Big win for progressives in Missouri

In the Democratic primary election for the House of Representatives in St. Louis, Missouri, Cori Bush who was backed by progressive groups, defeated the 20-year incumbent William Lacy Clay, who had ‘inherited’ the seat from his father.

In Missouri, Bush’s win in the district representing St Louis marked another progressive ousting of a Democratic incumbent. Clay was elected in 2000, taking over the post from his father who had served for 32 years before.

Bush, a 44-year-old nurse and pastor, is almost guaranteed to win the seat in the November election because the district is heavily Democratic.

Her foray into the 2018 election earned her comparisons to another progressive who took on a Democratic incumbent, New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She campaigned on issues such as a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition and Medicare for all.

She was also one of four candidates, including Ocasio-Cortez, to be the focus of the documentary Knock Down the House – which trailed their 2018 campaigns.

Bush was a surrogate for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and helped organize Black Lives Matter protests against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In a tweet, Sanders hailed Bush as a “true progressive”.

Voters in Missouri also approved expanding the government health insurance program for low-income Americans, Medicaid. This could give 250,000 Missourians access to the program, starting next year, according to the state’s auditor.

The state’s Republican governor, Mike Parson, opposes Medicaid expansion but because the expansion won through the initiative process, it can only be changed if lawmakers go back to voters.

I had seen the documentary that was mentioned above and reviewed it here and was sorry that she lost in 2018. Another of the four Paula Jean Swearingen this year won the Democratic Senate primary in West Virginia and will contest Republican Shelley Moore Capito. The last of the four Amy Villlea lost her 2018 primary race for the congressional seat in Las Vegas to Democratic incumbent Ruben Kihuen but he later had to resign from Congress after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced. Vilela served as Bernie Sanders’ campaign co-chair for Nevada this year.

Back in late July, Ryan Grim wrote a detailed analysis of the Missouri race and why progressives had set their sights on Clay who was seen as being in the pocket of the financial industry. He often aligned himself with Republicans to defeat even the mildly progressive measures that his party proposed.

The Obama administration proposed a rule that would require financial advisers to have the best interests of their clients in mind, the so-called fiduciary rule. Lobbyists for the investment industry immediately began an assault from all sides on the proposed rule, leading a drawn-out, six-year battle. Central to that strategy was allying with key Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee, who could give a bipartisan gloss to the effort. Clay, a senior member of that committee, played a leading role in the effort. In return, he was flooded with campaign cash from donors in the investment industry, many of whom hadn’t given to his campaign previously.

As HuffPost reported previously, more than $500,000 of Clay’s money through the first quarter of 2020 came from political action committees, with nearly four of every five dollars coming from a corporate PAC. Nearly $300,000 of it came from the financial industry generally.

Following the defeat of another long-term Democratic incumbents Elliot Engel in New York, Daniel Lipinski in Illinois, and party leader Joe Crowley by AOC in 2018, Bush’s win should serve as a wake-up call to the party establishment. Rep. Henry Cuellar only narrowly fended off progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros in Texas.

Grim follows up today with a post-election analysis and says that Clay’s loss destroys some establishment arguments.

When Engel lost to Bowman, an anonymous Democrat argued to the New York Post that his loss was a fluke and tied to his race and his lack of energy in office. “It doesn’t show AOC’s power — it shows that New York voters want demographic changes in the House,” the Democrat was quoted saying. “They don’t want old white guys who don’t do anything. Not only old white guys; but old white guys who only work when they’re up for reelection. … People are punishing these kinds of lawmakers. If you’re old, white, and lazy, you’re going to get kicked out.”

Clay, however, is not old (he just turned 64, a decade younger than Engel), white, or lazy. Clay did not remotely take Bush for granted, launching a full-scale negative campaign to try to take her down, and has been focused on her as a threat since her loss to him in 2018. He is a fixture of the community, and he and his father, Bill Clay Sr., a civil rights activist and co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, have continuously held the seat since the 1960s.

Meanwhile, the party had targeted progressive Rashida Tlaib in the primary race for the Michigan congressional seat she won in 2018 but she fended off that challenge yesterday, winning easily by a whopping margin of 30%.

Tlaib, a member of the group of progressive house members known as “the Squad”, held off her opponent Brenda Jones, president of the Detroit city council.

“Headlines said I was the most vulnerable member of the Squad,” Tlaib said on Twitter. “My community responded last night and said our Squad is big. It includes all who believe we must show up for each other and prioritize people over profits. It’s here to stay, and it’s only getting bigger.”

While the party establishment may have been able to defeat Bernie Sanders in the presidential race, the progressive movement that he is a part of is here to stay and are a growing force to be reckoned with.


