Andru Volinsky Wants to End a Corrupt Political Dynasty

So much of our focus this year has been on flipping state legislatures from red to blue in order to pass progressive legislation and end gerrymandering. It’s absolutely crucial work, but just as important as flipping those legislatures is defeating Republican governors and cementing Democratic trifectas in as many states as possible.

The best chance to do that this year is in New Hampshire, where Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has been acting as a giant roadblock to progressive legislation  — he’s vetoed a record number of bills — and spent much of his time cashing in on his position since taking office in 2017. Democrats have a great opportunity to replace him with a very inspiring progressive candidate named Andru Volinsky, with whom I spoke earlier today.

Chris Sununu is a lot like George W. Bush, a scion of a political dynasty that has lorded over Republicans for multiple generations. In fact, his father John Sununu served as governor of New Hampshire and then as chief of staff in the first Bush White House, where he famously stopped an international climate treaty that could have saved the planet 30 years ago. Chris has continued the proud tradition of poisoning the environment by supporting coal plants, vetoing bills that would expand solar energy, and removing the state from a regional cap and trade. And his brother, Michael, is a lobbyist and straight-up climate change denier.

It’s not just the environment, either. Over just the past few months alone, Chris Sununu has vetoed laws that would have expanded red flag gun control, established paid family leave, approved independent redistricting, and created permanent no-excuse absentee voting. On the other hand, he has directed federal money meant to help low-income neighborhoods to pump money into a ski resort that his family owns, so it’s good to know he has some priorities.

It’s clear that the guy has got to go for anything good to happen. But who should replace him? Democrats have two candidates in a primary that is less than a week away. Andru Volinsky, by far the more progressive candidate, is running against an establishment leader who has raised a lot more money and used it terribly. Volinksy’s campaign has that Ed Markey coalition energy, riding a wave of support from young people and enthusiastic grassroots voters to a small lead in the most recent poll, out today.

As he joked in our conversation today, “everyone running this year is pretending to be a progressive,” but Volinsky is the real deal. He’s one of five members of the powerful state Executive Council, an oversight committee that serves as a check on Sununu. Volinsky has successfully blocked some of Sununu’s most corrupt gambits, including promoting an anti-choice Supreme Court justice and dispensing COVID-19 recovery money in secrecy.

Volinsky has a very long history of fighting for working people and progressive policies while combating conservative power. He spent years working as a public defender and fighting against the death penalty; in January, he took a week off from his campaign to put in a final, successful push to commute a 30-year client’s death sentence, pulling through with just a few hours to go.

Meanwhile, Sununu has said that he doesn’t believe that systemic racism exists in his police departments or elsewhere in the state.

“He said that in the face of Black Lives Matters, protests and other really appropriate challenges to how we do law enforcement, health care, and education,” Volinsky says, shaking his head. “But we know that four times as many young black people get arrested for pot as white kids and we’re no different on that score. We know that black and brown people have disproportionately poor health care outcomes compared to white people. And we know our two most diverse cities spend the least on their school kids.”

Volinsky is known for being the lead lawyer in a landmark case that required New Hampshire to better fund its schools. It was transformational, but he knows that there’s a lot more work to do on the education front; he told me that education will be one of his main priorities, along with the environment and a constellation of equality issues, including the legalization (and taxation) of marijuana.

New Hampshire has been known as a fiscally libertarian state, but Volinsky is unbowed by that reputation. He refuses to take The Pledge, an outdated Republican oath to fiscal conservativism that prioritizes the wealthy and shortchanges working families, children, and seniors. Notably, his rival in the Democratic primary was happy to sign on. Volinsky is also against fracking, another thing that makes him unique in the race.

Volinsky has been a community leader for decades, on the vanguard of a progressivism that has come into vogue over the last half-decade. Now, Volinsky is seeking to make big aspirations like the Green New Deal — he wants to create a regional version if necessary — and expansive criminal justice reform a reality. He was Bernie Sanders’ New Hampshire campaign lawyer in 2016 and Sanders has returned the favor by endorsing his campaign.

