Jamie Raskin On Leading a Fight Against Big Money in Maryland
Background: Constitutional law professor and Maryland state senator
The Race: U.S. House of Representatives, Maryland’s 8th District
The open seat in Maryland’s 8th District has come down to a three-way contest between progressive lawmaker Jamie Raskin, 53, and two wealthy opponents: wine retailer David Trone and former Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews—whose husband, Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s Hardball, has drawn criticism for the fact that 48 of the guests on his program have contributed a total of more than $79,000 to his wife’s campaign. Both Trone and Matthews also have backed Republican candidates for office in the past. “Progressives are fired up here for a victory against big money,” says Raskin, who has relied on a surge of small-dollar donations to remain competitive.
Raskin, a former American University law professor, is the author of Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court Versus the American People, in which he argues that since Bush v. Gore, conservative judges have been undermining our constitutional democracy, and that it's time that we the people stand up and fight back.
Key Endorsements: Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs, Reps. Keith Ellison (Minn.) and Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), and Rep. John Conyers (Mich.), Democracy for America, Progressive Democrats of America, NEA, International Association of Machinists, Sierra Club
Latest Polling: +3 Primary: April 26
How would you describe voters’ mood in Maryland, and what do you think is contributing to that?
Jamie Raskin: Progressives are fired up here for a victory against big money. Ours is already the most expensive Congressional race in America. One of my opponents, David Trone, a liquor distributor who is an owner of Total Wines and Liquor, has already spent six or seven million dollars and is on course to spend $15 million.
My other opponent, Matthews, is the leading corporate PAC recipient of any non-incumbent in America, Democrat or Republican, and she oversaw the Marriott political action committee. Neither of them voted in the last two of three democratic primary elections, and both have channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign costs of right-wing Republicans across America. Trone has given more than $150,000 to right-wing Republicans including Gov. Abbott of Texas, Gov. McKee of Rhode Island and Gov. Barbour of Mississippi. Matthews, as the supervisor of the Marriott Political Action Committee, channeled more than $700,000 in conservative Republican campaigns, including Speaker Boehner and Sen. Roy Blunt. In fact, she herself gave a max-out contribution in this election cycle to Sen. Roy Blunt, the anti-choice, anti-birth control, anti-environment Republican senator from Missouri.
In our district, progressives are passionately engaged in trying to stop this big money takeover of our party. We do this as a national referendum on the future of the Democratic Party.
When I go out on the road, I say, “Public office is something that you earn—it’s not something that you buy. An election is not an auction.” But in the Citizens United age, money is threatening to become a substitute for everything else, including a record of legislative success, public service, community engagement and even voting, which is the most minimal act of democratic citizenship.
What has your relationship to the Sanders campaign been, and how have his supporters in Maryland played into the race, if at all?
In Maryland, we had our own presidential candidate, Martin O’Malley. Governor O’Malley and I worked together to abolish the death penalty, to enact marriage equality, to pass strong environmental legislation and to restore voting rights to ex-felons. I’m running on my record of effective progressive leadership and success. And O’Malley signed every one of the more than 100 bills of mine that passed out of the general assembly, including abolition of the death penalty and marriage equality.
He and I are good friends. Because of that, I decided to remain neutral at the very beginning of the campaign. And I’ve stuck to that. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders called me up to ask for my endorsement, and I’m not sure it would mean anything anyway.
I’ve got tons of supporters who are with Sanders, and I’ve got tons of supporters who are with Clinton. We’re going to have to all come back together once the nominee is chosen. I’m not trying to hitch a ride on anybody’s campaign. There are good things to be said about both of them. Hillary’s campaign is clearly historic because it would break the gender barrier. But she’s not running a campaign based on identity politics. She’s running a campaign based on her decades of service as a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State and General Counsel and so on.
Sanders has run a magnificent populist campaign organizing lots of people who were left out of the political system, against the rampant economic inequality that is marring American society. We are going to have to bring those two sides together, and I hope to be the nominee in our district and to be part of that process of bringing together the different parts of the Democratic party for the most effective progressive agenda we can move in the next Congress.
Are you seeing more engagement from young people than you have in the past? Are there other groups turning out as part of your campaign in larger numbers than you expected?
We’ve got great engagement of young people. This past summer we had a democracy summer program with more than 60 college and high school students that spent the entire summer knocking on doors, making phone calls and doing seminars on the different policy issues we’re running on. We also have tremendous involvement from voters at the other end of the age distribution. We have many retiree volunteers who are working full time on our campaign to defend social security and to defend foreign policy for human rights across the world. We have more individual donors than any new candidate in America today and certainly more than the vast majority of incumbents too. We have more than 9,200 individual donations.
What’s the most surprising thing in the race so far?
Two colleagues of mine who are in the General Assembly are in the race. I expected that the race would be between them and me. In fact, it’s been a race between two wealthy and lavishly funded candidates who have little political experience and have spent more time giving money to Republicans than doing any kind of community service with the Democratic Party in Maryland. That’s a surprise to me—that my major opponents here have no real history of involvement in Democratic Party politics. They are creatures of the big money politics that have overtaken our country.
When I started the race, a consultant told me that most Democratic primaries come down to the candidate of the progressive groups and movements versus the party establishment. What’s fascinating about my race is that all of the progressive movements and groups are on my side, from the environmentalists to the teachers to unions. But I also have more than 65 elected officials.
I have become the candidate of both the progressive movement and the curious Democratic Party elected officials. Both the progressive movement and the Democratic Party officials are up against big money outsiders who are looking for a way to buy the seat. I’m proud that I’ve received nearly all of the endorsements of the Democratic Party, activists and groups including the African American Democratic Club; the Latino Democratic Club; the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Congressman John Conyers, who is the senior most member of Congress and the cofounder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
But what we are up against is big money, pure and simple. My opponents have spent more than $5 million on a barrage of TV ads and radio ads. We’ve spent zero dollars on TV and radio so far. But both of their public opinion polls show us still in first place; they’re disagreeing about which one of them is in second.
You’ve made the environment a central focus of your campaign. If elected, what policies would you enact?
The very first bill I will introduce is to cut $10 billion in subsidies to the carbon industry. I refuse all campaign contributions from big oil, big gas and big coal. Those industries aren’t exactly knocking down my door to give me campaign contributions anyway. But I am challenging all the other candidates in my race and across the country to join in a movement to break from the carbon barons and to break from the carbon paradigm. We need a politics that is not dominated by the obsolescent carbon industries. We need to invest in the renewable energies that are going to be the salvation of civilization.
The environmental crisis is linked to America’s ailing infrastructure—our Metro system closed down recently for a day on the turn of a dime because of safety problems. It’s a travesty that we are where we are. But it’s symptomatic of America’s decaying infrastructure. It’s the same with the bridges, the roads, the highways, the parks, the water systems. Flint, Michigan, is a potent symbol of public disinvestment and indifference to the real needs of the people. It’s criminal that children have been drinking poisoned water in the United States of America in 2016.
I’m calling for a “green deal” in America. We need a massive investment in our physical and social infrastructure in a way that uplifts our environmental agenda.
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