The Blue Wave crashed on the eastern shores of Florida on Tuesday evening, as Democrat Margaret Good won a highly contested special election and flipped yet another legislature seat from red to blue. Good — who received support from Progressives Everywhere readers — beat James Buchanan, the son of Rep. Vern Buchanan, for the right to represent House District 72 in the Florida legislature. The in gives Democrats their 36th new state house seat since the beginning of last year.
What’s more, not only was HD72 previously represented by a Republican, it also voted for Donald Trump. The Sarasota-area district went 51-46 for Trump, but like so many other local constituencies, turned to a Democratic candidate after a disastrous year. Good won by 52-45 margin, a 12 point swing that made her victory an unquestionable sign that Democrats are primed and ready to swamp the polls come November.
In fact, Good’s was the second major victory for the Democrats this week. On Monday night, Karla Bigham — another Progressives Everywhere endorsee — won her race for the State Senate in Minnesota, keeping Democrats one seat away from retaking the chamber.
These are obviously huge wins, and we need to keep the momentum going. There are several more special elections coming this month, including two in Kentucky. Next week will feature a race shaped by tragedy, making it a grim but important pickup opportunity.
In December, Dan Johnson, the GOP representative for the 49th House District in Kentucky, took his own life after news broke that he was accused of molesting a friend of his daughter’s during a sleepover, when the friend was just 17 years old.
He was controversial long before that — he had made racist Facebook posts and made up all kinds of lies, including claims that he worked in the White House and set up a morgue and blessed bodies for weeks after 9/11. Now his wife is running to take over his seat, facing off against Linda Belcher, a Democrat who narrowly lost to Johnson as the incumbent in 2016. She’s hoping to return to Frankfort after a year off, and we can help make it happen.
Another race in Kentucky involves a teacher running for a previously uncontested Republican seat. We spotlighted several teachers running for office in Kentucky a few weeks ago, and a now a librarian, Kelly Smith, is running in District 89. Her election is on February 27th, and just a little bit of money could make a big difference. She’s in a solid red district, but a good Democratic showing could at the very least begin the long climb back to parity in states like Kentucky.
Smith has a very progressive platform, and that’s important in Kentucky, where Gov. Matt Bevin is rolling back access to healthcare and cutting school budgets. Notably, she’s also focused on gun control, a bold position to have in Kentucky.
In early 2017, Marc Friedenberg and his neighbors in State College were concerned about what was happening in Washington. Donald Trump had only been in office for a month, and already things were going catastrophically awry — it’s hard to keep track of the scandals, so as a refresher, this was around the time of the Muslim Ban and the subsequent airport protests. After consulting the Indivisible Handbook, the Penn State professor set up a town hall event on campus and invited the Congressional representative for Pennsylvania’s fifth district to address his constituents.
When Congressman Glenn Thompson refused to show up, Friedenberg brought out a cardboard cutout of the Republican to stand in front of the over 400 people in attendance. The way Friedenberg sees it, the real Thompson wouldn’t have been much more responsive or reassuring anyway, which is why the 33-year-old activist and Penn State professor is challenging Thompson for his seat in Congress.
“He is a Republican Party man through and through and has a Trump score of almost 100%,” Friedenberg told Progressives Everywhere in a recent interview. “He’s not a leader in any sense of the word. He is inherited from the prior Republican congressman, he’s sort of the anointed successor. He has the highest staff cost from the Pennsylvania delegation. I think he’s just there to collect a check and then get his pension. And that’s just clearly not working for the people of this district.”
As it stands, the district is the biggest in the nation, a largely rural swath of central and western Pennsylvania that has Penn State as its semi-urban focal point. The borders of the district figure to change in a few months, now that Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has thrown out the state’s ridiculously gerrymandered congressional map, but Friedenberg isn’t slowing his campaign while the lines are redrawn.
