Alessandra Biaggi is running to make New York, a so-called Blue State, actually blue again

While New York is seen as a blue state, the reality is that a few corrupt politicians have screwed over voters and avoided true progressive reforms.

New York should be a leader in universal healthcare, women’s rights, and affordable housing, offering solutions that help millions of people and provide models for state governments across the country. Instead, the State Senate refuses to consider single-payer healthcare, lets landlords and real estate developers jack up rents and destroy neighborhoods, and watched a world-class subway system rot into a rusty, unreliable underground nightmare. This hurts New Yorkers and people across the country.

How’d this happen?

In 2011, a group of Democratic State Senators broke away from the party to hand power to Republicans. The so-called Independent Democratic Conference — known as the IDC — violated the wishes of the voters and hurt both the state and real Democrats across the country. Over the years, a series of corrupt maneuvers, bribes, and lies kept the GOP in power.

Alessandra Biaggi is running for State Senate in New York’s 34th district, waging a people-powered campaign against Jeff Klein, the cartoonishly corrupt politician who engineered the deal in Albany that has held back not only New York but all of America.

As a young, progressive candidate from the Bronx running to unseat an arrogant, old-school incumbent, Biaggi’s race is in many ways reminiscent of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shock upset of Congressman Joe Crowley. She says Ocasio-Cortez’s win has energized her own campaign, but there are also important differences.

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“The comparison of Congressman Crowley to my opponent is actually insulting to Congressman Crowley, because Congressman Crowley did not go to Washington, DC and empower Paul Ryan,” Biaggi tells Progressive Everywhere. “The equivalent of what’s gone on in New York is that my opponent has gone to Albany for the past eight legislative sessions has empowered the equivalent of Paul Ryan.”

Biaggi is one of eight young, energetic, and progressive candidates running to oust the members of the IDC in the September 13th primary, an effort that’s getting statewide support because of the huge stakes.

CLICK HERE to donate to Alessandra Biaggi’s campaign to take back New York for Democrats via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page.

“I’m running not just for District 34, because there had been someone in the seat for so long who has blocked progress for all New Yorkers and that’s really a shame,” Biaggi, whose grandfather served in Congress, says. “It both provides an opportunity to do better and make sure that the needs of people in this district are being met, as well as an opportunity to really shift the landscape in a way that sends a message that you can’t take people and your voters and New Yorkers for granted.”

The 32-year-old, who worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and has worked in Albany for years as an attorney and high-ranking aide, is focused on four issues in particular.

Before we even dive into Biaggi’s platform, just know that Klein’s priorities have mostly included buying $10,000 Rolex watches, taking illegal political donations, and sexually assaulting former aides. See, I told you Klein was cartoonishly corrupt.

First, Biaggi is vowing to return full funding to public schools. Her district is comprised of parts of Westchester and the Bronx, creating a diverse community where public schooling and the opportunities they offer are essential. Biaggi notes that Klein’s seat on the budget committee did the district’s schools no favors, an abdication of responsibility she would not continue.

Her district’s unique mix of urban and more suburban communities also has her pushing for housing laws that would benefit tenants in all situations.

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“We have people with different housing needs, but when it comes down to it, everyone is trying to afford where they live,” Biaggi says. “There are bills that have been pending in the State Senate that can close loopholes in the law, that can make it so that landlords cannot be predatory on tenants, that tenants have protection, that you can actually control their rent stabilization guidelines and just ways to really make the system fairer.”

Biaggi is intimately acquainted with the stalled legislation in Albany, having worked as a counsel for the governor’s office, leading negotiations across branches, which resulted in laws like paid family leave and $15 an hour minimum wage. She knows much more can be done without the political hurdles presented by the IDC, especially on women’s issues, having worked on the New York State Council for Women and Girls. With Roe v. Wade in the crosshairs nationally, she is adamant about codifying it in the New York State legal system, which last updated its abortion rights laws before the landmark case and thus would not provide the protections needed should Roe get overturned by a right-wing Supreme Court.

Her experience in state government means that Biaggi is less an outside bomb thrower than experienced government expert who grew sick of the systemic cynicism and is now seeking office so that she can inject progressive values into legislation. Growing up between the city and suburbs helps her understand the needs of both communities, and as Mayor de Blasio and Cuomo fight over responsibility for fixing the MTA and feud over potential solutions, she wants to cut through all the political roadblocks and chicanery.

