Issue #26

It's Everybody Run For Congress Week

New Developments

CA-16

Fresno City Councilwoman Esmarelda Soria’s campaign to unseat Blue Dog Jim Costa is ramping up. She just held her campaign kickoff and first fundraiser, and inched closer to actually attacking Costa, saying “These times require more than a Blue Dog Democrat”. Negative campaigning may not be well liked, but it works, and Costa is a man built of negatives. We hope she’ll eventually decide to criticize him directly.

At that event, she was introduced by Santos Garcia, a local labor leader and city councilor in Madera (pop. 66,000, although he only represents ⅙ of it.) . Interestingly, an attendee of the fundraiser was Fresno County Democratic Party Chair Michael Evans, who stressed his neutrality. Yesterday Soria also gave a speech at a Dolores Huerta-led labor protest in Fresno, which was very much appreciated by labor leaders. While any challenger is inherently an outsider to an extent, Soria is attempting to court some of the political establishment in her race, and she’s doing well so far.

MA-Sen

Joseph P. Kennedy III would be an unremarkable House Democratic backbencher were it not for his last name. He hasn’t been around long (first elected in 2012), he’s only on one committee (the powerful but generally low-profile Energy and Commerce Committee), and he’s nothing special, ideologically (he was extremely anti-marijuana until pretty recently.) However, being a scion of Massachusetts’s (and America’s) most revered political family has gotten him far. He gave the Democratic response to the State of the Union in 2018 (a speech most memorable for the fact that Kennedy apparently missed his lips when applying lip balm, giving the appearance of drool on his face), and now he’s openly mulling a primary challenge to progressive Sen. Ed Markey, without any apparent rationale for his candidacy besides his last name. (We should note that the last time a Kennedy won a seriously contested primary election in Massachusetts, at any level, was 1992.)

This would shake up Massachusetts politics in a big way, and force every notable Massachusetts Democrat to choose sides. Markey has preemptively corralled endorsements because of his other primary challengers, including a majority of Massachusetts’s nine members of the House of Representatives. The four holdouts are Ayanna Pressley, Seth Moulton, Katherine Clark, and, of course, Joe Kennedy III. Markey had previously gotten the endorsement of fellow senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who then made a full video endorsement for him after the news came out that Kennedy was considering running. Markey also has allies in the environmental community both for his overall record and his recent sponsoring of the Green New Deal Still, Kennedy is probably starting from a good place. His open contemplation comes only after he ran a poll of the potential race, which allegedly shows him up.

Markey already faces two challengers, labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan and businessman Steve Pemberton. Both are running on a message of generational change; Markey is more than 20 years older than either one of them. Liss-Riordan is working to put herself to Markey’s left on some hot-button issues, most notably by calling to repeal the Second Amendment, while Pemberton, whose background as a corporate executive makes it hard for him to credibly position himself to Markey’s left, is leaning into his biography as a mixed-race man who survived the worst of the foster care system as a child. Liss-Riordan has self-funded $1 million, while Pemberton has hired respected Massachusetts political operatives who’ve worked for politicians such as Ayanna Pressley and Elizabeth Warren.

Markey, the chief Senate sponsor of the Green New Deal and a reliable progressive vote throughout his decades in Congress, hasn’t done much to earn a primary from anyone, much less someone running on his famous last name. While anything can happen in a campaign, if Kennedy enters the race, it probably becomes a race between him and Markey, relegating both Liss-Riordan and Pemberton to spoiler status. If that does happen, Markey would be the better choice, if for no other reason than that he didn’t just come to hold half his progressive issue positions in the last few months.

NM-03

New Mexico’s 3rd went quiet for a couple months, and we, the utter fools that we are, assumed that meant that the field had mostly settled. Nope! In the last few days there have been four changes to the field: three entries and one exit.

First, the one who left. Rob Apodaca, a local political operative and ex-Obama administration official, suspended his campaign on Thursday following the passing of his brother. Apodaca was set to be a serious contender for the nomination, but because he entered the race unknown to most voters and had little time to campaign, it’s hard to say how his entry will affect the race. We wish him the best in this difficult time.

The first candidate to enter the race this week was Kyle Tisdel, late Wednesday. Tisdel is an environmental attorney who has been on the staff of the Western Environmental Law Center since 2011. He’s no backbench employee - the lawsuits he’s been a part of have kept his name in the news, including one extended fight with the Trump administration this year over blocking their leasing public lands for drilling, an issue which is one of the most important environmental court cases in years and is ongoing. He is the second Anglo candidate in the field, along with Valerie Plame.

Tisdel’s website is already up, and his issues page is promising on green topics, calling for 100% clean energy by 2045 (not early enough, but better than most politicians will call for) and adopting the “leave it in the group” slogan. Looking back to 2017, you can catch some lightly ecosocialist language from a Medium post he wrote naming capitalism as a force helping to destroy the earth.

Capitalism is premised on ever increasing growth, the basis of which has been the exploitation of the natural world, and in particular our energy resources. This has been accomplished through unsustainable levels of consumer and government debt, which, in turn, assume future growth as a prerequisite to avoid a collapse of the whole system.

The next candidate announcement came on Thursday, when Harry Montoya filed. Montoya is perhaps best known for his stint as a Santa Fe County Commissioner, first elected in 2002 and termed out in 2010. Montoya has had little electoral success elsewhere. He’s run for NM-03 twice before: in 2008 when the seat was open, and 2012 as a challenger to then-incumbent Ben Ray Luján. He finished fourth with 11% in 2008, and quietly dropped out of the 2012 contest. In between the two races, Montoya ran for Land Commissioner and lost the primary 40-36. He did best in the rural Hispanic counties of the north.

