Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke is drawing national headlines for his incredible campaign for Senate against Ted Cruz, as its combination of grassroots energy, social media know-how, and fundraising prowess has turned the race into a dead-heat. Less prominent, but no less important, are a handful of local and statewide elections that could pry Texas away from the iron grip of the GOP’s furthest right fringe.
Republicans have been able to enact their radical, inhumane agenda in states across the country by winning state government trifectas. Currently, they hold governorships and both statehouses in 26 states — and in some places, democracy is even more of a distant memory. In Texas, for example, the GOP holds a supermajority in the state senate that allows them to simply ignore all Democratic proposals and pass bills without any debate. That’s been catastrophic for working people, women and minorities in the state, where Medicaid has not been expanded and the right to choose eroded.
The situation seems dire, but as O’Rourke’s campaign is showing, Democrats in Texas are energized and ready to turn this red state blue (or at least purple). Just as Ted Cruz’s hold on his Senate seat is in danger, the GOP is at risk of losing its State Senate supermajority, which stands at just two seats. The Texas Tribune this weekend highlighted several winnable races, including what is already turning into a nasty, smashmouth matchup in district 10, the North Texas district once represented by Wendy Davis.
Beverly Powell, a real estate agent who has served on school and college boards for decades, won a tight Democratic primary race. She’ll face off against Sen. Konni Burton, who is a loud, rude prototypical member of the far right Tea Party. When Powell won the primary, Burton greeted her with a nasty letter that, ironically, highlighted all of her own deficiencies. Burton lambasted Powell for expanding Medicaid expansion, a woman’s right to control her own body, and making sure public schools don’t become racially and economically segregated. The horror!
Powell is indeed in support of expanding access to healthcare, financing public education instead of private school vouchers, and making college more affordable. None of these positions are radical, unless you live in a state that has been so dominated by a political party that’s run by corporations and far-right religious organizations.
This is a winnable race — again, Wendy Davis represented the district until 2015 — and Powell can use all the help she can get. You should also keep an eye on Nathan Johnson, a composer and small businessman who is running against Sen. Don Huffines in the Dallas area, and whoever winds up winning a runoff primary to take on Houston-area Sen. Joan Huffman.
When Cyndi Ralston retired after more than three decades as a public school teacher, she could have never imagined that just a few years later, she would be at the center of national headlines and the public figurehead of a major political rebellion. And yet there she was, driving across the state of Oklahoma this past Tuesday, giving interviews and plotting out her nascent campaign for state legislature, fitting in strategy and press in the few hours she wasn’t marching on the state Capitol with her many fellow striking teachers.
After returning to the classroom to help combat Oklahoma’s desperate teacher shortage in 2017, Ralston decided that she also had to help fix the cause of the state’s awful education woes. So on Friday, she filed to run to represent Oklahoma’s 12th house district, officially commencing a race that has already earned national press coverage as a symbol of the political struggle in roiling red states. It is a microcosm of 2018: Ralston is running against a Republican state representative named Kevin McDugle, who drew outrage with a vicious anti-teacher Facebook rant. Ralston had been planning to run for months and was carefully preparing her campaign when that rant went viral, springing her into action ahead of schedule.
“He just was going off on how the students were watching us and we were being a bad example and yada yada yada,” Ralston recalls, still annoyed by McDugle’s diatribe. “And I was like, you’re right sir, they are watching us and we’re teaching them what freedom looks like, that we can petition our government, that we have the right to be here and peacefully protest.”
Ralston is one of many Oklahoman teachers who has decided to step up and run for office as a Democrat, as the teacher’s strike becomes even more political. They’re campaigning explicitly against the trickle-down economics of that have bankrupted the state government, and fighting to increase the paltry education budget that the legislature just passed. Ralston, who has become a figurehead for the movement, spoke to Progressives Everywhere twice this week, with a follow-up conversation focused on the teacher union’s internal disagreement over a recent call to end the strike.
You returned to the classroom because Oklahoma passed a law allowing retired teachers to come back and keep their retirement. But the teacher shortage has had other consequences, right?
Maybe halfway through my career they started allowing “alternatively certified” teachers. The difference in that is that alternatively certified teacher has to have a degree and they have to complete courses like child development and classroom management. Now they have “emergency certified teachers,” and they don’t have to have any training whatsoever. They have to have a degree, but no training and education. So they’re throwing his people, bless them, into the classroom with no child development, no training on classroom management, no training on how to effectively teach.
