Why Beto didn’t really lose: Texas Democrats made huge gains, ousting the worst Republicans

Democrats will likely end with 38 House pickups and new senators from Arizona and Nevada. On the state level, we flipped seven governorships (with Georgia and Florida still up in the air) and six state legislative chambers (including the State Senate here in New York!), with nearly 400 legislative seats flipped over the course of this election cycle. Democrats in Arizona narrowed Republican majorities, while Team Blue broke super-majorities in crucial states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina. A majority of voters actually voted Democrat in NC; an absurd GOP gerrymander was the only thing that kept that party in power.

There was also an immense amount of progress made in Texas. Really.

On paper, rockstar Rep. Beto O’Rourke came just short of unseating Sen. Ted Cruz, who beat him by less than three percentage points. It comes as little consolation to many of O’Rourke’s national supporters that it was the closest race in Texas in years — we all desperately wanted to unseat Cruz, a cynical snake wearing a suit of second-hand human skin with a face only an exterminator could love. But even though Beto came up short, his all-inclusive grassroots campaign helped lift other Democrats across Texas, assisting in major gains in a number of areas.

Texas map
via Washington Post

First and foremost, Democrats flipped two House seats (TX-7 and TX-32) and came within 1000 votes of flipping another (TX-23). They cut into noxious Lt. Gov Dan Patrick’s margin of victory, taking him from a 19-point win in 2014 to just a five-point win over (Progressives Everywhere-supported) Mike Collier this time around. The Attorney General race was even closer, settled by just over three points.

In the state legislature, Dems flipped a dozen House seats and took two State Senate seats — the two seats that Progressives Everywhere raised money to contest, so congratulations to newly minted State Sen. Beverly Powell (SD-10) and Nathan Johnson (SD-16)! We’re excited to see Goku toys popping up around the capitol in Austin.

Democrats also flipped four major appeals courts in Austin, Houston and Dallas, giving them a majority on half the state’s intermediate — and most active — courts. And in Austin, activists passed a $250 million affordable housing bond measure that will help working people continue to live in the city, which has seen a surge in real estate and housing prices thanks to a boom in transplants and tech companies, among other things.

To get a more granular look at individual races, I reached out to Joe Deshotel, an activist who hosts the podcast “Left in Texas.” There was one Democratic win in particular, he said, that should have an outsized positive impact on future elections.

“The biggest hidden gem of the 2018 midterm has to be the defeat of Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart,” Deshotel told me. “It’s hard to know if he was truly corrupt, totally incompetent or both, but he had been the GOP’s biggest firewall in the state’s largest county. In fact, 25% of votes in the Texas GOP primary come from Harris County. He was also the state’s biggest obstacle preventing online voter registration which will be a focus in the upcoming session as far as election issues are concerned.”

As the Houston Chronicle reported in August, a few Republicans have stood in the way of bipartisan efforts to bring online voter registration to the state, which would help boost its legacy of terrible turnout. A federal judge even found the state in violation of the 1993 Motor Voter law because Texas allows people to renew their driver’s licenses online but not register to vote. “With Stanart out of the way,” Deshotel added, “expect more votes for statewide candidates and a continued bluing of Harris County, which was previously purple.”

Deshotel suggests that Texas is now more competitive than Ohio, a remarkable assertion that, given the sheer number of seats in Congress and in the state legislature, actually checks out. While Ohio — thanks in part to gross gerrymanders — resisted the very real Blue Wave, plenty of seats in Texas got caught in the rising tide.

Given the changes to the state, the energy on display this cycle, and the substantial infrastructure built by motivated young volunteers, the hope is that this is no one-time fluke.

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Races for progressives to watch on Election Day

Here we are, two days out from the most important election of our lifetimes, which is a statement that is eminently dramatic but somehow undersells the gravity of what we are facing. I truly don’t know what American democracy will look like if Democrats don’t sweep up at the ballot box on Tuesday. And it’s not just because of the threat posed by Trump and his sycophantic posse. All across the country, there are pitched battles being fought over issues that directly touch the lives of tens of millions of people — and will, more broadly, impact us all.

Here is a guide to the biggest issues and races to watch on what will be a very nerve-wracking, exciting Tuesday evening.