In his private life, Montoya serves as director of Hands Across Cultures, a nonprofit founded in 1992 which aims to promote the Hispanic and Native American cultures of Northern New Mexico. Normally a positive biography item for a candidate, his tenure is tainted by allegations in 2010 from a retiring board president who spoke of gross nepotism and abuse of company finances by Montoya. Montoya also had a brief tiff in 2006 with then-governor Democrat Bill Richardson over the state’s medical marijuana policy, which Montoya was strongly opposed to. Not great, Harry. During his 2008 run he only raised $100,000 before the primaries, and his 2012 campaign raised less than $5,000 before he dropped out. He may not have much political relevance left considering his decade out of the game, and we’re certainly not clamoring for him.

Monday brought this week’s final new entrant to the race: John Blair. Blair has spent years in New Mexico politics working for many of its big names, including now-Attorney General Hector Balderas, ex-Governor Bill Richardson, ex-Senator Jeff Bingaman, and Senator Martin Heinrich. His most recent post was three years working as Deputy Secretary of State under current Senate candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver. He handled elections and led an attempt to keep then-NM-02 Rep. Steve Pearce from transferring federal money to run for governor. Blair ran for office himself once, in 2008. He was the more liberal candidate for SD-15 (in Albuquerque, which is part of NM-01), and had union backing. He lost that primary 59-41. Blair has struck a similarly progressive note in this campaign by pledging to refuse corporate PAC money. Blair is gay, and would be the state’s first LGBTQ member of Congress. He also brings the number of Anglo candidates up to three, along with Plame and Tisdel.

NY-15

Speaking of growing fields, NY-15 has been busy this week. After months of a fairly stable three way contest between City Councilman Ritchie Torres, Assemblyman Michael Blake, and ultra-bigot City Councilor Rubén Díaz Sr., that status quo was broken two weeks ago by the entry of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, which was followed up by Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation President Marlene Cintron announcing that she was still considering a run last week. This week, we find ourselves with not one but two new candidates.

Well, the first isn’t really a new candidate. We’ve talked about Eric Stevenson before in June, when he was first floating the possibility of running. In summary: he held the Assembly district Michael Blake now does, until he was hauled off to prison after only four years for corruption in 2014. How embarrassing - it’s New York and he couldn’t even get away with it for a couple decades? He’s a free man now, and this week he’s put out material for an October fundraiser he’s holding for his Congressional bid. There’s not much more to say about his bid besides that he appears to be in, for some reason.

The second candidate is new to this newsletter. The City reports that Samelys Lopez “is expected to soon toss her hat into the crowded ring”. Lopez is a community activist and Sanders organizer who previously ran for a role in the borough party. We’ll give a more thorough accounting of her career if/when she does announce. Also notable from that article is the long accounting of the friendship between Marlene Cintron and Bronx Democratic Party leader Rubén Díaz Jr., who also happens to be the son of Rubén Díaz Sr. Last week we said that Cintron didn’t have a clear path to victory. If Díaz Jr. got the Bronx Democratic Party machinery behind her, that would be a very clear path, even if the machines aren’t what they used to be.

New Primaries

AZ-01

Arizona’s 1st Congressional district is an odd beast, mixing most of the state’s Native American reservations, small idiosyncratic cities, and rural mining communities together. It voted 50-48 for Romney and 48-47 for Trump; still, it’s had a Democratic representative its entire existence (since 2012), even if its results have always been close. Tom O’Halleran currently represents the district after his first election in 2016. He’s a retired Chicago cop and ex-Repubulican state senator, and you can tell from his voting record, which is to the right of the House median.

This has rankled some feathers, and earned him a challenge from Flagstaff City Councilor Eva Putzova, who announced against him months ago. This week, he got another challenge, from an unlikely source. Barbara McGuire might be the only Democrat in Arizona with a record to the right of O’Halleran’s. She spent four years in the State House (2007-2011) and another four in the state senate (2013-2017). Her district, LD-07, leans to the right, and so did she. Her survival in a Romney+9 district in 2012 and 2014 may very well be chalked up to her conservative stances: extremely pro-gun, and very mixed on abortion and immigrant rights. Her impressive electoral streak came to an end in 2016, where, after flirting with running for the AZ-01 nomination that eventually went to O’Halleran, she eventually opted to run for re-election and lost 53-47 as Trump was carrying the district 55-40.

This week, she announced a bid to unseat Tom O’Halleran...from the left? Her exact words on the matter are “I am a centrist consensus-building lifelong Democrat where, in my opinion, he is and has become far-right leaning”, which are pretty unambiguous, even if it doesn’t quite jibe with her past image. Her website, which is still up (and appears to have been designed by a middle schooler in 2003) proudly refers to her as a “conservative Democrat” and leaves her NRA and FOP endorsements up for all to see. Since AZ-01 is a swing district, we’re not going to be taking sides here, but this is certainly one of the more puzzling contests of the cycle.

MA-04

The news that Joe Kennedy III was considering forgoing re-election to run for senate has set off a stampede of local interest in his seat. The Boston Globe has names--a lot of them:

  • Ihssane Leckey, a local DSA member, activist, and immigrant from Morocco, is already challenging Kennedy.

  • Treasurer Deborah Goldberg is making calls behind the scenes to set up a run. She is personally wealthy as a member of the family that founded Stop & Shop, but her politics have been pretty good. She supports a state bank, for instance, and when tens of thousands of Stop & Shop workers went on strike this spring, she wrote op-eds and attended rallies supporting the strike.

  • State Sen. Paul Feeney is considering. He was the surprise nominee for a special election to the Senate in 2017, and won with the help of Our Revolution and has since been a very progressive member of the body.

  • State Sen. Marc Pacheco won’t rule it out. He’s the state’s longest serving senator and previously ran for Congress in 2001, in what was then MA-09. He ran in a conservative lane similar to eventual winner Stephen Lynch.

  • State Sen. Becca Rausch is considering. She’s a freshman who beat a Republican in 2018 on a fairly standard Democratic platform.

