Mondaire Jones Is Already Fighting for Progressive Change — Expanding the Supreme Court Included
There's no other choice
|Jordan Zakarin||Sep 27|| 32|
Welcome to the big Sunday edition of Progressives Everywhere!
We’ve got a special interview and lots of big news for you today, so let’s jump right in!
But first: Thank you to GoFundMe donors Peter, Cheryl, and Mehoo!
Saving the Supreme Court… and the Democratic Party
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has in many ways thrown the country further into chaos, but it’s also provided some clarity for Democrats and the progressive grassroots.
We’ve got to band together to defeat Trump and the GOP in November. Then, we have to find a way to make the Democratic Party embrace big, bold, structural change. And for that reason, I’m grateful for a new generation of Democratic leaders who are quickly gaining influence, in some cases before they even take office. Remember the name Mondaire Jones, because he’ll soon be making a whole lot of headlines that you’ll love to read.
In fact, after winning a very competitive Congressional primary in New York, Jones — who we supported in that primary — has already started to make those headlines. He was one of the lead plaintiffs in a successful lawsuit against Postmaster Louis DeJoy, in which a judge ruled that the USPS had to stop DeJoy’s various attempts at sabotaging the election. Just 33, Jones is a veteran of the Obama administration and an outspoken, action-oriented progressive who is also leading the charge toward a more action-oriented Democratic Party that actually fights for its values.
“I think that we have to fight tooth and nail in the Senate to block Trump from installing a sixth hyper-partisan conservative justice on the Supreme Court that would dismantle the ACA, voting rights, and rights for racial and ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ community,” Jones says. “We’ve got to shut down the Senate. This is existential.”
For Jones, the fight is both ideological and personal — along with fellow New Yorker Ritchie Torres, Jones will become the first openly gay Black member of Congress. But it’s also the only way to survive what is clearly an assault on democracy in the United States.
Democrats tend to value institutions and order, but the truth is that drastic action needs to be taken as soon as possible. As Jones stated and the public demands, the party needs to fight Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell’s hypocritical efforts to install extreme right-wing idealogue Amy Coney Barrett to the high court (and they’ve finally started to indicate that they’ll give it a try… or maybe not). Then, if and when Democrats take control of the government this November, they need to expand the Supreme Court. It’s the only way we’ll ever get progressive legislation to stick over the next 20 to 30 years.
As expected, Democrats have been divided on actually trying to use their power to make big changes. Many powerful members of the Senate are pushing back against the idea of expanding the court; some don’t even want to eliminate the filibuster.
Here again, Jones has been a leading advocate for decisive action. And lest you think he’s unrealistic, he spent years working for the Obama administration’s Justice Department, so he has an intimate understanding of the inner-workings of the court system.
“This isn't a question of Democratic wins and Republican losses — Justice John Paul Stevens was a Republican and David Souter was a Republican,” he says. “This is about putting jurists on the Supreme Court who will respect the Congress and who will not be political hacks. Anything that we would want to pass, including HR 1, the very first piece of legislation that House Democrats passed in March of 2019, is imperiled by this Supreme Court even without a sixth conservative justice.”
It might seem easier for someone from New York to advocate for progressive reform, but Jones’s race was no slam dunk. New York’s 17th congressional district is majority white and relatively wealthy, and he ran in a crowded primary that included well-known state legislators and the son of a billionaire.
And yet, Jones won by a wide margin by speaking truth to power and championing progressive policies that benefit everyone. That and a lot of grassroots support.
“I think it defies the conventional wisdom that you have to run as a moderate or conservative Democrat in order to compete,” he says. “I was reading something earlier today about how John Tester has voted against both of Donald Trump's nominees to the Supreme Court. He’s safe in a state [Montana] that went for Trump by over 20 points. More than anything, people value authenticity and a champion for working people.
“Some of the things I ran on were Medicare for All and universal childcare and better public education,” Jones adds. “But the fact is there were a lot of folks who didn't support Medicare for All who still voted for me because they knew that I was someone who would be a fighter for big structural changes.”
While Jones is a pretty solid bet to win the general election this fall, he isn’t resting on his laurels and spending time pricing out furniture for his future office in the Capitol building. Instead, he’s staying on the frontlines, doing his best to ensure that the next Democratic Congress has as many new progressive members as possible.
“I'm really, really hoping that we have a large freshman class. And that will require a number of folks like Candace Valenzuela, Cameron Webb, Kara Eastman, Dana Balter, and Jon Hoadley flipping seats from red to blue,” Jones says. “And I think they all can do it. I'm excited to be helpful to them. I've asked my team of volunteers to phone bank for them. I’ve also done some fundraising for them as well.”
