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!

Trump is going to come after Roe v Wade. We need to elect SCOTUS insurance

There is nothing I can say about last week’s avalanche of bad news that you haven’t screamed in a fit of rage and/or despair. But, in the interest of riling you up and creating some urgency, let’s recap:

The Supreme Court, a sullied institution that has been transformed into an organ of oppression for old rich bigots, delivered several major blows to working people, democracy, and humanity. Having already greenlit voter purges and protected corporations from facing consequences for taking part in human rights abuses, the conservative majority went even further last week. The court hobbled public sector unions, upheld Trump’s racist anti-Muslim travel ban, and struck down California’s effort to provide pregnant women in crisis with information about abortion.

Then it got worse.

After the last decision was announced, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. Though he was a conservative on economic issues, he was considered a swing vote because of his respect for Roe v Wade and stance on gay marriage. There is just about zero chance that Trump will nominate a “moderate” to replace Kennedy, because he’s literally never done anything moderate in his life, and that was before he got maniacs like Stephen Miller howling in his ear.

CLICK HERE to support candidates and groups that will help ensure a far-right Supreme Court doesn’t endanger your rights

So then what? Simply put, it will be up to the states to protect its citizens. Overturning Roe v. Wade — whether incrementally or in one fell swoop — won’t make abortion illegal, but free states to do so themselves. (And many states are already pushing the limit, restricting reproductive choice more and more.)

So here we are again, faced with the task of rebuilding state and local Democratic parties on the fly, now with no nominal safety net at the high court. And so this week, we’re starting a fund for candidates who will stand up for these rights in key states where they are under attack.

In Ohio, the state GOP is pushing a law that would ban abortions altogether, even in the case of incest or rape. State senators know that it would immediately be challenged, but again, that’s the point. They want to get this blatantly illegal policy into the court system, so that it has a chance of blowing up Roe v Wade for good.

Governor John Kasich has cautioned against this bill, but the GOP right now has the supermajority needed to override any veto. That means that not only do we need to elect a Democratic governor this fall — former Consumer Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray is the nominee in a tight race — but also fight to take back the legislature (or at least break that supermajority). That brings us to Lauren Friedman and Lorraine Wilburn, pro-choice candidates who are running for the legislature in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

Neither woman was very politically active before 2016, but they were inspired to get involved by Trump’s election. Already, their activism and campaigns have led to some pretty fantastic stories.

One stellar example: Wilburn delivered a birthday cake to the office of her GOP congressman, Jim Renacci, on the 7th anniversary of the passage of Obamacare. “I’m sure they threw it away. We were actually removed from the office,” Wilburn said.

Friedman said it best: “When you’re desperate and your elected officials don’t listen to you, you have to get creative.”

So, what do they stand for? Per CantonRep.com:

Wilburn said they’re running on “health care, education, economy and jobs. These are the issues that impact us and our families. They impact our friends. We know these issues first hand. .. we’re not career politicians.”

She said she wants more accountability for charter schools and an actual fix to school funding.

Friedman said, “we’ll show up, and we’ll vote. We’ll be there. And we will listen. We will talk to constituents, and we will hold town halls and I think it’s a real good start.”

These are the kind of candidates that can create a sea change for Democrats this year — as long as we support them and don’t let the national party’s tired old guard lecture people about civility and being nice to Nazis. Both women quit their day jobs to run for office full-time and are talking about fundamental issues that impact working Americans of all political persuasions. As Trump gives away billions to his rich buddies,  kitchen table issues and bold progressive activists are our best chance of connecting with voters and saving democracy.

CLICK HERE to support candidates and groups that will help ensure a far-right Supreme Court doesn’t endanger your rights

Having women so involved in fighting Trump will be crucial even in the campaigns in which they’re not the candidate. Look at what’s happening in Iowa for an idea of just how much is at stake this fall when it comes to reproductive rights (and so many other issues, of course).

