Should “Likability” Be A 2020 Campaign Issue?

IMG_1893Almost immediately after Elizabeth Warren announced she was taking an official step towards running for president in 2020, there were “haters” who starting launching attacks and claiming she’d never be able to win. Whether it’s mainstream media outlets like Politico claiming she’s already been “written off as too unlikable” and comparing her campaign to Hillary’s failed 2016 effort, Republicans calling her “cold” instead of addressing her policy ideas, or political consultants saying their family would consider a male candidate like Joe Biden but not Elizabeth Warren, it seems like the main argument people have against her is — wait for it — she’s a female and just too darn unlikable.

This isn’t something new. While a large number of progressive activists were hoping she’d enter the 2016 race for president, there’s been a lot of other folks who’ve been attacking her personality or other superficial aspects of her record ever since she started receiving national attention. A prime example of this is how Donald Trump has taken to calling her “Pocahantas” instead of actually listening to the policy proposals she’s developed after spending her whole career studying the legal aspects of economics.

Unfortunately, Sen. Warren is just the latest example of women being criticized for extremely frivolous reasons. Women who’ve sought powerful positions in the past have always faced extra scrutiny about things like their clothing style or personality — even when they’re the frontrunner for president. There were multiple stories over the years that called Hillary Clinton’s laugh “shrill,” for example, and reporters like Bob Woodward actually claimed she “shouts” too much.

Now there are some people who almost base their criticism of Warren on policy related issues, but their arguments really come down to disliking her attempts to take on the establishment. Whether it’s going after the big banks, trying to limit the impact big pharma has on the costs of healthcare, or challenging the political elite on both sides of the aisle, there are simply people out there who don’t like how she represents major change.

Of course, when Obama ran on a message of change back in 2008, folks declared it inspiring even if they didn’t agree with all his policy proposals. But these are many of the same people who seem to feel threatened by Sen. Warren. What’s different? Well, perhaps the most obvious thing is she’s a female who isn’t deemed to be “likable enough” (channeling the quote Obama made about Hillary Clinton during a debate back in 2008).

This can’t just be attributed to Republicans or the media either. There are a fair number of Democrats who were quick to bash Sen. Warren. One rather vocal Democrat from Northern Virginia, for instance, took to Facebook shortly after her announcement and declared “Elizabeth Warren is forming an exploratory committee. (Yawn). I’ll vote for just about anyone (except Bernie) before her.” The comment was “liked” by several other prominent Democrats from the area who have a history of speaking out against Sen. Bernie Sanders and other politicians who threaten the political establishment.

The good news is that there’s a lot of push back against the negative way folks are reacting. Several media outlets and folks who are leaning towards supporting other candidates have expressed outrage over Politico’s story and there’s been a lot of online chatter about how we never hear stories about whether or not male politicians are “likable.” Plus, Sen. Warren has already started fundraising off the issue.

The real story will be whether or not she’s able to grow her base of support. An early test of this will be in Iowa as she’s already hired some key staff members in the state and will be making a trip there this weekend. It might be a year before any voting actually takes place, but these moves could prove beneficial in the long run.

Combine these moves with what the data and buzz among grassroots activists are showing and there are some positive things happening for her campaign. Even people who are supporting other candidates have admitted she’s among the top candidates in early polling — something that matches what folks on the ground are saying. A co-worker of mine who’s based in Iowa told me “there’s a lot of excitement” about her campaign there and “even people who aren’t sure about her are gonna go to her events to see what’s up.”

If she wants to win the Democratic nomination and then the White House, she’ll need to use early trips like this to convince folks “who aren’t sure about her” and gain some momentum in the media. While she has time to overcome the negative narrative some people are trying to promote, the earlier she does this the better.

No matter what happens in the presidential campaign, one thing’s clear. The discussion over who holds the most powerful office in the world should include female candidates and shouldn’t focus on if they’re “likable enough.”

