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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Update: There’s been a lot of confusion about what’s going on with the missing children. I was wrong in saying that they were separated from their parents at the border — Jeff Session’s unconscionable policy is a new one, and will create many orphans, but it didn’t cause this situation. And some of the kids went to family. But as the Washington Post points out, ORR really did lose track of the kids, and it’s likely that some are in bad situations. And nothing about this update changes the barbarism being inflicted upon immigrants and Latin Americans by ICE, Jeff Sessions, and the conservative lawmakers highlighted below:
Even during an era in which the velocity of breaking atrocities and outrages has numbed the senses, the latest dispatches from the ongoing nightmare at the southern border stick out as particularly devastating tragedies. This past week, it became more clear than ever to the general public that there is a fully authorized, government-sanctioned Gestapo terrorizing Latin Americans in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida and other states where refugees and hopeful immigrants tend to arrive and live.
First, there is the story of the missing children. It emerged that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has lost track of nearly 1500 young immigrant children who it placed into some kind of foster care — and that’s just during a three month period in 2017. The number of small children left to fend for themselves in this strange and scary country is probably far higher.
It is a breathtaking admission, and the product of a purposely cruel policy put in place by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. ICE, the aforementioned Gestapo, has been separating children from their parents and then processing them as orphans, ripping vulnerable refugee families apart as soon as they arrive in the United States, a country once seen as a welcoming beacon of hope.
(Update: As noted, this new policy isn’t responsible for the fuck-up. It’ll only make it worse.)
“The type of devastation that we’re talking about … where a separated mother doesn’t know where her child is for four days, that’s entirely common right now in this administration,” Laura St. John, the legal director of The Florence Project, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. “Children and parents who are separated sometimes don’t have any way to communicate with each other for days, for weeks — I’ve seen months where a parent had no idea where their child was after the U.S. government took their child away.”
St. John noted her group also was seeing increasingly younger children being taken into custody by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, as opposed to the migrant teenagers who had previously crossed the border themselves.
“Just last week we saw a 53-week-old infant in court without a parent,” St. John told Hayes. “What we’re seeing now is that, because the government is separating the children from the parents, the government is actually rendering these children as unaccompanied minors and bringing them to the shelters.”
Sadly, this is a problem that has bipartisan roots. The Obama administration, faced with a skyrocketing number of refugees, relaxed the foster parent standards, thus placing some children into very dangerous situations. As much as Obama did for immigrant children — DACA should a prime achievement — his administration also failed in a number of ways.
So, where do we go from here? While the Trump Administration controls ICE and Homeland Security, Congress can and should have oversight of the executive branch. Unfortunately, the GOP has surrendered all pretense of checking the power of the Trump cabal, so we have to work to kick them out in November. Let’s focus on a few prime committees and candidates, starting with the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.
Rep. Ken Buck, the awful far-right vice chair of the committee, is in line to succeed the retiring Raul Labrador, who just so happened to lose his primary election for Idaho governor earlier this month. Buck represents Colorado’s fourth district, and he has an excellent opponent in Karen McCormick, who we’ve already endorsed here at Progressives Everywhere as part of our focus on ousting NRA-backed politicians. Yep, Buck is also an NRA puppet, which goes to show just how awful he is. McCormick is a compassionate veterinarian and community leader who has already called for an investigation into the missing children — something Buck will never do in any serious way.
I think it’s unfortunate when families are separated. But it’s also unfortunate when families make a decision to break the law [by coming here.] And there are consequences in this country. We are a country of rule – a country of laws. And we believe in the rule of law. And I think it’s just a sad reality that there is going to be some unfortunate separation of individuals when crimes are committed.
Steve King may be the most racist and noxious lawmaker in the House — or, at the very least, the most vocal about his malicious neanderthal beliefs. He’s long coasted to victory in Iowa’s rural fourth district, but he’s got some serious potential opponents this time around. The primary election is on June 5th, but there’s one challenger that really stands out.
J.D. Scholten has been out-raising King for the past several FEC cycles, even as he espouses a full-throated progressivism that we’ve long been told doesn’t play in rural midwestern districts. He was featured in The Intercept earlier this year slamming King’s immigration policy, and would represent as drastic a change as is possible in modern America.
Then there is Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security Committee. He’s a border wall supporter, is in favor of sending the National Guard to police the crossing, and supports prosecuting parents — and thus stripping their kids away from them. Running against him is Mike Siegel, an assistant city attorney from Austin who offers an entirely new perspective on just about every single issue. His stance on immigration is no exception.
The other awful border story involves a local version of ICE, the Texas Department of Public Safety. Over the past few years, it has been turned into a militarized terror agency, haunting majority Latino towns and making life hell for everyone there. They police every corner of every street — both through on-the-ground officers and endless cameras — and make it so that people are literally afraid to drive to work. They can’t even go to Little League baseball games without being harassed.
The DPS buildup began as a way for then-Governor Rick Perry to look tough on the border ahead of a run for re-election. It’s now become a permanent police state.
“Hidalgo and Starr counties are now among the most profiled and surveilled communities in America, with residents forced to adjust to life under the persistent watch of aerostat surveillance balloons, observation towers, National Guard listening posts, drones, DPS surveillance cameras, DPS spy planes and a barrage of intrusive police stops.”
And this isn’t just impacting the people in those counties. It’s hurting all Texans. Again, from the Observer:
“Lawmakers slashed Medicaid funding by $2 billion and declined to fully fund the state’s child-welfare system, which has been in crisis for years. In the decade since the surge began, the state’s portion of funding for public education has dropped from 48 to 38 percent. But the Republican majority gave DPS another $800 million for border security.”
The obvious move is to take on the lawmakers enabling this horrible state of affairs. But it’s not so simple. Rep. Phil King, who chairs the committee, has enabled bigotry and mass harassment for years (and is also an anti-choice, corporate ALEC and NRA stooge who doesn’t even want laws that require people to lock up their guns, even in the wake of the Santa Fe high school massacre). Once again, Rep. Phil King is running unopposed for re-election.
Also running unopposed for re-election is DeWayne Burns, a Republican on the committee who is equally as grating and noxious. We need to do better, and that starts by showing candidates that they will have support even in tough races.
Here’s where we start: Several Republicans do have challengers, however long their odds may seem based on their districts and fundraising disparities. A little money can go a long way in local races, especially in more rural markets, and even a somewhat tight race can push an extremist candidate towards more moderate positions.
GOP Rep. Justin Holland is being challenged by Democrat Laura Gunn in HD 33, while Republican Rep. Will Metcalf faces off against Democrat Mike Midler in HD 16. Midler has a particularly interesting resume; a Marine who served in Vietnam, he spent his career as a history teacher, with a stop at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and his campaign literature cites the progressive visions of our Founding Fathers to rebuke the “Make America Great Again” crowd. You can donate at his… rudimentary campaign site.
Meanwhile, ultra-conservative Matt Schaeffer, who chairs the Texas Freedom Caucus, and brags about immigrant apprehension at the top of his campaign website, is being challenged by an unlikely leader in East Texas, a rabbi named Neal Katz. While he’s running as an independent as a nod to the politics of the region, Katz is a popular and progressive voice there, with support frombusinesses, community groups and even some church leaders. He’s not on ActBlue, since he’s an independent, so you can donate at his site.
Oh, and remember the Texas stooge who blamed doors for school shootings? Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is also an avid fan of destroying the lives of Latin communities, so once again, we’ll be supporting his opponent, Mike Collier, as a rational and pragmatic alternative.