“Now’s the time for bold ideas and courageous leadership,” he says. “I get some resistance from the insiders, who say ‘you can’t do this during a crisis.’ But if you think about it, it was during our country’s worst economic crisis, the Great Depression, when Social Security, a minimum wage, rural electrification, and federal home loans all started. And it’s because we had to make big changes.”

New Hampshire is a small state with an outsized influence on the country. If we’re focused on flipping states to make progressive policy a reality, we need to be fighting for candidates like Andru Volinsky.

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Leaders like Anton Andrew will be why Pennsylvania flips blue again

There are a few different paths that Democrats can take to win back the White House, but all of them require turning Pennsylvania blue. And to do that, Democrats need to continue what local leaders like Anton Andrew began in 2018: Reviving a moribund state party and energizing voters, turning long-time Republican strongholds into swing districts and Democratic victories up and down the ballot.

Democrats need just nine seats to take back the State House and pass laws like marijuana legalization and start funding schools again. Winning those districts will also translate into a Joe Biden victory, so the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The change is coming from the bottom up. In Andrew’s legislative district, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Democrats hadn’t even run a candidate throughout most of the last decade, with just two half-hearted campaigns between 2008 and 2016. In the wake of the Republicans’ sweep through Pennsylvania, Andrew, a former public defender and the chair of environmental and educational non-profits in the area, decided that he had to take action.

As a first-time candidate, he tapped his deep community ties and won the Democratic primary, then took on the long-time Republican incumbent. The state party refused to help, reasoning that he wouldn’t come close to winning. But Andrew was used to being told he couldn’t do something and using it to fuel his passion instead of snuffing it out.

He was born in the United States, where his parents were students at Howard University, but spent the first ten years of his life in Jamaica and Trinidad. Then they moved to Long Island, hoping to get Anton and his siblings a better education. On his first day at his new school, his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. When Andrew answered “a lawyer or politician,” the class erupted into laughter — teacher included.

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“It never occurred to me that [being black] was something like a permanent handicap, but one of my friends clued me in at lunchtime. He asked me, ‘Do you know of any black lawyers? Do you know of any black politicians?’” Andrew recalls. “I remember at that moment thinking, well, we’re going to change that.”

anton

Fast forward several decades and Andrew was an accomplished lawyer and educator running a grassroots campaign out in the suburbs. He knocked on thousands of doors himself, determined to turn the political tide. Even without the Democratic Party’s help, Andrew came within just 800 votes (or 2.5%) of upsetting the GOP representative in 2018 of District 160, a shockingly close result.

Now, Andrew is running again to finish the job. He’s such a formidable candidate, in fact, that the Republican he nearly unseated decided to just up and retire, leaving Andrew with an even better shot of winning the seat. That he won the Democratic nomination again by over 20 points after a slim victory in 2018 is a very good start. An endorsement from President Barack Obama and a nice fundraising total thus far only help.

The day I spoke to Andrew, he was getting ready to go speak with the local police union, hoping to receive their endorsement. At first, I was surprised to hear that, considering both his party affiliation and everything I knew about his politics and past. But as he explained to me, he’s a coalition builder with enough credibility to reach out to seemingly opposite sides.

Andrew spent years as a public defender in Miami, a career he pursued after seeing some of his Black and brown friends at Penn arrested by cops for no obvious reason and unable to pay for their own private defense. When he moved with his wife and young children to Pennsylvania, where they had no paid public defender positions, he did it in a volunteer capacity as he worked for Cheyney University, the oldest HBCU. Where Andrew lives in Pennsylvania, police had joined in with protestors during the Black Lives Matter marches, leaving him hopeful that change is possible.

