Thursday, April 19, 2018

Is Richard Ojeda, A Democrat Who Voted For Bernie In The Primary And Trump In The General, The Way Forward For Democrats?


Today I heard from a staffer in Richard Ojeda's campaign. Ojeda's a state senator running in an "impossibly red" congressional district-- WV-03, the southern part of the state, "coal country. Republican Evan Jenkins is giving up the seat for the dubious run against U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. The state has a PVI of R+19 but WV-03, the reddest part of the state, has a PVI of R+23. Obama lost with 42.3% in 2008 and with 32.8 in 2012. In 2016 Trump crushed Hillary 72.5% to 23.3%. It was Trump's only West Virginia district where he went over the 70% mark. Interestingly, Manchin won every single county in the district last time he ran. In primary season this was Bernie Country. Bernie didn't just beat Hillary-- and he did, in every county in the district-- but he got more votes than Trump did in many counties, like Fayette and Wayne, two of the biggest counties in the district. Ojeda was a real representative of his constituents in that way. He voted for Bernie in the primary-- and then switched to Trump for the general election. Now he's running for Congress... as a Democratic, perhaps the only candidate nationally who voted for Trump.

The primary is May 8and the campaign staffer was excited because his candidate had outraised his Republican opponents in the first quarter. "I just want to share our recent fundraising haul with you," he wrote. OK, I'll take his word for it, but the overall funding records for the top 4 candidates as of the March 31 FEC reporting deadline read like this:
Carol Miller (R)- $451,618
Conrad Lucas (R)- $238,335
Rupie Phillips, Jr. (R)- $193,851
Richard Ojeda (D)- $157,246
"We’re serious about out path to victory," he wrote, "we just have to do it a certain way in Trump country." Great! And I hope he wins. But there's not much chance he's going to be endorsed by Blue America. Why? Once he's in Congress voting, how many times will we hear "we just have to do it a certain way in Trump country?" A first-term state lawmaker, the NRA gave him an 86% rating. That's "a certain way in Trump country" but not a way I want to ask Blue America members to donate to. A year ago he voted for a bill that requires parent notification for abortions-- but he has a "D" next to his name. Why should I donate money to his campaign?

Last month Michael Kruse, reporting for Politico, made a big fuss about how he was a paratrooper "with 36 tattoos, bulging muscles and a dry-razored buzz cut" who drives a red Jeep. Give me a break. I just want to know two things about perspective members of Congress-- their trustworthiness and how they're going to vote. Another candidate who likes him and trusts him was impressed that he has the names of 13 friends killed in action tattooed on his back. It's tue, though-- Ojeda's been a populist on some issues: medical marijuana and energy companies paying more so striking teachers could get a higher salary. Kruse:
In hard red, Donald Trump-loving West Virginia, Ojeda has become a kind of one-man blue wave, threatening to defy a conventional belief that the only kind of Democrat that can win big races here—or anywhere, for that matter, in Appalachia or the industrial Midwest—is somebody like Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the United States Senate, a pragmatic, pro-business social conservative. Because here is Ojeda, a pro-labor, twang-talking, plainspoken populist, scrambling the state’s recent rightward shift by harkening back to a deeper, more radical vein of its rich political history. In the early 20th century, miners fought and died for higher wages and safer working conditions while wearing red bandanas and carrying Winchester rifles. Now, teachers are the new miners; in fact, in a place all but defined by its coal heritage, there are some 20,000 teachers and fewer than 12,000 miners, making the teachers-- plus the 13,000 staff who walked off the job with them-- by far the largest union in the state.

After I introduced myself, Ojeda uncorked a nearly unbroken, 13-minute tirade in which he called lobbyists “the absolute scum of the earth,” said they should have to wear body cameras in the Capitol, said they shouldn’t even be allowed “in the damn Capitol,” and told me one of the first things he did as a state legislator was give energy industry lobbyists a tongue-lashing. “I threw Big Energy out of my office!” he said. “They said, ‘Well, is there anything we can do to change your mind?’ I said, ‘You can get yo’ ass out of my office.’” He continued by scorching lawmakers for making decisions based on corporate campaign contributions instead of the interests of their constituents.

“Bootlickers!” he screamed into the phone.


...As we raced toward Charleston, Ojeda railing away about lobbyists and “bought-and-paid-for politicians” and Big Pharma and Big Energy while taking the curves in the four-lane highway so fast it felt at times like we were riding on just two wheels, it was hard not to consider his improbable path to this juncture.

