shiny new apartments, displacing the 167 mostly Latino residents who had no real options for relocation. When Morse took the reins at City Hall, he called HUD and told them to hold off on the required review.

“This was a community of people who lived there for generations, with ties to the local economy, and friends and family,” Morse tells Progressives Everywhere. “We called off that demolition and got a lot of pushback from city councilors from the business community that just wanted to raze the property and give it to the developer with the highest bid.”

It was an impressive display of principle and political will — especially for a 22-year-old who was just a year out of college when it happened.

CLICK HERE to donate to Alex Morse’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

For many new college grads, senior year is a time for partying and getting a head start on a decade of soul-searching and minimal responsibility (I’m speaking from personal experience here). Morse, on the other hand, used his senior year at Brown to run for mayor back home, forgoing the typical route of most Ivy League grads. 

“I grew up in the backdrop of poverty, struggling school systems, high crime, a dead downtown, white flight out of the city,” he says. “And all of those dynamics happened at the very time we have the same people in office, but year after year, decade after decade, there was no civic engagement, very inactive democracy, no one holding our officials accountable. I ran because I didn’t give up on our city like most people had.”

Eight years after the demolition showdown, Lyman Terrace is in the second phase of a $60 million renovation, with a design informed by public meetings between architects, engineers, and residents. Its turnaround story is symbolic of how Morse has governed as mayor since 2012, infusing a rusting city with youthful energy and ground-level leadership. 

Instead of inviting gentrification and sprucing up downtown by knocking over a few buildings and then supporting a couple of gleaming apartment buildings and brunch spots without actually helping the long-time residents, Morse took on the challenge of making Holyoke better for the people who already lived there. He focused on strengthening the community by including residents in his decision-making, concentrating on the unglamorous but essential public services, improving education outcomes, and bringing in investment that didn’t displace locals. When he took over, the city had a 49% graduation rate — now it’s up to 75%.

It’s an impressive and inspiring success story on its own, but Morse had bigger plans for the city and realized there was only so much he could do from City Hall. Healthcare, trade laws, environmental regulations, and most economic policy decisions are all made at the federal level, and he felt as if Holyoke and surrounding towns had been abandoned by its representative. Neal has immense power in Congress, but there is a sense that he hasn’t used that power to benefit his constituents. 

As Morse notes, Western Massachusetts has long suffered from a lack of regional transportation to the more populous and economically well-off Boston region, something for which a partner in Congress would generally fight to fund. The opioid crisis is still ravaging the region, a deeply personal issue for Morse, who lost his brother to a long battle with drugs earlier this year; there has been precious little help in that regard, either. Morse declared his candidacy last summer and later earned endorsements from Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement, and current events underscore why he’s running.

CLICK HERE to donate to Alex Morse’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has both thrown Morse’s life into a new level of controlled chaos and made him even more determined to unseat Neal. So much of his day is devoted to managing what he can to ensure that Holyoke’s residents are safe, secure, and set with resources — producing PPE, securing internet connections, delivering devices when needed, and providing access to healthcare. Again, he’s received little help from the federal government, forcing him to operate in something of a resource-less vacuum.

“Even in the middle of this pandemic here in Holyoke, in this district, when you look at outcomes, you would never know we have one of the most powerful members of Congress representing us,” he says. “In the middle of this pandemic, our community hospital here in Holyoke isn’t qualifying for substantial benefit or aid from the CARES Act. And then we have a psychiatric hospital here where over 200 employees were told that they’re getting laid off. They’re closing hundreds of inpatient beds, and the only child inpatient psychiatric hospital and all of Western Mass is closing at a time when people are going to need mental health care and psychiatric care the most.”

Morse goes back to healthcare time and again — one of the headline distinctions between Neal and himself is that he supports Medicare for All, a policy that Neal is so against that he blocked people from even saying its name during a historic hearing explicitly about its potential implementation. 

“This is the fundamental difference between the congressman and myself. Now 33 million Americans have their jobs, the majority of whom have now lost their health insurance. If this isn’t a window of opportunity to have a healthcare system that fundamentally believes healthcare is a human right, then there is no other time to do this,” Morse says. “And the fact is that Congressman Neal, as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, is instead pushing subsidies for the private healthcare industry, pushing to subsidize and give folks COBRA insurance, which is expensive and inaccessible, and just another gift to the private healthcare industry.”

