The Case For Donna Edwards (D-MD)
The next congressional primaries we're looking at are in Maryland. Barbara Milkulski's retirement triggered 3 big races: a Senate race between two House members, progressive champion Donna Edwards and establishment shill Chris Van Hollen to replace her, and then a bevy of candidates to replace each of them. Blue America has endorsed Donna in the Senate race, Joseline Peña-Melnyk to replace her in the House and Jamie Raskin to replace Van Hollen. (You can contribute to all 3 on the same special Blue America page). The Maryland primary is on April 26... coming right up. Yesterday, Steve Phillips did a very thorough and comprehensive look at the Senate race, one of the most important anywhere in the whole country. His point is that too many progressives are on the wrong side of history in this race, although, the "progressives" he's referring to are mostly just garden variety pieces of the Democratic establishment. Aside from Blue America the other progressive groups who have endorsed Donna include DFA, People for the American Way and PCCC.
Here’s a quick, two-question quiz. First question: How many Black women have ever served in the United States Senate? Answer: One (Carol Mosely Braun of Illinois, elected in 1992). Second question: Do Democrats and progressives care? Good question. Very good question.Blue America made Donna her own thermometer. She needs some dough to keep up with Van Hollen's corporate cash gusher for the next three weeks.
The current Senate race in Maryland presents the best chance in 240 years to elect America’s second Black woman senator, but many Democrats are acting like they just don’t care. In fact, several are actively opposing Congresswoman Donna Edwards’ bid to succeed retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski.
To be clear, I’m not saying that every candidate of color has to be supported over every white candidate (taking that reasoning to its logical extreme would result in backing Ted Cruz over Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton). But we have real, ongoing, contemporary racial and gender inequality and injustice in America, and the Senate-- the country’s highest legislative body-- is 94% white and 80% male. If we want more senators who can bring urgency to the issues of racial and gender inequality because they share similar life experiences and feel a deep connection with those affected by those inequalities, then we should push to make our democracy more reflective of the composition of our population. Maryland’s Senate race offers a rare opportunity to make progress on that front.
Missing the Moment
Sadly, and surprisingly, many white progressive leaders have chosen to flock to the candidacy of white male Congressman Chris Van Hollen. Just days after Mikulski announced her retirement in early 2015, Harry Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, endorsed Van Hollen and threw his considerable clout behind Van Hollen’s campaign. Others have followed Reid’s lead. Several labor unions and Democratic members of Congress have also contributed thousands of dollars to help Van Hollen win. [Harry Reid= garden variety establishment DC Dem, worse, because his corruption is an embarrassment to the entire party.]
Now I don’t know Van Hollen personally and he seems like a perfectly nice man. His supporters cite the fact that he has been reliably pro-choice and generally supportive of progressive issues. But his candidacy doesn’t exactly make a historic statement and does nothing to make the U.S. Senate more reflective of the country’s racial and gender composition. In a true democracy, the composition of the country’s elected leaders would reflect the makeup of the population. Since the founding of this country’s government in 1787, 99% of the Senators who have made the laws of America have been white (and the overwhelming majority of them have been white men). A multiracial democracy, in which close to 40% of the population consists of people of color, demands better.
Why Maryland Matters
The case for Edwards is not just that she’s a staunch progressive who has a long track record of fighting for justice and deep personal knowledge of the realities facing women of color, but it’s that this particular race presents one of the best electoral opportunities to elect a Black woman to the Senate.
Maryland is the fourth Blackest state in America. African Americans make up 30.1% of the state’s population and they account for fully 37% of Democratic primary voters. With numbers like that, a Black candidate has an excellent chance of winning the Democratic nomination (in 2006, former NAACP President Kwesi Mfume came within 3 points of winning the state’s Democratic primary, despite being outspent by his white opponent, Ben Cardin, 4 to 1). The most recent poll puts Edwards in the lead. In presidential election years, Maryland is a deep blue state (Obama won 62% of the vote in 2012), so the Democratic nominee is the odds-on favorite to win the general election.
But a Black candidate only stands an excellent chance of becoming senator from a state as Black as Maryland if she or he has the support of the organizations, institutions, and leaders who make up the progressive infrastructure.
Congressional Black Caucus PAC Failing to Represent
It’s not just white progressives who are missing the moment. While the Congressional Black Caucus is usually one of the most progressive cohorts in Congress, its Political Action Committee is missing in action in the Maryland senate race. The CBC PAC’s stated mission is to “increase the number of African Americans in the U.S. Congress” but it has resisted endorsing Edwards, despite the fact that, should she win, she would increase the percentage of African Americans in the U.S. Senate by 33% (joining New Jersey’s Cory Booker and South Carolina’s Tim Scott (California’s Kamala Harris, who is Black and Asian, also has an excellent opportunity to win election to the Senate this year)). The advocacy organization Color of Change has investigated the surprising conduct of CBC PAC and exposed the fact that the majority of the PAC’s board is not even comprised of members of the Congressional Black Caucus but rather of corporate lobbyists whose clients are not exactly known as champions of racial justice and equality...
Moment of Truth for the Democratic Party
African Americans are the bedrock of the Democratic Party and have been so for fifty years, steadily and dependably providing votes and support for Democrats, usually white Democrats. So far, the Maryland Senate race says a lot about how Democrats reward such loyalty.
2016 presents a pivot point for the Democratic Party. As the end of the Obama era approaches, will the party revert back to the plantation politics of the past where Black voters are expected to back white candidates with little or no reciprocity in return? Or will Party leaders put their money where their mouth is and make substantial financial investments in Black candidates, leaders, and organizations? Given the centrality of the Black vote to Democratic prospects of victory, it is no longer just a question of fairness. It’s also essential to success in an increasingly multiracial electorate. Right now, too many of the progressive forces in Maryland are falling short.