Candidates we’ve interviewed

Over the last seven months, I spoke with candidates up and down the ballot. I focused on candidates who were running crucial races on the state level and true progressives running underdog campaigns against some of the worst Republicans (and a few bad Democrats!) on the national level.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14)
Jess King (PA-11)
Julie Oliver (TX-25)
Alessandra Biaggi (NY-SD-34)
J.D. Scholten (IA-04)
Cyndi Ralston (OK-HD-12)
Zach Dickerson (OH-HD-42)
Deidre DeJear (IA-Sec State)
Kriss Marion (WI-SD-17)
Janet Garrett (OH-04)
Miguel Levario (TX-19)

Voting Rights

As we’ve seen this fall, Republicans hate democracy and are continuing to do everything they can to make it impossible to vote. The sheer number of states that have surpassed their 2014 early voting numbers is heartening, but the overall numbers would be way higher without so much disenfranchisement.

After Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp purged over a million voters from the rolls without much national attention, his late flourishes of injustice finally provoked notice and outrage. Some of his ploys were overturned by courts, providing very limited relief to a small number of the disenfranchised, but the man is persistent in his quest to steal the governorship from former State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who has worked tirelessly to expand voting rights. Just today, Kemp’s office launched an erroneous investigation into Democratic groups.

The same thing is playing out in so many states. In Ohio, the purge of nearly 1.5 million voters was sanctioned by the right-wing Supreme Court. The nation’s leader in racist, anti-democratic quackery, Kris Kobach, is running for governor in Kansas. Iowa’s Republican leadership, if re-elected, has promised to finish installing strict voter ID. We spoke to Iowa’s Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, Deidre DeJear, about her very different approach — she wants to expand the electorate — earlier this fall.

There are a number of important Secretary of State races to watch on Tuesday: GeorgiaIowaOhioColoradoArizonaNevada, and Michigan (where voting rights expansion is also on the ballot, via Proposal 3). You can donate to the candidates in each of those races HERE. To help fight against Kemp and Kobach ascending to the governor’s mansions in their respective states, you can donate to Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Laura Kelly in Kansas.

In Florida, a whopping 1.5 million permanently disenfranchised people could get their right to vote back if Amendment 4 passes with 60%. In Nevada, approving Question 5 on the ballot will institute automatic voter registration.

In Ohio, it will be far easier to restore voting rights (and fix so many other issues) if Democrat Richard Cordray wins the neck-and-neck race for governor. His opponent is a right-wing creep, Mike DeWine, and he’s both for voter purges and throttling Medicaid.

Healthcare

The messy state of the American healthcare system has been neck-and-neck with Trump’s psychotic behavior as the most important issue in this election. And while we can’t force Trump to undergo a brain scan or hypnosis, we can fight to protect and expand access to healthcare.

After spending eight years trying to repeal Obamacare (an effort that is still ongoing) and undermining it at every turn, Republicans are sinking to new degrees of shamelessness to suggest they are in favor of protecting pre-existing conditions. We know that’s a lie and hope voters know it, too. First and foremost, you can give to Democrats running in toss-up races for Congress. If we win the House back, Obamacare is going nowhere.

Then, watch the races in a number of states where Medicaid has been limited by new and very onerous work requirements. In Wisconsin, the Trump Administration just approved new work requirements, so the gubernatorial and State Senate races are crucial; you can read our interview with one of the most important State Senate candidates and then donate to the Democratic candidate for governor, Tony Evers, and several State Senate candidates right HERE.

Michigan also just passed work requirements on Medicaid, making the gubernatorial and State House races there crucial to undoing the cruel limitation. You can help out the candidates right HERE.

Meanwhile, in Maine, voters overwhelmingly chose to expand Medicaid in the last election, but their gassy hate toad of a governor, Paul LePage, just outright (and illegally) refused to follow through. He’s term-limited and leaving office, so both the race to replace him, which is neck-and-neck, as well as to flip the State Senate, which is entirely up in the air, are absolutely crucial. You can donate to that effort right HERE.

And in several red states, voters will be deciding via ballot initiative to expand Medicaid. Despite ginned up fears about socialism and consistent support for Republicans, it looks like it will pass in UtahMontana, and Idaho, and be permanently enshrined in Nebraska.

There are a whole lot of other ballot measures, as well, including ones focused on legalizing marijuana, fixing gross gerrymandering, and raising the minimum wage. You can follow them via Daily Kos’s handy guide.

Flipping Legislatures and Fixing Education

Democrats have finally started to pay attention to state legislature races, awakened to their importance by the sheer number of Republican majorities that have installed heinous gerrymanders, limited voting rights, deserted working people, and let schools crumble. In a lot of the hottest state races that we’ve explored, teachers are running as Democrats to help restore funding and sanity to public schools that have been gouged by tax cuts and for-profit charter schools.