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Elizabeth Warren Forms Exploratory Committee for 2020 Presidential Campaign

I’ve made it pretty clear over the last few years that I’m a big supporter of Elizabeth Warren. I think we need a strong progressive who has the experience taking on large corporations (both prior to be elected to the Senate and during her time in office), has an in depth knowledge of economic policy, and a history standing up for liberal values while in elected office. So I was very happy to see she’s formed an exploratory committee for a 2020 presidential campaign. Count me in.

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Movie Review: “Vice” Shows How a Ruthless Dick Cheney Became the Most Powerful VP in American History

viceBeing the liberal political junkie that I am, I went to see the movie Vice earlier this afternoon. The movie was written and directed by Adam McKay, who also brought us The Big Short, and stared people like Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Amy Adams as it followed the political career of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

It quickly became clear the movie wouldn’t be some whitewashed biography designed to make Cheney look good as early scenes showed him being a drunken fool who flunked out of Yale and had multiple DUI arrests before having a come to Jesus moment when his fiance threatened to leave him if he didn’t straighten up. After he had turned things around and was starting a Congressional internship, it showed him as more interested in power than promoting good policy by declaring himself a Republican because he liked the attitude Donald Rumsfeld displayed during a speech welcoming the interns and wanted to work in his office (Rumsfeld was a member of the House of Representatives at the time).

The theme of taking whatever policy stance necessary to gain more power didn’t end there. In a scene showing a discussion about policy and how to best use it to gain a political advantage, Cheney asked Rumsfeld what they actually believed in. Rumsfeld responded by laughing uncontrollably and slamming the door in his face.

As the movie moved into Cheney’s time in the executive branch (first as a White House staffer, then Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, and later Vice President), the quest for political power appeared to intensify. He would eventually become obsessed with promoting an extremely controversial interpretation of the unified executive theory. Cheney’s use of the theory suggested the president could essentially do anything he wanted and be legally protected — especially when it came to foreign policy and national security issues — even if it went against policy outlined by the legislative and judicial branch of the federal government. This would later help form the basis for how the Bush Administration justified things like invading Iraq, supporting torture, and other moves that tried to give the White House unchecked power.

Further driving home the point that Cheney would do whatever it took to give himself more influence, there was a scene where George W. Bush offered Cheney the vice presidency. While having Bush portrayed as a bumbling idiot who clearly shouldn’t be running the country, Cheney said he’d only accept if he was given unprecedented power over critical government programs. He would later use this agreement to justify actions such as him giving Rumsfeld the authority to shoot down any unresponsive airplane on 9/11 (an order that would normally only be given by the president).

At another point, Cheney is having a discussion with Rumsfeld in the White House about how they needed to suppress certain intelligence reports and avoid having Bush see them because they’d make the vice president look bad. The reports discussed the rise of ISIS and showed the organization largely gained power only after Cheney forced Colin Powell to talk about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi during a speech making the case to invade Iraq before the United Nations.

Mentioning al-Zarqawi on such a major platform gave him extraordinary power among extremist groups and allowed him to grow ISIS into a powerful organization that terrorized the Middle East and threatened the United States. If those intelligence reports had been acted upon quickly instead of being suppressed for PR reasons, the growth of ISIS could have been blunted and we wouldn’t be still fighting the terrorist organization today in parts of Iraq and Syria.

One of the few times Cheney came across as a normal, almost compassionate, human with feelings was during some interactions with his daughter Mary. In one scene, the teenage Mary got into a car accident after breaking up with her girlfriend and ended up coming out to her parents while sitting in a hospital room afterwards. While Lynne Cheney was portrayed as being hesitant to accept her daughter’s sexual orientation, the former vice president immediately embraced her and told her he loved her.

In a movie that clearly didn’t portray Cheney in a favorable light, however, even this story-line ended up in disappointment. Towards the end of the movie we see that the older Cheney child, Liz, was running in the 2014 Republican primary for US Senate from Wyoming. Her opponent, incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi, and conservative groups were attacking her for having previously said gay marriage. With her parents’ blessing, Liz went on Fox News Sunday to combat the attacks and told Chris Wallace she believed in traditional marriage. This series of events was obviously highlighted to show Cheney throwing Mary under the bus to help Liz’s political career and keep the family in a powerful position.