Friedenberg began fighting GOP policies in the district long before he announced his candidacy. As the founder of PA5 Truth and Action, he led protests against the GOP’s attempts to repeal Obamacare, and supported other local movements and candidates. Now, he’s on a listening tour across the vast district, and regardless of how its borders might shift, he’s built up a connection with the community and understanding of its needs.
It’s helped that he’s lived there most of his adult life, having graduated from Penn State undergrad in 2006. He then went to Columbia Law, and upon graduation, began working for a firm that sued big banks on behalf of burned investors following the financial crisis of 2008. They sued Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, among many others, which gave him an inside look at the corruption at the heart of the financial industry.
“I think it pushed me pretty far in the progressive direction because I got to see all of their emails through the discovery process,” Friedenberg says. “And the really callous disregard that these guys had — they were mostly young guys following orders from the top, and were just so uninterested in the real world impacts of what they were doing with these financial instruments, which are incomprehensible to normal people. They just left everyone else holding the bag.”
Now Friedenberg teaches cyberlaw, and has broadened his focus to include tech monopolies. Once considered a niche issue, the vast power of companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Verizon has become a serious public concern, and Friedenberg is well-equipped to lead that fight. He’s learned from the best — including taking classes taught by Tim Wu, the man who coined the term “net neutrality” — and has also discovered firsthand how the economy is warped by these companies.
“I’m concerned about both the information monopoly and then also Amazon on the retail side, and the effect that it’s having on small retailers and even big box retailers, and the downward pressure it creates on wages,” he says. Friedenberg has come out in favor of the $15 minimum wage and Medicare for All, but knows those will be more difficult to enact with just a few monopolies running the economy.
Noting that Pennsylvania has both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the running to literally give Amazon billions for its headquarters, Friedenberg admits that he hopes neither city wins that tax break bonanza. “It’s just not going to work out. It’s going to work out for Amazon, but we’re going to be left holding the bag,” he adds. “It’s going to require federal involvement because there’s a race to the bottom. Either for political reasons or just out of sheer desperation, towns are going to continue to push for these giveaways.”
In that way, these big national issues become local concerns, which is where Friedenberg’s expertise can be crucial. Rural broadband penetration and internet speeds in America continue to lag far behind other countries, which increasingly leaves behind local small businesses trying to compete in the new economy. That comes down to both competition and infrastructure, and will require major investments that Thompson has been unable to secure.
The congressman has also been mostly in favor of fracking, another issue that worries the locals with whom Friedenberg has met. Thompson being out of touch with his constituents is a running theme, neatly embodied by the fact that his two offices are almost inaccessible, located far from any population centers in the rural fifth district. Friedenberg has already had geographers calculate potential office locations that would be no more than 90 minutes from any constituent’s home in the vast district. The borders may change a little bit, but Friedenberg plans on being an accessible champion for whoever winds up in his district.
It’s always fun to try to new things, so let’s go wild and start this newsletter off with good news! (Yes, good news still exists!) Last week, voters in Missouri showed just how fed up they are with the GOP and Donald Trump. Democrats shifted the electoral playing field in special elections held in normally deep red districts, including a comfortable victory in the race for a house legislature seat that had voted for Trump by 28 points.
Notably, Democrats hadn’t even put up a candidate for that seat in the last election, which goes to show that the party needs to contest every single election moving forward. Voting for a political party is a habit, and Democrats have been awful about allowing large swaths of the country to just reflexively support Republicans. The GOP won the other three special elections in Missouri, but just barely, as local Democrats outperformed Hillary Clinton in their districts by 18, 25, and 53 points.
The GOP’s assault on working people and all minimal standards of decency is expediting the Democratic Party’s rebuild, and so we have to keep pushing forward. This coming week will feature several more special elections, including races in Florida and Minnesota that we’ve highlighted several times.