I commend the people for trying to step into gaps that have been created because of the lack of funding for schools for the past 10 years. But, that’s not fair to them or the kids. We have several classrooms in Oklahoma that are still not filled with anyone at all and they’ve been served by substitutes all year long, just different people in and out, always a different person in the room. So nobody’s making plans. There’s no continuity for the kids.
How did this happen?
In 2004, they cut income tax. They lowered the top income tax level down to where a lot of Oklahomans are paying the same tax rate of 5%. It’s kind of absurd that Russell Westbrook, as much as we love him, is paying the same tax rate as I am.
They also lowered the gross production tax on oil companies from 7% to 2% percent [on the first three years of a new well]. And they never raised it back with when the 2008 recession hit. They said, if we give the businesses a break and we give corporations a break, that’s going to trickle down and more jobs and blah blah blah. Well, it didn’t work. It ended up costing major amounts of revenue. And then now that the economy’s turned back around, they haven’t changed anything.
So they passed the bill that raises teacher salaries. But what we had asked for was $200 million to be put in general education. That just brings us back up to the 2008 level of funding. They play games, play games, and then they did pass it — but they gave us $50 million for the general fund.
The raise was nice and we thank them for it after 10 years without a raise. But we cared about the funding and we asked for $200 million because we have not had new textbooks in 10 years. They had allowed them to open the textbook fund, which has never happened before, and opened it up to allow them to use it for general funds to pay for teachers. We have ripped apart, duct-taped books. And we only have 25 reading books per grade level at my school.
The teachers have done an amazing job being creative. We have the kids have rotate from teacher to teacher. One teacher teaches all reading because we only have 25 books. One teacher teaches language and spelling. One teacher teaches math. That starts at first grade and developmentally, children should not be going to three different classrooms during the day. High school kids struggle with that. We’re having six and seven-year-olds do it.
Over 70% of Oklahomans approve of the strike, which is incredible.
People are figuring it out from listening to us. They’re also watching the process which they haven’t done before and they’re tired of it. They want the money in education. That’s it. They understand that that’s one of the most important things for future and their own children and grandchildren.
It’s been amazing to see the kids up there and learning and watching and being in the gallery and going and talking to legislators and realizing these are people. They’re not any different than you, they’re elected to represent you and you can go and speak to them about what you feel and what you would like them to do. It’s been amazing. And yet, McDugle didn’t think that we’re doing such a great job leading and teaching our students.
The head of the Oklahoma Education Association has called for an end to the strike. Where do you stand on that?
Teachers were very frustrated when OEA had a media event on Thursday evening saying that the walkout was over. They felt like the OEA wasn’t speaking for the collective group. A lot of teachers want to drop their memberships but I’ve asked them not to do that and to actually join the OEA, but call for the resignation of the president of the association. If we lose membership, we will lose our bargaining power. That is extremely important to keep in a Right to Work state. We are continuing our pressure on the Republican legislators that have not allowed the bill that repeals the capital gains tax exemption and another amendment to a bill that just got written Friday by Republican leadership that allows the legislature to pull from already appropriated funds (like teacher retirement) if the revenue brought in that year won’t fully fund their budget for the year.
There have been several years recently that due to tax cuts and restructuring of our tax codes, on top of not having oil and gas companies pay their fair share, that this very thing has happened. This will only compound the problems we are having in our state, not solve them. We are still holding them accountable by sending delegations of teachers from every school district that we can to the Capitol with parents and community leaders every day until the end of the session. We are watching the live feeds of committees and checking votes every day then calling them about their votes immediately.
Ralston’s son Josh Martin is also running for office, in OK’s 80th House District. With so many great candidates rising to the occasion, Progressives Everywhere has set up a fund specifically for teachers running for office in Oklahoma.
We are getting closer to the next big special congressional election, and there could not be a starker choice. In the race to replace disgraced Trent Franks as representative from Arizona’s 8th district, the Republicans nominated Debbie Lesko, a state senator who is the epitome of modern corruption.
Lesko serves as the state chair of ALEC, the corporate front group that bribes politicians to let them write egregious bills that largely benefit racists and CEOs. She’s carried their sparkling water for years, and in 2016 was even named ALEC’s Legislator of the Year.
This is gross:
“I ran for office to make a difference and that is why I take on big issues. I am very honored to be named ‘Legislator of the Year’ by such a respected national organization. Thank you ALEC for your decades of work with state legislators to promote limited government, free markets, and states’ rights,” Lesko said.