  1. billseymour says

    Cori Bush is certainly a win for progressives in the 1st Congressional District. Clay was actually one of the more liberal Democrats in the U.S. House, but he was pretty much of a newlib when it came to being tight with the point-one-percenters. I’m currently hopeful that Bush will help swing the House a little more progressive in economic matters. The 1st District is Gerrymandered Democratic, so Bush will be the U.S. Rep. for the city of St. Louis and northeastern St. Louis County.

    In the 2nd District, where I live, Jill Schupp was unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face Ann Wagner in the general election. Schupp is probably not a full-bore progressive, but she makes all the right noises about the Affordable Care Act, labor unions, LBGTQ+ rights, pro-choice issues, and climate change. This district is Gerrymandered Republican, so there’s no chicken counting going on yet, but there’s hope given the more progressive lean of the electorate generally.

    In another race, Missouri’s auditor, Nicole Galloway, won the Democratic primary for Governor by a landslide. She’s probably not part of the Squad, but she’s AOC-like in that she’s an attractive young woman who’s extremely intelligent, speaks and writes effectively, and takes no prisoners. She’s explicitly in favor of Black Lives Matter, expanding Medicaid, more effective gun regulation, and several similar issues. Again, it’ll be a tight race against the current Republican governor; but there’s hope.

  2. Mano Singham says


    Thanks for that additional information. It helps having readers who live in those areas!

  3. consciousness razor says

    The Medicaid amendment is a big deal too. (But the “expansion” language is silly. It’s about catching up with what MO should’ve had all along under the ACA, like many other states.) From the STL Dispatch:

    The decision will mean adults between the ages of 19 and 65 whose income is at or below 138% of the federal poverty level will be covered. As of this year, that amounts to $17,608 for an individual and $36,156 for a household of four.

    The vote comes after repeated rejections by the GOP-controlled Legislature after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 allowed states to expand who can get coverage.

    The constitutional amendment marks the latest setback for Republicans when it comes to ballot initiatives. Voters also approved a minimum wage hike and rejected a right-to-work law pushed by former Gov. Eric Greitens in 2018.

    Apparently, democracy is like some kind of terrible disease to these people. I say we try that again some time in the future.

    But beware…. As could be expected, they still want to argue that, rather than saving the state money (or possibly needing to raise taxes slightly on the rich to cover some costs), what this means is that funding elsewhere should be cut, because not-helping-people is the only thing they’re ever interested in doing.

    Parson, who opposed expansion, argued the new program would divert money from public education.

    Merideth, a top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, predicted the GOP would at least attempt to hobble expansion through budget maneuvers.

    He mentioned a resolution sponsored this year by House Budget Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, that would ask voters to subject Medicaid spending to appropriations, meaning the Legislature could decide not to fund expansion, Merideth said. The resolution did not pass.

    “If they do what they did this past year, (they would) sneak in a little bit of language that’ll go into the constitution subjecting all Medicaid funding to appropriations,” Merideth said. “If they get that in there, which is the kind of thing that really isn’t obvious in budget language, that would give them the power, via the budget committee, to completely ignore expansion.

    “That is what I’m most afraid of them doing,” he said.

  4. billseymour says

    consciousness razor @3

    The Medicaid amendment is a big deal too. (But the “expansion” language is silly. It’s about catching up with what MO should’ve had all along under the ACA, like many other states.)

    I totally agree that they should have done it right from the get-go; but “expansion” is indeed what they’re finally getting around to.

    From the STL Dispatch:

    <picking a nit>
    It’s the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
    </picking a nit>

  5. consciousness razor says

    I totally agree that they should have done it right from the get-go; but “expansion” is indeed what they’re finally getting around to.

    Sure, but the word’s just not terribly descriptive in the ways that you might want it to be.

    “Reconciliation,” to take one alternative example, says that it makes things reconciled, compatible, or brings them into compliance, relative to what it was supposed to be years ago. Plenty of others to choose from too, but I’m just thinking you have options that are worth considering.

    It’s vaguely like you’re filling a hole in ground. You can just say you’re expanding/increasing the amount of dirt in the area, which isn’t false. But rhetorically, you may be better off emphasizing to people that something has been lacking, something you should have had like many other places did, something the state was deprived of for so long, which puts people in serious danger, and this was only because of its unhinged GOP-dominated legislature. That’s also a true story, and it’s more compelling than just “we’re getting more of that now.” You know what I mean?

    And thanks, yes, it’s the Post-Dispatch. I knew that, but somehow my typing fingers didn’t at the time.

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