The Race in TX-22 Embodies The Battle for Texas

More than any other race, the dead-heat competition in the state’s 22nd Congressional District embodies the tussle between old Texas and new Texas. The Republican candidate is a far-right, power-abusing, anti-mask, fired-cop controversy machine, the archetype of Trump-era conservatism. Democrats, on the other hand, have nominated a long-time State Department Foreign Service Officer who has fostered a huge coalition in a very diverse district.

Sri Preston Kulkarni, the Democratic candidate, first ran for this seat in the 2018 election, before it was clear that the state was trending blue. He spent over 15 years working overseas, mediating negotiations and peace deals between hostile nations. Once Trump took over, that job became more and more difficult — the United States was supposed to be a beacon of democracy, but it was starting to look and feel more like a troubled nation.

“After everything I’d seen, from [Trump’s] birther attacks and saying that Latinos are drug dealers and rapists, then the Muslim ban, then the Charlottesville Nazi rally, I just had to do something,” Kulkarni tells Progressives Everywhere. “I started out not thinking that this was winnable, I was doing because it was the right thing to do.”

He wasn’t really on the national Democratic Party’s radar — the DCCC was focused on flipping the House and prioritized the obvious swing districts. Left to figure it out on his own, Kulkarni decided that he’d expand the electorate in one of Texas’s most diverse districts.

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Kulkarni’s campaign built the largest relational organizing program in the nation during that election cycle, with volunteers phone-banking in 13 different languages. By connecting with so many tight-knit communities within the district, the campaign became something of a community in and of itself.

“The third-largest language we speak in Texas is Vietnamese and Texas has the largest Muslim population out of any state in America — these are not stereotypes people have of Texas, but that’s what it looks like out here in the suburbs, and it’s just about getting them into the electorate,” he says. “Inclusion is what we do. By reaching out to people, showing up at mosques and temples and Chinese community centers, having volunteers to speak these languages and understand these cultures — that’s the only way you get change, through coalition building.”

In the end, Kulkarni came just a few points shy of a massive upset victory over Republican Rep. Pete Olson, and in fact gave him such a scare that Olson announced his retirement the following summer. Kulkarni quickly declared that he was going to run again to finish the job.

From the start, he focused his second campaign on issues such as affordable healthcare (the trauma of his family nearly going bankrupt when his dad got sick has stuck with him all these years later) and removing big money from politics (“the amount of time we spend fundraising is not healthy for democracy,” he says, “and I’ll push from day one to have publicly financed campaigns.”)

While Olson was certainly conservative, his 2020 Republican opponent, Troy Nehls, is (as I noted before) a far-right, power-abusing, anti-maskdisgraced-cop controversy machine. His record is appalling: Nehls was fired twice as a police officer for a litany of offenses; is being sued for overseeing a jail where a 15-year-old boy was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a volunteer and failing to act; and at the height of COVID-19 ravaging Texas, he decried a mandatory mask order as “communist.”

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Finishing the Job: How Democrats Are Running GOTV In The Age of COVID

We now have just over two weeks until Election Day, but given the unprecedented number of absentee ballots and early votes cast, the reality is that every day is election day. Already, over 8 million votes have been registered, and with more states opening up early voting in the next few days, that number will soon jump even higher.

With that in mind, the traditional weekend-before-the-election GOTV just won’t cut it this year. We need to be taking action now. Here at Progressives Everywhere, we’ve raised over $40,000 for GOTV groups this year, most of it over the last few months. Now, we want to go all-in on raising needed cash to help these organizations maximize their voter contacts over the next few weeks. It requires cash to run their advanced digital systems, pay field employees, and advertise online, so let’s help them as best we can.

Below, I spoke with leaders of two of the major grassroots organizations doing the hard work to put Democrats over the top when all the votes are counted. I can’t think of any better investment right now, so please help them finish off Donald Trump and the GOP with whatever kind of investment you can offer.

Community Change Action

Established in 1968, Community Change has been around since the tail end of the last civil rights era. This year, the organization is working to usher in a new era of civil rights advocacy and advancement by massively expanding its operations and connecting with voters beyond the typical checklist phone call or text message.

With a focus on working people and people of color, Community Change stands as a crucial link to underserved but enormously crucial voting blocs who often wind up disenfranchised at the ballot box and in policymaking.

“We believe that by engaging people who have been historically disengaged, we not only change the ultimate outcome of the election, but we also are building their long-term infrastructure and organizing capacity that we need to achieve progressive political agenda,” Grecia Lima, the national political director at Community Change, tells Progressives Everywhere. “We want for them to find a political home inside of their state that they can continue to be connected to, even after the election.”

Community Change Action, the organization’s political action arm, is now operating in eight states and 28 congressional districts. It’s running its own grassroots outreach campaigns in Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, and Colorado, while it has teamed with three other progressive groups — Planned Parenthood, SEIU, and Color of Change — for huge voter contact campaigns in Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Thus far, Community Change has engaged 6.1 million voters with 11 million phone calls and 2.3 million text messages. The numbers date back to January, but most of them have come in the last few weeks. The group has been busy, to say the least.

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Call Them (Republican) Terrorists, Not “Militias”

Earlier this week, we ran a story in the newsletter on the extremists that have taken over the Republican Party and injected hatred, vigilantism, and terror into state and local politics. A few of the right-wing lawmakers we highlighted are state legislators in Michigan, one of the hotbeds of anti-government activity. Today, news broke that those Republicans helped inspire a plot to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and violently overthrow the state government.

