Alex Morse is taking on Rep. Richard Neal, Trump’s Favorite Democrat

Most of the time, this newsletter focuses on flipping Republican seats blue and retaking legislatures from the GOP. But if you really want to enact progressive change, it’s not always enough to just have a Democrat in office — in seats that are comfortably blue, we’ve got to have Democrats who actually listen to voters. 

The dynamic playing out in Massachusetts provides a perfect example: Congressman Richard Neal, who represents the state’s 1st district, has time and time again blocked popular progressive priorities as the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. He’s received more lobbyist money and enjoyed more lavish parties than anyone in Congress and has more than returned the favor, blocking everything from the Paycheck Guarantee Act during this pandemic to Medicare expansion. He also deliberately slow-walked the request for Donald Trump’s tax returns and did not support impeachment until it became an inevitability — all while representing a district that Hillary Clinton won by 20 points and he has “represented” for 30 years.

This year, he finally faces a real primary challenge from a dynamic progressive who could not be any more different than the 70-year-old Congressman, who hasn’t held a town hall in years. And if you’re skeptical, all you have to do is compare their records.

When Alex Morse unseated a long-serving local politician to become mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, he vowed to revive the struggling former mill town where he’d grown up. He faced long odds and internal resistance, but he was determined to restore a community that had spent decades reeling from the same factors that hollowed out small cities across the United States between the 1970s and early 2000s. When he took office at City Hall, he was immediately faced with a decision that would set the tone for how he planned to govern.

Morse’s predecessor as mayor had requested that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development clear the way for the demolition of Lyman Terrace, one of the city’s largest public housing properties. The complex was located right in the center of downtown Holyoke, so the plan was to knock Lyman down and bring in some shiny new apartments, displacing the 167 mostly Latino residents who had no real options for relocation. When Morse took the reins at City Hall, he called HUD and told them to hold off on the required review.

“This was a community of people who lived there for generations, with ties to the local economy, and friends and family,” Morse tells Progressives Everywhere. “We called off that demolition and got a lot of pushback from city councilors from the business community that just wanted to raze the property and give it to the developer with the highest bid.”

It was an impressive display of principle and political will — especially for a 22-year-old who was just a year out of college when it happened.

CLICK HERE to donate to Alex Morse’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

For many new college grads, senior year is a time for partying and getting a head start on a decade of soul-searching and minimal responsibility (I’m speaking from personal experience here). Morse, on the other hand, used his senior year at Brown to run for mayor back home, forgoing the typical route of most Ivy League grads. 

“I grew up in the backdrop of poverty, struggling school systems, high crime, a dead downtown, white flight out of the city,” he says. “And all of those dynamics happened at the very time we have the same people in office, but year after year, decade after decade, there was no civic engagement, very inactive democracy, no one holding our officials accountable. I ran because I didn’t give up on our city like most people had.”

Eight years after the demolition showdown, Lyman Terrace is in the second phase of a $60 million renovation, with a design informed by public meetings between architects, engineers, and residents. Its turnaround story is symbolic of how Morse has governed as mayor since 2012, infusing a rusting city with youthful energy and ground-level leadership. 

Instead of inviting gentrification and sprucing up downtown by knocking over a few buildings and then supporting a couple of gleaming apartment buildings and brunch spots without actually helping the long-time residents, Morse took on the challenge of making Holyoke better for the people who already lived there. He focused on strengthening the community by including residents in his decision-making, concentrating on the unglamorous but essential public services, improving education outcomes, and bringing in investment that didn’t displace locals. When he took over, the city had a 49% graduation rate — now it’s up to 75%.

It’s an impressive and inspiring success story on its own, but Morse had bigger plans for the city and realized there was only so much he could do from City Hall. Healthcare, trade laws, environmental regulations, and most economic policy decisions are all made at the federal level, and he felt as if Holyoke and surrounding towns had been abandoned by its representative. Neal has immense power in Congress, but there is a sense that he hasn’t used that power to benefit his constituents. 

As Morse notes, Western Massachusetts has long suffered from a lack of regional transportation to the more populous and economically well-off Boston region, something for which a partner in Congress would generally fight to fund. The opioid crisis is still ravaging the region, a deeply personal issue for Morse, who lost his brother to a long battle with drugs earlier this year; there has been precious little help in that regard, either. Morse declared his candidacy last summer and later earned endorsements from Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement, and current events underscore why he’s running.