“I absolutely think we need to reform the police,” he says. “We need to re-fund social agencies — as a public defender working in Miami, coming up with those alternatives to incarceration, I was really lucky to have a team of social workers, educators, and health professionals to help. Those groups barely exist within the criminal justice system anymore.”

Along with police reform, Andrew is passionate about the environment — he’s on the board of trustees at his local chapter of the Nature Conservancy — and is, like any responsible citizen, very concerned with how the state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Legalizing and taxing marijuana, as Gov. Tom Wolf proposed, is near the top of his list, as is closing the loophole that allows many of the state’s businesses to incorporate in neighboring Delaware and avoid taxes. Education is key, as well — Andrew also works at an educational resource center.

The goal is to ensure that no Black child gets laughed at when they say they want to be a lawyer, but instead, they get every opportunity to make that dream come true.

“This might be the moment where me being a black candidate in an all-white district, I can lean into that, and I have been leaning into that,” Andrew says. “And the polling is showing that the residents of the district are buying into it. I’m very happy about having the opportunity to be completely authentic, and have that be to my advantage.”

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Inside Alex Morse’s Final Push to Topple Wall Street’s Favorite Democrat

What a difference two weeks make.

Alex Morse’s primary campaign for Congress in Massachusetts was gaining serious momentum, with his progressive bonafides and policy priorities providing an undeniable contrast to the long-unchallenged, remarkably corrupt Rep. Richard Neal (MA-1). By early August, it was alarming enough to entrenched interests that Neal’s allies began playing dirty.

On August 7th, a letter from the College Democrats at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst that contained vague, anonymous accusations about the 31-year-old Holyoke mayor’s dating life was published in the Daily Collegian, the student-run newspaper. To outside observers, it seemed like a potential bombshell, dropped out of the blue.

Morse and his team, though, were as ready as they could be without any sort of smoking gun to hide.

“They had been shopping a story around for a couple of months, so we had some indication that something was up,” Morse told Progressives Everywhere this week. “But there was nothing specific and we didn’t know exactly what was going on.”

Almost immediately after the initial letter was published, the truth began to emerge. Long story short, it turns out that it was a total hit job — and a sloppy one at that. Reporting shows that the allegations were manufactured by students looking to gain favor with 16-term incumbent Rep. Neal, and the state party actively helped and encouraged it.

“It was designed to be as vague as possible, but also as salacious as possible,” Morse says. “They knew exactly what they were doing three weeks before the primary election.”

Neal has denied any involvement, but reporting suggests otherwise. Facing one of the first serious challenges in his 32-year congressional career, the powerful chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and top recipient of corporate cash in Congress is pulling out all the stops. He just received another $100,000 from the right-wing group that funneled cash to Eliot Engel before he fell to Jamaal Bowman in June. That Neal helped block investigations of President Trump until they were largely facile makes him popular with big donors, though not so much with constituents.

The primary takes place on September 1st, giving Morse a week to close what is now just a five-point gap on Neal. The stakes are extremely high — Morse, the progressive young mayor who supports Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, could be the latest challenger to unseat a long-serving, centrist incumbent and strike a major blow to the party’s status quo. We reconnected this week so he could tell Progressives Everywhere members about the state of the campaign and how he plans on winning it all.

It’s been a crazy few weeks — how are you?

We’re in a much better place today than we were a week and a half ago, when things were pretty intense. It seems like things are really turning a corner and we have a lot of momentum right now. We’re having our best fundraising period of the entire campaign. We had a poll out on Monday that had us within five points. We had a really great debate on Monday night and have another one tomorrow night [Ed note: read the recap here] and a lot of local endorsements from local elected officials keep rolling in.

I think the events of the last week and a half, the political attack has really backfired in the district and people are getting more and more inspired to come off the sidelines and get involved in the campaign.

I’ve noticed more donations coming in through my newsletter and ActBlue page.

