Issue #16

Hon, we got a lot of Maryland this week

New Developments

GA-13

Former Cobb County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Owens is the latest primary challenger to talk candidly about the effect that the DCCC Blacklist is having on his campaign. Owens said that he had been in talks with major national Democratic campaign firms about working for his campaign, but they stopped returning his calls after Cheri Bustos announced the new policy, and he’s decided to use local political firms instead for his campaign.

Owens’s case has a particular irony, in that one of the major criticisms of Scott and one of the major reasons Owens is running is Scott’s lack of party loyalty. Scott has endorsed Republicans in competitive races, and even gave a check to the Republican in a seat the DCCC was targeting in 2016. Yet the DCCC’s policy is punishing Owens here, not Scott. We also see here the way this is counterproductive to the party’s overall aims. Georgia is a swing state with an important senate contest next year. You’d think it would be beneficial to all Democrats to have a high engagement contest for some Democrats in Georgia, if for no other reason than data collection and refinement. But the DCCC is trying to block the kind of firms that would be involved in an important national race like president or senate from getting involved.

MD-05

Mckayla Wilkes officially launched her campaign on Saturday in Waldorf, Maryland. When she announced that she would be running in late March, she was a working mother with no campaign experience. In a Buzzfeed piece published this week, she says that she was Googling if she was even eligible to run not too long ago. When she announced, she was going it mostly alone, with little money, and no experience running a campaign. Those last two points fed into each other in her decision to announce right before the Q1 campaign finance deadline. Generally, candidates try not to do that if they can avoid it because it makes the fundraising filing with the FEC---generally the first concrete numerical judgment that can be made of a campaign---artificially small. That is, unless they already have a lot of pledges lined up, and they want to make the point that they raised $150,000 in only a week, or something to that effect.

The Wilkes campaign has come a long way since then. She recently announced she’s raised $40,000 in the roughly three months since she’s announced. She’s also gotten together a staff of volunteers, mostly consisting of University of Maryland students or graduates. This probably won’t work as a long term solution, for a variety of fairly obvious reasons (try and imagine the press release your sleep deprived brain would have spit out during finals weeks), but during the summer it’s a smart way for a budget campaign to save money. Also, UMD is contained within the district, so a strong performance there is a necessity.

She’s also been generating some excitement in the district. One of the authors of this newsletter (Opinion Haver) attended her kickoff event and saw good things. Attendance was close to 50 people, which is not easy for a congressional candidate in an odd year. Her campaign has already produced some professional campaign literature and t-shirts. They’re obviously serious about scaling the operation up. Wilkes herself is a good speaker and compelling when she’s talking about both policy and her personal speeches, if still getting used to the rhythms of campaign speeches.

The Buzzfeed piece also mentions that the Wilkes campaign is in talks to get an endorsement from Brand New Congress, a project of ex-Sanders staffers who are working with the Justice Democrats. For a campaign  on a scale as large as a congressional district, it’ll eventually become necessary to connect with groups that have campaign experience, and, thanks to the DCCC Blacklist, who have knowledge of vendors and consultants that a first-time candidate wouldn’t. Because the staff is mostly college students right now, this summer is going to be a make-or-break time for the Wilkes campaign.

NJ-09

Zina Spezakis, who we previously mentioned had entered the race and loaned her campaign $35K, has publicly launched her campaign.  She’s taking a very green tone in both her announcement video and her website, which is expected for an environmental activist and renewable energy investor. She’s also entirely willing to criticize incumbent Bill Pascrell. In her announcement video alone she says “machine politics” over footage of Pascrell, which is cut between footage of Trump and McConnell. Later, in an interview, she said of Pascrell that “a climate delayer is worse than a climate denier.”

Spezakis looks like she’s gotten a good start, but she still has two issues to puzzle out. One is fundraising. She said she’s going to be self-funding a portion of her campaign, but the rest of the money has to come from somewhere, and as we pointed out at the time, last quarter she only raised about $2,000 from other people. If she only started actively fundraising after the Q1 deadline passed, that’s one thing, but if that is her actively fundraising then she’s going to run into big money limitations. The other issue is New Jersey’s party line system. Primary ballots in the state have a column of candidates officially endorsed by the party, and those candidates generally do very well. At the very least, it’s usually the default choice for voters not paying attention to the race. Overcoming Pascrell’s near-certain party line designation will be a challenge.