I had to look into this when I got home because I thought I remembered Cheney being one of the first Republican leaders to publicly support gay marriage. My memory wasn’t failing me as Cheney did distance himself from George W. Bush and the rest of the GOP leadership when they were pushing for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. During a campaign rally in Mississippi during the 2004 campaign, for instance, Cheney said “freedom means freedom for everyone” and that “people ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.”

Despite those comments, Cheney and his wife Lynne did indeed cause friction between them and Mary by supporting Liz when she came out against gay marriage. After Mary and her long time partner Heather Poe expressed disappointment with Liz’s remarks on TV, Cheney released a statement saying it’s an issue they’ve “dealt with privately for many years, and we are pained to see it become public” before claiming “Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage.” In other words, they clearly didn’t support Mary being so publicly out and supportive of gay rights if it meant her sister’s political career might be damaged.

While the movie reminds us of the damaging policies Cheney promoted over the course of his career, it also showed him as a brilliant politician who’s focus on getting his way allowed him to become the most powerful vice president in American history. In other words, it almost spoke highly of his tenacity while placing the blame for much of the country’s current problems at his feet.

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Should MLB Continue Making Political Donations?

DSC_0325There’s been a lot of talk recently about the $10,000 that MLB’s PAC has given to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, especially since $5,000 of that came just days after she made remarks about wanting to sit in the first row for a “public hanging.” Even though MLB has asked for the money back and apparently set in motion a process to more thoroughly screen donations made to candidates, the donation has caused a lot of embarrassment for MLB and led to fans asking why the league’s even getting financially invested in politics.

In terms of the embarrassment, Rob Manfred and other executives are quickly trying to address the situation. Manfred has said the donation was made from a lobbyist employed by Major League Baseball who was unaware of the controversial comments the Senator made (though that makes me wonder how good he is at his job since they were BIG news in the political world). Furthermore, the money was apparently made in lieu of attending a Republican fundraiser in the days leading up to Hyde-Smith’s runoff election.

The day after the donation started receiving media attention, MLB announced it had asked for the money back. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo, the league also made two more donations totally another $5,000 before the controversial comments were made and executives eventually asked for those back as well.

Finally, David Adler of MLB.com reports that the Rob Manfred addressed the donation and Hyde-Smith’s remarks while speaking at a charity event in New York. “First and most important,” the Commissioner said, “the comments attributed to this particular candidate are completely at odds with the values that Major League Baseball has always embraced.”

With all this work is going into backtracking on a donation made to a controversial Senator, a lot of fans are rightfully asking why MLB is even making donations to political candidates in the first place. The answer’s simple — most big businesses do it in one form or another in order to curry favor and help advance policy that would be favorable to the organization. Over the years, MLB has donated almost $4 million to at least 320 politicians. Most of the recipients were incumbents and there was no clear preference for political party (though during this cycle, Democrats received more money than Republicans).

These donations are made, at least in part, knowing that they help MLB have influence over Members of Congress. Baseball executives have used this when talking about certain pieces of legislation, like the Save America’s Pastime Act. As Mike Axisa from CBS Sports points out, this was slipped into a $1.3 trillion spending package that was over 2,000 pages long earlier this year and gives MLB the right to continue paying Minor League players less than the minimum wage. This could prove to be a big victory considering there are lawsuits pending about the issue.

MLB also holds discussions with lawmakers on issues like antitrust legislation so it’s harder to claim it’s a monopoly that stifles competition and regulations related to gambling — especially in light of the Supreme Court ruling that legalized sports gambling. With so many players coming from outside the United States in recent years and the intensity surrounding the immigration debate in Washington, it also shouldn’t be surprising that baseball executives have been actively involved in immigration related discussions.

As a community organizer, I have seen firsthand how this process works. While I’ve advocated for creating policy that would limit the influence large corporations and the uber wealthy can have on the political process, I frequently meet with politicians at all levels of government and realize that donations I’ve made over the years have probably opened some doors for me. Since this is how “the game” currently works, it shouldn’t be surprising that big companies like MLB and a community organizer for a relatively small organization like me are trying to use the system to their advantage.

