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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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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Amy Laufer is taking out a coal-fed right-wing idealogue in Virginia

American government is by and large ruled at all levels by white men who were born rich, regard power as a birthright, and speak in platitudes vague enough to obscure the destructive, self-dealing policies they pursue in office. And then every once in a very long while, you get candidates like Amy Laufer, who obliterate all those corrupt plutocratic conventions and remind you that we can do things differently.

Laufer, who is running this fall for the Virginia State Senate seat from District 17, near Charlottesville, is a special mix of empathetic and no bullshit, with the life experience to understand how hard it is to get by and absolutely no patience for the people who make it harder. She’s a longtime teacher, member of the Charlottesville Board of Education, and the founder of Virginia’s List, an organization that recruits and trains women to run for office. Hers has been for a life devoted to progressive principles, shaped by her upbringing.

Biography doesn’t always translate to ideology in ways that seem logical to outsiders, but Laufer’s life experience has led her to active leadership in people-powered politics. That stands in stark contrast to the Republican incumbent she’s challenging, State Sen. Bryce Reeves, a virulently anti-abortion fear-monger who seems to misunderstand the point of democracy. Reeves loves to sue opponents and his top contributors — and, more importantly, beneficiaries — include coal executives, corrupt energy companies, tobacco conglomerates, insurance companies, and Republican dark money PACs. Continue reading “Amy Laufer is taking out a coal-fed right-wing idealogue in Virginia”