This has been a nightmare year for so many reasons, from the pandemic to politics, but the fact that we’re about to get a new class of progressive champions like Jones, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, and some of the candidates above give me hope for the future. Let’s do what we can to help maximize progressive power in Congress to give ourselves a fighting chance at surviving as a democracy.
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Elections and Voting Rights
Wisconsin: Here’s a model for your local government to consider: City officials held a successful Democracy in the Park event on Saturday in Madison, collecting absentee ballots from voters in a whopping 200 different parks around the city.
The top two Republicans in the state, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, tried to scuttle the event. They sent a cease and desist notice to the city organizers, who promptly ignored the threat.
Even some conservative lawyers admitted that the city officials weren’t doing anything wrong — city poll workers were collecting the ballots and they were not giving out blank ballots, so it didn’t count as early voting.
I haven’t seen any big news reports about the event, but it’s looking like it went well:
National: Broad absentee balloting makes for higher turnout, which is obviously a good thing. But it’s not a perfect system — rejection rates on absentee ballots are notoriously higher for a number of reasons. First and foremost, some people may just have trouble properly marking their ballot and won’t have the immediate feedback of a voting machine to help them correct it.
Here are some of the other issues we’re seeing:
Pennsylvania: I covered it earlier this week and am glad it’s finally getting some serious attention. In Pennsylvania, “naked ballots” pose a huge issue.
The state Supreme Court’s recent ruling, which was generally positive for Democrats, also ruled that voters had to use “secrecy envelopes.” That could lead to a fair number of ballots being discounted.
Here’s the Philly Inquirer explaining it: “Pennsylvania uses a two-envelope mail ballot system: A completed ballot goes into a ‘secrecy envelope’ that has no identifying information, and then into a larger mailing envelope that the voter signs.”
If voters — who largely aren’t used to voting absentee — don’t use them, their vote gets tossed. One estimate suggests that up to 100,000 votes could be thrown away because of it.
It will require action by the legislature to waive the secrecy envelope requirement — and unfortunately, the GOP, which generally hates voting rights, controls the legislature right now.
In the absence of action from the legislature, activists and candidates have been working to spread the word about how to properly package these envelopes. Some lawmakers are really putting it all out there.
Minnesota: Here, voters no longer need a witness, but the envelope does not indicate that. There will be a big drive to explain the new requirements to the public, but confusion could still happen.
North Carolina: Voting began in this crucial swing state early this month and already, 200,000 ballots have been returned. But an unusually high number of ballots have been rejected due to technical requirements that novice absentee voters have not picked up on.
At least 1700 ballots have been rejected, an outsized share of which belong to Black voters.
Tripping up voters is the requirement to have a witness sign and include their address. The state used to require two witnesses, but Democrats were able to knock that down. Republicans have refused to eliminate it outright.
On Tuesday, a settlement was reached that make it a bit easier for voters to fix their ballots: they need to sign an affidavit confirming that they filled out those ballots, under penalty of a felony if they’re lying.
It was a huge week for court cases related to voting rights, so I’m going to run down some of the big lawsuits filed and decisions handed down this week.
Minnesota: Back in August, Secretary of State Steve Simon agreed to allow election officials to count ballots that arrive up to a week after Election Day so long as they’re postmarked by November 3rd. As expected, Republican lawmakers, who generally hate voting rights and have eyes on flipping the state for Donald Trump, filed a lawsuit this week to reverse that decision.
Wisconsin: The same basic thing happened in Wisconsin, where the state GOP sued after a judge ruled that the state had to count ballots that arrived by November 9th so long as they were postmarked by Election Day.
Texas: Better news in Texas, where a federal judge ruled that a law disallowing straight-ticket voting would “impose a discriminatory burden” on Black and Hispanic voters and put people in danger due to the longer lines it would create at in-person polling places.
Texas allows voters to tick a box to cast a vote for every candidate in a particular party, which has benefitted Democrats over the years, especially in 2018. Republicans passed a law to ban it before that election but it was only coming into effect now.
Help Down-Ballot Candidates
One of the main focuses this year (and every year) at Progressives Everywhere is spotlighting and fundraising for candidates running for state legislature, where most of the United States’ laws are written. This year, Democrats have a chance to flip legislatures in a number of swing states, and by helping their campaigns, we also get to help get out the vote for Joe Biden in must-win states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida.
I’ve written guides to key candidates in a majority of these flippable states, which I’ve listed below.
Georgia: Like in most of the country, suburban women look to be the swing voters that will decide the election. It’s no coincidence that the candidates we’re supporting in Georgia are all progressive women running in the suburbs.
North Carolina: Polls are looking good for both Democratic Senate candidates in the Carolinas:
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