Unfortunately, the state’s entrenched powers are dragging their feet; Cuomo hasn’t even named members of a panel meant to study the issue, and with no urgency coming from State Senate leaders, it may not happen for a while. Klein himself kept pushing policies that would take important revenue from the city, something that would only harm his constituents.

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Biaggi is open to all progressive ideas to fix the situation as soon as possible for New Yorkers and create the infrastructure that can once again lead the way for the nation at large.

“Do we have a millionaire’s tax? Do we do congestion pricing? All of these things are reasonable options and things to explore,” she says. “And then even the congestion pricing plan as is I think is not progressive enough. It should have incorporated into it into a fair fairs system so that people who are in certain brackets of income or age don’t have to pay the same price. Obviously, not everybody has the ability to do that and you can’t prevent people from traveling in and out of New York City.”

Her inherently progressive approach to economic justice and fairness represents a generational change for New York politics, which has long been mired in corruption and pay-to-play schemes. Biaggi is very much in favor of marijuana legalization, citing its importance in both criminal justice reform and agricultural development. For so long, New York has been held back by Republicans and classist Democrats who function as conservative co-conspirators. That, Biaggi promises, won’t be a problem if she wins the primary.

“I have no intention of ever deceiving the voters by saying I’m a Democrat and then after a few years go by and I’ll be a Republican or empowering Republicans,” she says. “That will never happen. And that’s something that Jeff Klein, unfortunately for himself, cannot take back.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Alessandra Biaggi’s campaign to take back New York for Democrats via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page.

Iowa has a chance for a total Blue Wave

There’s a lot of insane things happening in America right now. Attacks on abortion rights. Voting rights at risk. Trade wars. Nazi sympathizers in office. And Iowa, the quiet heartland right smack in the middle of the country, is dealing with all of it.

What happens in Iowa this November will have an outsized impact on the rest of us. So let’s start with good news: While the last few years have seen Republicans play every angle and pull every nasty trick in their Jim Crow 2.0 playbook to disenfranchise voters, a judge delivered some good news for democracy (and Democrats) in Iowa on Thursday. In a crucial ruling, an injunction was placed on the state’s controversial Voter ID law, suspending the discriminatory practice and restoring the 11 days of early voting that the legislature eliminated last fall.

It was a major setback for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, an old-school, corrupt creature of whatever would you’d call the cornfield-equivalent of the swamp in Des Moines. A few hours after the ruling, I hopped on the phone with Deidre DeJear, a former Obama campaign coordinator who is now the Democratic nominee challenging Pate this November.

“He commissioned this bill, then turned it over to a senator and they put it through committee and ended up passing it,” DeJear said, putting the onus directly on the man she is trying to unseat. “This is his baby and this is what he’s been working on for a while in our state. He hasn’t been promoting voting.”

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Encouraging the electorate is engrained in her, as DeJear has been working to turn out votes since childhood. That’s not hyperbole — as a kid, she was drafted to help on her grandmother’s campaign for election commissioner of Yazoo County in Mississippi.

It should be noted that, when she was a kid knocking on doors for her grandma, Pate was being called a “big league sleaze” by political columnists in Des Moines. He’s made a habit of corruption and lying — just this spring he called an AP investigation into oversights in his financial disclosures “fake news,” before later adjusting those documents to account for millions of dollars in undisclosed property.

DeJear, meanwhile, has made a career out of helping small businesses. She was just out of college, working in the marketing department of a small local bank when the 2008 recession hit and wiped out the livelihoods of millions of Americans. People were laid off en masse and many felt forced to start their own businesses, and came to the bank looking for guidance.

So DeJear ultimately left to start her own company, which helps to launch and market new small businesses. The Secretary of State in Iowa also has a heavy hand in small business administration, another reason she wants to win the job.

“We have over 260,000 small businesses in our state and they provide jobs for about 50 percent of the workforce, so I want to make sure that whatever economic trials and tribulations come through the path of Iowa that our small business owners are going to weather that storm,” she said. “I remember in 2008 to 2010, there were just so many dilapidated buildings and empty storefronts. Now that they’re filled back up, I don’t want to fall by the wayside again. We’re also trying to further develop and redevelop rural Iowa, and rural Iowa isn’t too good right now, especially in light of all Trump’s trade war stuff, so we need to make sure that they’re getting resources.”

