Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rebuilding A Real Democratic Party In Arkansas-- Berniemania In Deep Red Arkansas?


Some districts are just so red, Democrats don't even try anymore. The reddest district in Arkansas, for example, is in the northwest corner of the state, bordering Missouri (not far from Branson) and Oklahoma. The PVI is R+19, and Obama only managed to win 34% in 2008 and 32% in 2012. It's John Boozman's old seat and the district hadn't elected a Democrat since 1967. When Boozman won Blanche Lincoln's Senate seat in 2010, right-wing lunatic and anti-immigrant fanatic Steve Womack ran for the House seat and beat Democrat David Whitaker 72-28%. Whitaker was the last Democrat to run for the seat-- until now.

The Old Guard-controlled  Democratic Party in Arkansas is on its last legs. It still clings to a Republican-lite mentality epitomized by Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor and the Clinton machine. Democrats hold only 36 of the 100 seats in the state House and only 14 of 35 seats in the state Senate. The governor and lieutenant governor are both extreme right-wing Republicans, as are both U.S. senators and all four congressmen. Someone must be doing something wrong, right? They don't think so. They're still all about backing Blue Dogs, New Dems and DINOs who will probably never win another election in the state.

However, there is an awful lot of grassroots enthusiasm in Arkansas in general and in the 3rd CD specifically, for... ready for it?-- Bernie Sanders. Sure, Hillary was the state's First Lady, and the Clinton Library is there and all, but... people with a pulse know.: same ole, same ole.

Robbie Wilson wants to run against Womack, and he comes straight out of the milieu that is exciting people about Bernie's campaign. He does half his campaigning at Bernie campaign events and shares a volunteer base with Bernie's campaign as well. The state party, needless to say, is all in for Hillary. Although there is a Democrat running against Boozman, Conner Eldridge, who worked for Blue Dogs Marion Berry and Blanche Lincoln, as far as I can tell Wilson is the only Democrat running for any of Arkansas's four congressional seats.

This morning Robbie told us he's practically running on a Bernie ticket!

I take great satisfaction in the fact that I align with Senator Sanders on every issue. Most importantly, I agree with the Senator on the subject of overturning Citizens United. There is no greater threat to the survival of the middle class, and no darker bruise on our political structure. Furthermore, this issue goes hand-in-hand with the likelihood that we will need to appoint Supreme Court Justices over the next two presidential terms, and the idea that a Republican President and Congress would steer those appointments is almost too much to bear.

Senator Sanders and I also share the same stance on the issues of women’s rights, foreign policy and economics, among others.  But in a broader sense, we both believe that our government was intended to benefit all Americans, not to hold down the many in order to appease a few. This is a fundamental theme that is woven throughout the fabric of my platform, and I’m proud to say Senator Sanders reflects these same values.

While nothing would please me more than to be part of a Progressive landslide across the country in 2016, and to have the honor of serving the Arkansas 3rd as a Congressman aligned with President Sanders and as a conduit for his policies, I’m not naïve.  Secretary Clinton is running a powerful campaign with powerful support, and may well win our party’s nomination. The importance of either Clinton or Sanders having Democratic support in Congress is not lost on me; in the wake of recent Republican abuses of power and self-serving legislation, I have already come to terms with the fact that my job, whether it be under President Sanders or President Clinton, will be to support legislation that rolls back the damage done, and to work in the interests of my constituency and for the benefit of the American people.

The change we all want may not happen in one single election. But my aim is to be a part of that first step toward reclaiming our government from the few who push their discriminatory policies on us through political puppetry. There will be no prouder campaign supporters than those who support my campaign, because for the first time in a long time in Arkansas, they’ll get what they expect; a compassionate, realistic and clear-headed Representative with their best interests at heart, regardless of which Democrat wins the White House.

Yesterday I heard from Arthur Wohl, a volunteer in Wilson's campaign. He's the communications director and-- like Wilson, of course-- a progressive Democrat. Someone had told him about Blue America, and he reached out to us and asked for our endorsement. I asked if I could share the letter at DWT. It's below, although I did leave out some personal details. If you read it and you'd like to help this grassroots campaign, you can contribute what you can here.

Here's the letter that John, Digby and I are taking into consideration as we do our due diligence about an endorsement:
My name is Arthur Wohl, and I am the President of the Robbie Wilson Congressional Exploratory Committee, as well as Communications Director for the campaign. I am writing to you in a fundraising capacity and requesting your support. Robbie’s Progressive campaign in the Arkansas 3rd Congressional District needs and is deserving of your resources, and I would like to tell you why I think so.