What’s even grosser is how ALEC has dominated Arizona. The group has used Arizona as a testing ground for noxious policies that target immigrants, restrict voting rights, and helped destroy campaign finance restrictions. If she goes to Washington, she’ll be a card-carrying Trumpster and steady vote for corporate interests — and they won’t even have to foot the bill for her trips to DC anymore.
In a close primary election, Arizona Democrats ultimately nominated Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, an emergency room physician and cancer researcher who emigrated to the United States from India with her family when she was just three years old. As you might expect, she’s strong on issues like health care — she wants a public option for Medicare buy-in — and immigration, which is a hot point of contention in Arizona.
Tipirneni spent her career in emergency medicine, so she knows how to responds to people’s concerns with compassion. Lesko, on the other hand, would be working to help corporations and bigots. It’s a deep red district, but that doesn’t seem to matter in 2018, and with such a difference in candidates, we need to go all-out to help team blue.
Happy Easter! This Sunday is a holy day for millions of Americans, who pause their busy lives to participate in traditions forged by ancient religious text and cultural evolution. Inspired by a message of love and kindness, people worship, reflect, hunt for Easter eggs, enjoy big family dinners… and then in far too many cases, return to the work of demonizing and denying human rights to millions of their fellow citizens, while pushing millions more into poverty.
Over the last 50 years, the Religious Right has hijacked Christianity in America, turning the pulpit intended to preach love and charity into a platform for hate speech and punishing capitalist propaganda. Huckster preachers like Jerry Falwell and organizations like Focus on the Family have weaponized faith and its intimate place in people’s psyche to create generations of soldiers in a war on women, LGBTQ Americans, racial minorities, and anyone who cannot afford massive donations to their ministries.
To help them in this hijacking of America, they have trained and financed several generations of radical politicians, who have passed decades worth of laws that have hurt Americans in every possible way. Thanks to Donald Trump, they have more power than ever before — but as we are seeing, our energy and determination is already starting to change that. Just look at how we beat Roy Moore, the pedophile Bible-thumper who everyone thought would be the next senator from Alabama!
This week, we’re taking aim at some of the most intolerant “Christian” lawmakers, who are really false prophets. They may be tweeting Bible verses on Easter, but they’re preaching hate and afflicting the powerless, so it’s time they’re taught a lesson.
Rep. Mark Walker, of North Carolina’s 6th congressional district, is the head of the influential Republican Study Committee. What do they study? How to make life hell for anyone that’s not a god-fearing straight white man born into wealth.
His issues page talks about protecting women in the workplace, equal pay for equal work, and guaranteeing a woman’s right to choose, all of which stand in stark contrast to Walker, to say the least. He’s also for a Medicare public option and gun control, making him a mainstream progressive.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, of Missouri’s 4th district, was called “the most anti-gay candidate in the country” when she first ran for office, and during her tenure in Washington she has lived up to that billing. And it’s not just the LGBTQ community that she has worked to punish. Not by far.
Hartzler boasts a perfect score from the National Association of Awful Monsters, for taking up every vile far-right position possible over the last decade. She’s a birther, anti-gay marriage, voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, voted in favor of cutting food stamps, supports Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” pushed hard to have transgender soldiers banned from the military (she actually equated them to Putin, North Korea and ISIS) and voted against hate crime legislation. She is literally the worst.
Running against her is Renee Hoagenson, a single mother and businesswoman who is pushed toward a progressive platform by her Catholicism. OK, so her website isn’t much to look at, but her positions are firmly in our wheelhouse. She believes in Medicare for All, forcing pharmaceutical companies to pay their fair share in combating the opioid crisis they helped start, and ending partisan redistricting. And this passage, from her website’s section about family values, really speaks to the difference in both the candidates in this race, and the larger cultural conflict still raging in America.
“To reverse the decline of family values we must first create more good-paying jobs and increase wages for the thousands of Missourians whose wage increases have been outpaced by inflation,” she writes. “When our parents can afford to spend more time with their children they will have the time to help rebuild the moral foundation of our country.”
All you need to know about Randy Hultgren, the congressman from Illinois’ 14th district, is that he said in 2010 that he believes in Intelligent Design. That should enough to disqualify him for national office. It’s insane, but what’s crazier is that he has also been recognized for his work promoting science and STEM education. So what are we to make of this guy?