  • State Rep. Tommy Vitolo is expressing interest. He’s been pretty good overall ideologically.

  • Former New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang is open to running, but leaning against it since he doesn’t live in the district. We’ve previously covered why he sucks, when he was first considering running for Senate.

  • Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim is gauging interest behind the scenes. He’s a progressive who helped make Boston a sanctuary city, but he recently announced his retirement to focus on his family.

  • Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss expressed interest to the Globe, saying: “We need a voice for the exhausted majority, the people who are tired of the ‘us-versus-them,’ far-left, far-right populism’”, or in other words

  • Newton City Councilor Becky Walker Grossman also expressed interest.

  • Jesse Mermell, president of the Alliance for Business Leadership, is interested. Despite the bland, corporate-sounding name, the Alliance for Business Leadership is a progressive advocacy organization, and Mermell is friends with Ayanna Pressley.

  • Ex-Newton mayor Setti Warren and 2018 Democratic governor nominee Jay Gonzales have both been name-dropped.

Additionally, we’ll note that Senate candidate Shannon Liss-Riordan lives in Brookline, and could transfer her Senate campaign’s funds to a House campaign if she were to decide to switch to the House race.

WA-02

Longtime incumbent Rick Larsen may have to fight for his job for the first time in a while. On Sunday, Jason Call, a teacher and local Democratic activist who briefly challenged Washington Democratic Party chair Tina Podlodowski from the left after the 2018 elections, filed to run against Larsen. Call’s candidacy for state party chair was pretty hard to explain; Podlodowski won her job as party chair thanks to the backing of Bernie Sanders supporters in 2016 (including Call himself), and she made no high-profile ideological missteps. As chair, she oversaw major successes for the state party, too: Washington Democrats retook the state senate thanks to a 2017 special election victory, then expanded their majorities in both houses of the legislature in the regularly-scheduled 2018 elections and flipped the 8th Congressional District from red to blue.

Call’s gripe with Podlodowski was supposedly her failure to reach out to conservative rural areas of the state (which is a silly critique, because all three of the state’s competitive US House districts in 2018 included significant amounts of conservative, rural turf.) He also criticized Podlodowski for not doing enough to keep legislators in line with progressive policies, which is a more subjective criticism (but equally strange as the first one, because Washington’s state legislature has passed a staggering amount of good legislation since Democrats took control.) Call dropped out of the race for party chair not long after he entered it, which is the only part of this saga that makes sense to us.

Call’s challenge to Larsen makes more sense. Larsen is a member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, which is ridiculous in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 22 points in 2016. We don’t know how serious Call is, but he was (until recently) a member of the Washington Democratic Party’s central committee. He has also served on the board of the local teachers’ union and is active within his local Democratic organization. Considered together, that resume indicates that he could have the connections to run a serious campaign. We may not know for a while, though, as he hasn’t officially launched his campaign yet.

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Issue #25

People keep running for things in New York

New Developments

NY-03

Last week, we mentioned that the website annakaplanforcongress.com had just been registered. Anna Kaplan is a state senator and 2016 candidate for NY-03, so we took notice, even if we didn’t think it looked like she was running. It has since been confirmed to us that the registration was an auto-renewal from her 2016 run, and not anything for a new race.

NY-12

Hawkish anti-vaxxer Rep. Carolyn Maloney has landed a third challenger in her incredibly Democratic Manhattan-based district. Peter Harrison, a NYC DSA member and housing activist, officially announced his campaign this morning. Harrison is a co-author of Data for Progress’s housing policy report, Homes For All; he says he will center his campaign on housing, highlighting policies such as rent control and increased NYCHA funding, as well as his opposition to the (thankfully cancelled) Amazon giveaway, which would have brought an Amazon headquarters to the Queens portion of NY-12.

Note: Because of Harrison’s work with Data for Progress, he has worked with this newsletter’s editor, Sean McElwee. For this reason, Sean has recused himself from editing all coverage of NY-12.

NY-15

The last we’d heard from Marlene Cintron, president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, she was considering running for NY-15, and was going to make a decision in June or July. She didn’t. But on August 8th, over a week after that deadline passed, she made an announcement...not that she’s in or out, but that she’s making an exploratory committee for the race.

We’ve previously noted that Cintron’s time on the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation doesn’t inspire confidence from us. But even putting her political stances aside, it seems like she’s missed the boat here electorally. The candidacy of Ruben Diaz Sr in this race raises the stakes beyond a normal congressional primary. He’s not just on the outs with most of the Bronx establishment, he’s a bigot who politicians in the area have openly talked about the need to defeat in the race, which means not having a wide open race and letting Diaz slip through because of his dedicated base. Right now, it looks like the candidate to lead the anti-Diaz charge is Councilman Ritchie Torres, who has raised the most money by far and has several endorsements.

Assemblyman Michael Blake has been in the race since nearly the beginning, has an Assembly district as a base, is the only non-Hispanic Black candidate in the race, and has a decent fundraising operation going, even if it isn’t Torres-level, so the motivation for him to stay in is clear. Ex-Speaker of the City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito entered the race last week, and we questioned the judgment of getting into a field that has already settled to the extent that it has, but she’s at least got a constituency and some name recognition to start from. Cintron, on the other hand, is truly baffling. Very few people know who she is, and she’s spent months watching the field settle, but her choice is still to put off a decision. It’s hard not to wonder if she’s waited too long at this point, and if she may not have a place to put her foot in the door.

TX-28

The Cuellar campaign simply isn’t taking this race seriously. There’s no other way to interpret their behavior. First, they made the incredibly dubious claim that the candidate who is really in the pocket of the special interests isn’t Cuellar because of the millions in corporate PAC money he takes, it’s Jessica Cisneros, because the Justice Democrats are a “special interest.” They also insisted that Cisneros’s support of the Green New Deal is dangerous because there aren’t enough green jobs right now (which is the entire point of the Green New Deal, a jobs program). We kind of chalked these up to them crafting talking points for people who weren’t paying attention to the race. But this new attack line crosses the line from cynical into not even trying.

