Zephyr Teachout is running to shake up the Democratic Party, American politics, the US Congress, and economic arrangements that favor billionaires over working Americans.
It turns out that this is a popular agenda.
Teachout, the former director of the Sunlight Foundation who authored the groundbreaking book Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United (Harvard University Press), won 71 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s New York Democratic primary for an open US House seat representing a sprawling district that includes parts of 11 upstate and Hudson Valley counties.
Declaring victory on primary night, the Fordham University law professor boldly announced, “I am running for Congress to break down those doors in Washington, DC; the doors that are keeping the people of America—the real people, the citizens of America—locked out. I’ve been fighting well-paid lobbyists on behalf of working families my entire life. I will fight until we win—for the people of NY 19. For the American people.”
Teachout’s congressional run has stirred grassroots enthusiasm that compares with that of the presidential campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (who endorsed Teachout and urged his small-donor network to support her candidacy). And that enthusiasm was in evidence on Tuesday, as the Democratic primary in the competitive district (where the seat is currently held by a Republican) drew a substantially higher turnout than the Republican primary.
“Score one for the political revolution,” declared Working Families Party New York State Director Bill Lipton. “Zephyr has been able to build a grassroots movement of activists and small dollar donors looking to take on the political and economic establishment. Voters in the 19th District now have a rare opportunity to elect a Representative who will lift up their voices and be a national leader in taking on corruption and corporate influence in our politics. The choice for them in November could not be clearer, and eyes of the entire country will continue to be on this race.”
Teachout has drawn national attention by running campaigns (for governor of New York in 2014 and now for the House) that are long on substance, and that go to the very heart of the fundamental questions that face the United States and the world in a moment of growing outrage over economic inequality and the political corruption that creates and sustains injustice. “One of the original sins in modern thinking is the separation of thinking about economics and politics,” she explains.
Arguing that “you have to be careful that no individual corporate power starts getting so concentrated that it becomes a kind of invisible government,” she advocates for policies that respond “to the interests of the people [rather than] to the interests of individual, monopolistic companies.” With that in mind, Teachout is one of the nation’s leading advocates for campaign-finance and ethics reforms. But she is also on the cutting edge of advocacy for a renewal of the trust-busting vision that many trace to Teddy Roosevelt and the progressive Republicans of a century ago but that she traces all the way back to the founding debates of the American experiment. “Thomas Jefferson wanted an anti-monopoly clause in the Constitution, and for most of American history, people have understood that you cannot have a truly responsive democratic power and radically concentrated industry,” she says. “If you have monopolies…they will take over government in so many ways.”
Teachout is running in a region that once elected a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the New York State Senate, and where a young Gore Vidal bid for Congress more than 50 years ago. The frequently redrawn 19th district has pockets of Democrats and Republicans and a long history of swinging back and forth between the two major parties. So no one thinks Teachout will have it easy in her November race with John Faso, a former legislator who was the Republican nominee for governor in 2006.
Faso is backed by powerful interests that would like very much to keep Teachout out of Congress, not just because of her potential to emerge as a progressive leader but also because of her ability to reach across lines of partisanship and ideology to build unexpected and powerful coalitions on issues such as Net Neutrality and ethics reform. Already, billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Singer and some of the wealthiest Republican donors in the country are pouring money into Super PACs that have been aiding Faso.
Yet on Tuesday, in a swing district where both nominees had to see off genuine primary challenges, Teachout won substantially more votes than Faso.
“Wall Street is scared to death of being held accountable by Zephyr Teachout in the halls of Congress,” says Democracy for America’s Jim Dean. But, he adds, “Few candidates are better prepared than Zephyr Teachout to run and win the kind of aggressive, people-powered campaign needed to beat back the wealthy hedge funders like Paul Singer who are already pouring millions into SuperPACs designed to aid whichever Trump-enabling Republican she faces in November.”