Local Candidate: Rachel Crooks for Ohio Legislature
There is never a wrong time to mention the fact that nearly two dozen women have publicly accused Donald Trump of sexual assault; the long list of allegations — and his own admissions — should have tripped up his campaign long before election day. But because every day brings some fresh new outrage or scandal from the White House, the decades of abuse to which Trump subjected so many women generally fall by the wayside, ignored in favor of fresh controversies or breaking updates on old favorites, like the Russia investigation.
But Trump’s own deplorable treatment of women came back into focus this week when it was revealed — with graphic photos — that Rob Porter, his staff secretary, had beaten several ex-wives and partners. And not only did the White House know about all the allegations against Porter — the assaults prevented him from obtaining a full security clearance — but Trump actually defended Porter, even after the disgraced aide resigned. It’s almost as if there is a devil on Trump’s shoulder, daring him to say the absolute worst thing possible in any given situation.
In a cosmic flash of bittersweet poetic justice, this public reminder of Trump’s long history of sexual misconduct arrived at the same time that one of the women who accused him of assault announced that she was running for office. Rachel Crooks is running to represent the 88th house district in the Ohio legislature, waging a campaign to transform a state that voted for the man she says forcibly kissed her on the mouth in 2005.
Back then, Crooks was a receptionist for a real estate firm with offices in Trump Tower. In allegations first made public in October 2016, she says Trump introduced himself to her and then repeatedly and forcibly kissed her on the cheek and then the mouth. “It was so inappropriate,” she told the New York Times in the story detailing the event. “I was so upset that he thought I was so insignificant that he could do that.”
Crooks was only 22 at the time, while Trump was nearly 60. There could have been no greater imbalance of power, and of course Trump took advantage. Now Crooks is 35 years old and ready to fight back, not only against Trump’s misogyny, but the GOP’s policies on core issues. She currently works as the director of international student recruitment at Heidelberg University, and as she told Cosmopolitan, she has a broad platform that includes jobs, access to affordable healthcare, and repairing public schools in part by shifting funding away from charter schools.
“I think like a lot of women, because we’ve been historically underrepresented in politics, I didn’t necessarily see myself in this role,” she told Cosmo. “But multiple people encouraged and said, ‘I think you would be great.’ Once you hear it a few times, you start to believe it a little bit, and fully consider it. Once I sat down and mulled it over, I felt like it really was a duty that I had, that I should take on this responsibility firsthand and try to make a difference for other people.”
So, *The Memo* was released, and just as we suspected, it is both a remarkably stupid and incredibly important document. Stupid, because it’s a porous assemblage of half-truths that actually contradict the GOP’s idiotic accusations of FBI anti-Republican bias; important, because it shows just how far Republicans will go to protect their bloviating president, and thus just how far out of touch they are with their constituents.
But a wave election can only happen if Democrats give voters real alternatives. There have been far too many uncontested GOP seats over the last several election cycles, even in would-be competitive districts. And while that is starting to get better, several big events this past week shows how far Democrats still have to go.
Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who spent a half-decade obsessing over Benghazi conspiracy theories, announced his retirement. Matt Gaetz, a dunce bro and Florida Congressman, brought Holocaust-denier and pro troll Chuck Johnson to the State of the Union. And Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican, got pummeled for asking Capitol Hill police to arrest undocumented immigrants (including Dreamers) that were attending the SOTU as official guests. All three of these seats should be in Democratic crosshairs this November, but currently, there are no compelling, progressive candidates running in those districts. Gaetz’s opponent is a former Republican.
We’d love to endorse and raise money for compelling candidates in any of these districts. Let’s hope Democrats step up the recruiting, find worthwhile candidates, and expand the electoral map even further.
Local Candidates: Teachers for Kentucky Legislature
Again, Democrats can only rebuild the party if they run for office everywhere, even in unfriendly districts and red states. Without question, it takes courage to run that kind of race. Luckily, we’re seeing courageous everyday people start to stand up and declare their candidacies, and not just for federal level office.