...“I think we have a very, very good shot of winning,” David Graham, the truck driver who’s the campaign manager, told me. He cited the recent internal polling that has Ojeda beating potential Republican opponent Conrad Lucas with Republican voters 24.3 percent to 23 percent (with 52.8 percent uncertain) and beating other potential Republican opponent Rupie Phillips with Republican voters 27.1 percent to 16.5 percent (with 56.4 percent uncertain). The overall numbers including all voters aren’t even close. Ojeda’s top foe in the primary, Huntington mayor Steve Williams, much more a Manchin-style Democrat and better-funded, dropped out of the race in January, saying it wasn’t right to run for higher office given the severity of the drug problem in his city. Supporters of Ojeda wonder if the energy around their candidate had something to do with it, too. When I asked Manchin about Ojeda, his answer was brief. “Rich is a populist,” Manchin told me. “He’s a people’s person”-- as restrained an assessment of Ojeda as I’d heard.

“If the election was tomorrow, he’d win in a landslide,” said Belcher, the miner turned videographer. “He’s got the working class with him. If you’ve got the working class in West Virginia, you’re set.”

The implications are compelling. “If Ojeda wins,” said Moffett from People’s House, “it changes the entire conversation about how we run candidates, what type of candidates we run, and where.”

“He’s JFK with tattoos and a bench press,” Randy Jones, his 25-year-old volunteer finance director from Huntington, told me.

“Someone who sounds like you, talks like you, looks like you, struggled like you-- who’s standing up and speaking truth to power,” added Dennis White, 34, an Army veteran from West Virginia’s Boone County who’s a student at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University and a remote-working jack-of-all-trades aide to Ojeda.

“I hope it’s a lesson for everybody, that these are the kinds of candidates that we need to recruit,” Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan told me. Ryan plans on coming to West Virginia later this month or in early April to campaign with Ojeda. An Ojeda victory in November, he said, “could be a signal to the Republican Party that Democrats-- we’re coming to your territory, we’re not going to play this coastal game anymore. If we get candidates like him and have a strong economic message, there’s not a state we can’t win in.”

In the red Jeep on the way back to Logan, I asked Ojeda about his vote for Trump, a fact that in another state could be seen as disqualifying for a Democrat.

“I voted for him because it was about family and friends,” he said. “Nobody else was saying anything. Hillary Clinton was coming here blowing smoke up everybody’s ass. Hell, I wanted Bernie Sanders”-- and he wasn’t the only one, obviously, as Sanders beat Clinton in the primaries in all 55 counties-- “but once Bernie Sanders was screwed over by Hillary Clinton, by the way, you had no other option.”

He regrets his vote for Trump.

“Sure do,” he said.


“Because he hasn’t done shit,” he said. “It’s been a friggin’ circus for a solid year.” Nothing’s changed. So many people in southern West Virginia are still poor and need jobs. The opioid epidemic rages unabated. “All he’s done,” Ojeda said, “is shown that he’s taking care of the daggone people he’s supposed to be getting rid of.”

And I asked him about 2018.

“We’re kicking ass right now,” he said. “We are winning this race. And we’re winning it by a large margin. We did a scientific poll! And, oh, by the way, you show me one of my opponents that can walk anyplace right now and have 500 people screaming their name. And guess what? It’s not just happening at the Capitol. This has been going on now for the last month. Everywhere I’ve been going for the last month has always had between 250 and 500 people. And when I get there, I’m the one they want to see. We’re kicking ass. The polls? Kickin’ ass!”


“I’m real,” he said. “I’m not polished. I’m sorry, but if you want a daggone, typical polished politician, vote for Conrad Lucas. But people are tired of that bullshit. People are tired of the same ol’ garbage. They want people that are willing to speak out, speak up, be open and honest with them.”

Kind of like … you know who.

“You know, hey, here’s the thing,” Ojeda told me. “Donald Trump, Donald Trump, made everybody excited because he said shit nobody else has ever said. But the difference is, Donald Trump wins, and he ain’t done jack shit to help us. Now let me tell you something about Ojeda. Ojeda won, and I’m telling you right now: I guarantee you there’s not one single freshman damn Democrat, there’s not one freshman friggin’ senator that’s ever made more damn noise than I have and has done more than what I’ve done.

“I get shit done!” he said. “I just started a friggin’ movement!”
I'm guessing he'd like to sound like Randy Bryce, the veteran who was doing outreach statewide in Wisconsin for fellow vets on behalf of the AFL-CIO and scared Paul Ryan off from seeking reelection. Bryce was also a Bernie supporter, but then voted for Clinton-- and has a fully progressive platform.

