Some Democrats Think 2020 Field is Becoming Too Large

During the last couple seasons of the political drama The West Wing, viewers watched the campaign for President Jed Bartlett’s replacement. At one point, there was discussion about a debate in New Hampshire just a few days before the Democratic primary there. The main point of contention was whether or not participation should be limited to the two front runners, or if all of the candidates (derisively referred to as the seven dwarfs) should be allowed to participate. Ultimately, in a move that was designed to illustrate why we need an active democracy, all seven candidates ended up participating.

In real life, the 2020 presidential race has taken that debate to a whole new level as there are now two dozen candidates running for the Democratic nomination. Now that even Bill de Blasio has entered the race, there are some people expressing frustration with the large number of candidates. That frustration has been voiced by some elected officials, including that of the Mayor of Lawerence, MA — Daniel Rivera.

Rivera took to twitter to ask Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic Party, “at what point does the party say something? Looking more like a circus then a primary! No way this is a good thing!” In what might be seen as a call for the party’s leaders to anoint a few frontrunners, Rivera added that Perez should “call Speaker Pelosi” or else “this will end poorly.”

Rivera’s criticism wasn’t just directed at Tom Perez. He went after fellow Massachusetts Democrat, Rep. Seth Moulton, and said there’s “no reason” he should be running when the state already had a US Senator running (who Rivera has happened to already endorsed). He applied the same reasoning to de Blasio who was entering the race even though Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had been in the race for several months.

While it’s understandable that people like Rivera are concerned about the ability of Democrats to move forward with a viable nominee, having more candidates in the race can also strengthen the eventual nominee and bring critical voices to the debate that might not otherwise be heard. This is part of why so many people were frustrated that people in leadership positions were going out of their way to hand Hillary Clinton the nomination back in 2016 — a move that clearly didn’t work out well in the end.

Clinton isn’t the only example of where trying to jam a predetermined front runner down the throats of voters can produce unwanted results. Efforts to limit candidates, after all, would have prevented Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from even enter the race in New York’s 14th Congressional District even though she’s now become one of the most progressive and visible members of Congress.

With all this in mind, the Democratic National Committee must have realized there was going to be a large field because they were very quick to come out with some rules about how candidates could qualify to participate in the various debates. One way to qualify is by having a certain number of individual contributors, which has lead candidates like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand having online ads asking people to donate “just one dollar to get Kirsten on the debate stage.”

In other words, the DNC is trying to both avoid preventing new candidates from entering the race while also making sure there’s some sort of structure to how the party will actually handle all the candidates. The question now becomes whether or not the party will actually be able to strike that balance before voting begins next year.

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Despite Evidence of Wrong Doing, FEC Votes Against Further Investigation of Illegal Campaign Donations

follow_the_moneyIn what’s perhaps a prime example of why there’s so much public skepticism about the money flowing to political campaigns, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) voted against further investigating a Boston based law firm that manipulated the system to give donations to various candidates that exceeded the amount allowed by federal law.

Partners from the Thorton Law Firm gave millions of dollars to campaigns and were eventually given “bonuses” that conveniently matched the exact amount of money they had donated to candidates. In a 33 page report on the case, the FEC made it clear that something very sketchy happened here but decided against pursuing the matter any further — a move that’s raised a lot of concern among advocates for more accountability in the political process. But a tie vote of 2-2 on the issue meant there would be no more movement on the investigation.

Members of the FEC can’t be accused of being on a partisan witch hunt either as most of the donations from Thornton Law went to Democratic candidates, but it was the Democratic FEC members who voted in favor of furthering the investigation. The Republicans, however, have a history of supporting the ability of multi-millionaires and corporations to give as much money as possible to campaigns. Those beliefs unfortunately mean the outcome of the vote wasn’t too surprising.

While this is just one case that’s receiving attention primarily in New England, the national discussion surrounding political donations has become a big part of the political debate in recent years. Not only is the political media discussing it, but candidates are highlighting it while they’re out on the campaign trail.

