The Resistance is Rural: Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP challenged by progressive farmers

Democrat Kriss Marion is a farmer, small business owner, and mother of four who lives in rural Wisconsin. Her campaign manager is an award-winning cheesemaker. They could not be more Wisconsin, and together, they’re running what is one of the most crucial local elections in the country.

Wisconsin was the birthplace of the modern American progressive movement, where great leaders and determined activists put forth the idea that the government should work on behalf of the average citizen instead of the corporate monopolies and moneyed elite.

But for the last eight years, Republican Governor Scott Walker has worked to tear down that legacy by assaulting unions, cutting education, throttling voting rights (throwing Wisconsin to Donald Trump in 2016), enabling pollution, and letting infrastructure crumble as he gave billions away to major corporations.

Now, his reign of terror is coming back to haunt him. Walker, who is seeking his third term in office, is trailing Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tony Evers, the state’s Supervisor of Public Instruction, in the polls. Not only that, but thanks to some big wins earlier this year in special elections, Democrats have a very real chance of taking back the gerrymandered State Senate.

CLICK HERE to contribute to Tony Evers, Kriss Marion and crucial Democrats in Wisconsin!

 

Marion’s race, for Wisconsin’s 17th State Senate district, is one several the elections that will determine the balance of power in Madison. She currently serves on the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors, where she helped pass laws that allowed small farmers and bakers to sell food locally, competing with the chains that were dominating the area. Now she’s seeking to take the fight on behalf of working families to the state level. I hopped on the phone with her late last week to talk about her campaign, her priorities, and the issues facing Wisconsin.

You’re on the County Board right now — what inspired you to get into politics in the first place, and why run for State Senate?

I’m a small farmer and I own a bed and breakfast here and for some time I’ve been a grassroots organizer with the Farmers Union, which is a group that stands up for family farms and rural communities. Along those lines is water protection. I’ve been fighting for reasonable water protections in our area and in Wisconsin for a long time and I’m trying to educate the public about what goes on with groundwater. We have groundwater here versus collecting surface water, so we’re real vulnerable to different pollutants; they go right into our drinking water.

That was the thing that got me going. And then I got on the County Board, to try and start a conversation about water and also about rural redevelopment. We are very agricultural out here and we need more options. So I wanted to work on economic development and obviously you bump into state issues, so I ended up going to the capital a lot to talk to my representative. I realized that they were not going to make the changes that we needed here for our rural community. So I thought it was time to do something about it myself.

And Scott Walker and the GOP have been less than friendly to the environment.

There have been debilitating cuts to the Department of Natural Resources. They took references to climate change off the DNR website. We’re in a real intense shortage of environmental workers and watchdog. And in addition, Wisconsin has had a big drive to remove wetland protections so that we can fast-track building for developers and large manufacturers.

Right now we are in the middle of catastrophic flooding that is destroying lots of property and infrastructure in southwest Wisconsin. And it’s not the complete answer, but protecting wetlands is a huge way that we can mitigate the impact of high precipitation.

And that ties into the economic policy of shredding regulations in addition to giving companies, like Foxconn, which got $4 billion from the state, enormous and controversial tax breaks to move there.

Foxconn is nowhere near our district but we’re paying handsomely for it as taxpayers over here in southwest Wisconsin. Foxconn not only got a huge pass when it comes to wetlands, but they’ve opened the door for everyone else to ask for the same. They got record-breaking tax incentives, eight times the average national incentive per job. The Foxconn development, where it’s under construction, is flooding horrifically because it’s on a wetland as well.

My heart is with rural communities. I live in a town of 825 people. I’m sitting here in my campaign office, in an old building on Main Street where we can watch tractors go by in between pickups and ATVs and commuters. And my biggest concern is that we are able to survive and thrive. And so things like Foxconn take money off the top of the budget, and that’s money that we’re not putting towards schools or healthcare or roads. Every service the state provides, budgets have been cut and slashed while giving companies record-breaking tax incentives.

CLICK HERE to donate to Tony Evers, Kriss Marion, and crucial Democratic candidates in Wisconsin!

How have the cuts impacted your district?