Well, whatever his stance on the evolution might be, he’s clearly a regressive vote on just about every other issue. He’s an Evangelical Christian who believes God guided him through his initial race for Congress, and presumably, thinks the big man upstairs told him to oppose green energy policies, work against a woman’s right to choose and stem cell research, vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, and fight to dismantle Obamacare. He chairs the National Prayer Breakfast, but after finishing his omelet, goes to work to make life miserable for just about everyone.
Underwood is also focused on bringing down prescription drug costs and increasing access to health care, because as every progressive (or anyone who has used the American healthcare system) knows, Obamacare should have been just the start, not a high water mark of universal health care. She is on the opposite side of Hultgren on just about every issue, and is building a great coalition in Illinois after winning the Democratic primary.
Students, parents, and people with souls flooded streets across the country on Saturday to demand drastic changes to gun laws that have turned the United States into a war zone. Organized by the incredible survivors of the Parkland school massacre, the March For Our Lives featured a central protest in Washington, DC and satellite events in at least 800 other cities and towns, coordinated marches of angry footsteps that should ring in the ears of lawmakers across the country.
If lawmakers were interested in listening to their constituents, the March For Our Lives would be a clear message to those who have thus far refused to do anything about the scourge of school shootings, mass killings, and everyday gun violence that has drenched the nation in blood. But unfortunately, Republicans have sold themselves out to the NRA, which has showered them in money in exchange for their support for evermore insane gun laws. There has been hardly any movement toward the slightest of reforms in Congress, because the lives of children don’t factor into an NRA voting record or pay for 30 second TV ads. And so after we march, we must take on these corrupt Republicans head-on.
But of course, that’s not what happened. The NRA insulted the brave kids from Parkland and actually tried to make money off the march.
“To all the kids from Parkland getting ready to use your First Amendment to attack everyone else’s Second Amendment at your march on Saturday, I wish a hero like Blaine Gaskill had been at Marjory Douglas High School last month because your classmates would still be alive and no one would know your names, because the media would have completely and utterly ignored your story, the way they ignored his,” he said. “I have to ask, what are you really marching for? Because from where I’m standing, it looks like a march to burn the Constitution and rewrite the parts they don’t like in crayon.”
This scumbag actually said that about the teenagers who are taking a selfless stand, fighting through incredible pain to try and make the country a better place. Their lives will never be the same; they’ve become targets for hateful, dangerous people. And yet, they push forward, working every moment to save as many lives as they can.
And what is the NRA doing? Calling the whole thing a conspiracy theory and trying to raise money with a membership drive.
“Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous,” it wrote on Facebook. “Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”
Republicans were just plain silent. And that’s no surprise. There has been hardly any movement toward the slightest of reforms in Congress, because the lives of children don’t factor into an NRA voting record or pay for 30 second TV ads.
In honor of the March For Our Lives, Progressives Everywhere has created a fund devoted specifically to Democratic candidates running against Republicans who serve the NRA, not their constituents. We are calling it — surprise — Progressives Everywhere vs. the NRA. Because just look at what they did yesterday:
Rep. French Hill in Arkansas’s 2nd congressional district. Hill has taken over $1 million from the NRA over the course of his career.
Hill didn’t tweet anything.
Clarke Tucker is running against him. Tucker, a brilliant young lawmaker who currently serves in the Arkansas legislature, has proposed several gun control laws during his time in Little Rock. They include prohibiting people convicted of domestic battery or stalking from owning guns, as well as making it a misdemeanor offense to negligently allow a child access to a firearm. What’s more, independent polling has put him within single digits of Hill.
Ken Buck represents Colorado’s 4th congressional district. He has taken over $800,00 directly from the NRA to vote against gun laws. He hasn’t tweeted in three days. His opponent is Karen McCormick, who been active in supporting school walkouts and the Parkland teens in their fight for sanity. Buck faces a primary challenge, which could leave him extra vulnerable.
David Young represents Iowa’s 3rd congressional district. Young has taken over $700,000 in the NRA’s blood money over the years. Young did not tweet on Saturday. On Friday, he tweeted about open office hours. Let’s hope people go in there and ask him why, exactly, he supports murder weapons.
Lloyd Smucker, who has taken over $200,000 from the NRA, was with young people on Saturday — but it was the Young Republicans, and they were talking about international relations. Nothing about guns. Meanwhile, several thousand people rallied in Lancaster, which is at the heart of his district.