One example that caught my eye on Friday: teachers in Kentucky, outraged by far-right (and scandal-plagued) Governor Matt Bevin’s attack on education, are taking matters into their own hands. A record 40 teachers are running for General Assembly, with 34 of those teachers running as Democrats.
The situation for schools in Kentucky is dire. Bevin’s proposed budget cuts nearly $200 million from K-12 education over the next two years, as well as slashes at least 44 state programs related to education. He’s asking school districts to cut their administrative costs by 12% each of the next two years, and doesn’t want to fund retired teachers’ healthcare. His plans represent a continued catastrophe for families and students in Kentucky, and so women like Jeanie Smith and Tina Bojanowski are fighting back.
And it’s not just about education: Bojanowski has spoken out for living wage legislation, as has Smith, who has also spoken about a more fair tax structure that ensures the wealthy pay their fair share. They are community members — Bojanowski has lived in District 32, where she’s running, since 1968 — and understand the interests of their neighbors. Progressives win in the long-term by building from the ground up, with legislators that know their communities and are trusted by their neighbors.
Congressional Candidate: Abby Finkenauer for Iowa’s 1st District
Since the Tea Party takeover, extremists have occupied districts that they should have no business representing. Iowa’s first congressional district is a very purple district, but since 2015, it’s been represented by an extremist, Trumpian Republican named Rod Blum. He’s not exactly loved in his district these days — pre-screening constituents at one of the few town halls you hold will do that — and after winning two close elections, he’s in the DCCC’s crosshairs.
He’s got two young, energetic opponents, including Abby Finkenauer, a 28-year-old State Representative who was practically born to run this race and represent this district. She is a real-world Leslie Knope in the best way possible, having started her political career very early. She was a student page in the US Congress at 16, worked in the Iowa House after high school, was a volunteer coordinator for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in college, and has been in state government and politics ever since.
You can see in her speeches that for Finkenauer, politics is far more than just a career or ladder to climb. She’s the daughter of a union worker and school system employee, and she has focused on issues facing working families while in the Iowa Legislature. Her floor speech during a debate over a pernicious collective bargaining bill was incredibly powerful because it was so personal. She’s been on a local listening and speaking tour, with conversations about traditionally unsexy topics such as rural nursing home closings and community colleges.
What’s most impressive is that she’s not just an energetic idealist. Finkenauer was elected to office in her mid-20s, and has already put together an impressive coalition. She’s got the endorsement of Emily’s List and a whole slew of labor organizations. And she out-raised Blum in the fourth quarter of 2017. She has to win the primary first, and has a worthy and admirable opponent in former Dept. of Labor employee Thomas Heckroth, but given her momentum and obvious progressive values, Finkenauer gets our endorsement. She would be the youngest member of Congress, but in terms of political experience, she’s far better prepared than most candidates will ever be.
Local Candidate: Geneviéve Jones-Wright for San Diego District Attorney
Though it’s technically a non-partisan position, the district attorney often sets priorities and policies that are at the center of modern political debate. As progressives push for greater criminal justice reform — ending alternative minimum sentencing, for-profit prisons, mass incarcerations, and racial bias in prosecution — entrenched powers in the law enforcement community have often pushed back. And so candidates like Geneviéve Jones-Wright, who is running for DA in San Diego County, are key to enacting the reforms.
Like many cities, San Diego has a political machine that can often steamroll reformers. Last summer, long-time DA Bonnie Dumanis retired early so that she could have her chief deputy, Summer Stephan, assume the position ahead of this summer’s election. It was a widely criticized move, and while Stephan was appointed unanimously, she has some dirty laundry. She famously bungled a murder case in the late 90s and is the beneficiary of dirty money, and she’s a registered Republican.
