We need to take on the gun lobby. First stop, Colorado

What do you call a group of ideologues that actively works to inflame radicals, arm them with weapons of war, and then put innocent people in the line of their hate-fueled fire?

Generally, you’d call them a terrorist organization. But at this point, even that term seems a bit too generous for Republicans and the NRA, because at least terrorists claim credit for their massacres.

This weekend, we experienced a flare-up in our national epidemic of gun violence, as nearly 30 people were murdered in cold blood in two separate incidents in Texas and Ohio. The massacre on Saturday was explicitly inspired by the racist bile spewed out by Donald Trump and the alt-right goons he hosts at the White House, and both were enabled by dangerously lax gun laws pushed by Republicans.

Instead of showing any self-awareness or remorse, Republicans trotted out the same old “thoughts and prayers” pablum, blaming video games and politicization for the slaughters carried out by their followers.

It’s obvious that these cannot be shamed into even saying the right things, let alone doing them. So how do we end the madness? We take away their power. And while that sounds abstract and feels impossible, there are some concrete steps we can take right now to begin turning the tide against these cowardly gun nuts.

The first opportunity to make a difference is playing out in Colorado as we speak, where two brave Democrats are facing recall petitions from fringe right-wingers angry that they voted to pass several gun control laws. Democratic State Sens. Brittany Pettersen (SD-22) and Pete Lee (SD-11) are facing recall campaigns led by Republicans and groups such as Rocky Mountain Gun Owners because they voted for a new red flag law that gives law enforcement the right to temporarily take guns away from people considered high risks to harm themselves and others.

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Phil Hernandez and the rise of the Obama generation

There was a record surge of young voter turnout in 2018, in part because we have young grassroots leaders running for office across the country, providing a new wave of energy and fight. That wasn’t a fluke, either.

This spring, as I interviewed candidates running for the legislature in Virginia, I asked their staffers and other activists who else I should highlight. The answer was pretty unanimous: talk to Phil Hernandez, a young candidate from Virginia Beach running for the House of Delegates. It was a lot of hype, but he more than lived up to it.

In his early 30s, Hernandez has the sort of resume that could get him just about any high-paying corporate job he wanted. The first member of his family to graduate from college, he went on to work in the Obama White House, moving up to the Domestic Policy Council. He later went to law school at Berkeley and became a civil rights attorney, working on behalf of low-income tenants and fighting on behalf of other people facing discrimination. He used his policy know-how to develop a bill that would help tackle homelessness in the state and it was eventually signed into law by California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Instead of cashing in on his experience, Hernandez decided to move home to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, and now he’s running to represent the 100th district in the House of Delegates. What follows is a lightly edited version of our conversation.

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Florida’s new Jim Crow law is worse than ever

So, last week was a pretty bad one for American democracy. While it began with the excitement of Tiffany Cabán’s win in the Queens District Attorney race, followed by a solid first (and second!) Democratic presidential debate, things went off the rails thanks to the stolen Supreme Court and, more than likely, voter suppression in Florida.

First, the Supreme Court cleared the way for state legislatures to gerrymander legislative and congressional districts to their heart’s content, no matter how partisan or racist their motivations (and they’re always partisan or racist). This was a bummer, but not unexpected, and really just underlines the importance of winning back as many state legislatures and governorships as we can.

It’s going to be hard to do that in some states, not only because of gerrymandering, but also due to voter suppression. Preventing people from casting their ballots is what Republicans do best (other than funnel money to their rich donors), and no small distraction like the will of an overwhelming majority of voters can stop them from pursuing the most anti-democratic policies possible — especially not when the impact would be so efficiently discriminatory against people of color.

Their sheer determination to be dictators of an apartheid state led to the other big blow to democracy last week: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who only won last fall because so many voters in the state are unfairly disenfranchised, signed a Republican law that will keep most of those voters disenfranchised.

In November, despite voter suppression, a whopping 65% of Floridians voted to approve Amendment 4, which would restore voting rights to the state’s 1.4 million formerly incarcerated citizens who have served their full sentences and finished probation. Notably, there were no conditions attached to the voter initiative, but the GOP, terrified as always of real democracy, decided to twist it into a modern-day Jim Crow law.

Now, the formerly incarcerated will have to pay off all fees and fines related to their cases, no matter how absurd they were (and they’re often insane) and how hard it is to track them down.

It’s no coincidence that a majority of these would-be voters are black — again, there’s nothing that scares Republicans more than black people voting. Though black people make up just 17% of Florida’s population, they represent 48% of its prison population. As a result, about 20% of black adults are disenfranchised in Florida, which is one of the only states that take those voting rights away permanently in the first place. Now, instead of listening to a vast majority of their registered voters, Republicans are now charging people huge sums of money to register to vote.

Estimates are that this could keep up to 1.1 million of those who were made eligible to vote last November out of the voting booth. We already have a democracy dominated by rich white people, but every financial and historic advantage in the world still isn’t enough for them.