But winning majorities in most states won’t happen in one election, especially because Republicans are still spending more in state legislature races than Democrats. That said, we’re watching races that could either flip chambers or at least break super-majorities in a number of states. Here are the specific candidates for whom we’ve raised money and endorsed and are still in competitive elections (in New York, the primary was in many cases the real election):

Kentucky: Jeanie Smith (KY-SD-32), Tina Bojanowski (KY-HD-32)

Colorado: Faith Winter (CO-SD-24), Tammy Story (CO-SD-16)

Ohio: Erica Crawley (OH-HD-26), Lauren Friedman (OH-SD-29), Taylor Sappington (OH-HD-94), Lorraine Wilburn (OH-HD-48), Rachel Crooks (OH-HD-88)

Iowa: Jackie Smith (IA-SD-07), Lindsay James (IA-HD-99)

Oklahoma: Jacob Rosecrants (OK-HD-46), Angela Graham (OK-HD-66), Cyndi Ralston (OK-HD-12), Josh Martin (OK-HD-70)

New York: Anna Kaplan (NY-SD-4), Jessica Ramos (NY-SD-13), John Mannion (NY-SD-50), Monica Martinez (NY-SD-3), Rachel May (NY-SD-53), Robert Jackson (NY-SD-31)

Texas: Beverly Powell (TX-SD-10), Nathan Johnson (TX-SD-16)

Wisconsin: Kriss Marion (WI-SD-17), Julie Henszey (WI-SD-05), Lee Snodgrass (WI-SD-19)

Maine: All Democratic State Senate candidates fundraise online together.

Swing Congressional Candidates

Through a variety of ActBlue pages and initiatives, Progressives Everywhere raised tens of thousands of dollars for candidates in toss-up Congressional races. Here’s the list of candidates, along with Andrew Janz (CA-22).

Abby Finkenauer* (IA-01)
DD Adams* (NC-05)
Lauren Underwood* (IL-14)
Mikie Sherrill* (NJ-11)
Clarke Tucker* (AR-02)
Kathleen Williams (MT-AL)
Cindy Axne* (IA-03)
Hiral Tipirneni* (AZ-08)
Rick Neal* (OH-15)
Karen McCormack* (CO-04)
Amy McGrath (KY-06)
Abigail Spanberger (VA-07)
Andy Kim (NJ-03)
Antonio Delgado (NY-19)
Anthony Brindisi (NY-22)
Angie Craig (MN-02)
Gil Cisneros (CA-39)
Katie Hill (CA-25)
Katie Porter (CA-45)
Tom Malinowski (NJ-07)
Lizzie Fletcher (TX07)
Sharice Davids (KS-03)
Sean Casten (IL-06)
Harley Rouda (CA-48)
Jason Crow (CO-06)
Jared Golden (ME-02)
Dean Phillips (MN-03)

Julie Oliver, in TX-25, is running one of the most inspiring campaigns of 2018

After years of establishment Democrats running rote, indistinguishable TV ads and peddling cautious, focus-group-tested messaging, a wave of fresh, progressive candidates have decided to communicate like actual humans. Fresh faces such as Randy Bryce and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have produced a series of especially moving digital ads that have gone viral, and this week, even amidst the Kavanaugh calamity, a new progressive star was born.

Julie Oliver, who is running to represent Texas’s 25th district in Congress, narrates her own life story in the ad; she grew up in near-poverty and ran away from home as a teenager, squatting in abandoned buildings until she got pregnant at 17. Shunned by her boyfriend’s family, she returned home, where her mother agreed to help her — on the condition that she get back to school.

The rest is the sort of up-from-your-bootstraps American Dream success story that seems to only happen in movies or very hypothetical conservative scenarios: Oliver worked and raised her family while attending college and law school, and now at 45-years-old, she’s an accomplished lawyer and community leader running for Congress. Her experience makes her uniquely empathetic to the needs of working people, a quality in short supply in Washington today.

“We have a president who keeps me in this fight because we’re given reasons every day to fight or to stand in a fight with somebody,” Oliver told Progressives Everywhere last week. “Whether it’s immigrants, it’s kids who deserve a fantastic, great public education, or our veterans, I’m standing in the fight with them.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Julie Oliver via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

Oliver felt compelled to run in the summer of 2017, during the heat of the GOP attempt to overturn Obamacare. She spent years working in healthcare finance and law and was intimately familiar with the issues facing both the system and individual patients — the cost of being uninsured, the stress on rural hospitals and clinics, and the still-too-high uninsured rate, which sits at 16.6% in Texas. The Republican obsession with exacerbating all those issues spurred her to action.