The Cuellar campaign is now claiming that small dollar donations are “dark money” because the donor name doesn’t get reported, and therefore most of Cisneros’s campaign funding is dark money. It should go without saying how phenomally stupid that is, but here’s a quick primer in case you’re unfamliar.

Elections spending can take the form of donations to a campaign or outside funds spent for or against a campaign. Donations to a campaign are unitemized if they’re an individual’s donation(s) totaling less than $200, which means the donor’s identity isn’t reported publicly; or itemized if they’re either from a PAC or total between $200-$5,600. Itemized means the donor’s name, address, and employer must be listed publicly. For an outside organization spending independently of a candidate, most organizations must list their disclosure similarly, and donations are capped at a few thousand dollars. However, the Citizens United Supreme Court decision opened up another avenue: 501(c) organizations (a nonprofit designation) can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money without disclosing donors. For this reason, they’re called “dark money”.

The conflation going on from the campaign here is wild, crossing that line from “merely” cynical into just lazy. What’s more his campaign manager doubled down a few days later after finding Opinion Haver’s tweet on the matter, saying 

From OpenSecrets.org:

"Dark Money refers to political spending meant to influence the decision of a voter, where the donor is not disclosed and the source of the money is unknown."

Sorry about all those facts!

Damn, we just got owned online with facts and logic (and by a guy who makes “triggered” jokes and runs a blog he calls “an unsafe space”). Or, perhaps we didn’t actually, since the very next sentence of that source reads “Depending upon the circumstances, Dark Money can refer to funds spent by a political nonprofit or a super PAC.” Direct donations from individuals are never dark money. This is a campaign only concerned with having a response to attacks, not with making those attacks sound convincing or even plausible. It’s a campaign running on autopilot and going through the motions as long as those motions don’t involve work. That’s good news for Jessica Cisneros, all things considered.

WA-06

Well that’s a bummer. Bainbridge Councilman Matthew Tirman had been mulling a primary run against mediocre New Democrat Congressman Derek Kilmer in WA-06. He recently announced that he’s decided against it. Kilmer is now opposed by only one other Democrat for re-election: Rebecca Parson, an activist from Tacoma, who Tirman specifically names (but stops just short of endorsing) in his announcement. We haven’t covered Parson before now, but Tirman taking her seriously is a good sign for her.

Endorsements this week:

New Races

NY-25

After the death of longtime Rep. Louise Slaughter in 2018, the race to succeed her in this blue upstate New York district seemed like a quiet affair. Former Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle appeared to have all but cleared the field, scaring off other high-profile Democrats in this seat, which includes Rochester and most of its suburbs. A trio of long-shot candidates took him on: journalist Rachel Barnhart, Rochester City Councilman Adam McFadden, and Brighton town board member Robin Wilt. The three split the non-Morelle vote fairly evenly, with only 2.5 percentage points separating Barnhart (the second-place finisher) and McFadden (who came in last place.) The surprise on primary night was just how many non-Morelle votes were cast: Morelle got less than 46%. Morelle may have made it through the primary in 2018, but it’s clear he’s at least somewhat vulnerable. In office, Morelle has been somewhat progressive, but nobody’s idea of a left-wing firebrand.

Since losing to Morelle, Barnhart has laid low, while McFadden has pled guilty to federal corruption charges. (New York, baby!) Wilt started a campaign for the Assembly after losing the NY-25 primary, but dropped out a few weeks later amid residency concerns, and then formed a new PAC for women of color in politics. Local news station WXXI reports that Wilt is leaning towards a second run. She has filed with the FEC for the 2020 election, and while she told WXXI she’s not ready to make a decision just yet, she’s been using her campaign email list to criticize Morelle for not cosponsoring the Green New Deal or student debt cancellation. Those things certainly make it sound like she’s running.

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Issue #24

If nothing else, Rubén Díaz Sr is never boring

New Developments

MA-01

Alex Morse announced his challenge to Richard Neal a couple weeks ago, and since then, local politicians have had their chance to weigh in on the race. A notable name to get behind Neal is John Barrett, mayor of North Adams (pop 13,000) for 26 years, who was elected to the State House in 2017 from the rural northwestern corner of the state. A freshman in the State House, Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who represents a rural district just east of Barrett’s, also backs Neal. Other members of the state legislature who represent part of MA-01, Adam Hinds and Paul Mark, also have expressed skepticism of Morse’s campaign.

Morse has received a warmer reception from the progressive groups in the area. President of the Berkshire County NAACP Dennis Powell had previously criticized Richard Neal for ignoring the organization during his 2018 by blowing off a debate they were hosting. Powell has called the attention the organization has received from Morse “quite a different contrast” from how Neal treated them. The local DSA chapter has said it’s looking into the race as well. They endorsed Neal’s challenger in 2018, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud. Another endorsement he picked up today was national, from the Justice Democrats.

Neal, for his part, either did his homework on Morse during the period where Morse’s run was just a rumor, or came up to speed quickly. Just after Morse announced, Neal said:

Did he happen to mention that the Holyoke schools are in receivership? Did he happen to mention that he’s had a number of campaign finance violations? That in the run-up to the Holyoke schools being placed in receivership, he missed 28 of 60 school committee meetings before the schools were put in receivership? So I understand that there ought to be room for a good vigorous campaign – and I’m ready.

Which means he’s scared enough by this campaign to be doing research, because nobody would have those figures on the top of their head.

