There have been some surprising and encouraging results in various elections around the country. Primary elections held in Florida on Tuesday resulted in a surprise win for Andrew Gillum as the Democratic nominee for governor. Shaun King writes that the nominations of three black candidates for governorships (Ben Jealous in Maryland, Stacey Abrams in Georgia, and Gillum in Florida) marks a watershed in US politics.
WHAT WE ARE experiencing right now is absolutely historic. The United States does not currently have a single black governor — not one. Florida, Georgia, and Maryland have never had a black governor. No black person has ever been the Democratic Party nominee for governor in Florida or Georgia. But that seems poised to change.
The three candidates are widely known and respected in their home states. They are not fictional creations of a political machine. They’ve been working hard for the people in Florida, Georgia, and Maryland for more than a decade. They have well-established political networks there. Before this spotlight was on them, they had each already fought for change and won on many different occasions. Gillum, now the mayor of Tallahassee, was the youngest person elected to its city council at age 23. Abrams is a former state lawmaker who served as the minority leader of Georgia’s House of Representatives for six years. Jealous is a first-time politician, who became an activist during his college years, eventually working his way up to become the NAACP’s youngest-ever president.
All three of them are also practical, down-to-earth bridge builders. They have strong views and policies, yes, but all three understand that to get stuff done on the state or local level, you have to build functional coalitions of diverse groups. The base of that coalition may very well be black — each of them has a very strong base of black support that they build and work from — but they learned a long time ago how to build broader coalitions in order to accomplish their goals.
All three of them are pushing progressive agendas and were all endorsed by Bernie Sanders. King says that this fact is significant.
This is a huge deal. By bringing together a highly engaged black voting base with Sanders’s deeply committed core base of supporters, Gillum, Abrams, and Jealous have accomplished what Democrats will need to do if they are going to have any real success moving forward — they have unified the devoted base of the Democratic Party with the Berniecrats. That’s no small feat — and I’m not sure anybody other than these three black candidates for governor could’ve done it this way.
The three candidates for governor all have tough roads ahead, especially for Abrams and Gillum who are running in states that have strong Republican tendencies. Jealous is running in Maryland which is fairly Democratic but currently has an incumbent Republican governor Larry Hogan.
There have been other encouraging results in other races held earlier and elsewhere. In a Democratic congressional primary in Connecticut, a strong Democratic state that is dominated by corporations, a progressive candidate Jahanna Hayes easily beat by a margin of 62-38% a rival who had managed to secure the endorsement of not only the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a Republican-aligned voice for big business that usually endorses only Republicans, plus groups like MoveOn and, most surprisingly, the local branch of Our Revolution, the Bernie Sanders organization that supports progressive groups.
Then in Michigan, Democratic candidate Matt Morgan was kicked off the congressional ballot because of a technicality that his election petition signatures lists had a post office box rather than a physical address. That would have left the Republican candidate unopposed in the general election. But there were 30,000 write-in votes for him on primary election day, eight times more than the number of signatories needed, so he stays on the ballot.
Morgan, a progressive Marine veteran, pulled off the successful turnaround without help from the national party or progressive organizations set up to support veterans. Instead, he had filmmaker Michael Moore and a team of hundreds of volunteers who made sure voters knew that even though there was nobody on the ballot, they could still vote for Morgan.
In Wisconsin, ironworker Randy Bryce won the Democratic primary for the congressional seat being vacated by speaker of the house Paul Ryan.
Also in Wisconsin, Tony Evers won the Democratic nomination for governor. Evers is the Wisconsin state superintendent, serving since 2009. Evers is running on public education, heavily taking aim at incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s record on schools.
In western Wisconsin, Jeff Smith, a rural populist, defeated Steve Boe, who was backed by much of the Democratic establishment, in a three-way primary for a state Senate seat. Smith, a longtime member of Citizen Action Western Wisconsin, campaigned on restoring local control on a number of issues, establishing a public option, and boosting environmental laws. He will face Republican Mel Pittman in the general election.
That is not all. The Democratic party has also adopted rules to curb the influence of the so-called superdelegates in selecting the party’s presidential nominee. Their votes will no longer be considered on the first ballot, leaving the selection entirely up to those who are elected in the party primaries and caucuses. And that is not the only change being recommended.
On Saturday, the Democratic National Committee sanctioned its superdelegates—blocking 716 officeholders, state and local party officials, and other well-connected Democrats from casting a first-round ballot at 2020’s Democratic National Convention toward the 2,383 votes needed to nominate its next presidential candidate.
The DNC rule changes adopted also included policies to make its presidential nominating contests more participatory and transparent. For caucuses, it urged state parties allow any eligible voter showing up to register and take part; to allow voting early by an absentee ballot or dropping one off and leaving (instead of spending hours there); and to release the state raw vote totals (not the mathematical allocation of delegates to the process’s next stage, which isn’t the same as the popular vote count). For primaries, the rule changes urge those states adopt same-day party registration and voting.
What is interesting is that even the Democratic party establishment candidates that lost the also supported issues like Medicare for All, higher minimum wages, and the like. Issues that were once seen as extreme are now being embraced by the entire party.