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.

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

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!

A note about our crowdfunding campaign: Progressives Everywhere will always be a free newsletter. But as the midterm elections draw near, we want to up our game, and that costs money. We want to do more candidate interviews, develop a new website, and even launch a podcast. So we’re asking for donations via Patreon, as little as $2 a month. There are perks, too. Thank you for reading, and now back to the activism!

Stick it to Nazis and help expand access to healthcare

Ignore Trump. Progressive activists are making real progress.

It’s increasingly hard to remember a time before Donald Trump’s demented id hovered over all facets of American life, blocking out the sun with a thick, gold foil-wrapped cloud of sexism, racism, and corruption. But even just a few years ago, Americans could enjoy a relatively quiet July 4th week, celebrating a very imperfect nation that seemed to be slowly progressing toward a more just and fair democracy.

That idea of America was probably a delusion, given the vicious policies we’ve seen the GOP pursue over the last decade, but still, the evil being wrought by the US government this past July 4th, ostensibly a time to celebrate our higher ideals, puts the urgency of our reality into deep relief.

Human rights abuses. Republicans in Russia. Trade wars. Healthcare developments. Scott Pruitt trying to steal the Declaration of Independence (probably). News from last Monday feels like it happened forever ago. Which is really part of Trump’s “plan,” if he has any: overload us until we crawl to our couches, turn on Netflix (the new season of GLOW is great!) and let him live-tweet Fox News in a froth while his cronies loot America.

Turns out, though, that the week was filled with news about the candidates and causes we (and by that I mean you, generous reader) are supporting here at Progressives Everywhere. And in fact, there was even some good news! So this week, let’s check in on the progress of the leaders and movements we’ve boosted with over $45,000 thus far, and try to help them even more.

Let’s start with some good news: Medicaid expansion looks like it will be on the ballot in Nebraska!

Last month, we spoke to an organizer at Insure the Good Life, the non-profit that was leading the campaign to bypass GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts and give voters the power to expand healthcare access for 90,000 working people across the state. Last week, they delivered 133,000 signatures to the Nebraska Secretary of State, far surpassing the required 85,000. Once they’re validated by the state, there will be a question on the ballot in this November’s election, and should it pass, Nebraska will become the 35th state to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

There will also be a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid in Idaho and Utah, and all three are polling well right now. This is in line with the massive shift in public opinion in favor of Obamacare — and directly contrary to ongoing Trump and GOP efforts to sabotage the law and take away healthcare from millions of people (Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin just took dental and vision benefits from Medicaid recipients, simply because he’s an asshole). This should be THE biggest issue in the midterm elections, especially if progressives continue to press and play offense, working to expand access instead of punishing people for getting sick.

Click HERE to support Medicaid expansion ballot initiatives in Nebraska and Idaho!

Hate has always run America. It’s just that over the last 30 or so years, the bigotry has been the more subtle and insidious kind, inspiring discriminatory policy couched in platitudes about opportunity and freedom.

Thanks to Donald Trump and his embrace of the alt-right, both rhetorically and in public policy, the false niceties have fallen by the wayside. As Democrats run their most diverse slate of candidates in history, literal Nazis are running wild, trying to intimidate the progressives that are going to sweep them from power.

Rick Neal, an openly gay candidate running in Ohio’s 15th district, found a sticker for the Neo-Nazi group Patriot Front on the campaign sign on the lawn of his Columbus home.

Via NBC 4 in Columbus:

He lives with his husband and their 2 daughters who are both African American. He said he expected opponents to take shots at his personal life. “I’m the first openly gay nominee running for federal office in Ohio’s history. I mean it was bound to get some attention, right,” asked Neal.

But he never expected to see what he found Monday night. A sticker placed on his campaign sign in his front yard promoting the group “Patriot Front.”

Neal said he would have preferred it if the person who left the sticker would have simply had a conversation with him. “Neo-nazis. Or just the Nazis. Do you know what that’s all about? Do you know what they did? Do you know your history?” he said.

And though he filed a police report, he said he’s not overly worried and that if anything the incident reinforces his decision to run for office in the first place. “There’s too much at stake in this election to be intimidated,” he said.

His reaction to the situation is inspiring, but not surprising. Neal has spent his entire adult life giving himself to the cause of helping and progressing humanity. He joined the Peace Corps. out of college and then went into nonprofit work, traveling the world to work on issues like access to clean water, the Ebola epidemic, and refugee camps.

He’s running against Steve Stivers, who will have all the resources in the world as the head of the NRCC. He’s got a 99% Trump score — meaning he’s voted with Trump 99% of the time. He’s supported this paragon of hate over and over again, helping prop up his indecent presidency. Taking him down would be absolutely huge.

If you want to help support to Rick Neal, while defiantly sending a message that hate groups have no place in our politics and that we will not be intimidated.

CLICK HERE to donate to our ActBlue page supporting Rick Neal’s campaign.

On the immigration front, there has been slow, halting progress in reuniting families so cruelly ripped apart at the border by Trump and Jeff Sessions’ violent “no tolerance” policy. It’s become clear that the Trump administration had absolutely no intention on reuniting parents and children when it began this evil operation; because they kept such terrible and incomplete records, it’s been a mad scramble to identify children, locate their parents, and reunite the families.

