Today Americans Determine Our Political Future

Today Americans Determine Our Political Future

Today Americans Determine Our Political Future

Five contests that could signal where we’re headed on climate change, criminal-justice reform, financial reform, net neutrality, and militarism.


Of course it’s about Trump. The president admits it, saying of today’s midterm elections: “I’m not on the ballot. But in a certain way, I’m on the ballot.”

There is no denying that. In every community, in every congressional district, in every state across the country, Republicans up and down the ballot have embraced Donald Trump’s extremism, and the president has rallied on their behalf with steadily crueler and more destructive messaging. According to a pre-election ABC News/Washington Post poll, “Forty-nine percent say the way Trump speaks encourages political violence, while a mere 19 percent see him as discouraging it. Twenty-nine percent say he’s neither encouraging nor discouraging violence—a subject on which neutrality is not a positive attribute.”

But it’s not just about Trump. It’s about the issues that the president and his partisan allies have chosen to emphasize, and about the vital concerns they have neglected. The results that will be reported tonight and tomorrow morning will send powerful signals not just about checking and balancing this presidency but about what is possible in our politics. Here are some tips for assessing our prospects as the results come in:

1. Climate Change

The first issue on the list of concerns that Democrat Scott Wallace has made central to his critically important bid (to upset a Republican incumbent in Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District) is climate change. Wallace says, “Donald Trump is so desperate to ignore science that he’s banned parts of the government from using words like ‘climate change,’ and he’s perpetuated the dangerous lie that climate change is a hoax by the Chinese. Climate change is real, it is dangerous, and we ignore it at our own peril.” The sense of urgency that Wallace has brought to the debate has earned him attacks for being too committed to addressing the fate of the planet. Yet Wallace has remained resolute, refusing to allow himself or the campaign to be distracted from an issue that must be a part of every debate. He calls out politicians who “keep protecting oil and coal special interests at the expense of our kids’ future.” Wallace has a full agenda. He is a savvy and nuanced contender. But he never loses sight of the fact that the people we elect to Congress must get serious about working to “change our system of tax incentives to move away from carbon-based fuels toward renewable energy.”

2. Criminal Justice Reform

Florida voters will decide the fate of constitutional Amendment Four, an initiative that proposes to renew voting rights for 1.5 million adults who are now ineligible because they have felony convictions on their records. “Once someone has completed their sentence and paid all of their fines, they have earned the eligibility to vote,” declares the “We Are For Four” campaign of the League of Women Voters of Florida. If the amendment passes it has the potential to transform politics in the Sunshine State. But the transformation of Florida’s criminal-justice system will require more than an amendment. It will require the election of a governor who recognizes the need for a new sensibility with regard to crime and punishment. Andrew Gillum is prepared to be that governor, and if he upends the racist dog-whistle politics of Trump and Trump’s favorite gubernatorial candidate, Florida Republican Ron DeSantis, Gillum will become a national leader on the issue. His campaign begins with the premise that “after someone pays the penalty for their mistake, they should be given a second chance.” “Too often,” Gillum’s platform explains, “our society perpetually punishes people for one mistake, and creates barriers to positive re-entry. Andrew supports the legalization of marijuana in order to generate new revenue to pay for teacher and instructional staff pay increases and to reduce the mass incarceration of people with low-level drug offenses. Andrew wants to reform our bail system so that we stop disenfranchising people of lower economic means, and work with the legislature to find common ground on minimum sentencing reforms. His first priority as Governor will be appointing three new Supreme Court justices who share the values of this state, and he’ll appoint diverse, qualified judges who represent the breadth and depth of people in this state.”

3. Public Banking

Los Angeles will vote on a charter amendment to remove barriers to developing a city-owned bank. The proposal represents an initial step in the complicated process of developing a municipal bank along the lines of the 99-year-old state-owned Bank of North Dakota. But make no mistake: LA’s first step is a big one—especially at a moment when communities and states across the country are exploring to alternatives to Wall Street. The grassroots Public Bank LA campaign—which has drawn support from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA City Council President Herb Wesson, major unions, Our Revolution, and Congresswoman Maxine Waters—has made a compelling case for a people’s bank. “Last year the City of Los Angeles paid $170 million in banking fees and $1.1 billion in interest to big banks and investors. Banks have leveraged our tax dollars to finance harmful industries including private prisons, fossil fuel extraction, and weapons manufacturing. In 2017, the City of Los Angeles divested its funds from Wells Fargo, which was fined billions of dollars for creating illegal customer accounts, has a history of discriminating against Latino and African-American home buyers, and finances industries harmful to Angelenos. Local community banks are too small to manage the city’s funds, but Wall Street is not the only alternative,” the group reminds voters. “Banking as a public utility is a proven model worldwide. Public banks keep money local and cut costs by eliminating middlemen, shareholders and high-paid executives.”

4. Net Neutrality

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin has made the defense of net neutrality central to her campaign message this year. Baldwin was targeted for defeat by the most powerful corporate interests in the country, but she upset the plans of the Koch brothers and their allies with an innovative campaign that has focused on a much wider range of issues than most Senate candidates discuss. In her stump speeches, Baldwin declares that “Net Neutrality is on the ballot.” Baldwin focuses on plenty of other issues—protecting people with preexisting conditions, fighting for debt-free education, and fiercely opposing the Republican tax-cut bill—yet she never neglects the fight to preserve the First Amendment. An outspoken supporter of bipartisan efforts to get a Senate vote on a resolution for restoring the net-neutrality rules that were gutted by Trump’s Federal Communications Commission, Baldwin says: “We must overturn this decision and ensure that the internet does not become a two-tiered system, with fast lanes for those who can afford it and slow lanes for those who can’t. Net neutrality is a principle that is at the heart of an accessible and free internet, and I believe we need to protect innovators, entrepreneurs and consumers and keep the internet open for everyone.”

5. Dialing Down Militarism

From the start of her campaign for the open congressional seat representing Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, Democrat Ilhan Omar has called for a fundamental shift in priorities when it comes to federal budgets and foreign policy. Her position is as detailed as it is visionary. “We must end the state of continuous war, as these wars have made us less safe,” says Omar. “Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed, entire countries have been destabilized, and we are currently in the midst of an extreme global migration crisis. Meanwhile at home, there have been increasingly cuts to spending on healthcare, infrastructure, education, and housing. We must scale back U.S. military activities, and reinvest our expansive military budget back into our communities. Once this happens, we can begin to repair the harm done, repair America’s broken image, and invest in diplomatic relationships.” Omar, who is very likely to win, proposes to “reduce total spending on the military from its projected FY 2019 levels of $886 billion and reinvest that money into healthcare, education, housing, jobs, clean energy, and infrastructure,” to “cut the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) that has been called the Pentagon’s ‘slush fund,’” to “eliminate wasteful military programs like the F-35 fighter jet program, saving taxpayers $1 trillion dollars total,” and to “scale back the number of US military bases across the world.”

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