State and federal authorities charged 13 angry white men with a litany of crimes on Thursday. Some headlines call the bearded toxic males who were arrested a “militia,” but that’s far too generous. These people are terrorists.

The affidavit is not a pleasant read, but it’s illuminating to see just how these would-be murderers think, communicate, and function. Here’s an excerpt — CHS-2 is an informant and FOX is one of the dopes they tricked.

On June 14, 2020, CHS-2 participated in a consensually recorded telephone call with FOX, who described the meeting in Dublin, Ohio. FOX said he needed “200 men” to storm the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and take hostages, including the Governor. FOX explained they would try the Governor of Michigan for “treason,” and he said they would execute the plan before the November 2020 elections.

A few days later, they met at a second amendment rally in Lansing, the state capitol, where they marched with guns and tried to recruit more people to their cause. These rallies happened all summer, with far-right maniacs stomping around and threatening to kill Democrats so that they can defend their “constitutional” rights, which mostly include the right to carry a gun and not wear a mask.

Look at these miserable dorks:

These aren’t some independent group of fringe actors who are disconnected from the rest of the political mainstream. No, these right-wing lunatics have been egged on by Republicans all year. Republican lawmakers filed lawsuits to strip Whitmer of her power while these armed wannabe terrorists looked on in the capitol, refused to criticize their most violent threats, gave their anger plenty of fuel on social media, and even spoken at their rallies and marched alongside these disgruntled, bitter white men.

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The Best Way to Turn Pennsylvania Blue in 2020

As always, the 2020 election will hinge on Pennsylvania. So how can we turn it blue?

The State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania provided voting rights advocates three big wins on Thursday. First, the court ruled that the state must count all absentee ballots postmarked by November 3rd so long as they arrive by that Friday. Second, it authorized the placement of ballot drop boxes around the state to make it easier to vote. Third, the court kicked the Green Party off the ballot, which means ballots can be sent to voters.

These big victories come at a crucial time. Joe Biden has a significant lead in national polls, but the popular vote is as good as a participation trophy right now. In the states that he has to win, the former veep has a much smaller lead, and in some, he’s got smaller leads than what Hillary Clinton had in September 2016.

Pennsylvania is one of the states where some polls show Biden scuffling. The native son of Scranton should be a shoo-in for the state, but nothing makes sense anymore. So, what can we do? We can’t control Trump’s onslaught of outright lies, but we can make a big difference.

By helping down-ballot candidates, we’ll be powering the GOTV efforts for Biden, as well. Plus, Democrats are just nine seats away from flipping the State House, and given how many close races there were in 2018, turning it blue this year is very, very doable. If we do that, we end gerrymandering in the state, pass progressive policies, and expand voting rights permanently.

Here’s a breakdown of the five most contested State House races this November — if you want to help, you can donate to 10 Pennsylvania Democratic candidates via the button below!

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State House District 49: While Democrats lost this district by just 11 votes in 2018, the party somehow managed to let a cranky Facebook racist take the nomination unopposed. They denounced the cranky Facebook racist (his name is Randy Barli) in July and now Dems are leaving District 49 as a painfully missed opportunity. I thought I’d highlight this just to show how much work we have to do in state and local parties.

State House District 168: After getting smoked by 13 points in 2016 and not even running a candidate here in 2014, Democrats fell just 450 votes short of flipping this seat in 2018. This year, after a spirited primary, Dems nominated Deb Ciamacca. She is a teacher who was initially inspired to run by one of her own former students, Del. Chris Hurst, who ran for the Virginia House of Delegates after his girlfriend, a reporter, was killed on live TV.

State House District 105: This is one of my favorite races of the year because it truly crystallizes the difference between the two parties. GOP Rep. Andrew Lewis is a very corrupt, self-dealing, union-busting construction company owner who showed up to the Capitol building in Harrisburg while he was infected with COVID-19. Even worse, he didn’t tell Democrats or Capitol employees for days, putting lives at risk.

Lewis won by just over 500 votes last year and now faces a very formative opponent. Brittney Rodas is a smart and passionate 25-year-old legislative staffer and mother of two who is running for office after her father was more or less killed by the state’s healthcare laws. I interviewed her earlier this year — check it out here!

State House District 178: Another race that was decided by just over 500 votes in 2018. This year, Democrats are running an attorney named Ann Marie Mitchell in this Bucks County district. She clearly has a good ground game going — she earned over 1000 votes more in the primary than incumbent Rep. Wendi Thomas. This is a county that’s turning blue very quickly, though they lost a COVID-marred special election in the area in March.

State House District 144: Republican Rep. Valerie Gaydos won this Pittsburgh-area seat by less than 2% in 2018 and she seems determined to thin out the eligible voting population with her response to COVID-19. She, along with a couple dozen other Republicans, urged local district attorneys not to enforce Gov. Tom Wolf’s business shutdown orders when the virus began ravaging the state. Just last week, she railed against the legislature for not voting to override Wolf’s COVID-19 emergency disaster measure. Gaydos is facing a rematch against Democrat Michele Knoll, a teacher and school board director.

State House District 160: Here’s another race featuring a Progressives Everywhere endorsee. Anton Andrew is really a dream candidate, an incredibly passionate public defender and educator who has worked for environmental and educational non-profits for decades. He lost by just over 800 votes in 2018 and has been organizing ever since, ready to finish the job of flipping this long-time Republican seat. You can read my interview with Andrew here!

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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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