There are some 12,000 children in government custody right now, and about 3000 of them have yet to be reunited with their parents. About 100 of them are under five years old — and it turns out that the government already deported 38 of their parents.

Immigrant rights organizations are working night and day to help families be reunited and get their fair day in court; right now, the administration is often forcing toddlers to represent themselves in front of a judge. (That is not a joke.) The conditions these families face are deplorable, and the entire ordeal has been devastating to the development of these innocent children. The sooner we can end this immediate catastrophe, the better.

CLICK HERE to donate to our ActBlue page supporting nonprofits working to assist abused immigrant families.

Even as the GOP attacks healthcare, red state activists are working to expand it

Medicaid_Mobile_Lookout

Donald Trump’s tweets make clear that he is a terrible egomaniac and likely a criminal. But his administration’s legal maneuvers are what really mark his presidency as an assault on the well-being of average Americans. On Thursday evening, the White House announced that it joined a GOP lawsuit that seeks to fully dismantle the Affordable Care Act.  While the Trump administration is only seeking to have some of the Affordable Care Act thrown out, it is targeting the most popular provision: barring insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing medical conditions.

This is a particular danger to low-income Americans, who historically have been in worse health — the link between economic and medical hardship is very direct. That the House of Representatives this week also voted to cut $7 billion from the massively successful and universally popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers 9 million kids nationwide, makes it more clear than ever that we are in an all-out class war.

Healthcare is shaping up to be the number one issue in November’s election, with the power to shape electorates. This week, we want to look at the great campaigns that are going on the offensive, working to expand Medicaid in states that have refused to do so thus far.

Initially, the Affordable Care Act required states to expand Medicaid, the public health insurance program for low-income Americans. Another lawsuit filed by heartless conservatives who hate poor people turned it into a voluntary initiative, and thus far, 32 states have followed through with the expansion, the most recent being Virginia and Maine. The expansion in Maine was triggered by a very successful ballot initiative, and this year, there are several more states with campaigns working hard to get a Medicaid expansion on the ballot.

These are not typically Democratic states, but they have strong grassroots community leaders who are reaching across partisan lines to promote a public good. And so far, it’s looking good.

Click HERE to support Medicaid expansion ballot initiatives in Nebraska and Idaho!

In Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts has not only actively worked against Medicaid expansion, he’s also tried to gut funding to the existing program with vetoes. With little hope of a legislative expansion, the nonprofit Nebraska Appleseed kicked off the Insure the Good Life campaign, which is trying to get the issue on this November’s ballot.

“A majority of Nebraskans support Medicaid expansion,” Meg Mandy, the program director for Insure the Good Life, told Progressives Everywhere. “That is why we decided to bring this directly to voters, and why we feel we are in a strong position to qualify the measure and win in November.”

Mandy says they began collecting signatures in April, and as of early last week, they were halfway to the number needed to qualify for the ballot. The signatures are due on July 5th, and Mandy says they’re on target to beat the deadline. Nebraska ranks 27th in the US in access to healthcare, so victory in November would provide a major boost.

“Expanding Medicaid will give 90,000 hardworking Nebraskans access to critical, life-saving care,” Mandy said. “We know that regular visits to the doctor and preventive care leads to better health outcomes. It’s especially beneficial for earlier diagnosis and treatment of conditions like diabetes, cancer, and mental health issues.”

Click HERE to support Medicaid expansion ballot initiatives in Nebraska and Idaho!

In Idaho, the campaign is truly a bottom-up, grassroots effort. The progressive group Reclaim Idaho decided last summer that they’d barnstorm the state in a 1977 RV, turning their campaign to expand Medicaid into a grassroots event. Volunteers collected signatures on both the ballot petition and the RV itself, earning tons of statewide attention and ultimately doing what was said to be almost impossible: securing over 60,000 signatures from voters 18 of the 35 districts in Idaho, qualifying for the ballot this November.

The achievement itself is a major one: Idaho Republicans had made the already difficult requirements for getting an initiative on the ballot even more onerous after a 2013 citizen vote on a simple education matter didn’t go their way. This marks the first initiative to even get on the ballot since those changes. Idaho faces 27% premium increases this year, making this a very attractive option to both Democrats and Republicans.

Click HERE to support Medicaid expansion ballot initiatives in Nebraska and Idaho!

The third Medicaid expansion ballot initiative is in Utah, where things are a bit different.

After years of being shut down by a far-right state legislature, a partial expansion of Medicaid was approved earlier this year. But it’s unclear whether the federal government, even under Trump, will accept its controversial provision that limits coverage to people who make poverty wages — just $12,140 a year — and below. The Affordable Care Act provides help for people making up to 138% percent, which is not great, but far better than Utah’s bill.

Unwilling to accept a half-measure, a coalition of activists collected signatures to get a full Medicaid expansion on the ballot this November. Utah Decides rounded up support from 140,000 people and last month qualified for the ballot, bringing the state one step closer to providing medical care to 150,000 new people — double the amount the legislature’s bill would cover.

Here’s what’s so significant: two-thirds of Utahns support Medicaid expansionThat’s two-thirds of a very, very red state supporting a policy that Republicans have blocked for years and advocated for by Democrats. Yes, the governor there wants to expand it to some degree, but this is a much more substantial expansion that people support — and it helps to show them that Democrats aren’t lib’rul monsters, but people who are compassionate and want to help their families.

Click HERE to support the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative in Utah!