CLICK HERE to donate to Alex Morse’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has both thrown Morse’s life into a new level of controlled chaos and made him even more determined to unseat Neal. So much of his day is devoted to managing what he can to ensure that Holyoke’s residents are safe, secure, and set with resources — producing PPE, securing internet connections, delivering devices when needed, and providing access to healthcare. Again, he’s received little help from the federal government, forcing him to operate in something of a resource-less vacuum.

“Even in the middle of this pandemic here in Holyoke, in this district, when you look at outcomes, you would never know we have one of the most powerful members of Congress representing us,” he says. “In the middle of this pandemic, our community hospital here in Holyoke isn’t qualifying for substantial benefit or aid from the CARES Act. And then we have a psychiatric hospital here where over 200 employees were told that they’re getting laid off. They’re closing hundreds of inpatient beds, and the only child inpatient psychiatric hospital and all of Western Mass is closing at a time when people are going to need mental health care and psychiatric care the most.”

Morse goes back to healthcare time and again — one of the headline distinctions between Neal and himself is that he supports Medicare for All, a policy that Neal is so against that he blocked people from even saying its name during a historic hearing explicitly about its potential implementation. 

“This is the fundamental difference between the congressman and myself. Now 33 million Americans have their jobs, the majority of whom have now lost their health insurance. If this isn’t a window of opportunity to have a healthcare system that fundamentally believes healthcare is a human right, then there is no other time to do this,” Morse says. “And the fact is that Congressman Neal, as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, is instead pushing subsidies for the private healthcare industry, pushing to subsidize and give folks COBRA insurance, which is expensive and inaccessible, and just another gift to the private healthcare industry.”

We could run through the policy differences all day — in most countries, Neal and Morse wouldn’t even be members of the same party. But fundamentally, it’s a matter of who a representative spends time actually representing. Morse has literally devoted his entire adult life to helping people in his hometown, and now he wants to assist the entire region and the United States as a whole. 

“The question really is what kind of member of Congress, with what life experience and values do you want representing you to craft a just recovery?” Morse says. “We need to emerge from this pandemic with a much stronger and more equitable government than we had before.”

Democrats have largely ceded the spotlight to Donald Trump and his soulless GOP stooges, and what they have done is almost worse. The latest Democratic recovery bill, which Neal helped write, is an absolute bonanza for Wall Street and big corporations, with almost zero relief for working people or the middle class. It’s something you’d expect from Republicans, and that is not what we voted for in 2018. It doesn’t have to be this way, but it’s going to take brave Democrats willing to challenge the system to change things — and an army of grassroots contributors behind them.

The primary in Massachusetts isn’t until September, which gives Morse more time to make his case for change, especially if he can raise more money — not an easy thing to do during a pandemic, especially when you’ve sworn off corporate and PAC donations. Alex’s campaign is a golden opportunity to push back against that entrenched lethargy and devotion to special interests. Let’s seize the moment and put another bright young progressive in office.

CLICK HERE to donate to Alex Morse’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

There’s a war brewing in New York as Cuomo targets progressives, WFP

Though New York is considered a blue state lock in federal elections, it is far from a model of good progressive governance. Right now, there’s a pitched battle for control of the Democratic Party in the state, and two important headlines from this week indicate both how far we’ve come and how hard corrupt corporate are pushing back.

The good news? Thanks to laws pushed by progressive activists and passed by new lawmakers, rent is no longer ballooning and evictions are way down. The bad news? The governor is trying to squash those activists (namely the Working Families Party) to make sure they don’t do anything else that might help people.

So, a little context. In 2011, a group of crappy conservative Democrats in the State Senate broke away from the party and caucused with the Republicans, throwing control of the chamber to the GOP. Instead of being pissed at the new Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), Gov. Andrew Cuomo was perfectly happy to let it continue. The IDC gave him cover for not passing popular progressive reforms like rent protection, voting rights expansion, and crucially,  closing a gaping loophole in campaign finance laws that let corporations feed candidates with nearly unlimited donations.

By last year, things were starting to get really crappy, with skyrocketing rents and shady politicians constantly getting indicted.