NY-15

New York’s 15th district, located in the South Bronx, became open several months ago with the retirement of longtime Rep. José Serrano. Since then, homophobic nutcase City Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr. has entered the Democratic primary, making it imperative that he be defeated at all costs; progressive City Councilman Ritchie Torres has raised an impressive amount of money and snagged major endorsements from unions and progressive groups; and the campaigns of community activist Tomas Ramos and DNC Vice Chair Michael Blake have fallen flat, making it fairly clear that it’s either Torres or Díaz. This might be why State Senator Gustavo Rivera recently decided against running after sounding very likely to get in.

For some reason, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito looked at all this and decided she should run, increasing the chance that the vote will be split enough to elect Díaz. As if the gods saw this news and sought to send a clear sign to Mark-Viverito that Torres was the left’s only chance to beat Díaz, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, a major union representing construction workers, endorsed Torres just days after the news of Mark-Viverito’s impending run broke. Of course, whether this was coincidence or backroom scrambling is up to interpretation.

As for Díaz, he’s back in the news! As the councilman enters the uncharted waters of a congressional candidacy, he should try to avoid new scandals; if voters are reminded of his past controversies, after all, they may make him walk the plank. Unfortunately for his congressional hopes, Díaz seems to have set a course for a tempest on the horizon--a new scandal, this one involving...a pirate?

(I know the puns are bad, you have to suffer through them.)

Díaz Sr. paid Dionisio Nova $300 for “publicity” on May 21, about a month before Nova would be cited by the FCC for operating an unlicensed (or “pirate”) radio station out of his Bronx apartment. Nova has been paid by other Bronx campaigns before, according to The City, so this would be a rather mundane case of an otherwise shady character getting paid for above-board stuff if it weren’t for the councilman’s son, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr.

Jr. met with FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly (one of the board’s Republican commissioners, as the FCC has seats reserved for both political parties) on July 11. For those keeping track, that’s less than two months after Sr.’s campaign paid Nova and only three weeks after the FCC cited Nova for his violation. Not a great look! While it’s quite possible that the younger Díaz never brought up the radio pirate’s case to O’Rielly (and quite possible that the elder Díaz never mentioned it to his son), it just reinforces Díaz’s reputation as an unethical politician, one who appears to skirt city council financial rules by taking tens of thousands of dollars in “birthday gifts” and who exclaimed, “I’m not gonna rat my people out! This place is full of rats!” during a mandatory city council training on sexual harassment.

NY-17

Mondaire Jones, who is challenging House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey in a safely Democratic suburban New York district, appears to have tapped some of his connections as a Stanford alum. Fellow Stanford alum Issa Rae, creator and star of the HBO series Insecure, is holding a Manhattan fundraiser for Jones. It’s unusual for a challenger like Jones, who is taking on a powerful Democrat from the left, to get attention from high-profile donors, but Issa Rae has long been outspoken about her politics. A Manhattan fundraiser headlined by a major TV star could bring in more in one night than most underdog campaigns raise in a month.

TX-28

Henry Cuellar is awful for so, so many reasons. One of the worst is his love of the NRA. He has an A grade [download warning on that link] from the organization and is one of only three Democratic in Congress to accept money from them - the other is Collin Peterson, who represents a rural farming district that Trump won 62-31 and who is likely the only politician alive who could hold it. Cuellar returns the favor to the NRA, not just by voting their way, but also by parroting their extremism. After a mass shooting in his district in TX-28, he went on television to repeat NRA talking point about how assault weapons weren’t the problem since there are other ways to kill. 

The recent shooting in El Paso hasn’t in TX-28 obviously, but it is heartbreaking and on the Texas border. Cuellar was once again pressed to return or donate away NRA contributions. His campaign’s response? “Why would he do that?”. His primary opponent, immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros has been hitting him hard over this one, reiterating her claim that Cuellar is the NRA’s favorite Democrat and saying that “No one with an ‘A’ rating from the NRA deserves to call themselves a Democrat”. Local news coverage has been skeptical of Cuellar over his stance on gun control, as he trots out tweaked version of his NRA talking point from 2017: that the terrorists caused 9/11 and not the airplane. He left unmentioned that planes aren’t designed to kill people, and that 99.8% of Americans are legally barred from flying them, but of course NRA talking points don’t usually come with footnotes.

Queens, New York District Attorney

After winning an apparent victory on election night, Tiffany Cabán fell just behind in the vote once absentee voters and provisionals were counted. A recount followed, after which Borough President and Queens machine candidate Melinda Katz lead by 60 votes. Next came a series of court challenges, during which Cabán successfully decreased the deficit to 55 votes, but hit a wall when a judge decided not to consider affidavit votes with any information missing at all. Controversially, this means that bundle of votes where registered Democrats voting in the Democratic Primary who forgot to put their party as Democratic will not be counted. Last night, Tiffany Cabán conceded. That sucks, and it’s not hard to imagine a different result in a state where the election laws are less draconian (aside from all the provisionals, New York requires an insane six month waiting period of belonging to a political party before voting in its primaries). We hope to see more from her.

Hinds County, MS District Attorney

There’s better news out of Mississippi, however. Reformist DA Robert Shuler Smith gave up his job for a futile gubernatorial primary campaign, but civil rights attorney Jody Owens easily won the Democratic nomination to succeed him as DA in Mississippi’s largest county, which includes most of the city of Jackson. Owens, who said he would consider himself a “decarceral prosecutor,” campaigned on reducing the use of cash bail and refusing to prosecute marijuana possession.

New Primaries

MA-09

Getting a primary challenger: it’s the hottest new trend in Massachusetts politics. The latest trendy congressman to get in on the action is Bill Keating. Keating represents a district covering most of the state’s coast, including the South Shore and the Cape; the district voted for Hillary Clinton 53-42, making it Trump’s best district in the state, and also still a pretty safe Democratic district. Keating isn’t a conservative Democrat - he does support the Green New Deal and Medicare for All - but he’s nothing close to a leader on those issues, and his record elsewhere is not great. He voted for Kate’s Law (a Trump-supported anti-immigrant bill most Democrats opposed) FISA surveillance, and weakening the ACA. He also voted for the recent additional CBP funding. 

