Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Upgrading Congress-- In Maryland, Meet Jamie Raskin


Sunday, Maryland state Senate Majority Whip Jamie Raskin declared that he's running for the congressional seat left open by Chris Van Hollen's decision to seek a U.S. Senate seat. “I am running for Congress," explained Raskin, "because America needs effective progressive leadership to renew the momentum of popular democracy in the country. I have a proven decade-long record as an effective progressive leader in Annapolis. I submit to you that I have the experience, the energy, the vision and the commitment to excel as your Congressman... We will rock the House!” He pledged to represent “the fact-based community,” against climate-change deniers in Congress. He said he would represent “the common good,” rather than “big-money interests," saying his campaign would not accept corporate funding. 

We asked an old friend of Blue America, David Segal, to take a look at the contest for MD-08. Segal, who was the first Green Party candidate to ever win a seat on the Providence City Council, later served in the Rhode Island House of Representatives and is currently executive director of Demand Progress. If what David has to say resonates with you, you can contribute to Jamie's campaign here at the Blue America page.

Jamie Raskin For Congress (MD-08)

by David Segal

I’ll just put it plainly: Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin is a progressive populist who’s running for Congress from Maryland-- and he very well could be the next Paul Wellstone or Elizabeth Warren.

Jamie has led the way on what’s quickly becoming an innumerable list of recent progressive successes in Maryland-- marriage equality, the repeal of the death penalty, passage of medical marijuana, and lowering the voter registration age to 16, to name a few.

Sunday afternoon several hundred people packed a restaurant and spilled out onto the sidewalk to back him as he kicked off his campaign to replace Chris Van Hollen as the representative of Maryland’s 8th District. The event opened with a message of endorsement from John Conyers, and acknowledgements of support from on the order of three dozen lefty elected officials from throughout District 8.

And then Jamie had at it. Though anything but naive, Jamie exhibits an earnest, energetic, infectious idealism that somehow manages to make this 52-year old seem precocious.

He told us the story of an encounter he had nearly 10 years ago, while launching his first effort for State Senate-- from his front porch. That day Jamie spoke passionately about the imperative to foster social justice, and proclaimed that aggressive support for gay marriage would be one of the hallmarks of his campaign and tenure in office. Afterwards, one of his proto-constituents pulled him aside and beseeched him: “Jamie, I’m with you on the issue, but you need to tone down your rhetoric about gay marriage. It’s just never going to happen here — and if you want to win, you need to appear to be more centrist.” Loathe to antagonize one of his few early supporters, Jamie bit his lip. But he says he thought, “My ambition is not to be in the political center. My ambition is to be in the moral center.”

Over two-plus terms in office he’s been precisely that: prioritizing civil rights and liberties and economic justice, combatting corporatism, refusing to take corporate contributions, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with grassroots activists and organizers, helping make Maryland a bit more small-D democratic.

But before he was among the most impressive activist-lawmakers in the country, he was an activist-professor of constitutional law at American University. Beloved by his students, he has also taken on myriad righteous pro-bono cases and written books about the corrupting influence of private money on our political system and about the rights of students. And before he was an activist law professor, he was just… an activist. Congressman John Sarbanes spoke today of one of his earliest memories of Jamie, as an impassioned and shockingly articulate speaker at an anti-apartheid rally at Harvard in the 80s, where they were law school classmates.

The drive for social justice runs in the family: HIs father, Marcus Raskin, founded the Institute for Policy Studies. His wife, Sarah Raskin, was the chief bank regulator in Maryland and was recently successfully backed by progressives to become the first female Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

When Jamie announced his 2006 effort for State Senate, Maryland’s political pundits called the task before him impossible: He was trying to unseat a 30-year incumbent, a local political institution.

When he won the primary against her nine months later-- by a 2-1 margin-- the pundits called his victory “inevitable." And it surely was: His campaign built a Congressional race-sized network of hundreds of volunteers, and illuminated that the incumbent’s moderate and corporatist record was anathema to the values of the Takoma Park-Silver Spring electorate. They made it clear that Jamie would be what he calls a “justice politician” and not a “power politician."

Revel for a moment in just how remarkable that is, in the modern era of the Democratic Party: Somebody had the guts to challenge an incumbent Democrat from the left-- let alone his having had the political and organizing acumen to win, going away.

Jamie’s newest task isn’t easy, but it is far from impossible. (Don’t tell anybody, but he might even be a slight favorite.) With the support he’s likely to garner from the grassroots in his district and across the country, we can build a movement that, once it wins, will again seem to have been inevitable. And we’ll have rocketed into Congress an activist-organizer lawmaker who, working alongside the grassroots, will fight to do for the all of the United States some of what tremendous good he’s done for the people of Maryland.

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