Her adult political career started around the same time as her formative business experience. While attending Drake University, DeJear helped organize students for then-Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. She took on a bigger role with his re-election campaign four years later.

“When 2012 came along, I walked into the office to volunteer and a couple of weeks later it became a full-time job,” DeJear, who now works as a small business consultant, remembered. “I traveled throughout the state. I was African-American vote director that year and my job was to get African-Americans engaged in the process because we knew by and large the African-American supported the President, but that didn’t necessarily translate into a vote.”

Her plan, a combination of canvassing and active citizen-to-citizen lobbying, helped increase the minority share of the vote in lily-white Iowa from 3% in 2008 to 7% in 2012 — crucial to a smaller margin of victory for Obama in his second go-round.

Five years later, as Pate pushed the law in the legislature, he promised that it would not make voting more difficult for Iowans. That was, as everyone knew at the time, a blatant lie. Beyond the fact that voter fraud is almost non-existent, which negates the cynical rationale for the measure, national statistics make clear just how much these laws deter eligible voters from casting ballots — even when they do show up to the polls with all their proper paperwork. And in Iowa, it quickly became clear during local and primary elections that the Voter ID law was the equivalent of scattering roadblocks and car wrecks across a highway and suggesting that people were still free to drive.

Clearing the path to voting isn’t enough. To exhaust the metaphor, DeJear is focused on getting more people actively on the road to the polls.

“We also have 2.3 million people eligible to vote, but only 1.9 million registered,” she said. “So we’ve got about 400,000 folks that are just kinda out there in limbo and he’s not really doing much to engage them either. So there’s a lot of work that can be done in that office to increase voter turnout.”

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Pate promises to fight to make voting harder all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court, while DeJear’s plan to handle voter rights and election administration is fundamentally different. It comes down to a very simple philosophical difference: Unlike Pate, DeJear actually wants more people to vote and participate in the system. Headlining her agenda is automatic voter registration, a progressive policy that’s grown more popular over the last few years as Democrats have woken up to the importance of voting rights and expanding the electorate.

“Right now, when you go to the DMV, if you’re getting your driver’s license renewed or getting your ID renewed, you have to ask about applying to register to vote,” she said. “The situation that I would prefer is that people, if they’re eligible to vote, they’re automatically registered, and if they want to opt out, they can.”

In states that have implemented automatic voter registration, the rate at which citizens registered to vote increased dramatically. Anything that gets people out of the DMV faster is a public service — adding voting rights to the equation is nearly saintly.

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So, why should you care?

Iowa is traditionally a swing state, but in recent years has tacked to the right, like many states in which Democrats largely abandoned their political infrastructure after 2012. And thanks to both that rightward shift and Democrats’ grassroots resurgence, the state has suddenly become a microcosm of the national political environment. For a landlocked, largely rural state, it’s got an astonishing number of issues at play.

The ballot will be crowded in the state this year. Along with the Secretary of State race, Iowa plays host to a gubernatorial election and what should be a number of very tight races in a GOP-controlled state legislature that is close enough that it could tip back to Democrats in a wave election. Wresting some control of the state will be critical to stopping a return of the medieval anti-abortion law that the GOP passed there this spring; it was quickly blocked by a judge, but as of now, GOP leadership plans on taking it all the way to a Supreme Court that may be far more conservative in just a few months.

Iowa is also home to Steve King, one of the most racist congressmen in the country (we profiled his challenger several weeks ago), and is being hit particularly hard by Trump’s trade war, which could begin to loosen rural voters’ entrenched support of the GOP. Maximizing voter turnout this year and going forward is absolutely crucial — and having a Secretary of State that actually cares about voter rights is an essential part of that.

With the legislature up for grabs, DeJear also recommended two other candidates running in the state this November.

Lindsay James is a first-time candidate who is running in Iowa House District 99, which is currently held by Abby Finkenauer, who is running for Congress (her name may sound familiar, as Progressives Everywhere endorsed her months ago). James is a college chaplain whose faith inspires her progressive beliefs and community service. Her resume is incredibly impressive and frankly makes me feel lazy; James serves as the Director of the Loras College Peace Institute, chair of the Community Development Advisory Board, elected county official and a board member for the NAACP and the Children of Abraham. She has endorsed Medicare for All.