Even if money is taken out of the picture, it’s in the best interest of Major League Baseball to maintain relationships with politicians. This might lead to some controversies like we’ve seen with the donation to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, but it’s going to help create policy that’s favorable to the organization in the long run. These benefits far outweigh having to deal with a controversy that’ll likely be quickly forgotten in the era of 24/7 cable news. So while I definitely don’t support Hyde-Smith and am disappointed in some of the political maneuvering MLB has done over the years, I believe baseball executives should remain active in the political process.

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It’s a day late, but Happy Thanksgiving

I know it’s a day late, but I spent yesterday traveling up to Philly to visit family (a six hour roundtrip) and wanted to make the most of the day while there. I therefore wanted to take some time today to say Happy Thanksgiving.

While there were many Virginia politicians who sent out Thanksgiving messages that talked about community and being with loved ones (Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Sen. Tim Kaine, Del. John Bell, Del. Kaye Kory, Supervisor candidate Ken Boddye, and Delegate candidate Dan Helmer, just to name a few), I couldn’t help but notice Donald Trump claimed he was most thankful for — wait for it — himself.

I’m proud of some of the accomplishments I’ve made this year, but that’s definitely not what I’m most thankful for. Being able to play with my three and five year old nephews yesterday and meeting my first cousin, once removed (my cousin’s two week old baby son) provided a prime example of why I’m thankful. I have a family who’s been a fabulous source of support and the texts I received from friends yesterday reminded me of how lucky I am to have an amazing group of people surrounding me on a daily basis.

Fortunately, this won’t be just a one day reminder as we enter into the holiday season. I’m heading back up to Philly for a work related event (Americans for Democratic Action is holding its post-election summit up there) and I’ll get to celebrate Hanukkah with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. Of course, there’s also a slew of holiday parties that are already scheduled for the next month or so.

Spending time with friends and family over the next few weeks will be extremely important, but that doesn’t mean politics won’t be getting its proper attention as well. With Virginia’s General Assembly convening on January 9th, legislators are already preparing for session and I am too. I’ll be spending several weeks down in Richmond as the legislature is meeting and am already working with my organization’s members, leaders from other community groups, and members of the General Assembly from both parties to help identify priorities for session.

It looks like legislation preventing discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity in public housing and employment will come up again this year. And ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment has also already received constant attention (including a bus tour by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and other community leaders). If the General Assembly were to support the ERA, Virginia would be the state to push it across the finish line by becoming the 38th state to ratify the amendment and add gender equality to the Constitution. These are just a few of the issues that are likely to come up this year.

What this all means is this will be a busy time of year as we combine spending time with family with doing what we can to improve the community.

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County Level Races Starting to Take Shape for 2019

john cookWe’re continuing to see new developments in local races as John Cook has announced that he won’t seek another term representing the Braddock District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Cook was first elected back in 2009 in a special election to fill Sharon Bulova’s seat after she was elected Chair and is one of only two Republicans currently on the 10 member board (Pat Herrity is the other one).

The announcement comes only a few days after James Walkinshaw, who currently serves as Rep. Gerry Connolly’s chief of staff, announced he’ll be running for the seat. I’ve known James since I first became involved in politics back in the early 2000’s and, while he’s definitely a strong Democrat, I’ve seen his ability to reach across party lines when it’s necessary to build coalitions. I therefore wasn’t surprised at all when he quickly thanked Cook for his service.

“I want to thank John Cook for his dedicated service to our community,” James said in a tweet. “As I have said to him myself, I know he is a fundamentally decent person who cares about our community. He’s devoted many late nights and long hours to this job, and I have tremendous respect for that.”

Assuming Walkinshaw wins the Democratic nomination (and I believe that’s a safe bet as a lot of prominent elected officials and Democratic activists in Fairfax are already announcing their support), recent election results suggest he has a good chance of flipping the seat to Democratic hands. Sen. Tim Kaine won the district with 70 percent of the vote and Gerry Connolly won with 68 percent during the midterm elections earlier this month. That being said, he might not be the only knew voice on the Board after next November.