NY-09

In a profile largely about NY-11’s Max Rose, City & State drops a small tidbit about Adem Bunkeddeko, who nearly pulled off the same feat as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018 when he lost by only 6% to entrenched incumbent Yvette Clarke. Bunkeddeko has long been considering a rematch, and a source says that Rose, perhaps on behalf of NY-08 rep and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, tried to keep Bunkeddeko out of the race, even going so far as to offer him a job if he’d stand down. Rose said the call was just to “check in with him”.

NY-15

It wouldn’t be New York politics if money wasn’t changing hands in questionably legal ways. This week, not one but two candidates for NY-15 found themselves in the middle of money controversies.

Ah, Rubén Díaz Sr. We’re so used to his absolutely insane reactionary outbursts that a simple case of potential corruption feels almost pedestrian. The New York City Council does not allow its members to earn outside income, as an anti-corruption measure. And yet Díaz accepted up to $30,000 from religious organizations, $20,000 of which was from one that he was president of. Does that sound like income to you? It does to the author of the bill that banned second jobs for Councilmembers (who make $148,500 a year), Councilman Ben Kallos of Manhattan, who said Díaz “needs to give up his outside income and work full-time for the people.” Díaz’s excuse here is that the money was birthday gifts. That is a transparently nonsensical explanation, but as with anything in the world of political money, it all comes down to whether there’s going to be any enforcement.

The second story this week concerns totally legal donations to Senator Gustavo Rivera. Crain’s New York Business reports that Rivera has taken large sums of money from the healthcare industry. That’s actually totally understandable. Rivera has been a Democratic point man on healthcare for a long time and chairs that committee in the state senate. Not only that, but hospitals will generally make out well under a universal single payer healthcare plan, so that part of the industry might be trying to promote his plans, not change them.

Less understandable is some of the specifics of those donations. Rivera took $29,000 from Alexander Rovt, a shady billionaire who periodically makes the news for all the wrong reasons. Rovt is a fertilizer oligarch who attempted to donate $10,000 to Donald Trump’s election campaign and loaned Paul Manafort $3.5 million through shell companies. His name made it back into the news last year for being named in Manafort’s indictment as part of the effort to help write the Ukrainian conflict plank in the RNC platform. Definitely not someone who would be helpful to associate with in a Democratic primary. Rivera also wrote an official senate proclamation honoring his second largest donor. Not the best look.

New Primaries

MD-02

Maryland’s congressional districts are all egregious abstract art projects in their own way, but Maryland’s 2nd at least has something resembling a community of interest in the mostly working- and middle-class suburbs in and around Baltimore. Its representative, Dutch Ruppersberger, spent nearly two decades in Baltimore County government, and boy does he live down to all the stereotypes of Baltimore County Democrats, from corporate cronyism to running a debt collection company that the feds had to stop from harassing people who’d missed rent. He’s been in Congress since 2003, where he’s been a quiet disappointment. He most recently got in the news for voting to support the Saudi War in Yemen.

Last week, Baltimore organizer Michael Feldman filed to run in the MD-02 primary. Feldman hadn’t been quiet about his intentions. He’s had a Crowpac page up for a few weeks now. Now, as we’ve said before, there are a lot of candidates who enter the race as “an organizer” or “an activist” and we don’t usually cover them until after they’ve demonstrated some potential. Feldman’s a bit different because of who exactly he’s an organizer for. Progressive Maryland is an organization with a bit of money and an unclear place in Maryland’s political ecosystem. It’s a state chapter of People’s Action, a national progressive organization. Progressive Maryland was put together by a collection of more activist unions and progressive electoral organizations in the state and employs a respectable regular staff, including Feldman. In 2018, the first year they were truly active, they were involved in a variety of races and spend over half a million dollars.