Jackie Smith is a retired speech pathologist who is running for State Senate after over 30 years of serving her Sioux City community in the classroom. She now owns a small store in Sioux City and served eight years on the County Board of Supervisors, and is very focused on both education and job training. Smith is running in District 7, which was already considered a top pickup opportunity before its Republican incumbent retired.

Progressives Everywhere has already endorsed Iowa’s Democratic candidate for governor, Fred Hubbell, whose election should help squelch the battle over that awful abortion law.

CLICK HERE to donate to Lindsay James, Jackie Smith, Deidre DeJear, and Fred Hubbell via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

J.D. Scholten is taking on the biggest racist in Congress

It doesn’t seem like the obvious career path for an aspiring congressman, but J.D. Scholten, who is running to unseat uber-controversial GOP Rep. Steve King in Iowa’s 4th district, thinks that his time as a pro baseball player was ideal preparation for working as a lawmaker.

“I didn’t care where my shortstop came from, whether he was Puerto Rican or from Texas,” Scholten says. “We worked together to achieve that common goal. I didn’t care who my left fielder voted for, we worked our tails off for a common goal and I feel that one thing that’s lost a lot in government.”

That anecdote has the polish of a stump speech bit, a response prepped for skeptical voters who may have never heard of the 38-year-old candidate, even though he was a standout high school athlete in Sioux City and later played pro ball there, too. But the story also functions as a criticism of the man he is trying to unseat, whose most notable accomplishments in 16 years in office are being named least effective member of Congress and earning a national reputation as a divisive bigot.

Rep. Steve King also tends to get labeled a “populist,” because the word has somehow become synonymous with right-wing neo-fascists (and he is definitely a right-wing neo-fascist). But it’s Scholten whose life and policy positions — he’s in favor of Medicare for All and against agricultural monopolies — are more in line with the traditional, Midwestern progressive roots of the term.

This is where the career in baseball really begins to matter. Because during his years in professional baseball, Scholten never played in the Major Leagues. Never even really came close. Most of his time as a ballplayer was spent throwing his sinking fastball for independent league teams, taking the mound in small stadiums in even smaller towns. You don’t often think of professional athletes as working class Americans, but like everywhere else in the modern economy, most of the riches in pro sports go to the very few at the top.

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I know this because I worked for years in a similar independent baseball league, and other than the occasional presence of a washed-up former big leaguer avoiding retirement, it couldn’t have felt further from the Majors. Players making far below the minimum wage subsist on fast food and PB&J sandwiches, sit on old couches in dingy clubhouses, and stay either in motels or in the empty guest rooms of community members who trade room and board for free tickets. Long bus rides take them through small towns that all start to blend together after a while (my words, not his), leaving a collective impression of an increasingly left behind America.

“The most I ever got paid was $1500 a month,” Scholten says, laughing ruefully at the misconception that being a pro ballplayer always means making millions. “In the primary, one of my opponents kind of hinted at that and I made sure it was very clear that I was no bonus baby.”

When his playing days ended, Scholten began a career as a paralegal, working for firms in Minnesota and then Seattle. He got his first taste of a political campaign when he helped out a colleague who ran for state legislature in Minnesota, and after the 2016 election, like so many other dismayed Americans, he resolved to get more involved in the process. Activism wasn’t foreign to him, as he had attended protests in the lead-up to the Iraq War and was personally progressive, but the truth was that he had felt a bit disconnected in recent years.

He knew that had to change, but at the time, actually running for Congress wasn’t anywhere near his radar. But then came a series of revelations that set his life on a very different course.

First, Scholten returned home to Iowa shortly after the election, taking time over Thanksgiving to visit his ailing grandmother, who had always acted as his conscience. She continued to play that role until the very end. “The last thing my grandmother said to me was that I should move back to Iowa and take care of our farm,” Scholten remembers, his reverence for her apparent in his voice.

He would be the last person to feed his grandmother, who died a month later. Scholten gave the eulogy at her funeral, but it was her words that stayed with him. It was time to come home.

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So he began looking for jobs in the local Sioux City paper — his family was renting the farm to a friend, so he needed supplemental income — but couldn’t find anything much above the minimum wage, and none of the positions came with benefits. The scarce job market may have given him pause, but the Women’s March, the day after President Trump’s inauguration, erased any doubt about what he needed to do next.