Fed up with the status quo and no doubt energized by the national resistance to Donald Trump, progressive activists decided to fight back. With the help of organizations, especially the Working Families Party, a new generation of candidates took on the entrenched and out-of-touch IDC members. The Working Families Party also endorsed Cynthia Nixon in her high-profile primary challenge to Cuomo and Tiffany Cabán in her whisker defeat for Queens DA.

Activists busted their assses knocking on doors and organizing voters (we here at Progressives Everywhere raised nearly $17k for them) and while Cuomo bested Nixon, progressive legislature candidates beat most of the IDC members in the Democratic primary. It was truly a monumental win that changed the state’s politics in a major way.

Once sworn in this January, the newly Democratic legislature got to work, passing a huge host of reforms that expanded rent stabilization and limited landlords from jacking up prices, further expanded gun bans, protected abortion rights, introduced early voting, and much more.

And here’s the thing: their reforms are working. This week, the Wall Street Journal crunched the numbers and revealed that evictions in the state are down a whopping 46% since the tenant protection law — which limits rent increases and requires landlords to produce more proof before kicking someone out — passed in June.

One lawyer for landlords told the WSJ that “it’s like an earthquake in housing court,” because already, tens of thousands of people have been able to stay in their homes.

Great news, right?! Right! Unless you’re a real estate developer, building owner… or governor who takes millions of dollars from real estate developers and building owners!

Continue reading “There’s a war brewing in New York as Cuomo targets progressives, WFP”

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:

This little-known Philadelphia office is a key to voter turnout in 2020

The road to the White House will, as always, run through Pennsylvania in 2020. A swing state at every other level, Pennsylvania had gone blue in every presidential election since 1988 before Donald Trump swung it Republican in 2016, a shocking victory that has largely been chalked up to his strength in the state’s suburbs and more rural counties. But it wasn’t just his own campaign’s strengths that won him the Keystone State — just as crucial was the drop in turnout in urban areas, including Philadelphia.

Sure, Hillary Clinton won 82% of the vote in Philly, but percentages can be misleading — she beat Trump by about 35,000 fewer votes than Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign. Turnout was down in the city’s less affluent wards, and while some of the blame certainly falls on the Clinton campaign, the city itself also deserves some heat for ongoing voting issues.

Even in the 2018 election, when Democrats won some big elections in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia ranked 63rd out of 67 counties in voter turnout. It’s a troubling number, especially in a big city that could use a lot more democracy. And as much as grassroots organizations can work to register and turn out voters, the onus is also on the city to make voting much more accessible. That is the job of the City Commissioner’s office, which oversees Philadelphia’s elections and runs its voter education programs.

So, how do we help reform that little-known but absolutely crucial office? Enter Jen Devor, a long-time community organizer and committeeperson for the city’s 36th ward. She has been working to build grassroots power within Philadelphia’s working communities for over a decade. The Commissioner’s office consists of three members, including two for the majority (Democratic) party, and she’s running in a crowded primary on the idea of turning it into a year-round outreach and education operation, to rekindle democracy in the city and ultimately increase turnout.

Progressives Everywhere spoke with Devor about her campaign, the issues with Philadelphia’s voting system, and how she plans on fixing them.

Continue reading “This little-known Philadelphia office is a key to voter turnout in 2020”

Another Democratic uprising in Texas puts a deep red GOP district at play with progressive policy

When I started Progressives Everywhere last year, it was with candidates like Miguel Levario in mind. In order to truly rebuild a better Democratic Party, we need to work to build it everywhere. Too many states had been instantly surrendered to Republicans, which, along with enabling corrupt politicians to govern millions of people, had the effect of making our political map smaller and smaller.

There were far too many districts that didn’t even field Democratic candidates for local and federal office in 2016 — including Levario’s northwest Texas district, TX-19, which includes cities like Abilene and Lubbock and major schools such as Texas Tech University.

Levario is a professor of history at Texas Tech and the first Democrat to seriously run to represent the district since 2004, when Texas’s extreme partisan gerrymander made it deep red. But between Texas’s seismic and ongoing demographic shifts, the district’s changing profile, and the wave of progressive energy sweeping a nation disgusted with GOP grifters, Levario figures he has a pretty decent shot at pulling off the upset. His opponent is against an unremarkable Republican, Rep. Jodey Arrington, who is running for re-election for the first time, improving his odds even further.

Continue reading “Another Democratic uprising in Texas puts a deep red GOP district at play with progressive policy”