Side note - one of the races they were involved in was the Frederick County Sheriff election, and under-the-radar contest where Maryland’s version of Joe Arpaio was nearly ousted in an exurban/rural purple county that most state Democratic organizations don’t work in. We appreciate that kind of granularity.

Anyway, Progressive Maryland is a semi-established progressive group willing to play in primaries, such as their role in DSA-affiliated Marc Erlich’s 77 vote win in the Motgomery County Executive primary in 2018. Feldman was also a part of Allison Galbraith’s progresssive campaign for Congress while he was living on the Eastern Shore and organizing there for Progressive Maryland. All in all, it sounds like he has connections. And beyond that, it is possible Progressive Maryland might be willing to get involved.

MD-04

Yesterday, retired Marine colonel Shelia Bryant filed to run against Anthony Brown in this very blue black-majority seat in the suburbs of DC. Bryant, an attorney and self-described criminal justice reform activist, is an alum of Harvard’s prestigious Kennedy School of Government. Brown is most notable for blowing a gubernatorial race in deep-blue Maryland, cursing us with the governorship of Larry Hogan. We’ll have to see what kind of platform Bryant’s running on before making a judgment, but there’s certainly room for improvement from New Dem Brown.

NY-16

Andom Ghebreghiorgis, a teacher from Mount Vernon, kicked off his campaign against House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel today. Engel, a member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, is one of the House’s most hawkish voices on foreign policy, so naturally House Democrats tapped him to chair the Foreign Affairs Committee. He’s been in office since 1989, and while a moderate white man may have been a good fit for this Bronx/Westchester County district back then, he now represents a majority-minority district.

Ghebreghiorgis had been mentioned as a potential candidate by the New York Times back in February, but we hadn’t heard anything from him since. Ghebreghiorgis made it clear then that he disagrees with Engel’s conservative foreign policy outlook.

As for other issues, Engel previously supported impeachment when it came up for a vote in the last Congress, but now, when Democrats can actually proceed with impeachment, he crumpled under pressure from Nancy Pelosi, opposing impeachment despite his past votes to impeach Trump. Ghebreghiorgis backs Medicare for all and the Green New Deal, and he will refuse corporate PAC money. (Not that he was likely to get any, but it’s good to see a disavowal of corporate PAC money quickly become mainstream within the Democratic Party.)

Results

Virginia’s primaries were last night, and there were major ideological implications across the state. The results from last night were...decidedly mixed. Let’s start with the good news.

The Good

Arlington-Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney

Reformer Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who said she wants to “dismantle the mass incarceration machine,” ousted incumbent Democrat Theo Stamos, 52% to 48%. Stamos, a punitive prosecutor who infamously prosecuted a teenager for saying “oink oink” to a cop, oversaw massive racial disparities in prosecutions and convictions; less than one tenth of Arlington residents are black, but a majority of Arlington inmates are. Dehghani-Tafti drew sharp contrasts with Stamos, saying she would refuse to seek the death penalty and would decline to prosecute marijuana cases. Stamos earned the ire of otherwise centrist then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe when she was one of only three Democratkic prosecutors to sign a letter denouncing McAuliffe’s effort to re-enfranchise felons upon the completion of their sentences, and McAuliffe showed he meant business this year, working hard on behalf of Dehghani-Tafti.

Even better, Dehghani-Tafti wasn’t alone last night, which brings us to our next race. She was endorsed by our Progressive Virginia Project.

Fairfax County-Fairfax City Commonwealth’s Attorney

Fairfax County is a massive suburban county just south of DC, home to more than a million residents. Incumbent Ray Morrogh was, like his colleague Stamos to the north, a punitive prosecutor facing a reformer in the Democratic primary. Like Stamos, he signed on to the letter opposing felon re-enfranchisement. And like Stamos, he lost last night, with challenger Steve Descano winning 51% to Morrogh’s 49%. Descano, like Dehghani-Tafti, promised to end prosecution of marijuana possession, and to refuse to seek the death penalty. He was supported by our Progressive Virginia Project.

