Andru Volinsky Wants to End a Corrupt Political Dynasty

So much of our focus this year has been on flipping state legislatures from red to blue in order to pass progressive legislation and end gerrymandering. It’s absolutely crucial work, but just as important as flipping those legislatures is defeating Republican governors and cementing Democratic trifectas in as many states as possible.

The best chance to do that this year is in New Hampshire, where Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has been acting as a giant roadblock to progressive legislation  — he’s vetoed a record number of bills — and spent much of his time cashing in on his position since taking office in 2017. Democrats have a great opportunity to replace him with a very inspiring progressive candidate named Andru Volinsky, with whom I spoke earlier today.

Chris Sununu is a lot like George W. Bush, a scion of a political dynasty that has lorded over Republicans for multiple generations. In fact, his father John Sununu served as governor of New Hampshire and then as chief of staff in the first Bush White House, where he famously stopped an international climate treaty that could have saved the planet 30 years ago. Chris has continued the proud tradition of poisoning the environment by supporting coal plants, vetoing bills that would expand solar energy, and removing the state from a regional cap and trade. And his brother, Michael, is a lobbyist and straight-up climate change denier.

It’s not just the environment, either. Over just the past few months alone, Chris Sununu has vetoed laws that would have expanded red flag gun control, established paid family leave, approved independent redistricting, and created permanent no-excuse absentee voting. On the other hand, he has directed federal money meant to help low-income neighborhoods to pump money into a ski resort that his family owns, so it’s good to know he has some priorities.

It’s clear that the guy has got to go for anything good to happen. But who should replace him? Democrats have two candidates in a primary that is less than a week away. Andru Volinsky, by far the more progressive candidate, is running against an establishment leader who has raised a lot more money and used it terribly. Volinksy’s campaign has that Ed Markey coalition energy, riding a wave of support from young people and enthusiastic grassroots voters to a small lead in the most recent poll, out today.

As he joked in our conversation today, “everyone running this year is pretending to be a progressive,” but Volinsky is the real deal. He’s one of five members of the powerful state Executive Council, an oversight committee that serves as a check on Sununu. Volinsky has successfully blocked some of Sununu’s most corrupt gambits, including promoting an anti-choice Supreme Court justice and dispensing COVID-19 recovery money in secrecy.

Volinsky has a very long history of fighting for working people and progressive policies while combating conservative power. He spent years working as a public defender and fighting against the death penalty; in January, he took a week off from his campaign to put in a final, successful push to commute a 30-year client’s death sentence, pulling through with just a few hours to go.

Meanwhile, Sununu has said that he doesn’t believe that systemic racism exists in his police departments or elsewhere in the state.

“He said that in the face of Black Lives Matters, protests and other really appropriate challenges to how we do law enforcement, health care, and education,” Volinsky says, shaking his head. “But we know that four times as many young black people get arrested for pot as white kids and we’re no different on that score. We know that black and brown people have disproportionately poor health care outcomes compared to white people. And we know our two most diverse cities spend the least on their school kids.”

Volinsky is known for being the lead lawyer in a landmark case that required New Hampshire to better fund its schools. It was transformational, but he knows that there’s a lot more work to do on the education front; he told me that education will be one of his main priorities, along with the environment and a constellation of equality issues, including the legalization (and taxation) of marijuana.

New Hampshire has been known as a fiscally libertarian state, but Volinsky is unbowed by that reputation. He refuses to take The Pledge, an outdated Republican oath to fiscal conservativism that prioritizes the wealthy and shortchanges working families, children, and seniors. Notably, his rival in the Democratic primary was happy to sign on. Volinsky is also against fracking, another thing that makes him unique in the race.

Volinsky has been a community leader for decades, on the vanguard of a progressivism that has come into vogue over the last half-decade. Now, Volinsky is seeking to make big aspirations like the Green New Deal — he wants to create a regional version if necessary — and expansive criminal justice reform a reality. He was Bernie Sanders’ New Hampshire campaign lawyer in 2016 and Sanders has returned the favor by endorsing his campaign.

“Now’s the time for bold ideas and courageous leadership,” he says. “I get some resistance from the insiders, who say ‘you can’t do this during a crisis.’ But if you think about it, it was during our country’s worst economic crisis, the Great Depression, when Social Security, a minimum wage, rural electrification, and federal home loans all started. And it’s because we had to make big changes.”

