Mondaire Jones Knows How to Fight for Progress

We’ve learned a lot these past two weeks about Americans, their elected leaders, and the massive gulf in courage between the two. Yes, Republican leaders have acted as cruelly as expected, from Donald Trump’s disturbing, televised threats to send in the military on peaceful protestors to Tom Cotton’s outrageous NY Times op-ed. But we’ve also seen so many elected Democrats utterly fail this test, over and over again, indicative of problems deeper than just pure partisanship.

Congressional leadership has been just about silent, too busy on vacation to take a real stand. Worse, Democrats that run the states and cities where many of these protests and police beatings are happening have encouraged and privileged the carnage. Here in NYC, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo spent the week deploying vicious cops to clobber innocent people who dare violate a draconian 8 pm curfew, then applauded those officers’ “restraint.” 

We are in desperate need of change, and it’s now clear that to make it happen, we need a new generation of leaders who actually experience the stakes in their own lives. And like Alex Morse a few weeks ago, New York congressional candidate Mondaire Jones certainly fits the bill.

Jones is running in the Democratic Primary for Congress in New York’s 17th district, just north of NYC, and has been endorsed by Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among othersHe’s one of five Democrats seeking the seat that the retiring Nita Lowey has held since 1989, when Jones was just two years old, underscoring the need for change. The welfare of the 17th district is personal to him, as Jones grew up in Lowey’s district, and understands what it’s like to have the odds stacked up against you — he is an openly gay black man who grew up poor in a starkly divided community he likens to a Tale of Two Cities. 

His resume at 32 years old is impeccable: Jones attended Harvard Law and worked in Barack Obama’s Department of Justice. He’s also long been an activist; Jones became a national NAACP leader in high school and organized against racist police while an undergrad at Stanford. After a short stint in corporate law, he returned home to work for the Westchester County Attorney’s office, where he’s served ever since. 

During our conversation last week, he not only expressed support for progressive policies — including Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and a massive investment in public housing — but also displayed the fighting spirit that it’s going to require to actually get any of those things passed. And in a district that is guaranteed to elect a Democrat, having a progressive with a backbone in office is essential. That he’s running against a state senator who was a member of the turncoat IDC, which gave Republicans virtual control of New York for nearly a decade, makes this race even more urgent.

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“I’m not someone who is still traumatized by Democratic losses in the ‘80s,” Jones said, winning me over in just one sentence. “We need to recognize that public opinion has shifted dramatically. Progressive policies are overwhelmingly supported by the American people. And now we need champions who can message it and who can fight for us without being afraid of their own shadow.”

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.”

Meet Kayser Enneking, the doctor trying to save Florida

Few governors have been as publicly ineffective during the coronavirus crisis than Florida’s Ron Desantis. He’s kept beaches open, continues to hide death numbers, kowtows to the state’s ravenous right-wing, and has opened up businesses even as the tragic numbers there continue to climb. DeSantis has been able to do all this because Republicans own the entire state government in Florida — they’ve dominated the legislature for a full two decades — and he therefore feels zero pressure to actually make an effort to save lives.

We’ve focused a lot of Florida this year because Democrats are in a position to finally flip the legislature there and force DeSantis to at least pretend he cares about anyone who isn’t a rich white donor. This week, I spoke with Kayser Enneking, a candidate for the State House of Representatives in District 21, in Gainesville. She’s a long-time doctor at the University of Florida who ran for State Senate in 2018 — her first political run of any kind — and came within a single point of winning. The 21st House district was decided by fewer than three points last cycle, so it’s a very juicy flip opportunity, especially with such a great candidate.

Coronavirus has hit different parts of Florida very differently. You’re in Northern Florida, in Gainesville. How are things there?

In my hospital we were certainly prepared for the worst. It was just incredibly weird to go to work for a couple of weeks. The panic about it seems to have subsided now that we’ve got more testing, because before we had no clue who had it and who didn’t. But even here in very liberal Alachua County, it is kind unbelievable to me how quickly this has gotten divided along political lines. It’s just a shame that that’s where we are in America today.