We could run through the policy differences all day — in most countries, Neal and Morse wouldn’t even be members of the same party. But fundamentally, it’s a matter of who a representative spends time actually representing. Morse has literally devoted his entire adult life to helping people in his hometown, and now he wants to assist the entire region and the United States as a whole. 

“The question really is what kind of member of Congress, with what life experience and values do you want representing you to craft a just recovery?” Morse says. “We need to emerge from this pandemic with a much stronger and more equitable government than we had before.”

Democrats have largely ceded the spotlight to Donald Trump and his soulless GOP stooges, and what they have done is almost worse. The latest Democratic recovery bill, which Neal helped write, is an absolute bonanza for Wall Street and big corporations, with almost zero relief for working people or the middle class. It’s something you’d expect from Republicans, and that is not what we voted for in 2018. It doesn’t have to be this way, but it’s going to take brave Democrats willing to challenge the system to change things — and an army of grassroots contributors behind them.

The primary in Massachusetts isn’t until September, which gives Morse more time to make his case for change, especially if he can raise more money — not an easy thing to do during a pandemic, especially when you’ve sworn off corporate and PAC donations. Alex’s campaign is a golden opportunity to push back against that entrenched lethargy and devotion to special interests. Let’s seize the moment and put another bright young progressive in office.

CLICK HERE to donate to Alex Morse’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

Meet Kayser Enneking, the doctor trying to save Florida

Few governors have been as publicly ineffective during the coronavirus crisis than Florida’s Ron Desantis. He’s kept beaches open, continues to hide death numbers, kowtows to the state’s ravenous right-wing, and has opened up businesses even as the tragic numbers there continue to climb. DeSantis has been able to do all this because Republicans own the entire state government in Florida — they’ve dominated the legislature for a full two decades — and he therefore feels zero pressure to actually make an effort to save lives.

We’ve focused a lot of Florida this year because Democrats are in a position to finally flip the legislature there and force DeSantis to at least pretend he cares about anyone who isn’t a rich white donor. This week, I spoke with Kayser Enneking, a candidate for the State House of Representatives in District 21, in Gainesville. She’s a long-time doctor at the University of Florida who ran for State Senate in 2018 — her first political run of any kind — and came within a single point of winning. The 21st House district was decided by fewer than three points last cycle, so it’s a very juicy flip opportunity, especially with such a great candidate.

Coronavirus has hit different parts of Florida very differently. You’re in Northern Florida, in Gainesville. How are things there?

In my hospital we were certainly prepared for the worst. It was just incredibly weird to go to work for a couple of weeks. The panic about it seems to have subsided now that we’ve got more testing, because before we had no clue who had it and who didn’t. But even here in very liberal Alachua County, it is kind unbelievable to me how quickly this has gotten divided along political lines. It’s just a shame that that’s where we are in America today.

As both a doctor and someone now working in public policy, what is your response to what we’re seeing here? 

This is a novel virus. We know a little bit about what the symptoms look like. We know that it is devastating when it occurs and we know that it can overwhelm a healthcare system, as it did in New York, and as it did in other places around the world. And that we all have to be respectful of it. We may not have in many cases over here right now, but that does not mean that we won’t.

I have tried not to scare people. But I’ve tried to give them what I know to be truthful information. We’ve been doing these Facebook and zoom things every Friday, where we’ve talked about exactly what we do know and what we don’t know. And people have been really responsive to it. And so we’ve talked about the effects of this on our health care system. We’ve talked about it in terms of what it means for education. We’ve talked about it in terms of what it means for the agricultural community, why are we having this food imbalance. Now we’re calling for a special session of legislature.

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Christine Morse is running to flip Michigan blue. She doesn’t have time for whiny, right-wing anti-government goons.

You wouldn’t know it from the news coverage of those gun-toting, mouth-breathing, Nazi-loving GI Joe cosplayers marching around the Capitol Building with guns in Lansing, but Michigan is on the verge of turning blue once again.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has become a star thanks to her handling of the coronavirus. Progressive ballot initiatives — including independent redistricting — passed with overwhelming majorities in 2018. And Dems are just a few seats away from flipping the gerrymandered State House of Representatives.

