In this next month, it’s understandable that attention will be paid 36/7 to what happens in Iowa, New Hampshire, and other early presidential primaries. But progressive democrats shouldn’t lose sight of important races in the House and Senate, and there are some fights to watch in those primaries – fights where good progressive candidates are running.
One critical race is in Maryland’s 4th District. In 2006, long-time activist and lawyer Donna Edwards ran against incumbent Albert Wynn on an antiwar message, losing the Democratic primary by just 3 points. Now, with the February 12 primary just around the corner, Edwards is mounting another tenacious challenge to Wynn. She recently picked up two key labor endorsements from the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 – the latter of whom endorsed Wynn in 2006. (Wynn also “mistakenly” listed the SEIU as a supporter in campaign materials in 2006 though the union had chosen not to endorse in the race.)
“I am honored to receive this endorsement from SEIU and UFCW – two of the most vibrant leaders among organized labor,” Edwards wrote me in an email. “These workers join a host of other organizations that have endorsed my candidacy who are fighting to protect the environment, improve the lives of working families, enhance women’s rights, for quality, affordable health care and to end the war in Iraq. I am proud to have the support of such diverse groups that have come together to help bring necessary change to Maryland’s 4th Congressional District.” Other organizations that have endorsed Edwards include Sierra Club, Emily’s List, the National Organization for Women, Progressive Democrats of America, ACORN, and the League of Conservation Voters.
Edwards and her supporters make a compelling case on the need for change, pointing not only to Wynn’s support for the War in Iraq, but also votes for the Republican Energy Bill, weakening the Endangered Species Act, tax breaks for oil and gas companies, repealing the estate tax, privatizing the Internet, drilling in Alaska, supporting the pharmaceuticals on drug policy and the credit card companies on the bankruptcy bill. Edwards notes that she herself supported Albert Wynn for Congress when he first ran in 1992, but now she calls him “Maryland’s Joe Lieberman,” saying, “We haven’t left Albert Wynn. He’s left us.”
In contrast, Edwards says, she represents “the hopes and values that are the core of the Democratic Party – for workers, for families, for our country.” Indeed, Edwards used her law degree to serve the public interest, fighting domestic violence and gaining a national reputation for that work in the process. Since 2000, she has served as the executive director of The Arca Foundation, one of the most interesting small progressive foundations working today, with a commitment to social justice at home and abroad that spans over 50 years. (I served on the board of Arca for two months – before I realized that it was going to be too demanding…along with The Nation day job! But during that time I had the good fortune to go on a site visit with Donna. She’s tenacious, smart – and will do great work for her constituents as she has done throughout her career!)
Edwards’ friends in labor see her as the progressive alternative to Wynn as well. Ebs Burnough, Political Director of 1199 SEIU, told the Prince George’s Gazette, “Donna Edwards has the progressive principles to best represent the Marylanders in the 4th District. She is a proven leader, supporting living wage campaigns, preventing domestic violence and promoting innovative programs that make a difference in the lives of working families.”
“She’s a person who’s going to help us lead the change,” Mark Federici, Director of Strategic Programs with the UFCW local, told the Washington Post. “The change is about progressive values and the value of people that work – living wages, affordable health care, respect and dignity on the job.”
Fighting for his political life, Wynn has made a clear move to the left since defeating Edwards by less than 3,000 votes in 2006, in what Maryland State Senator and valued Nation contributor Jamie Raskin calls “a dramatic turnabout.” Raskin, a long-time friend of Edwards and a passionate progressive leader in the Maryland General Assembly since his own landslide upset victory in the 2006 Democratic primary (nine of his bills were passed into law in his first legislative session!), says Edwards has already scored a major victory. “Donna could win this in February, but in a sense she’s already won because she’s established for the rest of our lifetimes that this is an honest-to-goodness progressive district, not a triangulating DLC district whose representative can vote for Republican war drives or top-down class warfare,” Raskin told me. “There’s no going back on that now. The question is whether Donna will lead in Congress next year or continue to lead from the outside.”
The SEIU has 22,350 Maryland members and the UFCW local represents 14,000 workers in the state. Labor endorsements of challengers to Democratic incumbents are rare, as Terry Cavanagh, executive director of the SEIU Maryland State Council, told the Post: “We do a good job holding Republicans accountable during general elections, but we need to do a better job holding Democrats accountable, too. That’s what this is about.” According to the Post – which also endorsed Edwards in 2006 – the SEIU has designated “getting Edwards elected [as] a top national priority,” and both unions plan “an aggressive ground game on her behalf, including mailings, phone banks and door-to-door canvassing.”
When someone like Donna Edwards comes along – someone devoted to progressive principles, ready to amplify progressive voices in Congress, and in a position to win elected office – it’s important that we stand up and support her. When the frenzy surrounding Iowa and New Hampshire passes, let’s remember the maxim that all politics is local. As Donna Edwards said to me, “This election can and should be a real line in the sand moment for progressives to reclaim the Democratic Party. That means getting members of the progressive caucus – women, union members, activists and elected officials – energized about this election to send a real message that voters are no longer willing to accept ‘business as usual.'”
Business as usual isn’t just the fault of Republicans. That’s why this time around we need to make sure that Donna Edwards wins.