SD-10

Ghazala Hashmi, a progressive Muslim and immigrant who has spent decades in education, won a 49% to 41% victory over Eileen Bedell, a previous Congressional candidate whose more centrist campaign was out of place in this Clinton+13 district. Hashmi moves on to face Republican state Sen. Glen Sturtevant, who is a clear underdog in such a blue district.

HD-50

Incumbent Delegate Lee Carter, a democratic socialist, easily held off a primary challenge from former Republican Manassas City Councilor Mark Wolfe, winning by a margin of roughly 15 percentage points. Wolfe failed to even win his home of Manassas City, losing it by roughly 9 percent. Republicans will try to take Carter out, but Clinton won this district by 14, so that will probably be a waste of their money. (Which we welcome.) Carter was supported by our Progressive Virginia Project.

HD-57

UVA economist Sally Hudson defeated Charlottesville City Councilor Kathy Galvin by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, which is frankly embarrassing for a long-serving councilor like Galvin. Good riddance to Galvin, a conservative opponent of affordable housing who once blamed racial inequities in Charlottesville schools on black parents’ personal failures. Hudson was supported by our Progressive Virginia Project.

The Bad

SD-31

Incumbent Baraba Favola, who runs a lobbying firm that lobbies members of the legislature, received a spirited challenge from activist Nicole Merlene, but turned her back, 62% to 38%. This race got ugly in its final stretch, which is not uncommon for Favola, who in 2011 ran a “poll” calling her Democratic primary opponent a Republican.

HD-38

Kaye Kory, who herself got to the House by primarying out an incumbent, and has since been pretty average in that role, was challenged by Andres Jimenez, a younger Latinx housing advocate, who had a good amount of organized labor on his side. She won 63% to Jimenez’s 37%.

HD-49

Yeah, we knew this was coming. Political-progressive-but-also-ICE-profiteer Alfonso Lopez was being challenged by local NAACP president JD Spain. It has been obvious for a while that Lopez was going to cruise to reelection, but the eventual 77% to 23% win was a let down.

HD-91

DSA member Michael Wade was in trouble once local school board member and aggressive centrist Martha Mugler entered the race with a load of establishment support. We hoped the name recognition from his 2017 run, head start from getting in earlier, and labor endorsements would help him stay competitive, but he got blown out 69% to 31%

SD-35

This is the part where we yell at everyone who sat this race out. DNC member and human rights attorney Yasmine Taeb came heartbreakingly close to unseating conservative Islamophobic Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, despite Saslaw having all the money in the world, a mountain of endorsements, and a weird online influence operation by a group formerly designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department. He also had spoiler candidate Karen Torrent to save him; given that he only won a 3-point plurality, he may very well have lost without her on the ballot. Here’s a list of Taeb’s endorsements; if you’ve donated to a progressive group that isn’t on this list, you may want to start asking what they’re doing with your money. Notable omissions include the Working Families Party, Democracy for America, MoveOn.org, and Dailykos. We know that some people who work for those organizations read our newsletter, and we’ve been harping on this race for months now. Don’t act like you didn’t know.

Special kudos to Our Revolution. Taeb was endorsed not just by the local chapters, but the national organization, who came to Virginia to help her campaign. President Larry Cohen spoke at multiple Taeb events, and the national organization was seriously engaged in her campaign.

One last note: Taeb ended up losing because of a spoiler candidate, likely put up by Saslaw allies. It’s key for progressives to consolidate these fields moving forward. We’ll be sharing more thoughts on this next newsletter.

The Ugly

SD-16

Sex pest Joe Morrissey is back somehow, easily defeating incumbent state Sen. Rosalyn Dance. Jesus Christ, people, he “dated” his 17-year-old secretary. He’s unopposed in November, so we encourage a write-in, and we’ll keep you updated on whether a coordinated write-in campaign emerges.

...and the okay, we guess

Both HD-87 and Fairfax County Supervisor Chairperson were 4 way contests with a clear best and worst candidate. In both cases, one of the other two won the contest. Suhas Subramanyam took 47% in HD-87, and Jeffrey McKay took 42% in the Supervisor Chairperson race. Both should win easily in November.

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