Progressives in the district have been looking for a challenger to him recently, and now someone may have stepped up to do it, but he may not be who they’re looking for. Joe Rull, a selectman for the town of Norwell (pop 11,000), has openly floated the possibility of a challenge. If you’re unfamiliar with the role of a selectman, some Massachusetts towns have odd dual-track form of government where some larger decisions are voted on by all registered voters who turn up to a town meeting, while at-large elected selectmen run the day-to-day municipal operations; Norwell is one of those towns. Interestingly, Rull supports abolishing the office he now holds. He has a larger political pedigree than just his time as selectman, however. He has also been an aide to the last two mayors of Boston (Norwell is in the northern end of the district and is a Boston suburb), probably best known for working on the ill-fated bid to bring the 2024 Olympics to Boston.

Ideologically, Rull is hard to get a handle on. Walsh is a sometimes progressive, sometimes not mayor, but his staff has never been left-wing by any stretch of the imagination. As selectman, Rull handles issues like traffic and mall zoning, not hot-button national issues. What we can glean of his leanings are not great. For one, he supports Steve Pemberton for Senate, the only candidate of the three who has not laid out a clear progressive platform. For another, he supported primary challenger Mark Rooney in a 2018 Governor’s Council race, who ran to the right of the incumbent. His two other endorsements from his Twitter feed include Stephen Lynch and Michael Flaherty, the most conservative Boston City Councilor. Now it’s possible he’s just supporting his friends from Southie (Rull is from there), but until we see otherwise, he sounds worse than Keating.

NY-03

Last week, local political operative and DNC member Rob Zimmerman, who had long been rumored to take on incumbent Tom Suozzi in this Long Island district, announced he’d decided against a run, leaving Suozzi only challenged by local lawyer Michael Weinstock. That state of affairs didn’t last long, however. This week, local community organizer Melanie D’Arrigo announced her candidacy. D’Arrigo is the founder of a local wellness company who worked as the campaign manager for Assemblyman Tony D’Urso, who you may remember as the Assemblyman whose family hid a Jewish family during the Holocaust, who Michael Weinstock later tracked down. D’Arrigo has been particularly active on immigration activism, and she lists it as one of her biggest problems with Suozzi.

Also interesting is that the domain name annakaplanforcongress.com was just registered. Kaplan is a moderate state senator whose district is within NY-03. This doesn’t mean she’s considering running this cycle, or even that she registered that domain, but it is worth noting.


OH-03

As we mentioned in our MA-01 item, Justice Democrats endorsed Holyoke mayor Alex Morse’s challenge to longtime Rep. Richard Neal today. They made another endorsement today as well, backing former CFPB official Morgan Harper’s challenge to Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty. We had the opportunity to interview Harper late last week, and, as per usual, we’ll give you a sample of that interview today before we send the full interview to our paid subscribers.

On her time at the CFPB:

Nick:

So you worked at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For readers who don't know what that is, it...was Elizabeth Warren's idea, essentially. And it was created sort of as a backstop or a watchdog to make sure that financial companies are playing by the rules, not trying to rip people off. It was created by Dodd-Frank, and it's now kind of a gutted husk of what it used to be because of the Trump administration. But you worked at it while it was still...working. [...] So what did you do at the CFPB?

Morgan Harper:

I'll give a little context about the bureau's creation, too. The idea was part of the cause of the financial crisis was that a lot of the authority for overseeing financial products, particularly those that focused on consumers like mortgages, mortgage servicing, were scattered throughout many agencies. And so Elizabeth Warren's idea was to bring a lot of those different jurisdictions into one place that was solely focused on financial products that target consumers. In doing that, you would be able to have...an agency that was really an expert in those financial markets and able to best protect them for working people. And also that... It's a two sided thing; right? I mean when the markets are working well, it can also help everyone, in addition to consumers. The companies are doing better and also working people are protected against predatory lending and other harms that could come from nefarious activity by companies.

I started there in 2013 in the Office of Regulations, which was in the division called Research Markets and Regulation, RMR. And that's one of the core policymaking divisions of the bureau. So in the Office of Regulations, I was on the Prepaid Card rulemaking team, which was responsible for regulating the prepaid card market, which is a banking alternative. You've probably seen those in drug stores, the prepaid cards that offers a different financial product or banking alternative for maybe a person that isn't able to qualify for a bank account or doesn't want to pay fees associated with a traditional bank account. But it hadn't been regulated. So bringing some regulation and also more clarity around the fees for that market.

I was on that rulemaking team, and then eventually moved up to become one of the director’s senior advisors. And we sort of split the portfolio of markets that the bureau regulated into two. And so, I helped to oversee the policy development for payday lending, consumer reporting, mortgage servicing, et cetera.

[...]

So we were able to get $12 billion back in consumer's pockets. The division that I was first in, the Research Markets and Regulations, bringing lawyers, rule writers together with economists on to develop really strong policy, and also the markets office that brought in people who are very familiar with the industries themselves.

[...]

To me, it was a great example of, like I said, when the federal government is operating with a strong mandate and given the resources to actually execute on that mandate, you see the results, $12 billion [returned to consumers as a result of the CFPB.]

On living wages, universal income, and a federal jobs guarantee:

Nick:

You've said you support universal income. To you, does that mean universal basic income?

Morgan Harper:

Yeah. To me the idea there is that we shouldn't have people or families that, because of a $400 shortfall in a month, they are facing things like eviction that caused a financial spiral; right? That, to me, is crazy. And so, being able to make sure that there's enough money that that kind of a spiral doesn't occur for such a small amount...is common sense. I think it should be included in a package of other ideas around financial stability and housing stability to support working people, even if they're either not able to earn an income that would support housing, for example, and the cost of whatever market they're in. But yeah, I think it is absolutely crazy that $400 could send a family into a financial spiral and we need to do something about that. Particularly when we're finding that a lot of people are not able to have access to jobs that are providing enough money to meet those basic needs.