Meanwhile, Jones-Wright has been the Deputy Public Defender since 2006, where she has focused on criminal justice reform since before that was in vogue. It is a comprehensive approach, focused on individual needs and solving problems, not just locking people up. This Voice of San Diego interview provides a great overview of her outlook on the justice system, crime prevention, community policing, and tackling systemic racism. Here’s a solid excerpt that encompasses that larger conversation:
“I am not a former prosecutor. So I’m not a part of the status quo. I have a much-needed perspective that is new and fresh, and that is what the DA’s office needs. A district attorney should absolutely be a part of the fabric of law-making. A district attorney should absolutely be working with elected officials and other representatives to make sure that our communities are safer. But the district attorney also has to have a balance and understand that the old system of simply locking people up doesn’t work. We can’t just warehouse offenders.”
Another big week of news, on every level of government. Trump tried to pull a Nixon and fire Special Counsel Bob Mueller, the man investigating whether Trump colluded with Russia during the campaign. Definitely something an innocent man would do, right?
More significantly for our purposes, there was huge movement in state voting rights. On the positive, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court ruled that the state’s congressional gerrymander was egregiously partisan. And even though Republicans are appealing to the national Supreme Court, because it was a decision based on the PA state constitution, their desperate plea is likely to be denied. With fair elections, Democrats could gain a handful of seats in Congress, while reinstituting a two-party system on the state level. This is incredible news, and shows what fighting for voting rights can achieve. Now, we just need to campaign hard to make sure we win those new seats!
Congressional Candidate: Andrew Janz for CA-22
It’s not surprising that Trump has proven to be a corrupt maniac in office — that’s been his thing for 40 years. But the GOP’s willingness to protect their corrupt maniac is a bit remarkable. No one has been more of a sycophant than Devin Nunes, the California congressman who has been kicking up dust and conspiracy theories for the last year.
As the House Intelligence Committee chair, he was forced to recuse himself from the Russia probe amidst allegations of ethics violations, but he keeps on meddling; he’s the one waving some misleading “memo,” which has become the GOP’s latest rallying cry. It’s a bunch of out-of-context misinformation based on top secret info, and its release would be a major ethics violation.
He coasted to re-election in 2016, but he is feeling the heat at home now. His hometown paper, The Sacramento Beerecently called him “Trump’s stooge” and said his behavior has been “nothing short of embarrassing.”
Luckily, there is a strong Democratic candidate who knows all about the right way to handle an investigation. Andrew Janz, a 33-year-old Fresno prosecutor, threw his hat in the ring last year, and he’s making major gains. A recent poll for his campaign showed him just five points behind Nunes, who has been in office for over 15 years.
Janz is the Deputy District Attorney and focuses on violent crimes, but is in favor of criminal justice reform, and stopping the rampage that ICE is carrying out on immigrant communities. He also has a solid sense of humor, as you can see from the billboard he took out last year depicting Trump and Nunes as toddlers being held on a leash by Vladimir Putin.
Local Candidate: Margaret Good for Florida House of Representatives
Nationally, Florida is the swingiest of swing states, but on the local level, it is as partisan as it gets. Republicans took control of the legislature in 2010 and immediately created a ridiculous gerrymander; while the Supreme Court struck that down, the legislature is controlled by the far-right and still making a stinkabout the reprimand.
Luckily, Democrats have quality candidates in the fight to take back control of the legislature. One of them is Margaret Good, who is running in a special election to represent Florida’s 72nd House district in a February 13th election. She’s already a local leader, as she sits on the board of directors for the Sarasota County Bar Association, and is involved with the Florida Bar Association. She’s particularly strong on the environment, a vital issue in Florida.
There was a bit of a snafu in the primary, when the Progressive Caucus rescinded its endorsement of Good because she wasn’t 100% firm on a $15 minimum wage. But she still soundly defeated a somewhat progressive opponent, so with a special election a few weeks away, we’re supporting her. She’s certainly a better choice than her opponent, James Buchanan, the son of Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan, one of the wealthiest members of a Congress filled with rich people.
Polls have them in a virtual tie, so anything you can do to help would be clutch.