“I knew in that moment of clarity that the most meaningful things to me were my roots and my family and everything was around Iowa,” he says. “So that’s when I started realizing, you know what, I’m going to come back and I’m going to fight.” He moved back to Sioux City, and though he still didn’t plan to run for office, things changed when King’s 2016 opponent ultimately announced that she wouldn’t seek a rematch. “That’s when I decided I couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore,” he says, marking the beginning of an unlikely journey.

Scholten had little political experience, but plenty of stamina. Long road trips as a ballplayer meant that driving the three hours across his mostly rural district hardly registered. He bought a Winnebago RV (manufactured in his district, he points out), painted a campaign logo on its side, and then hit the road with some staff and volunteers. He’s put 35,000 on his personal vehicle alone, driving on highways and rural back roads alike to visit the small towns and communities that dot the far-reaches of the district.

For many years, Democrats have hewed to the right in these kinds of rural districts, convinced that sounding like Republicans would inspire voters to vote for them instead of just voting for Republicans. That centrist strategy has largely failed in the Midwest, and as local Democratic parties collapsed over the last two decades, Republicans were able to consolidate power in the region.

The truth that national Democrats miss is that progressive policy solutions never became unpopular. The GOP — and especially King — merely shifted the focus so thoroughly and corrosively toward identity politics that a decent economy made technocratic debate seemingly unnecessary. His progressivism helped him win the Democratic primary in June, and with farmer income down 74% in Iowa since 2013 and Trump’s trade war now further pummeling local soybean and pork producers, Scholten sees King’s inaction on agriculture as both egregious and a weak spot.

“Even before the tariffs, farmers were struggling with consolidation and low commodity prices,” Scholten says. When Trump began threatening a trade war, King signed on to a letter sent by Iowa’s congressional delegation asking him to rethink the matter, but has not been vocal about it on his infamous social media feeds or in major public speeches. As the volley of tariffs has intensified over the last few weeks, putting Iowa farmers at risk of losing billions of dollars, King has gone silent.

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“He signed that letter, which is just slightly above of not doing anything at all, and you see at how he doesn’t care,” Scholten says, his even-keeled optimism shifting to what sounds like authentically aggrieved. “He endorsed Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican primary, and Ted Cruz is trying to get rid of ethanol. The renewable fuel standard that is the bread and butter of the district, the top ethanol plants that are in my district.”

Scholten is laser-focused on the working economy, despite King’s dreadful national reputation. King was one of the Republicans who made Donald Trump possible, through years of inflammatory and racist remarks about immigrants and a vicious social media presence that openly and defiantly retweets Nazis. But voters in the district know all about King’s bigotry, he says, and it’ll be pocketbook issues that convince them to make a change.

Along with local agricultural concerns, Scholten says he plans to zero in on healthcare, a national issue with major local resonance. Iowa experienced one of the largest upticks in uninsured rates in the country last year, from 3.9% to 7.2%, leaping back towards the nearly 10% rate before Obamacare was passed. Scholten openly supports Medicare for All, and has a knack for reaching voters who have developed a skepticism toward government. In rural Iowa, he’s had plenty of practice explaining progressive policy in common sense terms, starting in his own backyard.

“I talked to them about Medicare for All and my neighbor hates that it is a government thing. And I go, well, listen, we’ve had decades for the health insurance industry to figure this out and this is where we’re at,” Scholten says. “I might not want it to be a government thing, but we can’t have a society with so many millions of people not covered. America is 4% of the population of the world, yet we’re 41% of the wealth. And of all the western developed countries we’re the only one not have some sort of universal healthcare? We can definitely pay for it.”

It’s this kind of one-on-one appeal that Scholten thinks can help him pull off the upset against King. He’s outraised King the last three campaign cycles, but he’s not throwing the money at consultants and broadcast spots.

“I’m convinced that the old school style of politics of getting out to the people is the way to go,” he says. “That last decade of politics where you just stay home and fundraise and do TV commercials, that’s not going to do anything here to change people’s minds. It’s when you get out there and talk about issues that are very important to you and talk about the reasoning behind them. Medicare for All might turn some people away, but when I talk about the path to get there and how it’s gonna benefit us and, and reason with them, they see the light and we can come together.”

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