Last night’s primary contests had some highs and lows. [Check out John Nichols’s dispatches on the web and in the magazine to get a better sense of what we can take away from September 12th.] But there’s one victory in Maryland I’d like to single out for celebration. Last night, Jamie Raskin–Democratic candidate for Maryland’s State Senate–won a resounding primary victory in a tough race against a longtime incumbent. He is now virtually assured of winning in November.
Jamie–who ran a smart and creative race, with national support–is a professor of Constitutional Law at American University and a valued contributor to The Nation.
I believe there are four issues in this election year: The Constitution–DEFEND IT; The War –END IT; National Health Care –PASS IT ; Corporate Power–CURB IT. If you believe, as I do, that this nation faces these (and other) critical issues, and that we must confront them with intelligence, sanity, decency–and passion….then all of us won with Jamie’s win.
Jamie Raskin is far more than a defender of the Constitution. He breathes life into it–through his scholarly writings, through his activism, his numerous pieces in The Nation… and now by taking this next step into the electoral arena.
Here’s a good example of Jamie Raskin living the constitution. In March, he was the only professor of constitutional law to agree to testify against Maryland Republicans’ proposed anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, After his testimony, one Republican State Senator told Jamie that maintaining marriage discrimination was purely a matter of following “biblical principles.” Jamie responded, in words that should be engraved in every courtroom, state legislature and in our very own congress…and in words that in this era criss-crossed the internet, “Senator, when you took your oath of office, you put your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You didn’t put your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.” The response in the hearing room was so raucous and enthusiastic that the chairman of the committee pounded his gavel and said, “this is not a football game.”
Sadly, our politics today too often do resemble a football game–though some day, thanks to Jamie’s pioneering work–I know we will count votes more fairly, and proportion our districts differently, more fairly, and have public financing of elections challenging what Jamie called in The Nation “the incumbentocracy.”
In the meantime, the fact that Jamie Raskin, a respected scholar with an international reputation, seeks to begin what we all hope will be a long and distinguished political career in the Maryland State Senate is not just appropriate, not just necessary, it makes a helluva lot of sense. These days, Washington DC is literally and figuratively in gridlock. Congress is not a place where much gets done these days — at least not much that is positive.
Jamie recognizes that, and he understands that at the state legislative level, especially in a state where the legislature has a track record of leading the country when it comes to passing innovative laws, he’ll be able to do more than just think big — he’ll be able to make big things happen.
Maryland, as many of you know, has been in the forefront of fights to expand health care, check corporate power and protect workers in recent years. Indeed, with the legislature’s vote to require Wal-Mart to behave with a measure of responsibility– providing some health benefits for its workers, Maryland made national news. That measure was overridden, but such crucial fights take years. With Jamie in the Senate, the state will make national news even more frequently. He has bold ideas about how to make Maryland a leader in protecting the rights of workers–as founding chair of the state’s Higher Education Labor Relations Board for five years, Jamie wrote rules that allowed more than 7,000 low wage workers–janitors, cleaning staff, dining hall employees, security officers to join unions. And that model became a national model for states extending organizing rights to college campuses. He’s also shaped housing, transportation and education programs that can/could/should become national models.
These are times to remember the great progressive reforms of the 20th century because they began America’s journey of renewal at the state level. When states were, as Judge Brandeis, once said…”laboratories of democracy.” These are times of many local, and statewide victories–some small but also sweet: Portland, Oregon last year, for example, became the first city in the country to approve full public financing of elections. Connecticut passed the strongest campaign finance reform bill. Living wage bills have been passed coast to coast; California just passed the Global Warming Solutions Act–the first time that mandatory, comprehensive caps on greenhouse gas emissions have been passed in the US.
It should be noted that the greatest president of the 20th century began his political career as a state legislator. When Jamie wins his State Senate seat this November it will signal a renewal of the promise of progressive reform coming from the states and sweeping across the nation.