The ACLU and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, along with other organizations, have already filed a lawsuit over the law, but it’s unclear what kind of luck they’ll have. The FRCC, which led the successful campaign for Amendment 4, is now raising money to help pay off all those fines. There is no better use of your donation dollars — every dollar will directly help to register voters (who are, after this, likely to not support the GOP). You can donate HERE. And if you want to give to the FRCC, which is singularly focused on this, you can donate on Progressives Everywhere’s main ActBlue page.

Of the 129 Democrats who voted to cage children, 15 ran unopposed in 2018.

As we’ve come to expect this year, House Democratic leadership disappointed us by caving to Republicans yesterday, this time on a border funding bill.

Stories out of DC yesterday said that Speaker Pelosi decided to bring up the Senate GOP’s bill, which would fund ICE with no strings attached, because of the revolt of a dozen or so “moderate” Democrats who desperately needed to help the Trump gestapo’s regime of caging children in concentration camps. That may be the case, but in the end, a whopping 129 Democrats voted for the bill, which is an absolutely disgraceful number.

What’s even more disgraceful is how many of them are in safe blue seats. I’ve put together a full list of the Democrats that voted for the bill yesterday and discovered that nearly 20 of them ran unopposed by any Republicans last year. Over 30 of them won by over 50 points. Nearly 70 of them won their races by over 20 points. We worked our asses off for them last year, and this is what we get?

I firmly believe we should be impeaching Trump, but Democratic leadership sees it differently right now. Frustrating, but something I can handle for the moment. But voting to let ICE jail kids in concentration camps, with no remedies or improvements at all required? Unconscionable.

So many of these bad Democrats voted this way because they’re not afraid of the consequences. They saw AOC and Ayanna Pressley defeat corporate Dems in primaries, saw Tiffany Caban prevail with grassroots help in Queens on Tuesday, but figured it couldn’t happen to them. They need to be proven wrong.

Of course, some voted for it because they were in close races last year and knew the GOP will pummel them if they didn’t vote otherwise. I get it. Not everyone is from a super blue district. I don’t think ICE is particularly popular, but I know some House members have to be more cautious. But if you won by more than 20% last year, you could have likely voted no and not suffered any consequences, especially this far out.

So far, I think only three of these bad Democrats — Steny Hoyer, Henry Cuellar, and Dan Lipinski — have media-covered primary challengers (Cueller and Lipinski’s are especially legit).  We need to support those challengers and encourage more to step forward. I’ve put together an ActBlue page to help all of them; you can donate here. If you hear of more, please let me know: ProgressivesEverywhere@gmail.com.

Joshua Cole is running on divine inspiration in Virginia

Whether or not you believe in a higher power or divine influence, it’d be hard to argue that Joshua Cole wasn’t born to lead his community and help create progressive change in government.

Not yet 30, the Virginia Democrat has been involved in the legislative process since he was a teenager serving as a page in Richmond, first for the House of Delegates and then for then-Governor Mark Warner. He now works as a chief of staff for a delegate there, which is somehow only one of his public service gigs — Cole is also an associate pastor, community activist, and the head of his local chapter of the NAACP in Stafford County. That’s all in addition to running to represent the 28th district in Virginia’s House of Delegates, which he is doing for the second time after shocking everyone by nearly flipping the districting in 2017.

“I work an hour from where I live, so typically I get up in the mornings at about six and I’m on the road by seven,” says Cole, who has spent years making that commute from Stafford to Richmond. “I do call time on my lunch break. I come back home and typically every evening we have events. So whether it’s knocking doors, going to fundraisers, going to some community meeting, or something church-related, I always have something going on every day after work. And I’m normally not home until after nine or 10 o’clock and get right back up to do it all over again.”

It’s an exhausting schedule, though Cole is pretty good at keeping up the energy levels — we spoke after his work in the capitol was done for the day, and he was all geared up to talk about the campaign and the policy goals he wants to pursue; big focuses include criminal justice reform and ending the playground-to-prison pipeline, improving public schools and teacher pay, and access to affordable prescription medication. He talks with the excitement and confidence of a guy who knows he’s got a real chance of winning and doesn’t want to leave any stone unturned or ounce of energy untapped — after all, Cole knows better than anyone else that every vote counts.

Last time around, Cole, then a first-time candidate, lost his race by an excruciatingly minuscule 73 votes. Lawyers wound up getting involved, and there were enough irregularities that Cole could have easily been the rightful winner. The close call was especially brutal because it left Democrats just shy of flipping control of the legislature. Now, Cole is running again to finish the job — he’s just not going to be getting a rematch.

The Republican who beat him, Del. Bob Thomas turned out to be far more wingnuty than advertised — he’s the guy who said he’d welcome Georgia’s abhorrent new abortion policy in Virginia — and yet somehow, he was not quite insane enough for the local GOP. In part because he begrudgingly voted for Medicaid expansion (with work requirements!), Thomas got primaried by his 2017 GOP opponent, Paul Milde, and in a tight decision, the insurgent came out on top.

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