“A year ago when Congress met to repeal the ACA and didn’t have a plan to replace it, they just wanted to yank the rug out from under millions of Americans,” Oliver explained. “I said, this is so ludicrous that they would do this. Millions of people benefit from having healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and even though it’s not perfect, it works for a lot of people.”

She has personal stake in the ongoing fight, as her son has an immune system issue that would qualify as a pre-existing condition under any insurer. Her family would have been yet another to fall victim to medical bankruptcy had the ACA not guaranteed coverage. Having spent so much time in the healthcare industry, she is strongly in favor of moving to a Medicare for All system and suggests that should she win, she’d sponsor a House version of the Choose Medicare Act, which would create a public option and be a big first step toward a single-payer system.

After winning a close Democratic primary settled in a run-off election, her GOP opponent in the long, gerrymandered district is Rep. Roger Williams, who has been in office since 2011. Williams has accomplished little more than taking some photos with Donald Trump and collecting lobbyist donations. Oliver has sworn off all PAC donations and has an innovative proposal for creating a public campaign finance system, which would be funded by using Congress’s broad authority to levy taxes to tax Super PACs. It’s not a pipe dream, legally speaking — Oliver worked for years in tax law, and so she is intimately familiar with the ins and outs of our complicated system.

CLICK HERE to donate to Julie Oliver via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

“Not taking PAC money really is so I can say that I want to be a representative for the district and for me to be able to talk to somebody who might not see eye-to-eye with me politically,” she said. “That’s a game-changer, when I say that I don’t take PAC money.”

Being in Texas means that there will be plenty of voters who are not immediately predisposed to voting for a progressive Democrat, if only due to years of fear-mongering by Republicans and half-hearted efforts by local Democrats. Oliver laments the toxicity of the current political climate and has resolved to overcome hurdles inherent to Democrats in Texas one voter at a time, even in a district that stretches over 400 miles.

While Williams has been criticized for being relatively absent from the community he represents, Oliver has dedicated herself to door-to-door campaigning, town halls and senior center visits, trying to create “the human-to-human touch that has been missing” over the last decade or more. The district, which stretches from Fort Worth to Austin, is a +11 Republican district, which is red, but not nearly as red as some of the other districts that have flipped already this year. And there is hunger for more change.

Watching the Kavanaugh hearings, as painful as they were, reminded her of just how different 2018 feels, of how the furor being experienced by women and anyone with a conscience has become so overpowering that no level of obstruction or institutional unfairness can stem the rising tide of rebellion.

“I believe that women are going to going to get woke, for lack of a better term, and they’re going to come out and vote,” Oliver, who has two adult daughters, said. “The misogyny and the patriarchy that we see that has been going on for a long time and coming down from the highest levels of office — we’ve got to smash it, smash the patriarchy.”

And no matter what happens in her race, she’s already doing her part to advance the cause of working people and inspire women with her action and her story.

“A dad reached out to me on Facebook yesterday and he said, ‘Your story is so eerily similar to my daughter’s. She’s pregnant now and she’ll be raising the baby by herself as a single mom. She didn’t think that she had a future,'” Oliver recalled. “And he said, ‘I started talking to her about you about a month ago, and then she saw your video and she texted me today and said that she had enrolled in her first college course.’ I just started crying.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Julie Oliver via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

Another Democratic uprising in Texas puts a deep red GOP district at play with progressive policy

When I started Progressives Everywhere last year, it was with candidates like Miguel Levario in mind. In order to truly rebuild a better Democratic Party, we need to work to build it everywhere. Too many states had been instantly surrendered to Republicans, which, along with enabling corrupt politicians to govern millions of people, had the effect of making our political map smaller and smaller.

There were far too many districts that didn’t even field Democratic candidates for local and federal office in 2016 — including Levario’s northwest Texas district, TX-19, which includes cities like Abilene and Lubbock and major schools such as Texas Tech University.

Levario is a professor of history at Texas Tech and the first Democrat to seriously run to represent the district since 2004, when Texas’s extreme partisan gerrymander made it deep red. But between Texas’s seismic and ongoing demographic shifts, the district’s changing profile, and the wave of progressive energy sweeping a nation disgusted with GOP grifters, Levario figures he has a pretty decent shot at pulling off the upset. His opponent is against an unremarkable Republican, Rep. Jodey Arrington, who is running for re-election for the first time, improving his odds even further.