Last Wednesday alone we raised $130,000 in one day. Our previous high day was $27,000. I think in that one day alone, something like 3900 people donated. It helps close the gap between the congressman and I, given all the corporate money that he has. There are more people paying attention now than ever before. We’re taking advantage of that attention, people are taking a closer look at the race and our differences.

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Arizona Could Flip for the First Time Since 1966

There are few states as politically charged right now as Arizona, which has been a hotbed of progressive organizing since teacher protests rocked the state back in 2018. Now, due to the incompetence of Trump acolyte Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona is one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the country, adding life-or-death stakes to what was already going to be a bruising election year.

While Ducey isn’t up for re-election, the state’s voters have a lot of decisions to make: Arizona will vote for a US Senate seat (things are looking good for Democrat Mark Kelly) as well as on a number of major ballot initiatives that could bring very significant changes to what was once known as solid-red territory. One of the initiatives would legalize recreational marijuana; another would make some big reforms to the state’s archaic criminal justice system.

The legislative elections there are huge, too. After making some big gains in 2018, Democrats need to win just three seats to flip the State Senate and two seats to flip the State House of Representatives. Democratic wins here would be historic — the GOP has controlled the State House every term since 1966, while the State Senate has been in Republican hands for all but eight years since that time.

If Democrats can sweep through Arizona, the path to the White House will be much, much easier for Vice President Joe Biden — forget Texas and Florida, if he can win Arizona and North Carolina, he’ll have the presidency. That makes these races absolutely essential to support.

Below the map, I’m diving into the most hotly contested (and most flippable seats) in the state legislature. One note: Unlike most states, Arizona has one set of legislative districts for both State House and State Senate. Each district elects two State House Representatives and one State Senator.

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District 28 

  • State Senate election decided by .3% in 2018 — 167 votes: In 2018, Arizona teachers joined the national #RedforEd national movement, walking out of their underfunded classrooms for over a week to demand that the state drastically increase education investment. Leading the way was Christine Marsh, the 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year, who earned something of a national spotlight with her fierce advocacy on behalf of students and teachers.

    Marsh ran for the State Senate that year, too, and came within just 167 votes of unseating Republican Kate Brophy McGee. Now, Marsh is running again to finish the job, while Brophy McGee deals with a bunch of Pizzagate-type conspiracy theorists over on the GOP side.

District 6

  • State Senate election decided by 1.8% in 2018: We’ve got a really fantastic contrast in this race that makes it even more flippable than the already enticing 2018 vote differential suggests. Democrats are running Felicia French, an Afghanistan War vet and nurse, while Republicans have nominated Wendy Rogers, a perennial right-wing fringe candidate who ousted the incumbent in this district last week. Rogers is one of those child sex trafficking-obsessed conspiracy theorists who is making life miserable for Brophy McGee.
  • State House election decided by .3% in 2018: This is another pickup opportunity that’s even better than the 2018 vote differential suggests. Democrats are running well-known Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans. The state’s coronavirus calamity will play heavily into this race, as Evans has taken a leading role in criticizing Gov. Doug Ducey’s terrible job dealing with COVID-19.

    Democrats only ran one candidate in the primary, which means that Republicans are guaranteed to win at least one of the two seats in the general election. That’s the case in every single election I’m highlighting, which is sort of a bummer. I suppose it makes sense to concentrate resources in some districts, but it feels like a real missed opportunity in this district, where the GOP is a total mess.

    One of the incumbent Republicans is retiring, while the other, Walter Blackman, is a far-right conspiracy-peddler who called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization.” The fact that he’s Black certainly complicates the politics of it, but he barely won in 2018 and seems even more vulnerable now.

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District 17

  • State Senate election decided by 1.8% in 2018: In a state where immigration and education are both massive issues, Democrats nominated Ajlan Kurdoglu, a first-generation American whose wife is a public school teacher. He’s running against JD Mesnard, the former Arizona Speaker of the House.

