Omari Hardy's viral moment freed him from politics as usual

A viral moment, a lesson learned, and a bright young star

Welcome to the big Sunday edition of Progressives Everywhere!

We’re now at an inflection point as a country, with two roads stretched out before us. Democrats can choose to rescue our democracy, rewire our economy to invest in working families, and mitigate climate change, or they can sell-out and give in to cynicism, allow Republicans to gerrymander and suppress the vote, deny tens of millions of Americans access to medicine, and permit oil companies to continue to boil the planet. The decision should be obvious, but our political system makes it anything but.

This year has proven that it’s not enough to simply elect Democrats — we need to elect good Democrats, leaders with the courage of their convictions to transcend the corruption endemic to Washington and convince others to do the same. In this edition of the newsletter, we’re talking with a candidate in a key upcoming election with exactly that kind of moral core and brio. Then we’ll get into news about redistricting, drugs, and new laws. Lots to do!

But first, thank you to our latest crowdfunding donors: Melodi, Suzanne, Marjorie, and Brian!

Omari Hardy was terrified. He knew the optics weren’t good. Then a Lake Worth Beach city commissioner, he went home that night figuring his nascent political career was about to come to an unceremonious end. 

“I’m a black man and they got me on tape yelling at this white woman,” he remembers. “And if you could have seen the faces of the people in that room… I was so afraid of what the Palm Beach Post was going to print in the newspaper the next day.”

The day after it happened, Hardy was still so nervous that he could barely steady his hand long enough to type out an email. But the nerves were not accompanied by any sense of regret. The incident, he tells Progressives Everywhere, was “the culmination of three years of political education.” 

Hardy had been elected to the Palm Beach County town’s city commission in 2017 as an idealistic 27-year-old hoping to help the working class residents in a poverty-filled city. Instead, he quickly learned how entrenched power and special interests routinely subsume good intentions and stop politicians from following through on their promises. By March of 2020, with the Covid pandemic beginning to ravage the country, Hardy had reached his limit. 

On March 23rd, the rest of the Lake Worth Beach city commission voted to give control of the government to the city manager without an emergency declaration. The week before, the town’s city manager had declined Hardy’s request to hold a meeting to address the Covid crisis. After, the manager allowed poor residents behind on payments to have their electricity and gas shut off while they were in quarantine in the middle of a global pandemic. 

Hardy voiced his disgust throughout the commission meeting, sharp but earnest objections that the mayor openly mocked, accusing him of making a show for the cameras. Hardy countered that the city manager had lied about shutting off peoples’ utilities, a damning accusation for which there was no factual rebuttal. The debate got uglier and uglier, with the mayor and city manager continuing to belittle Hardy as he protested.

The next day, the Palm Beach Post published video of the incident on its YouTube page. Soon Hardy, a third-generation teacher steeped in the community, began seeing it shared on Facebook. But instead of mass condemnation, the early comments seemed largely positive. Then the encouraging texts began to pour in. And the next morning, he says, he woke up to thousands of emails from people all around the world who thanked him for his standing up for working people in the face of dismissal and casual indifference.

The video was viewed nearly five million times within the first week it was posted, sending Hardy’s social media follower count into six figures. The New York Times covered the incident and even NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal sent Hardy a direct message. 

“That was an educative moment for me,” Hardy reflects. “As long as I'm sticking up for my constituents and I'm being honest about it and I'm being reasonable, I can be 100% comfortable being myself and I don't have to worry about the political consequences. That was freeing.”

It wasn’t that Hardy hadn’t stood up for his beliefs before. Years earlier, Hardy defied the NIMBY faction in his district to support the construction of affordable housing units, a decision that earned him a primary challenger. Months later, with that primary challenger breathing down his neck, he defied the city’s popular mayor and forced a vote on giving local IDs to migrants who could not obtain driver’s licenses; the gambit was successful, allowing undocumented immigrants to get the paperwork necessary to open bank accounts, use city services, avoid fines and arrests, and participate in the day-to-day modern economy. 

Hardy had already decided to primary an incumbent conservative Democrat in the state House of Representatives when the March 2020 city commission showdown went viral. From that point forward, he ran an unequivocally progressive campaign that highlighted issues facing working families in the district and the state of Florida. He wound up beating the incumbent by over 20 points.