Nick:

You've also called for a jobs guarantee coupled with a living wage. So, if in your ideal world, the government is guaranteeing a job with a living wage, do you think a universal income is still necessary and worth fighting for or--

Morgan Harper:

Yeah. I mean, because my view on the jobs guarantee, if you're ready, willing, able to work, you should be able to have a job that will...provide a living wage to support meeting basic needs. That might not be possible for everyone. And I think we need to think of other strategies and supporting people's ability to meet those basic needs. But yeah, I think it's more of a package of policies that I'm advocating for.

Nick:

Okay. Okay. So for people who might not be able to work, you see it as providing more of a safety net.

Morgan Harper:

[agreement]

Nick:

On the topic of a living wage, how high do you think a living wage is? The common refrain is $15 an hour. But Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib suggested $20 an hour a few weeks ago. Do you think it's something else?

Morgan Harper:

A living wage, to me, means that you're making enough money. Look, first off, we know what people generally need, what we all need to be okay. Right? Stable housing, generally having access to quality healthcare in case we have medical problems, and enough money to buy food and all of those things. Right? And so, a living wage would be enough to support meeting those basic needs. Now, take, for example, I'm here in Franklin County, where the third district is located. We kind of know that you need to be making about or more than $17 an hour to support rental for a two bedroom apartment, let's say. Right? So, I don't think $15 is going to cut it if that's not enough money here to even afford housing. If you need a two bedroom place, which you probably do if you're more than one person or have a child or whatever. And so we need to be looking at something that's higher than that, that's going to allow people to meet those basic needs.

On being a progressive primary challenger:

Nick:

The DCCC has implemented a blacklist of any vendors or any vendors who work for a primary challenger. So anyone who's running on Democratic primary against an incumbent Democrat. That means anyone who works on fundraising, or does polling, or does ads for a challenger cannot get any contracts with the DCCC, which can be very damaging to their business. Other House challengers have said it's been a significant struggle for their campaign. Marie Newman has...said that vendors have dropped her campaign. We've interviewed Crisanta Duran in Colorado's 1st and Lindsey Boylan in New York's 10th, and they've also both said that they've gotten a chilly reception from vendors specifically because of this blacklist. So has that affected your campaign so far?

Morgan Harper:

Yeah. We had trouble getting a compliance firm to sign on board to make sure we are in compliance with federal election campaign law. Sometimes hard to know whether that's at a DCCC blacklist or generally just nerves around being associated with someone who's a primary challenger and working a little bit outside of the machine here. What I'd say there, and actually one thing that's been really cool is there are a lot of vendors and a lot of different people that are emerging specifically to support progressive challengers. It makes me hopeful, in a way, because it's a sign that our generation is prepared and has the skillset to really take back control of politics and make it work for normal people and we have the resources to support each other in doing that. So, no. I mean, the DCCC blacklist is certainly not helpful for this kind of effort, but at the same time it's not determining those and, and we're able. We can still do this.

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Issue #23

Finally, somebody polled something

New Developments

CA-15

Three weeks ago, Rep. Eric Swalwell dropped out of the presidential race and decided to instead run for re-election in Congress, which meant that he was in a primary race with Hayward City Councilmember Aisha Wahab, who had been in the race for months. At the time, she seemed unlikely to bow out even though she was publicly unsure whether to continue. However, on Monday Wahab announced that she would be “suspending” (read: basically ending) her campaign. Besides a desire to refocus her advocacy on the City Council, Wahab does not offer an explanation for this abrupt suspension, but looking back on Wahab’s Q2 fundraising numbers we suspect that money had something to do with her decision. Swalwell now has no Democratic opposition to re-election.

NY-03

For months now, eyes have been on Democratic National Committeeman Robert Zimmerman and whether he would be challenging Rep. Tom Suozzi in NY-03, a district which includes parts of Long Island and north eastern Queens. Well, it looks like that’s not happening. Zimmerman announced Sunday that he wouldn’t be running because doing so would cause unproductive party division: “The congressional primary at this time would distract from our need to unify and focus on winning the White House.” Readers may remember, though, that Zimmerman’s main motivation for running was his “profound concern” for how much Suozzi votes with Trump (it’s about 25% of the time, for the record, which puts him to the right of most of the Democratic caucus), and conservative Democrats don’t actually have a good track record of uniting the party. 

Suozzi still has two other opponents in the race running to his left: Melanie D’Arrigo, a nonprofit executive and Democratic activist who only filed a couple weeks ago, and Michael Weinstock, an openly gay 9/11 firefighter. Weinstock did post pretty poor Q2 numbers, so we’ll be looking to see if D’Arrigo can pick up his slack, especially now that the only other potential challenger that anyone was talking about is out of the race.

New Primaries

MI-13

Last week, there was some speculation in Detroit politics that Brenda Jones, Detroit City Council President, 36 day Congressmember, and primary competition to Rashida Tlaib in 2018, was mulling a rematch in 2020. It sounds like that speculation is being taken seriously by someone. Michigan political news daily MIRS commissioned a poll by Target Insyght of a potential 2020 primary in the district. They find that Tlaib is well liked among Democratic voters in the district, with 68% viewing her favorability and only 13% unfavorably. She also fairs well in a potential rematch with Brenda Jones, winning that 56-19. Considering Jones spent half of 2018 campaigning in this district, that deficit probably isn’t name recognition. Tlaib looks very much favored in a potential one-on-one rematch with Jones.