During her primary campaign against Joe Crowley in New York City, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was quick to point out that her opponent frequently scooped up huge donations from the uber wealthy who might desire to have extra influence over the Congressman. In Virginia, there’s also a big movement among state and local candidates to avoid taking donations from corporations like Dominion Energy — a public utility company that has an enormous amount of influence in the state capital of Richmond.

How money is raised has also reached the 2020 presidential campaign as there are literally dozens of candidates on the Democratic side trying to get their message out to voters. Candidates like Elizabeth Warren are refusing to take donations from corporate PACs and going after people like Joe Biden for holding high dollar fundraisers that essentially sell access to the candidates.

“Joe Biden raised $750,000 from wealthy donors at just one private fundraising event this week,” her campaign said in an email to supporters earlier this month. “Elizabeth doesn’t host any exclusive fundraisers like that — where you can only get in and meet her if you can write a big check — because her time is not for sale.”

The obvious argument is that Sen. Warren would be more accountable to the general public, whereas Biden would only be beholden to a few high dollar donors. It might seem a little political insidery, but it’s a message that seems to be resonating and is picking up steam.

As it stands with the case involving the Thornton Law Firm, many candidates have already returned donations they received from the firm and there’s an appeals process in place that could result in some sort of action in the future. But the real debate should focus in on how the public can hold politicians more accountable regarding the money they receive and whose best interests are truly being represented in the political process.

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Elizabeth Warren Says She’ll Appoint a Public School Teacher as Secretary of Education

Elizabeth Warren promised earlier today that she would have a public school teacher become Secretary of Education if she’s elected president. Folks who closely follow education policy likely realize this is not only a good policy idea, but also a jab at Betsy DeVos, the woman who currently holds the position.

Before she was sworn into office, DeVos had made it her life’s mission to combat public education because she believed it was a “dead end.” She was known as being advocate for school vouchers, which would steer public money away from public schools and into private facilities, and declared that her education reform efforts were part of her efforts to “advance God’s kingdom.” While these might not be sinister causes, they very clearly show she has no interest in strengthening our public schools — something the Department of Education should be focused on.

As a member of the Senate HELP Committee who got to question DeVos during her confirmation process, Sen. Warren was one of the more vocal opponents of the Secretary’s nomination. Her concerns have proven to be justified as DeVos has had an extremely controversial tenure at the Department of Education. The Secretary tried to roll back protections for minority students, killed programs that help students from low income families, and has refused to even consider any meaningful reforms to help prevent gun violence in our schools.

On the other hand, it’s worth noting that before becoming involved in politics, Warren herself was actually a teacher and a fierce advocate for making a better education more accessible to everyone. She briefly taught special education before becoming a highly respected law professor who had a reputation of being highly engaging with her students and doing everything she could to help them succeed. In other words, this is a concept she truly believes in and isn’t just something she’s promising because she had a speech before the American Federation of Teachers.

While DeVos might be the polar opposite of a public school teacher, appointing one to such a powerful position isn’t a completely foreign concept. In Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam appointed Atif Qarni, a former middle school civics teacher from Prince William County, to be his Secretary of Education. Qarni has been extremely well received in Virginia by the education community as he brought direct knowledge of the struggles both teachers and students face while in the classroom. This knowledge is part of what’s allowed him to be successful in his efforts to fight for teachers and public schools even as other statewide officials in Virginia have been caught up in scandals.

This concept also ties into the larger message Sen. Warren has focused on throughout her political career and the 2020 presidential campaign; that the public deserves a government that’s serving the best interests of everyone, not just millionaires and billionaires who can already afford expensive private schools for their children. This is just the latest example of how Warren would go about making sure that happens if she’s elected.

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Knock Down the House Draws Attention to Insurgent Campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Others

knock down the houseWith so many people getting disgusted with the political process, there are a lot of people who are trying to draw attention to candidates who don’t fall into traditional categories. We saw a lot of those candidates pop up during the 2018 midterm elections and a new documentary released on Netflix has attempted to give an in depth look at four of those candidates.