District 20

  • State Senate election decided by 3.9% in 2018: This is a rematch between the 2018 candidates. Democrats are again running Douglas Ervin against Paul Boyer, who is only in his first term. Ervin has long been a school volunteer and is focused on education and making the state’s finances more equitable.
  • State House election decided by 1.4% in 2018: Democrats have a great candidate in Judy Schwiebert, who spent 27 years as a teacher and is very focused on education funding. In the primary, she received 2500 more votes than either Republican incumbent, one of whom is a real anti-LGBTQ bigot and weirdo who talks a bit too much about porn.

District 23

  • State House election decided by 3% in 2018: The Democratic Party returns its 2018 nominee, Eric Kurland, who is — get this — a teacher! He got over 8,000 more votes in the primary than the second-place Republican thanks to a heated race between the QAnon-loving incumbent, Jay Lawrence, and the more moderate candidate who ultimately unseated him.

District 21

  • State House election decided by 5.2% in 2018: Here’s another race where the Democrat in the primary earned more votes (3,000 this time) than the top Republican. Name recognition in this case certainly helped nominee Kathy Knecht, a long-time school board official who ran for State Senate in 2018 as an independent. Now, she’s officially on Team Blue — what else do you expect from someone involved in public schools?

District 15

  • State House election decided by 6.1% in 2018: We’ve got another Democratic educator in the house! Kristin Dybvig-Pawelko actually works in higher education, having spent the last 20 years at Arizona State University. As such, she’s very concerned with the cost of public college in the state, which is mandated to be as low as possible. Dybvig-Pawelko had a nice showing primary, taking 5,500 more votes than the second and third place Republicans.

District 8

  • State House election decided by 7.2% in 2018: This should be a super-tight race, far closer than the 2018 margin leads you to believe. Democrats nominated Sharon Girard, a retired physician’s assistant who got more than 4,500 votes than the top Republican vote-getter and 6,000 more votes than the closely paired second and third GOP candidates. The top GOP vote-getter, the incumbent David Cook, is perhaps the most endangered — the guy loves lobbyists and bribing fellow political officials.

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Sharon Hirsch Is Going to Unseat a Texas Tea Party Fanatic

Politics can be complicated, issues can be nuanced, and choices in elections can be unclear… but none of those things are true about this uber-close Texas House race between incumbent Republican Matt Shaheen and his Democratic challenger Sharon Hirsch.

He: A devout member of the fringe-right Republican Freedom Caucus who takes gobs of corporate special interest money, posts endless “Blue Lives Matter” memes, trolls the libs on Facebook, votes against public schools and special needs children, and once said “I will die on this issue politically” about passing a grossly bigoted anti-LGBTQ bathroom bill.

She: A long-time Democratic Party activist and Executive Committee member and public school employee who relies on small-dollar donations, is focused on funding schools and expanding healthcare access, and lost to Shaheen by an excruciatingly small 391 vote margin in 2018.

The two candidates for State House District 66 are a microcosm of the kind of politicians who have dominated Texas for 25+ years and the new wave of activists and lawmakers who are entirely remaking the state’s political culture. Democrats are now just nine seats from flipping the State House and Hirsch can claim a fair amount of credit for this ongoing transformation — she’s been involved in both the Plano and state Democratic Party since 2007 and co-founded an organization called Women Organizing Women Democrats. For a while, it was an uphill struggle — then Trump came along and changed everything.

To illustrate the contrast, Hirsch notes that before late 2016, the volunteer intake system was “a process of sticky notes and notes that said, ‘Call John at this number’ and ‘Called Mary at this number’ and it was a mess,” Hirsch tells Progressives Everywhere. “And then Trump won and it was the most remarkable thing that ever happened. All of a sudden, it was standing room only in the office and people just coming in droves wanting to do something. Some ran for office, some became super-volunteers who knocked on thousands of doors. There was a rallying cry.”

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Continue reading “Sharon Hirsch Is Going to Unseat a Texas Tea Party Fanatic”