Don’t get me wrong, Wisconsin is a fantastic place to live, especially rural Wisconsin. I would recommend it to anybody. We want to be here and we want to have this lifestyle, but we need to have the basic tools to build on the beautiful things we have and to protect them and to grow them.

And so that’s infrastructure, right? It’s schools, it’s roads, and broadband. We don’t have basic broadband out here. You have hours on end where you’re traveling and you can’t reach anybody on the phone. There are kids who go home and can’t do homework because they don’t have broadband at home. So we said no to federal money for that. We also struggle with healthcare. People are just trying to make do with so little, but we’re not a third world country. We should be investing in our future.

We found $4 billion to give Foxconn. If we had divided that among all of our regional planning commissions or any other sort of regional economic development setup, you could have kickstarted the economies in any number of counties. They could be making loans or grants to Main Street, to small business owners. We’re incentivizing the wrong things right now in Wisconsin. We have been dead last in the nation for small business startup and entrepreneurial activity for three years running.

Reading about your campaign, I came across a story about how you had gotten sick and moved to Wisconsin in the early 2000s, and how moving to the state literally helped heal you.

I grew up in Bethlehem, PA and lived in downtown Chicago for 20 years, after school. I was raising my kids there and then got really sick. I had the great fortune to be able to go to multiple doctors to get different opinions on what was wrong with me. I finally found one who diagnosed me with rheumatoid arthritis and got me on a great twice-a-week injection regimen that basically gave me the ability to move out of the city, to go explore a country life like I had growing up.

I was so incapacitated prior to that diagnosis. If didn’t have an affordable way to keep seeing doctors, I don’t know where I would be. And my medication was a thousand dollars a month, just a crazy amount of money. Having an insurance safety net really saved my life. So I got better really fast, we came out here, and I got off my drugs after couple of years. Being surrounded by green spaces is what ultimately healed me.

My whole life out here has been about building something productive on my farm and bringing people out to share it. And I’m really, really committed to preserving the clean air, clean water, beautiful agricultural lifestyle for the future and for other people to come and either enjoy it or move here permanently.

CLICK HERE to donate to Tony Evers, Kriss Marion, and crucial Democratic candidates in Wisconsin!

I’ve had my life saved from health insurance several times, but still find myself in medical debt, so I know what you mean.

I have a daughter who works for Deloitte, so she doesn’t hurt for health insurance, but I have four kids. I have others who do day labor in factories and another that is always trying to move up and is often between jobs. The healthcare issues for those kids that don’t have stable work are really terrifying. My daughter Emma, who’s 22, has friends who don’t have stable corporate jobs. They tend to work for a church or they work at a bar or at a restaurant and they literally decide from day to day, do I take my medication or do I eat?

Out here, we have a lot of people who are on plans that their copay is so high that they wait and wait to go to the doctor. Several people I’ve met have lost family members who didn’t go in for checkups because they didn’t want to pay the copay and then died of breast cancer that was fast-moving.

The choices that people are making to get by in a low wage economy — our wages are very suppressed in Wisconsin, thanks to the loss of unions, a stagnant startup economy, lots of reasons — we have people who are literally having to make hard choices about their health on a daily basis. It’s trade-offs involving food versus medication versus school, paying off the debt or getting more into that. Maybe it’s time remake the whole thing.

Rural campaigning is very different than urban campaigning — what’s been your strategy?

I’ve been direct-marketing my farm for over a decade on Facebook. The bed and breakfast is almost all word of mouth and AirBnb. We’ll also have been in 50 parades the end of this by November 6th. We’re in an all-rural district with seven counties and just a handful of cities. Everything else is villages. Every village and township, almost every community has their own parade and it might not be worth going door to door rurally, but when you go to a parade, you get not just that community of 200, you get all the communities around them.

I have a farm truck, which is our old fire department truck from the Blanchardville Fire Department, and we had an artist paint billboards on the side of it. We always have a good crowd, people bring their dogs or their sheep or goats or whatever they got. We’re just trying to make democracy fun again. The whole game is to re-engage people because people are depressed, they feel angry about the money in politics. They feel filthy about what’s going on in Washington DC, regardless of what side of the aisle they’re on, you just feel like politics are dirty.