Donate to Omari Hardy' Campaign!

Hardy spent the first few months of 2021 acting as a thorn in the side of Gov. Ron DeSantis, leading to a public war of words that made it all the way to a primetime 60 Minutes report on DeSantis’ corrupt Covid vaccination program.

Coincidentally, US Rep. Alcee Hastings, the dean of Florida’s Congressional delegation, died of pancreatic cancer just a day after that 60 Minutes report aired. 

As a resident of the late Congressman’s district, Hardy looked at the damage being wrought by conservative Democrats in Washington and decided that, despite having only spent a few months in the legislature, he could best serve his constituents by assuming Hasting’s position in Washington, representing Florida’s 20th Congressional district.

“I was looking at the choices [of declared candidates] and I wasn't pleased,” Hardy says. “I saw everyone in this race is taking a step back from Alcee Hastings' legacy as a fighter and as a progressive, and I think that we should really be building on that.”

The state’s Democratic Party has been largely inept in tagging DeSantis with the fallout of the Covid epidemic he’s caused in part because so many of its members have also sold out their constituents in exchange for special interest cash. Hardy has been a rare exception, aiming his opprobrium even at the sugar industry, a financial titan in the state whose campaign donations to both Democrats and Republicans alike won it immunity from being sued over the long-term damage it causes to residents’ health. 

His willingness to speak out and vote against travesties like that one has won Hardy the support of most of the young progressive lawmakers who also voted against the sugar amnesty. The list includes state Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Smith, regular interviewees here at Progressives Everywhere who have taken strong stands on behalf of Florida's increasingly marginalized working people.

The state recently ranked second in the nation in income inequality, the result of two straight decades of GOP control and more recent Democratic acquiescence. Hardy plans on being a voice in Congress for the people who have suffered for so long in the state and is confident that doing so will be a political winner.

That would be a welcomed contrast to what so many members of Congress are doing right now, especially as it applies to the Build Back Better bill’s drug prices provisions and the filibustered voting rights bills. Hardy’s arrival in Congress would give Democrats a five-seat advantage and progressives a new voice that is not afraid to speak up against the party’s lobbyist-bought members. 

“The folks in Congress are trying to scale down the Democratic Party's ambitions on stuff that really matters to working class people, and stuff that allows Democrats to go to the people and say, ‘look at what we did,” Hardy says. “It just shows how they've spent their political lives, they have never had that moment where they learned the lesson I learned. It's sad, honestly, for them as human beings, because they have the potential to do lots of good for other human beings. 

“And from a pure political standpoint,” he adds, “it's ass-backwards. They could not be more confused about what it takes for our coalition to win elections. And yet, they are empowered and seen as mainstream.”

The primary is crowded with Democrats, many of whom are more central to the long-failing Florida Democratic Party. Hardy, along with the activist organizations we’ve featured and the younger representatives who have endorsed him, represent a new hope for the state’s progressives, working day and night to overcome the rot that has taken them from a vast advantage in voter registration to on the verge of being overtaken by Republicans in that key metric.

It is in many ways an existential threat to Democrats in Florida, who got wiped out in 2020 as Trump increased his margin of victory there to three and a half points. Democrats also continue to bleed support from various Hispanic communities, at least in part because party leaders aren’t particularly good at telling them apart.

“Many of the Democrats in our Congressional delegation are getting up in age, so there's going to be a changing of the guard and when that guard changes, the new folks stations at the helm of the Democratic Party in Florida need to be really in line with what's best for working class people,” Hardy says. “There will be opportunities to usher in a new guard that can provide new hope for Democrats who wants to see all of Florida go blue sometime in the near-future.”

Thanks to Ron DeSantis’ partisan gamesmanship, the special primary election will take place on November 2nd.

Donate to Omari Hardy's campaign!

Laws and Legislation

Ohio: There are few state parties as corrupt or vindictive as the Ohio GOP. The party’s Speaker of the House was expelled last year due to his central role in the biggest political scandal in the state’s history, a bribery scheme that ensured Republicans bailed out several energy companies on the taxpayer dime. And yet, with the safety of gerrymandered maps, the party’s shameless lawmakers have continued to gobble up contributions from the energy industry.