Earlier this year, Iowa passed the most restrictive anti-choice bill in the nation, banning abortion at the point at which a fetus has a heartbeat. That’s about six weeks after conception, which is often before women even realize they are pregnant. Planned Parenthood of Iowa almost immediately sued, and soon after, a judge placed a temporary injunction against the law — which was exactly what the Iowa GOP wanted to have happen. Now, the measure will work its way through the court system, with a chance to be heard by the Supreme Court.

That makes this fall’s Iowa gubernatorial campaign absolutely critical. If Democrat Fred Hubbell can unseat GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, he can stop the state from defending the law in court, defusing that major threat. With that in mind, we are officially supporting Hubbell’s campaign in what should be a very close race.

Because there are so many other states that restrict abortion rights and so many races to be fought, we’re also backing Emily’s List, an organization that trains and supports pro-choice Democratic women running for office.

CLICK HERE to support candidates and groups that will help ensure a far-right Supreme Court doesn’t endanger your rights

A big evening of blue primary wins

Tuesday was one of the busiest days of primary season, as voters in eight states cast their ballots to decide who will represent their parties in November. By and large it was a great night for Democrats, who saw a surge in voter turnout from an energized base. Significantly, a number of the very progressive grassroots candidates backed by Progressives Everywhere — several of them decided underdogs — came out on top in their races.

The evening’s results were yet another sign that people aren’t just turning out to reject Republicans, but also to declare loud and clear that the time for spineless corporate Democrats (if there ever was one) has long since passed.

Progressives Everywhere candidates won six races and lost just one on Tuesday night. Here’s a look at how things went down and which candidates have the momentum.

Winners:

Abby Finkenauer (IA-01): The wunderkind 29-year-old state legislator running for Congress in Iowa’s 1st district won a decisive victory, with 67% of the vote. She faces GOP Rep. Rod Blum in what is considered by some to be one of the districts most likely to flip in November. She is on our main slate of candidates.

Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11): A former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor, Sherrill won the Democratic nod for the now-open seat in Northern New Jersey. The primary drew record turnout, with more Democrats going to the polls than Republicans. Sherrill is on our main slate of candidates.

JD Scholten (IA-04): The former pro baseball player won a three-way race to take on neanderthal GOP Rep. Steve King, Congress’s annual winner of the bigot triple crown for his odious racism, sexism, and homophobia. Scholten is an exciting young candidate who has a spot on our slate for immigration-focused races.

Cindy Axne (IA-03): Another Iowa candidate, Axne also won a three-way race. A former state government official and small business owner, she takes on David Young, a former chief of staff to confused Twitterer/Senator Charles Grassley and now one of the NRA’s top lapdogs. Axne is on our slate of candidates taking on remorseless gun nuts.

Kathleen Williams (MT-AL): An underdog winner in the Democratic primary for Montana’s lone Congressional district, Williams raised less money than her rivals but was bolder in her stances. She was defiant against the NRA in hunting-happy Montana and called for an assault weapons ban, a gutsy move that helped earn her the nomination. She will take on GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte, the guy who infamously assaulted a reporter during his special election campaign last year. Williams is also on our slate of candidates taking on remorseless gun nuts.

Andrew Janz (CA-22)The dynamic, outspoken, and very clever prosecutor formally won the right to take down top Trump lackey Devin Nunes in November. Janz has been relentless in his mockery of Nunes, both with stunts like billboards and substantive attacks on his record. Janz is not only focused on Nunes’ pathetic “oversight” of the Trump administration and Russia, but is also focused on local issues facing Central California, making him a strong contender to flip a normally red district. Janz has his own slate on Progressives Everywhere.

The one Progressives Everywhere candidate to fall short on Tuesday was Genevieve Jones-Wright, who was running an underdog campaign for District Attorney of San Diego.

Here are the other Progressives Everywhere candidates who have already received the Democratic nomination in their races:

Stacey Abrams (GA-Gov)
Lauren Underwood (IL-14)
Beto O’Rourke (TX-Sen)
Clarke Tucker (AR-1)
Zach Dickerson (OH-HD-42)
Jess King (PA-11)
Marc Friedenberg (PA-12)
Rachel Crooks (OH-HD-88)
DD Adams (NC-5)