CLICK HERE to donate to Miguel Levario via ActBlue!

“In the 19 months we’ve been running, I’ve met more independents than in the first 11 years I lived here,” Levario told Progressives Everywhere last month, laughing at the observation. “Before, everybody was proud to be a Republican and proud to be conservative and they didn’t hide it. Now, whether it’s because of the White House or Congress or just the divisiveness in society, I have Republicans telling me, ‘I can’t believe I’m meeting with a Democrat and I like you.'”

The northwest Texas district is still predominantly rural, but the growth in the universities and the further development of medical/biotech hubs in Lubbock and Abilene have brought an influx of younger, more progressive residents in more urban and suburban areas.

That leads to some divergent concerns, but Levario is bridging the gap by running on an unapologetically progressive platform that aggressively challenges entrenched corporate interests, addresses cultural divisions pushed by the GOP, and includes policies such as Medicare for All.

“We’re not getting the anti-Obamacare rhetoric, even from Republicans. When we talk about healthcare, they’re afraid they’re going lose the little bit that they have,” Levario reports. “In our smaller areas, they’re already seeing the clinics close down and at the very least they’re seeing services being taken away because they simply cannot afford it because Texas did not take the Medicaid expansion. I find it ironic that some of our clinics are in heavily Republican, pro-life areas, yet they can’t deliver babies because they can’t afford to it.”

He’s no longer hearing misguided hysterics over “socialized medicine,” given the rising cost of healthcare and the increasingly limited availability. One voter that he met on the trail told Levario that he had to go to Europe to get affordable care for his cancer; many others have had family members or friends forgo medical care, due to the expense, until it was too late.

The cruel reality of the modern medical business, even in a district with so many medical research centers, has changed the attitude of voters there.

“We haven’t moved our platform to the center,” Levario says. “We believe in people. We don’t shy away from Medicare for All because that’s what people want.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Miguel Levario via ActBlue!

It also helps that Arrington is such a hardcore more Republican. He worked for George W. Bush when he was both Governor and President, now supports Trump’s Muslim ban, and uses bible verses to justify cutting off food stamps. It puts him far outside any American mainstream, and as Republicans lose grip on Texas — look at the Beto O’Rourke surge against Ted Cruz — it also puts Arrington further on the right wing even in that state.

Still, when Levario began his campaign, he heard from plenty of old-school Democrats — the remains of the party, those that didn’t convert to the GOP after the LBJ years — that he had to play it safe to have a shot.

“They said you’ve got to be more moderate. People 60 and older were still believing that we’ve got tread lightly here, saying we live in a conservative district and we should more in the middle,” he relayed. “I listened, but then as I said, when we go and talk to people, they don’t want ‘moderate,’ they want what they want. They want healthcare, they want funding for their schools. They want their teachers to get paid.

“We don’t frame it as being liberal, progressive, socialist, or Democrat,” he continued. “That might turn off people because of the cultural context here. But the platform and the plans and proposals that we offer are certainly along those lines of a progressive candidate.”

The growing Hispanic population in the district has yet to equate to a political shift, but as Levario notes, he’s the first Latino candidate to run for office there, and he’s predicting the beginning of the sea change that many have been bracing for in Texas.

“The thing is, Latinos vote. They just never had somebody to vote for. Lubbock is a very segregated city. So we’ve spent time in the neighborhoods that are predominantly Latino and African American. They know us and they said, yeah, you’re the first and only candidate that’s been out here in God knows when.”

That points to how Levario is running his campaign. Money is often tight, as it’s hard to get big Democratic donors to look at rural Texas when so many more obvious swing districts are at play. They’ve eschewed many TV ads or billboards on Texas highways, instead relying on grassroots support, going door-to-door in both cities and rural neighborhoods, holding events and shaking a lot of hands.

An influx of donations would go to digital campaigning — social media and Google ads — instead of the tradition of pouring money into TV or local radio, which provides less and less bang for their buck.

The core of the Levario campaign will always being present in the community, opening minds to Democrats and progressive policy one voter at the time.

“I always tell people it’s more expensive to avoid your constituents,” the candidate says. “You’ve got to make commercials and all kinds of stuff so that you can avoid them, but if you just confront them, it’s actually much cheaper. Just have to pay for gas.”

If Democrats can win a district like this, the GOP’s hold on so much of the country will no longer be a sure thing. And that would truly change America.

CLICK HERE to donate to Miguel Levario via ActBlue!

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.