The Washington Post’s reporting that Sharon Bulova will be using the Thanksgiving holiday to sit down with her family and discuss whether or not she’ll seek a third term as Chair. She’s been on the Board since 1988 and chair since 2009, so this would be a huge change. It could also lead to even more developments as Supervisor Jeff McKay is likely to run for Chair if Bulova doesn’t. Bulova’s made it clear she’d endorse him if she doesn’t run and McKay has said “it’s very likely [he’ll] be making an announcement shortly after” Bulova announces a decision about her reelection.

The Springfield District is also a race that’s also being watched very closely. Pat Herrity is facing a challenge from Democrat Linda Sperling (interestingly, both of them live in the neighborhood I grew up in — Little Rocky Run, which is literally right across the street from Centreville High School). I first met Pat when he was visiting friends of his who lived next door to me and have always liked him as a person, but his politics aren’t a great fit for the district anymore. This race will come down to whether or not the personal connections he’s made with the community are enough to overcome Linda Sperling being great on the issues. It’ll be even more difficult when you consider she also already has a great network of supporters and relationships with the community.

What this all means is John Cook’s retirement probably won’t be the only change seen on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. And with candidates like Kenny Boddhe running for a seat on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and Tia Walbridge running in Loudoun, we could see some big changes in other Northern Virginia counties as well.

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Gerry Connolly Delivers Weekly Democratic Address

Rep. Gerry Connolly delivered the Weekly Democratic Address today and highlighted the recent midterm elections and some of the issues Democrats will be focusing on in the upcoming Congress. You can watch the video below and read the full transcript in the comment section.

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Northam Removes Critics of Atlantic Coast Pipeline from Air Pollution Control Board

No acpIn a move that has raised a lot of concerns from the general public, Governor Ralph Northam has removed two people from the state Air Pollution Control Board. Both board members, Sam Bleicher and Rebecca Rubin, had expressed concern over the Buckingham Compressor Station being proposed. The compressor is supposedly needed for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but the station would have a huge impact on the historically black community of Union Hill.

The timing of the move is highly suspicious because the board is scheduled to vote on the station on December 10 and the Governor’s office isn’t even ready to announce the new members. A statement several environmental groups released about the decision highlights how this is a clear attack on the public’s ability to weigh in on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the impact it’ll have on the community.

“Removing citizen board members in the midst of contentious debate sends the wrong message,” the statement said. “Citizen boards must remain independent from political interference during the decision-making process. We call on the governor to reverse this decision until the current board has finalized its deliberations on the proposed permit.”

The decision also comes after the Governor removed a member of the State Water Control Board who raised concerns about the pipeline and blatantly ignored a letter from his Environmental Justice Advisory Council calling for construction of the pipeline to be stopped. In other words, Northam is actively removing and/or ignoring any opposition to the pipeline even if it comes from his own advisers.

All of this has caused prominent members of the Governor’s own party to speak out on the issue. Delegate Mark Keam, for instance, wrote a tweet saying Northam “and his senior staff have always told me their hands are tied on stopping fracked gas pipelines due to federal laws, but this action shows they’re willing to be proactive in SUPPORT of pipelines!”

“I really hope [the Governor] and his senior staff have legitimate explanation for taking this unusual action now,” he added in a later tweet, “or else we’re left to believe that it IS about helping Dominion Energy get its pipeline and compressor station.”

While people are genuinely concerned about the immediate environmental impact this decision could have, the Governor’s move has also served as reminder of the political influence that Dominion Energy has here in Virginia. Charlotte McConnell, a candidate in the race to fill Jennifer Wexton’s seat in the state senate, highlighted this in her statement on the latest developments.

“Governor Northam will listen to advice from Dominion Energy but not the independent councils created to advise him on matters of air pollution and environmental justice,” McConnell said. “It must be noted that Dominion Energy has donated $508,940 to our legislators in 2018. Since 2010, Dominion Energy has donated $6,792,288 to influence our legislators. This money is given to both sides of the aisle. A total of $199,251 has been given to our Governor from Dominion Energy.”