Not everyone has such an upbeat perspective on Ojeda. Eric London eviscerated him last month on the World Socialist website, asserting he's just "a capitalist politician whose cheap talk about supporting the teachers is aimed at giving Democrats and the union leaders influence over the strike so they can keep it under control and shut it down."
Furthermore, for all Ojeda’s talk about taxing corporations, increasing workplace safety regulations, and funding social programs, he supported the billionaire Donald Trump in the 2016 elections. “If he does twenty percent of what he promises, he’ll be a decent president,” Ojeda told the New Yorker magazine just after Trump’s election win. “And maybe he just will make America great again.”

Trump ran on a platform of gutting regulations, slashing taxes for the corporations and the billionaires, and Senator Ojeda cannot be surprised that Trump has carried these plans out. During Trump’s first year in office, deaths at US coal mines doubled after the president eliminated safety regulations and appointed a former coal executive to head the Mine Health and Safety Administration. The federal government has done nothing to stop the devastating consequences of drug companies pouring opioids into the state. Ojeda bears political responsibility for the impact of Trump’s policies on the working class.

Ojeda’s justification for voting for Trump changes depending on his audience. For example, in a January 2018 appearance on the “progressive” YouTube program Young Turks, he tried to downplay his 2016 vote for Donald Trump, saying “this was about my neighbors” and that he was upset over high unemployment in Logan County, a coal mining area in which he grew up. He explained that he could not vote for Hillary Clinton after supporting Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.

But when he was running for state senate in 2016 in a district that voted heavily for Trump, he struck a different tone, advancing xenophobic and racist sentiments in a cynical effort to win votes. In a language reminiscent of Trump’s fascist current and former advisers Stephen Miller and Steven Bannon, Ojeda told the New Yorker in October 2016:
“When you hear about illegal aliens getting benefits and you have people here starving to death and can’t get nothing, it’s just a slap in the face. When you start talking about bringing in refugees and when they get here they get medical and dental and they get set up with some funds-- what do we get? So when people hear Donald Trump saying we’re going to take benefits away from people who come here illegally and give them to people who work, that sounds pretty good.”
No worker can support a politician who calls for “taking benefits away” from the roughly 12 million members of the working class who happen to be in the United States without proper documents. How can any worker trust a politician who claims he supports the poor and working class, but supports forcing immigrant workers to live in total poverty with no public support? By pitting workers against one another based on race and national origin, Ojeda is employing a classic “divide and conquer” tactic of the corporations.

When Ojeda speaks to left-wing audiences like Young Turks, he changes his tune again. In an attempt to build his name recognition and raise money, Ojeda said in the January 2018 interview that his policy regarding immigration is that “open arms is what we should be all about. Let’s show people love regardless of where they’re from.” During this interview, Ojeda made not one criticism of the policies, deregulations, corporate tax cuts, and war policies Trump has initiated.

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At 7:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is he the way forward for democraps? Yup. In a state/district as stupid as WV, a home-spun (ignorant) demagogue will do well.

Yes, his vote for trump DQs him immediately. If he believed what he says, he'd have voted for Jill Stein and bragged about it. But he's a WVian, so a boast about a vote for trump is his pandering to their stupidity and hate.

just "a capitalist politician whose cheap talk about supporting the teachers is aimed at giving Democrats and the union leaders influence over the strike so they can keep it under control and shut it down."

Boilerplate democrap pablum (lies) meant to keep stupid voters under their thumb *IS* their way forward. True for 38 years and counting. And it seems to work, doesn't it?

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I presume from his last name that he has latin heritage? If so, then his vote for trump proves he's practically too stupid to live.
Only a US southern white voter could abide that depth of stupidity.

At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't trust him. At the very least, he's an opportunist.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Elizabeth Burton said...

"Trump ran on a platform of gutting regulations, slashing taxes for the corporations and the billionaires, and Senator Ojeda cannot be surprised that Trump has carried these plans out."

I don't know what election that reporter was following, but I don't recall Trump every saying he planned to do any of that. Unless you extrapolate from his running as a Republican, I suppose.

Those still clutching their pearls over why people who voted for Obama flipped to vote for Trump would do well to listen to Mr. Ojeda, because he clearly knows why and is telling them in no uncertain terms. Using the vote to bludgeon him, and try to paint him as a con artist on that basis alone is standard DNC/DCCC/DSCC machinations at its best.

At 7:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, the platform did exist and trump did, rarely, mention each promise.

His campaign was much more focused on hate issues and ad hominem attacks on his opponents, which is what the corporations (media) always stressed (for effect).

Ojeda, by voting for the guy who wore his latin-hate on his sleeve, only proves he is dumber than shit. And the reason that any obamanation voter voted for trump is the same -- dumber than shit. All obamanation voters that were "hoping" for "change" should have voted for Stein. The remaining automaton D voters should have reflexively voted for the bankers' whore.


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