Robbie Wilson is a born-and-bred Arkansan having lived his entire life in the Arkansas 3rd District. A Tax Analyst educated at Arkansas Tech, he is a tireless participant in and supporter of the Democratic Party in this area, and has perceived, like many of us, that the time has come to lift a Progressive voice here again. The Arkansas 3rd is said to be lost to the Republicans, and while that has been true for the last couple of decades, the tide has shifted here since the election of Senator Tom Cotton. Disappointment with his antics has risen with each instance, which has lead to closer scrutiny of all Republicans representing the state. Republican Steve Womack, who currently represents the 3rd, is now well-known for his obstructionist PPACA voting, infamously embarrassing us with a budget amendment to cut funding to President Obama’s Teleprompter, voting No on re-funding the Violence Against Women Act, and for being part of the gang that held up the Homeland Security Budget in a puerile attempt at an end-around to President Obama’s Executive Order on Immigration.

In the last year, Progressive thought has also swept the district in more tangible forms, such as schools voting to change their mascots from racist, Confederate symbols to more inclusive imagery, and the city of Fayetteville voting to enact pro-LGBT civil rights legislation to protect them in the workplace. It really is an amazing change, and it’s exciting to be a part of it. Along with measurable, growing support for Senator Sanders and high Progressive traffic on local social media outlets, these examples and others make it obvious that this district is champing at the bit to have its representation taken seriously.

I believe, after researching your political posture and after what’s gone on in recent congressional sessions, that you know all too well the value of a Progressive majority in Congress-- as opposed to a majority built on the “Republican Light” Democratic candidates we’ve seen emerge in other areas of Arkansas and across the country. In a perfect world, the coming General Election would see Senator Sanders swept into the White House, accompanied by a swarm of energetic Progressives in Congress. This is not very likely, but Robbie can be a part of that burgeoning swarm; one early concrete step in that direction. We firmly believe that within the current atmosphere in the 3rd, getting on the ballot across from Womack is half the battle, as we predict that young people, women and Social Security recipients here will be voting Blue down the line in 2016. That is not to say that we would sit on our laurels after filing and bank on this district’s frustrations; Robbie is an avid campaigner, and appears around the district, even out of the district, to raise interest in his campaign and in the Arkansas Progressive cause in general.

I’d bet the Arkansas 3rd was not on your list of potential targeted campaigns, but I truly believe this one is right in your wheelhouse. A Progressive Congressman emerging from a district thought all but lost, a district whose Democrats are perceived to be owned by Hillary Clinton and the old school Arkansas Liberals, would be a coup for a President Sanders, a blessing for the district, and a victory for Progressives across the country. It has been many years since our House seat has been used to construct or support any practical legislation, and the 3rd knows it now more than ever before. The Democrats here who did not vote in 2014 are lamenting their malaise, and need only to hear the starting gun before they bolt out the door to cast their ballots. This district is brimming with progressive idealism, and the time is right to re-task the representation of the Arkansas 3rd toward the needs of its constituents and the country with a rational eye.

Robbie Wilson is the real deal, Mr. Klein. So much so in my view that I work for him on a volunteer basis, and will continue to do so throughout his campaign... When I hear Robbie speak about issues like women’s rights, preserving and expanding Social Security, eradicating institutionalized bigotry, improving education with an actual, feasible plan, and criminal justice reform, I know he means it. I can hear in his voice that he thinks about it all the time. In fact, I recently decided to make a wholesale change as his Communications Director, taking him off-copy during speaking appearances and having him articulate his mind and heart from talking points because he resonates so authentically.

Although our committee does have a growing mandate by way of individual contributions via ActBlue and cash donations at public appearances, the individual contributions are small. This is not a wealthy district, and although the number of contributions is inspiring, they are mostly in 1, 2, 3, 5 and ten dollar amounts, and that won’t get us to the filing fee deadline fast enough. We need to have ten thousand dollars by November 9 to file, and at the current rate, we won’t make it. But we'd rather come up short than accept contributions from establishment Democratic PACs.

This campaign needs you, Mr. Klein. It needs you, it needs Blue America and it needs any of your friends who know that it’s not enough just to vote Blue, and that contribution and canvassing are the foundations of a successful campaign. I hope I’ve done Robbie justice here, but please, if you have any questions about Robbie’s campaign at all, I urge you to visit his Web Page at www.facebook.com/WilsonIn2016 and his Website at www.wilsonforarkansas.com.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

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