However, that wasn’t the only race MIRS polled. They also looked at a potential match-up between Rashida Tlaib, Brenda Jones, and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. They find that Tlaib wins this contest too, but less overwhelmingly, 51-23-8. Interestingly, the candidate with 23% of the vote is not Jones, but Napoleon. Benny Napoleon was appointed Wayne County Sheriff in 2009, and has been elected to the office in 2010, 2012, and 2016. His career has been marked by a series of scandals, starting before he was appointed, when he allegedly mishandled the aftermath of police killing a disabled man holding a rake in 2000, and continuing through his tenure in office with campaign finance violations, fiscal mismanagement, being named in a federal corruption probe, potentially retaliating against a whistleblower, and being sued by multiple employees for gender discrimination. Still, he’s maintained a level of popularity. He ran for mayor in 2013 (after an abortive 2009 attempt), and made it through the preliminary round only to lose the general by 10%, despite an endorsement from then MI-13 rep John Conyers. He was also talked up as a potential running mate for Democratic gubernatorial nominees in 2014 and 2018, though he wasn’t picked either time. 

We’re not quite sure why MIRS chose to poll Napoleon for this race, as we haven’t seen any interest expressed from him towards this race. MIRS is the kind of news organization that knows every politician in the state, and keeps tabs on them as well, so it’s possible they know something most of us don’t. It’s also possible they picked Napoleon because he was probably the strongest candidate in 2018 who opted against running.

This poll doesn’t show Tlaib totally boxing out any potential challenge, but it shows her in damn good shape, bolstered by the fact that her likeliest challenger doesn’t look anything like her strongest.

NJ-10

New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne Jr. has a golden last name, being the son of the late Rep. Donald Payne Sr., an institution in Newark politics. New Jersey’s unique primary system, in which local party committees award a special ballot column to their preferred candidates, will likely protect Payne Jr., as he’s not feuding with the party machine in any of the three counties (Union, Essex, and Hudson) that get a say in this seat, and machines generally protect incumbents by default unless there’s a bitter dispute between the incumbent and key party bosses. Payne Jr. is a reliable, albeit low-profile, progressive. None of that is stopping Rev. Stephen Green from entering the Democratic primary.

Green, formerly the NAACP’s youth director, takes issue first and foremost with one descriptor in the above paragraph: “low-profile.” He told BuzzFeed’s Darren Sands that he seeks to emulate “the squad,” the high-profile group of four progressive women of color first elected to the House in 2018 (Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib.) Green says he won’t officially launch his candidacy until after Labor Day, and will spend the next month or so putting together a campaign. According to Sands, Green’s fundraising goal is an ambitious $1 million; for an insurgent primary challenger, that’s a tall order, but Green’s activist past--which included overseeing a national voter registration drive for the NAACP, organizing protests of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and speaking at the anniversary commemoration ceremony of the famous Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march--may provide him the connections necessary to pull it off.

A clear challenge for Green will be geography. Roselle, where he lives and where he is the pastor at Heard AME Church, is predominantly Black and heavily Democratic, like the district overall. However, Roselle is a small city of 20,000, located near the southern end of the district, which is centered on Newark and a handful of other Essex County municipalities. Green will need to make inroads outside of Roselle (and outside of Roselle’s Union County entirely), whereas a Newark-based candidate like Payne Jr. could hypothetically afford to run up the margins at home without focusing on cities like Roselle, Linden (Union County), Rahway (Union County), or Jersey City (Hudson County).

NY-14

The Queens machine, still smarting from the embarrassing 2018 defeats of Joe Crowley and several state legislators, may have found a candidate to run against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Badrun Khan, who sits on Queens Community Board 2, filed to run last Thursday. Khan, like all community board members, was appointed by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz (who you may know as the Queens machine’s preferred candidate in the contentious Queens DA race.) Half of all board members are nominated by local city councilors, while the other half are directly chosen by the borough president; whether Khan was the choice of city councilors or Katz is not public. Whether Khan was chosen by Katz or city councilors is less important than the fact that Khan will very likely be running to AOC’s right.

Is he definitely the candidate of the Queens Machine? There’s no saying for certain. This could be a coincidence, after all, or he could be running in hopes that the Queens Machine will back him up, rather than the reverse. But it bears watching nonetheless.


MA-01

Recently, we talked with Holyoke mayor Alex Morse, who announced his campaign for Massachusetts’s 1st district last week. The full interview will be out this weekend for subscribers.

Opinion Haver:

You're a millennial. I'm a millennial. Do you think younger voters are approaching politics differently now that they're entering voting age?

Alex Morse:

Yes, I think they are. And I think when I say that a lot of people have lost faith in government actually being able to get things done and be a force for good in their lives, a lot of young people have been skeptical for some time because when Democrats are in power, sometimes we can't seem to deliver on a lot of the things that are important to millennials and so it's not just about having a Democrat and the seat, it's about having a Democrat that's willing to take on the establishment, willing to change the way Washington works and actually advocate for policies and issues that change lives and improve outcomes and expand opportunities.

...

Opinion Haver:

One urgent crisis that's been the news right now is what's happening on the border with immigration. Long-term, we obviously need to have reforms about citizenship status and such, but immediately what should we be doing?

Alex Morse:

Well, I think immediately what we need to do is stop separating families. We need to close the concentration camps. We need to get kids out of cages. I think we need to live up to what this country has purported to stand for by treating people, kids in particular, and all human beings, regardless of their citizenship, with decency, humanity, and respect. I think that's where we start. And I think the Trump administration has made this crisis worse than it ever has been.

Opinion Haver:

In terms of specifically Congress, the Trump Administration has made it clear that they're going to keep doing this. Should Democrats be willing to stop funding the Department overall if they won't close down these camps?

Alex Morse:

Yes. I commend those House Democrats that voted against the most recent funding bill. I think we need to stop bowing to President Trump and the Republicans and stop giving them a blank check to keep pursuing the inhumane practices and policy that the border.

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