New Hampshire is a small state with an outsized influence on the country. If we’re focused on flipping states to make progressive policy a reality, we need to be fighting for candidates like Andru Volinsky.

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Unlike Scott Walker, new Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has a soul

We focus on winning elections, and a lot of times, it feels more like team sports or a fight based on abstract principles. But these races matter — just look at what’s happening in Wisconsin, New Mexico, and several other newly blue (or purple) states.

Wisconsin:

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers unveiled his first budget and it did not disappoint. It’s loaded with progressive priorities, from a raised minimum wage and increased public school funding to automatic voter registration and nonpartisan redistricting reform. It would also fully expand Medicaid, decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, freeze school vouchers, and undo Scott Walker’s signature Right to Work For Less law, which nearly caused the lifelong government succubus to be recalled during his first term.

Even though Democrats won a vast majority of votes in November, the GOP’s egregious gerrymander helped the party keep control of the state legislature, which means that this ambitious budget will have to be scaled back. Republicans have vowed to ignore the funding levels and begin working from their paltry austerity budgets of the past few years, but Evers has laid down some bold markers, and there’s a lot he can do without GOP support.

Fully expanding Medicaid is particularly notable, because Scott Walker refused to do so for six years out of sheer malignant principle. He slightly expanded eligibility, but refused to take it to the point at which the state (and working people) would get hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government. That’s what we call being a spiteful jerk.

Continue reading “Unlike Scott Walker, new Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has a soul”

Arkansas kicks 17,000 people off Medicaid in three months; other states plan to join in

As working people in several red states celebrate the official expansion of Medicaid due to victorious ballot initiatives, others living under the boot of cruel Republican governors are beginning to lose their health care en masse.

Last summer, Arkansas became the first state to implement work requirements as a condition of receiving Medicaid, a new and pernicious hurdle made possible by waivers offered by the Trump administration. The new law requires some Medicaid recipients ages 30-49 to spend at least 80 hours a month working, volunteering, or looking for a job. So far, 17,000 vulnerable people have been kicked off their bare-bones state healthcare because they did not meet the threshold.

That number is bad enough, but the context makes it even more disgusting. Most people on Medicaid in Arkansas were not required to report their hours because they were already either employed, have a small child at home, disabled, or otherwise unable to work. The Kaiser Family Foundation broke down the numbers for November, and they don’t paint a pretty picture:

“The large majority (83%, or 53,975 people) were exempt from the reporting requirement for November 2018,” the center reports, “while 78% of those not exempt (8,426 out of 10,768) did not report 80 hours of qualifying work activities.”

It’s clear that people on Medicaid want to work, as nearly 98% of those exempt were indeed employed for more than 80 hours a month. So what happened to the non-exempt people?

Continue reading “Arkansas kicks 17,000 people off Medicaid in three months; other states plan to join in”

Electoral news roundup: The future is female in Texas

Trump and Putin’s press conference yesterday was nothing short of pathetic. It deserves all the outrage we can throw at it — but it’s also not the only pressing news story happening right now. Here’s a look at some of the most important electoral stories happening right now:

  • In Texas, women are running for office in unprecedented numbers. Right now, there are only 29 women in the 150-seat State Legislature and eight women out of 31 state senators. But women make up nearly half of the Democratic Party’s nominees this year — including its nominee for governor.
  • Defying conventional wisdom, bold progressivism — and democratic socialism — is on the rise in western Pennsylvania and the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Lt. Governor candidate John Fetterman, the ultra-popular mayor of Braddock, is helping the surge. Bernie Sanders recently visited Pittsburgh to rally with Fetterman.
  • Maine voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid last fall, but the state’s insane GOP governor, Paul LePage, refuses to carry out the will of the people. He’s now defying a court order to implement the Medicaid expansion, and just last week said he’d sooner go to jail than help working people go to the doctor. We’d like to see both happen.
  • Activists in Michigan delivered over 400,000 signatures to get a voter rights initiative on the ballot this fall. But a group of corporations is now suing to have the initiative removed from the ballot, a scary prospect given the fact that the State Supreme Court is made up entirely of Republicans. Citizens are fighting back, though, holding protests in Detroit to demand that the Chamber of Commerce, one of the lawsuits’ financiers, pulls out of the effort to thwart democracy.
  • The Koch Brothers are behind some incredibly misleading mailers to voters in Missouri, where Right to Work is on the ballot. Of course, they’re yet another attack on unions and workers.
  • New Hampshire is making it harder for people to vote, especially college students.