It’s also worth noting that this was a huge issue during the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary as Tom Perriello was an outspoken critic of the pipeline. Northam and his supporters were quick to quash any suggestion that he’d actively help the pipeline’s progress. Now that it’s clear he’s violated the spirit of those promises, however, he’ll be forced to take full responsibility for the pipeline and the negative impacts it’ll have on the community.

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David Toscano to Resign as Democratic Leader in House of Delegates

ToscanoAs a lot of attention on the national level is being devoted to the discussion surrounding Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, it looks like we have a localized version of that debate happening here in Virginia. Ben Tribbett tweeted last night that Delegate David Toscano will be resigning from his role as Democratic leader in the House of Delegates.

Toscano has served as the Democratic leader since 2011 and the caucus has been in the minority during that period (and not even close to getting a majority for most of it). After the 2017 elections, however, Democrats are extremely close to gaining control of the House and this could potentially mean the next Democratic leader would be Speaker of the House. As Tribbett points out, this could mean some jockeying from current delegates; especially since he likely won’t officially resign until after the 2019 General Assembly session.

The Toscano chaos gets even better. Now he is telling people he wants to stay as a lame duck leader through session then step down. So Dems will spend all session jockeying with each other?

These developments have already started up a discussion about who should fill his spot. Several people have mentioned Jennifer Boysko’s name since she had a failed attempt to take over the leadership position this past summer, but her campaign to fill Jennifer Wexton’s seat in the state senate means she might not even be in the House next year. While others like Delegate Alfonso Lopez are apparently making calls about the opening, it’s really not clear who will emerge as potential candidates.

As the debate geared up this morning, I couldn’t help but think there are several people who were elected as part of the blue wave back in 2017 who are both good on the issues and know how to inspire people. That being said, it’s absolutely crucial that the caucus leader who has the relationships and legislative process knowledge to effectively steer through a progressive legislative agenda. Someone with just one term of experience might not have this and therefore probably wouldn’t be a practical choice.

I therefore strongly believe we need someone with experience to lead the caucus in the immediate future, but should make clear, definitive steps towards developing new leadership in the House. While there are plenty of experienced delegates who I’ve supported over the years for their current seats (and will continue to do so), nobody jumps out as the clear frontrunner right now. It’ll therefore be interesting to see who emerges as a candidate to be the new Democratic leader in the next couple weeks/months.

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A Step Towards Progress in Loudoun County

On the second Tuesday of every month for about two years, members of Equality Loudoun have attended the Loudoun County School Board meetings and urged the board to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the school system’s non-discrimination policy. There was a vote on the measure awhile ago and conservatives prevented passage, but the effort has continued in hopes of the board eventually taking another one with a different result. While that hasn’t happened yet, there was a major step towards progress at last night’s board meeting.

I was one of the people who spoke at last night’s meeting and I noticed several board members nodding in agreement as I spoke about the need to prevent discrimination– especially Joy Maloney. We had a wide variety of other people who told personal stories about why protections for the LGBT community are important.

Later in the meeting, the board was debating the legislative agenda it wanted to present to Loudoun’s General Assembly delegation for the upcoming session. During the discussion, Maloney made a motion to include support for state legislation that would include a ban on discriminating against the LGBT community when it comes to public employment. This would apply to local employees like teachers as well and ended up passing on a four to three vote.

This is a huge show of support for the LGBT community in Loudoun and Maloney even credited all the speakers the board’s been hearing from as a reminder that this is an important issue to the general public. That being said, it’s worth noting that the legislation still has to pass the General Assembly. While it’s been passed by the state senate, it hasn’t even made it out of committee in the House of Delegates.

In the moments after the vote, there was definitely a lot of excitement among supporters of basic equality. As the situation sunk in, however, I was also reminded by a school board candidate that the measures passed largely because Eric DeKenipp recently resigned and Jill Turgeon wasn’t present for the meeting (both oppose equality). Those two absences gave supporters of LGBT equality a majority and they were therefore able to get the measure passed.

It was brilliant of Maloney to be aware of the fact that she’s be able to get the votes, but protecting civil rights shouldn’t have to depend on school board members being absent. We therefore have to work to elect supporters of equality like Ian Serotkin to the board next year. In the meantime, let’s enjoy this step towards progress.

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