The documentary, Knock Down the House, follows four progressive women who ran against incumbent Democrats during the Democratic primary. Perhaps the most well known person is featured (potentially because she’s actually the only one who actually won her primary) is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Ocasio-Cortez launched her campaign to represent parts of the Bronx and Queens in the House of Representatives on a shoestring budget by trying to build grassroots support that could eventually defeat a incumbent in Joe Crowley who was the powerful Chair of the House Democratic Caucus (in other words, the fourth highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives). Not only did he have a national profile and the power that goes along with it, but he also control over local campaign infrastructure because he was the Chairman of the local Queens County Democratic

Since these were insurgent, non-traditional candidates going up against well funded establishment candidates, the issue of fundraising was brought up several times during the documentary. Not only were the challengers often operating on a shoestring budget, but they were going up against incumbents who were receiving millions from large corporations and their PACs during every election cycle. This was highlighted by how candidates like Amy Vilela in Nevada attracted some support by refusing to take donations from corporate PACs.

The money gap, however, was partly responsible for why Ocasio-Cortez and others were able to be dismissed so easily by the mainstream media or leaders in the local political establishment. Crowley’s victory was so assured, after all, that there was no public polling conducted and even a last minute internal poll from AOC’s campaign showed her about 35 points down.

As a side note, even with the passion that Ocasio-Cortez stirs up among the Democratic base, the money debate is something that still has an impact on the political climate inside the Democratic Party. The party has released new rules saying vendors who help out primary challengers cannot receive contracts from the party. Especially among people who believe in holding leaders of both parties accountable, this has created quite the stir and a lot of people have begun expressing their disappointment in the policy — including myself.

I received a fundraising phone call from the DCCC late last week. Now, I’m on their list because I’ve given to the organization in the past, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that they gave me a call. While I was polite and let the woman calling do her pitch, I eventually let her know I wouldn’t be donating unless the DCCC removed its rule regarding supporting primary challengers.

In response to this, the woman started yelling at me (literally yelling) and telling me that doing away with the rule would only help the Republicans. Setting aside how yelling at me certainly wasn’t going to convince me to give some money, it goes to show that there is a lot of infrastructure developed to protect incumbents and supporters simply blindly believed that any attempt to hold them accountable would solely help “the enemy” — in the case of the woman calling me from the DCCC, conservative Republicans.

What this belief system fails to take into account is that if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t win her primary, we would have never seen such a strong progressive representing New York’s 14th District.  Now that she’s in the House, however, we have a vocal opponent to Donald Trump’s policies and a champion for the people who brings her working class background to the halls of Congress.

Even sitting aside the whole money issue, the documentary also highlights how Ocasio-Cortez struggled to even be invited to crucial community events while she was initially launching her campaign. She was almost shut out of a forum, for instance, which would have denied her an opportunity to receive the attention that Crowley could simply buy with all his corporate PAC donations.

Through primarily focusing in on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the documentary brings an air of hope that even the “little guy or girl” can actually help change the political system. The plain and simple fact that a woman with little name recognition was able to mount a successful campaign against such a powerful Congressman might prove inspirational to progressives who are looking for someone to believe in. As we are now seeing some scrappy campaigns such as that being run by Pete Buttigieg, it might also have an impact on the 2020 presidential campaign.

In a time when we see such over the top personalities featured by the 24 hour news cycle, the documentary also provided several intimate reminders that politicians are people too. We saw Ocasio-Cortez tear up while thinking of her father, another person crying while discussing the loss of a daughter who’s death could have been prevented if her health insurance had covered certain procedures, and other candidates struggling with the sheer emotion that a campaign can drag up.

Knock Down the House is worth watching as it reminds us we have leaders out there who are fighting for everyone, not just the rich and powerful.

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