Here’s the latest wrinkle in the fallout of that disgraceful saga: After a newly elected Republican lawmaker had the audacity to suggest that they repeal the legislation at the center of the bribery scandal, his GOP colleagues went and gerrymandered him out of his state senate seat in the ridiculous maps that they pushed through last week.

California: All eyes were on the wildly unsuccessful recall election, but there were also some policy developments worth discussing.

First, newly retained Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two laws intended to increase housing density and affordable housing supplies in a state where prices and homelessness continue to skyrocket. The more significant of the two requires cities to green-light multi-family units in many places zoned for single family homes. It required a lot of loopholes to pass, but it’s a decent first step in the war on NIMBYism.

Elsewhere, activists were approved to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative that if passed would make California the first state to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for both recreational and therapeutic purposes. Voters in Oregon are one step ahead of them, having approved an initiative to legalize the mushrooms for therapeutic purposes last November.

Wyoming: It’s often hard to believe that we all live in the same country given the sheer difference in laws from one state to the next. For example, as activists in California work to legalize the casual usage of psilocybin mushrooms, folks in Wyoming are collecting signatures to get the legalization of medical marijuana on the ballot. Lawmakers in conservative states can crow about freedom all they want, but they very clearly do not value it.

Georgia: Gerrymandering empowers the worst fringe of the population, example 23902334: Republican leaders in Georgia, under fire from Donald Trump and facing primaries from his hand-picked candidates, are scrambling to please their slobbering right-wing lunatic flank. As a result, Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, who is running to replace outgoing Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, says he is pursuing the same kind of bounty hunter anti-abortion legislation that the Supreme Court just blessed in Texas.

Georgia already has an extreme anti-abortion law, mind you, but it’s currently being blocked by what’s left of Roe v Wade. By next spring, they may not even need to pass this bounty hunter law, though they might do so to give their sickos a fun little game to play.


Buffalo: Justice! Democratic mayoral nominee India Walton prevailed in two separate courtrooms today, as both state and federal judges ruled that Mayor Byron Brown, the corrupt incumbent she upset in the July primary, cannot appear on the November ballot as the representative of his own new third party. This reverses a ruling made in a lower court several weeks ago that would have permitted Brown’s presence despite his having missed the filing deadline by nearly three months.

Voter Suppression and Redistricting

North Carolina: If you want to know why it’s so crucial to the judiciary, just look at North Carolina.

On Friday, a trio of circuit court judges tossed out the state’s stringent voter ID law, ruling that it was “motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters.” In other words, it’s racist. Other lawsuits are pending over the law, which has yet to be instituted since being passed in 2018.

Proponents of free and fair democracy have enjoyed a nice run of success in North Carolina’s court rooms. A few years ago, the state Supreme Court threw out the GOP’s gerrymandered maps, mandating the drawing of new maps that allowed voters to actually choose their representatives (though self-interested Democratic legislators compromised a bit too much in order to save their own districts).

We may not have to wait long for more good news from the court, which should rule soon on the ultimate fate of North Carolina’s racist returning citizen disenfranchisement law. Democrats lost two seats on the court in 2020, giving them a slim 4-3 lead that they’ll have to defend next year, so you can bet that we will be involved in that race as it gets closer.

Texas: Fresh off passing the nation’s most stringent voter suppression law, Texas Republicans are setting their sights on disenfranchising people through extreme gerrymanders, too. They released their first legislative maps on Saturday, unveiling some extremely suspect district lines:

This redistricting scheme does an incredible job of sidelining people of color, who only fueled 95% of the state’s population growth over the past decade. Just look at the close-up of the districts around Dallas and Harris County, two of the most heavily Democratic counties in the country. The new map does not add a single Hispanic-majority district despite the community’s population growth and actually dilutes several districts. It’d likely cost Democrats at least two or three seats, too.

Michigan: Republicans are officially pursuing an arcane loophole in state law that would allow them to override Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s veto of the voter suppression laws the gerrymandered legislature passed earlier this year. Not every Republican, however, thinks that’s a good idea. Democrats are promising to fight back through grassroots campaigning and lots of lawsuits.

Nebraska: In a bittersweet bit of irony, Republican plans to gerrymander the state’s new congressional map was filibustered by the Democratic minority. Here’s a proposal: How about we kill the filibuster everywhere? (Don’t worry, killing the filibuster will lead to a ban on gerrymandering.)

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