The Progressive Honor Roll of 2013
This past year was about a lot more than Ted Cruz and the surreal shutdown politics of the Republican right. Across America, grassroots groups, bold unions, inspired activists, crusading editors and courageous elected officials did great things. They are the real heroes of 2013, and The Nation’s Progressive Honor Roll celebrates them for their accomplishments this year and their determination to do even more in 2014.
MOST VALUABLE SENATOR: Elizabeth Warren
When speculation about her prospects as a presidential contender spiked, the new senator from Massachusetts turned attention away from herself and toward the need to crack down on “too big to fail” banks. “Since when does Congress set deadlines, watch regulators miss most of them, and then take that failure as a reason not to act?” Warren asked in November. That’s how she rolls: while many other senators seek the spotlight, Warren uses it to rip the “corporate capture of the courts” and object to rules in trade agreements that limit the ability of nations to regulate the financial industry. Warren’s voice is amplified by groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which have identified her as their “north star” in the fight to renew the Democratic Party. That scares corporate interests, and Wall Street–aligned Democratic groups like Third Way have attacked her populism. But her populism makes Warren a dynamic force in the Senate and beyond, as was evident when she electrified the September AFL-CIO convention, where she said, “The American people know that the system is rigged against them, and they want us to level the playing field. That’s our mandate.”
MOST VALUABLE HOUSE MEMBER: George Miller
The senior Democrat on the powerful Education and the Workforce Committee, Miller has been in the House since 1975. But the California congressman has lost none of his fire. With Senator Tom Harkin, he introduced a plan in March to hike the minimum wage to $10.10—with automatic cost-of-living increases annually. Nor did Miller stop there. He cheered on fast-food workers as they struck for a $15-an-hour wage. He tore into Republicans over their “repeal Obamacare” obsession and was even blunter in denouncing GOP plans to cut food stamps. Miller did not simply toe the Democratic line; he opposed President Obama’s proposal to fast-track the corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. And he was superb on an issue most members of Congress rarely recognize: after a Bangladeshi garment factory collapse killed more than 1,100 workers, Miller denounced US retailers that have “led this race to the bottom over many years,” telling corporations like Walmart that they “have to make a decision now whether you want to have blood on your labels.”
MOST VALUABLE OBAMA NOMINEE: Thomas Perez
When then-Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez was nominated in March to replace Hilda Solis as labor secretary, it was no surprise that Republicans objected. The son of first-generation Dominican immigrants who served as a civil rights adviser to Senator Edward Kennedy and as Maryland’s labor secretary, Perez has a history of focusing on immigrant rights, voting rights, racial violence and discrimination against workers. But Senate committee chair Tom Harkin refused GOP efforts to delay hearings, and majority leader Harry Reid forced a cloture vote. Even then, Perez was the first cabinet nominee in US history to be confirmed on a party-line vote. Undaunted, he moved quickly to improve the tracking of workplace injuries and make it easier for whistleblowers to file complaints. And he hit the road advocating an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, new investment in job training and a serious minimum-wage hike. “It really is a matter of fairness,” Perez said. “Nobody who works a full-time job should have to live below poverty.”
MOST VALUABLE STATE LEGISLATOR: Wendy Davis
State Senator Wendy Davis captured the imagination not just of her fellow Texans but of the nation in June, when she put on her now-famous sneakers to filibuster for eleven hours against anti-choice legislation. Despite a massive “Stand With Wendy” outpouring of popular support, the Republicans eventually got their way, after Texas Governor Rick Perry and his allies called the legislature back into session. But perhaps not for long: Davis is running an insurgent Democratic campaign that says it’s time for the home state of Ann Richards to elect another pro-choice governor.
MOST VALUABLE MUNICIPAL RISING STAR: Tish James
Amid the excitement over Bill de Blasio’s landslide win as mayor of New York, little attention was paid to the fact that the citywide office of public advocate went to a woman who is at least as progressive as de Blasio. Newly elected Tish James is a former Legal Aid Society public defender who, as an assistant state attorney general, took on predatory lenders and assisted an investigation of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy. Elected to the City Council in 2003, James has battled developers and outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg on behalf of affordable housing and responsible policing. In 2011, she called on Bloomberg to investigate systemic corruption in the NYPD, and in her campaign for public advocate, James highlighted her role as one of four council members to sue the NYPD over its mistreatment of Occupy Wall Street activists. Taking Occupy themes to the campaign trail, James said New Yorkers “don’t need more billionaires…. What we need is to boost working families and create a middle class that’s built to last.” She won 84 percent of the vote, becoming the first woman of color to hold citywide office in the nation’s largest city.