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!

Horrifying: Kids are being kept in cages at the border. We need to take action.

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This past week was one of the most jam-packed, dizzying, and disconcerting seven-day stretches in a recent memory filled with surreal and draining bursts of humanity’s war on itself. Donald Trump gave Kim Jong-un the ultimate legitimizing photo opp (and saluted a North Korean general!) last Monday, but it feels like a lifetime ago, given all that’s happened since.

First off, last week was the biggest fundraising week in Progressives Everywhere’s (short) history. Thanks to so many of you, we raised nearly $15,000 for progressive candidates and causes. Most of that money went to three places: progressive Democrats in New York working to shatter the corrupt political machines run by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rep. Joseph Crowley; candidates challenging the inhumane immigration policies enacted by right-wing bigots; and organizations trying to assist the families (and especially children) being tortured by those policies right this very moment. (Click on those links to contribute to those causes!)

There are so many urgent issues to tackle, including the coming voting purges in red states that were greenlit by an egregiously partisan and misguided Supreme Court decision last week. We’re raising money for Democratic candidates that will stop and roll back those purges — right now, the focus is on helping Kathleen Clyde win the Ohio Secretary of State race — and will get more into that in the weeks to come.

Right now, all of our urgency is trained on the human rights violations happening at the border. Last month, we looked at the controversial case of the missing unaccompanied minors, and the outrage that drew pales in comparison to what’s happening in south Texas right now. Due to Trump and Jeff Sessions’ heartless bigotry and taste for suffering, immigrant children are being incarcerated in a makeshift jail that embodies Trump’s special brand of autocratic, cult-of-personality capitalism. There are over 1500 boys being held in an old Walmart that has been converted into a prison, complete with creepy murals of Trump accompanied by nonsense slogans that would make Orwell sigh with defeat.

There are more facilities like this. Children are being kept in cages in old warehouses they continue to fill up. And tent camps are coming next.

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

The stories that are continuing to come out of these nightmare camps continue to get more and more shocking.

The New York Times today has a story about how most parents are deported before they ever get a chance to see the kids that had been ripped away from them:

Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez packed up what little she had in Guatemala and traveled across Mexico with her 8-year-old son, Anthony. In a group, they rafted across the Rio Grande into Texas. From there they intended to join her boyfriend, Edgar, who had found a construction job in the United States.

Except it all went wrong. The Border Patrol was waiting as they made their way from the border on May 26, and soon mother and son were in a teeming detention center in southern Texas. The next part unfolded so swiftly that, even now, Ms. Ortiz cannot grasp it: Anthony was sent to a shelter for migrant children. And she was put on a plane back to Guatemala.

As the federal government continues to separate families as part of a stepped-up enforcement program against those who cross the border illegally, the authorities say that parents are not supposed to be deported without their children. But immigration lawyers say that has happened in several cases. And the separations can be traumatic for parents who now have no clear path to recovering their children.

From April 19 to May 31, a total of 1,995 children who arrived with 1,940 adults were separated from their parents, according to administration officials.

A vast majority of those children are being taken from their parents and put into massive prison camps — and soon to be tent cities — while their parents go through legal hell. Their parents are not criminals. Very often, they’re seeking asylum from war-torn home countries and voluntarily presenting themselves to border patrol, because the law says they should be given a fair hearing and opportunity to stay in America.

Now, they’re being arrested. It’s unprecedented. Here’s a breakdown of the legal process, from Texas Monthly. This is almost a best-case scenario, because it assumes immigrants seeking asylum will even be given a hearing, which is increasingly rare, as the deportations without their children indicate.

That story is beyond infuriating. Parents are being told their kids are being taken for a bath… and then they never see them again. If they try to console their hysterical children when the families are being separated, they’re being threatened with further legal action. This is an atrocity, all done to torture and strike fear into the hearts of suffering people around the world.

This is how kids are being kept right now:

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Republicans are just letting this happen. Susan Collins, who pretends to be a moderate, refuses to sign on to legislation to help end this horror show. Democrats are rushing to the border in order to help. Beto O’Rourke, who is running for Senate in Texas against Ted Cruz (who is openly in favor of these detentions), represents in Congress the area where the infamous Walmart facility is located. Despite the politics of immigration in Texas, which is dominated electorally by hate-mongers and racists, he led a protest today in hopes of bringing more attention to the matter and pressuring the Trump administration.

He’s also pointing out just how fucked the arrest policy is for asylum-seekers.

There are a number of humans rights groups working at the border and leading protest, including We Belong Together and Women’s Refugee Commission. You can donate to both of them HERE.

This is also a definitive moment for American politicians. Entrenched Republicans, both on the national and state level, will have to answer for their inaction — or in many instances, agreement with these human rights abuses. Look at what Rep. Steve King, the most bigoted and awful man in Congress, said about family separation.

Look at how the Trump administration is flatly lying about why this hateful policy is in place.

Look at what Ken Buck, who is in line to take over the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, says about immigrant parents just trying to give their kids better lives.

We’re raising money for Democratic challengers to King, Buck, and several Texan state senators who are vulnerable to being toppled this November. Democrats need two seats in the Texas State Senate to stop total GOP ownership over policymaking there. There could be no worthier cause than making sure the state does not cooperate blindly with these illegal federal policies.

Click HERE to donate to national and local politicians fighting against the horrifying immigration policies of the GOP.

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)