So everywhere we go, we try and be colorful and smiley and optimistic. We’re just trying to remind people that democracy is our privilege and our right, it should be our joy.

CLICK HERE to donate to Tony Evers, Kriss Marion, and crucial Democratic candidates in Wisconsin!

Medicare-for-All can happen, but maybe not how you’re expecting

What’s the largest medical bill you’ve ever received? OK, I don’t want to make you sick thinking back on it, so I’ll tell you mine: Back in 2012, I was slapped with a hospital bill for half a million dollars, which is more than most Americans pay for their house. This wasn’t some elective procedure, either — open-heart surgery very rarely is.

It’s important to note that this happened after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare was a nice upgrade to a fundamentally flawed system. More people got health insurance, but it’s often still uber-expensive (and getting worse) and still fully unavailable to tens of millions of Americans. Medicaid is being throttled, Republicans are sabotaging protections, and big pharma is colluding with middlemen to rip-off patients and states. Even people with “good” insurance get screwed — personally, I just got a $500 bill for a ten-minute checkup.

Democrats are finally beginning to realize that continually trying to patch up a ship built to sink is futile. And after years of it being considered a far-left radical idea, single-payer healthcare — or Medicare for All — is becoming the mainstream position of national Democratic leaders.

To take a closer look at the momentum behind the single-payer campaign, I spoke with Dr. Carol Paris, the president of Physicians for a National Health Program. For years, PNHP has been at the forefront of advocating for universal healthcare; during the Trump administration, it has worked to both save Obamacare and educate Democrats and lobby nationally for a more complete overhaul of our still-broken healthcare system. She spoke some hard truths about the state of our politics and party, but they’re important ones for us to understand and accept as we push forward for truly comprehensive universal healthcare.

Note: Because it’s a 501(c)(3), PNHP cannot endorse any political candidates. So, I’ve separately made this list of candidates who support Medicare-for-All — CLICK HERE to donate to them!

Medicare for All has more support amongst Democrats than ever. Why do you think that’s happened?

It really began growing as the reality of the failure of the Affordable Care Act to control costs and insure everyone became clearer… I don’t think that moved the legislators, I think it moved their constituents to put pressure on them to endorse single-payer.

The Affordable Care Act did extend care for a lot of people, but costs still go up. Were you expecting that?

I was not optimistic. The best thing about the Affordable Care Act was the Medicaid expansion. We could have done that with so much less effort and expenditure of resources and just forgotten about the rest. The best part of it and what helped the most people was the Medicaid expansion. With the marketplace and the subsidies, there’s so many problems, because the private for-profit insurance industry is baked into it. That’s a big part of it.

The industry says it can do things more efficiently, but that hasn’t been borne out. What kind of tricks is it still able to pull, despite new regulations?

The individual mandate created a whole market for new customers. Then there was the requirement that insurers can no longer deny coverage to people who are either too sick to be profitable or too old and therefore more risky. Eliminating those but adding the mandate put the insurance industry in a precarious situation of having to figure out how to work around the guaranteed issue and community rating while still drawing in the mandated younger members.

So what they do is they make narrow coverage networks. So you can get a plan with a subsidy or plan on the marketplace that will bring down the cost of your premium, but they do it by requiring you to go on a plan that has a very narrow network. There was a study and it found that in New York, none of the marketplace plans included the number one cancer hospital in the city, Memorial Sloan Kettering.

As far as pharmaceuticals, they’ll just put the expensive pharmaceuticals into a higher tier so that they’re just shifting more and more of the cost of care to the consumer.

So how do you envision a full Medicare-for-All system working?

The only way to actually implement it in a way that will be cost-effective over time is specifically to do it as a single-payer strategy. All single-payer means is instead of multiple insurance companies providing insurance as well as Medicare and Medicaid and Tricare and all the others, everyone is in a single risk pool.

It really is only going to be feasible if it’s done on a national level. when you’ve got 325 million people and everyone working is contributing to the tax base that is paying for our healthcare. You’ve got a big enough tax base then to actually cover everyone’s needs for all medically necessary care — including dental, vision, and long-term care.