As both a doctor and someone now working in public policy, what is your response to what we’re seeing here? 

This is a novel virus. We know a little bit about what the symptoms look like. We know that it is devastating when it occurs and we know that it can overwhelm a healthcare system, as it did in New York, and as it did in other places around the world. And that we all have to be respectful of it. We may not have in many cases over here right now, but that does not mean that we won’t.

I have tried not to scare people. But I’ve tried to give them what I know to be truthful information. We’ve been doing these Facebook and zoom things every Friday, where we’ve talked about exactly what we do know and what we don’t know. And people have been really responsive to it. And so we’ve talked about the effects of this on our health care system. We’ve talked about it in terms of what it means for education. We’ve talked about it in terms of what it means for the agricultural community, why are we having this food imbalance. Now we’re calling for a special session of legislature.

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Georgia can be flipped blue… if Shea Roberts wins her race.

A red state that could turn blue. A Republican incumbent that previously went unchallenged. A first-time candidate who nearly won an unlikely uphill race in 2018, now back to finish the job… if the GOP doesn’t away with massive voter suppression once again.

Does that sound familiar? As we’re seeing, a lot of the most crucial legislative races we’re looking at across the country fit the same profile. Last week we spoke with Jessica Harrington in Florida (who is running against Jim Crow 2.0 in khakis) and earlier this year, it was Luisa Wakeman in Georgia. Now, we’re focusing on another candidate in Georgia who is running a campaign we absolutely have to win if we want any chance of ending the state’s rampant voter suppressionattacks on women, and deadly mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.

The moment you start talking with Shea Roberts, the Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives in Georgia’s 52nd district, you know that she’s going to be an effective, badass legislator from day one. Roberts is a land use and small business lawyer, so she’s long been enmeshed in the community in and around Sandy Springs. Working every single day with people and small businesses in her district has provided her a deep understanding of the issues its residents face and the relationships required to begin solving its long-lingering and newly emergent problems. I know this because it took approximately one minute into our conversation last month for us to get down to the nitty-gritty issues.

Continue reading “Georgia can be flipped blue… if Shea Roberts wins her race.”

Florida’s new Jim Crow gets the Democratic challenge he deserves

I hope that this edition of Progressives Everywhere finds you healthy, comfortable, and royally pissed off. Pissed off that Donald Trump and his lackeys in DC have committed an American genocide by ignoring and now playing politics with the coronavirus pandemic. Pissed off that Republican governors are still refusing to protect their citizens. And pissed off that the GOP is using the pandemic as cover for the desecration and destruction of democracy.

What happened in Wisconsin is the Republican model: a gerrymandered legislature refuses to protect voting rights and then rigged courts uphold the voter suppression, sentencing tens of thousands of voters to death and stopping many more from voting. This is the only way Republicans will win — they’ve said as much. And so we have to fight back with everything we have this year, because it may be our last chance.

Here’s the good news: There is a very juicy target in Florida, a Republican legislator who is behind the most pernicious voter suppression scheme in the country and a score of other anti-democratic abuses.

Jamie Grant, the son of a former state senator, has “represented” Florida’s 64th legislative district since 2011. From the moment he got to Tallahassee, he got to work screwing over Floridians, loosening gun laws and fighting tooth and nail to stop a Medicaid expansion (his quotes about it are gross). And now he is known locally as Jim Crow Jamie, a nickname he has more than earned.

In 2018, Floridians voted overwhelmingly to approve a ballot initiative known as Amendment 4, which was intended to return the right to vote to a whopping 1.4 million people who had served time in prison. It was the single biggest extension of the franchise in decades… until Jamie Grant led the charge to eviscerate it almost entirely.

Grant was the lead sponsor on the bill that gutted the amendment, requiring that everyone who stood to regain their constitutional rights pay off every single fine, fee, and court cost levied against them by judges, even though they rarely had anything to do with their sentencing and were almost never actually tracked by the courts. It amounts to a poll tax, a revival of Jim Crow tactics meant to bar people of color from exercising their rights that could stop a million people from registering. The law is now winding its way through the court system and could decide whether Democrats or Republicans win the White House this year.

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