And yet, because national media can’t get enough of the domestic terrorism schtick, we’re often given a very different impression. As a result, a parade of far-right degenerates wind up setting the national agenda. Progressives tend to focus on the far-right fringe as well, but the smarter move is to point out their irrelevance and move on. During a conversation this weekend with Christine Morse, the Democrat running for State House in the very flippable 61st district in Michigan, I was guilty of pushing for her thoughts on the protests — fortunately, she was very smartly unwilling to cede the narrative to these fringe fear-mongers.

“There’s a lot of talk about these protests, which are actually organized by national groups,” Morse said, referring to the dark money from billionaires fueling the rallies. “They have the appearance of being this grassroots effort, but it’s 200 people. The polling is showing that the governor still has quite high levels of support. People take it personally when it impacts their life, so you can’t blame everybody, but I don’t feel like the protests really reflect what’s going on.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Christine Morse’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page!

That quote really says it all. Morse is empathetic and focused on achievable goals, unwilling to get distracted by peripheral clown shows or relentless right-wing attacks. And because she’s going to face a former Trump administration and Mitch McConnell campaign official with literally no mention of any issues on her campaign website, she’s likely to face a lot of right-wing attacks over the next six months.

Continue reading “Christine Morse is running to flip Michigan blue. She doesn’t have time for whiny, right-wing anti-government goons.”

Georgia can be flipped blue… if Shea Roberts wins her race.

A red state that could turn blue. A Republican incumbent that previously went unchallenged. A first-time candidate who nearly won an unlikely uphill race in 2018, now back to finish the job… if the GOP doesn’t away with massive voter suppression once again.

Does that sound familiar? As we’re seeing, a lot of the most crucial legislative races we’re looking at across the country fit the same profile. Last week we spoke with Jessica Harrington in Florida (who is running against Jim Crow 2.0 in khakis) and earlier this year, it was Luisa Wakeman in Georgia. Now, we’re focusing on another candidate in Georgia who is running a campaign we absolutely have to win if we want any chance of ending the state’s rampant voter suppressionattacks on women, and deadly mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.

The moment you start talking with Shea Roberts, the Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives in Georgia’s 52nd district, you know that she’s going to be an effective, badass legislator from day one. Roberts is a land use and small business lawyer, so she’s long been enmeshed in the community in and around Sandy Springs. Working every single day with people and small businesses in her district has provided her a deep understanding of the issues its residents face and the relationships required to begin solving its long-lingering and newly emergent problems. I know this because it took approximately one minute into our conversation last month for us to get down to the nitty-gritty issues.

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Florida’s new Jim Crow gets the Democratic challenge he deserves

I hope that this edition of Progressives Everywhere finds you healthy, comfortable, and royally pissed off. Pissed off that Donald Trump and his lackeys in DC have committed an American genocide by ignoring and now playing politics with the coronavirus pandemic. Pissed off that Republican governors are still refusing to protect their citizens. And pissed off that the GOP is using the pandemic as cover for the desecration and destruction of democracy.

What happened in Wisconsin is the Republican model: a gerrymandered legislature refuses to protect voting rights and then rigged courts uphold the voter suppression, sentencing tens of thousands of voters to death and stopping many more from voting. This is the only way Republicans will win — they’ve said as much. And so we have to fight back with everything we have this year, because it may be our last chance.

Here’s the good news: There is a very juicy target in Florida, a Republican legislator who is behind the most pernicious voter suppression scheme in the country and a score of other anti-democratic abuses.

Jamie Grant, the son of a former state senator, has “represented” Florida’s 64th legislative district since 2011. From the moment he got to Tallahassee, he got to work screwing over Floridians, loosening gun laws and fighting tooth and nail to stop a Medicaid expansion (his quotes about it are gross). And now he is known locally as Jim Crow Jamie, a nickname he has more than earned.

In 2018, Floridians voted overwhelmingly to approve a ballot initiative known as Amendment 4, which was intended to return the right to vote to a whopping 1.4 million people who had served time in prison. It was the single biggest extension of the franchise in decades… until Jamie Grant led the charge to eviscerate it almost entirely.

Grant was the lead sponsor on the bill that gutted the amendment, requiring that everyone who stood to regain their constitutional rights pay off every single fine, fee, and court cost levied against them by judges, even though they rarely had anything to do with their sentencing and were almost never actually tracked by the courts. It amounts to a poll tax, a revival of Jim Crow tactics meant to bar people of color from exercising their rights that could stop a million people from registering. The law is now winding its way through the court system and could decide whether Democrats or Republicans win the White House this year.

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