The problem people get hung up on is, “Oh my God, my taxes are gonna go up?” This is a situation where your taxes go up modestly and your net income goes up as well, and the reason is because when your taxes go up, it’s for covering the things that you’re now not paying for out of your after tax dollars, premiums, copays, deductibles, out of network costs. All of that goes away.

One thing I can never answer is what happens to all the jobs in the insurance industry?

Written into the House’s Medicare-for-All bill, HR 676, is funding to provide unemployment for a year and retraining for anyone who makes $100,000 a year or less in the insurance industry. And remember that we’re going to need some of those people to administer the Medicare for All plan. So the number of [of workers] isn’t going to go to zero.

I was actually just having dinner last night with a surgeon from Nashville who told me a great story. She’s a 67-year-old general surgeon and she was just saying she was so fed up with trying to get the care for her patients that they need. She does a lot of breast surgery and there’s a particular kind of breast cancer called BCRA 1 and 2, where if you have those genetic markers, it is a reasonable option for a woman to have prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, without having breast cancer.

Blue Cross Blue Shield denied the patient’s claim, her preauthorization to get this done. And what the doctor told me was that she finally remembered that a colleague of hers had quit the practice of medicine and was now working at Blue Cross Blue Shield doing preauthorization. So she called him up and he finally agreed that this was reasonable and authorized it. I’m telling you the story to say there are a number of doctors and nurses who are licensed clinicians in this country who have stopped practicing clinical medicine because they burned out and are now working for the insurance industry. These are people that could go right back into the delivery side of healthcare.

So if Democrats take back Congress and then the White House, how do you make the push for this, after the Affordable Care Act was what they mustered last time?

You’re talking to a person who is not easily persuaded that the Democratic Party is our friend. Remember that in 2009 we had a majority in the House and the Senate and we had a Democratic president and we couldn’t even get single-payer included in the discussion of health care reform. I’m actually of the persuasion that we need to have our grassroots organizing working on Republican members of the House and Senate, too. You get them to co-sponsor single-payer legislation. I don’t think that’s impossible. I think if the grassroots makes it toxic for any member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, for them not to get on board, then they’ll get on board because they want to hold onto their seat.

I think it’s great if people want to put their time and energy into Democratic candidates who say that they will support. But corporate Dems are still in control and I am not convinced that just getting more Democrats elected to office is going to turn the tide. I think what’s going to turn the tide is what we saw last week, with a new Reuters poll that showed 84.5% of Democrats and 51.9 percent of Republicans now support Medicare for All, and 70% overall.

That’s how we’re going to get Medicare, in my opinion, by also having moderate Republicans who are absolutely being screwed by the rising cost of healthcare. I think they’re going to get on board with this and say, “I’ve got to do this for myself and my family and stop listening to Fox News and astroturf groups like the Partnership for America’s Healthcare Future.”

So let’s say we do get Medicare-for-All. What happens when a president or Congress who hate it take office, as we’re seeing right now with the GOP sabotaging the Affordable Care Act?

I actually don’t want to pass Medicare-for-All legislation if it’s done the way the Affordable Care Act was passed, through reconciliation and no bipartisan support. If we do it that way, then they’re just turning it into a hot potato, just like the ACA is, and it’s just going to get beaten back and forth between parties and never have the opportunity to become the beloved program that Medicare became. What I really would hope is that we passed this legislation because there is such a groundswell of support among the American people that members of Congress simply get on because they don’t have any alternative.

We’re seeing more buy-in from the business community, especially small businesses that are beginning to realize that the Chamber of Commerce is not their friend and that it’s in their best interest to support Medicare-for-All, that it would be so much better for their bottom line. And look at the teacher strike in West Virginia, there was actually a picture of a teacher holding up a sign that said, “We’ll work for health insurance.” So I think we need to be just continuing to grow the movement among our own citizens who are day in and day out being beaten and beleaguered by the profiteering healthcare system.

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.

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

“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.

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

“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.

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

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.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

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.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

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.

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

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.

CLICK HERE to donate to J.D. Scholten’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

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.

CLICK HERE to donate to J.D. Scholten’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

“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.”

CLICK HERE to donate to J.D. Scholten’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

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