Background: District Director to Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fl.), Political Director of ACORN 2007-2009, former board member of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida
The Race: U.S. House of Representatives, Florida’s Ninth District
As Rep. Alan Grayson prepares to relinquish Florida’s Ninth District House seat in his bid to replace Marco Rubio in the Senate, Susannah Randolph, Grayson’s District Director, is now vying for her boss’s soon-to-be-vacant position. Randolph, 41, was an instrumental strategist in many of the progressive victories of Rep. Grayson, who has been called the “most effective member of the House" and passed important legislation like a massive wage recovery program for victims of wage theft.
The district sits in the Orlando–Kissimmee–Sanford Metro area, which has the lowest median wages in the country. Top among the three other challengers who will appear on the August 30 primary ballot is Florida State Sen. Darren Soto—a pro-life, school voucher-backing legislator who is known as a friend of big business. He also wrote a song about narrowly dodging sexual assault accusations as a law student. Randolph, on the other hand, has consistently fought for economic and social equality for women and spoken out against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s school voucher program.
Key Endorsements: Congressional Progressive Caucus, Democracy for America, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, NOW, Congressman Keith Ellison (MN-5)
Latest Polling: None available Primary: August 30
Why are you running for Florida’s 9th District Congressional Office?
Susannah Randolph: Florida’s Ninth District has a tradition of being not just a Democratic stronghold, but a progressive one. When Congressman Grayson decided to leave his seat to run for U.S. Senate, a bunch of folks came to me and said, “You know the district. You’ve been a part of the team to move progressive policies forward. … We’re on board if you want to do this.” We were excited...because we really believe in having a strong progressive [in office], and not just a strong progressive, but someone who really understands how congressional office can be helpful to people’s lives by being a catalyst for organizing and for middle-class families.
It’s been Grayson’s district since they redrew the lines in 2012 and he’s a strong progressive. He’s led the charge on a lot of issues like Social Security, wages, worker’s rights. We need someone who is going to carry that on.
How and when did your political career begin? What experiences first got you interested in progressive politics and the fight to preserve and strengthen the middle class?
My family has always been very Democratic and my folks would always take us out to rallies for progressives and Democrats. When I went to Florida State University, I actually got involved in the Public Interest Research Group, and we took on stopping drilling off the coast of Florida. I remember being a sophomore and organizing kids to drive out to Pensacola so that we could testify in front of the Department of the Interior to stop the drilling. In the 1992 election, we registered people like crazy to vote. We were also always pushing for affordable tuition.
How does your grassroots organizing experience inform your style of politics?
We launched our campaign with a ton of support from the beginning. That’s what a good organizer will tell you: “Before you do anything, get all your ducks in a row, get them all organized.” We had two quarters of fundraising through last year, and at the end of those two quarters, we were ahead in terms of cash in hand with only a $130 average cash contribution [per donor]. I love being an organizer. It’s awfully hard work, but I love it.
In the 2016 presidential primaries, there has been discussion as to which candidates will best serve the interests of minority groups on the state and national levels. That said, about one-third of Florida's Ninth District is Hispanic, and your opponent State Sen. Darren Soto (D-Orlando), who is Puerto Rican, has made concerns in the Puerto Rican community a key aspect of his campaign. How are you appealing to Latino voters in your district?
It’s important when you’re running for a congressional district with 700,000 to 800,000 people that you are in a position to serve every community with the same amount of vigor, the same amount of enthusiasm. With ACORN, I led the voter registration drive in 2008 that registered 152,000 African-American and Hispanic voters, which was important for President Obama’s election. So my track record is pretty strong in making sure that minority voters are not just represented, but are voting and actively participating in our electoral system.
I also stand strong against Jeb Bush’s voucher and charter school effort, which is victimizing minority communities in Florida.
You have been endorsed by a number of progressive organizations, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America, who are trying to oust corporate democrats and build the progressive movement within the Democratic Party. What is your vision for the Democratic Party?
I’m a progressive, and I’m a Democrat, and I’m not afraid to say that I’ve been endorsed by the leaders of the Progressive Caucus, which is now the biggest caucus in Congress. They are doing spectacular work.
We think you should work hard to get ahead, but you shouldn’t have to work three jobs in Osceola County. I want to join the CPC to use the power of Congress to figure out how to get a wage theft ordinance passed at local levels, but also to put together a broad coalition of people to stop bad trade deals. As an organizer, you don’t care who’s at the table. You just want to solve the problem.
When the Democratic Party chooses its nominee in Philadelphia, the party will come together for the November election. What stands in the way of Sanders supporters and Hillary supporters working together under the Democratic Party big tent?
The most unifying force for the Democratic Party is probably Donald J. Trump. We have to stick together. At the end of the day, primaries are tough because they’re conflicts within the family, but we’ll be okay. The good news is that the way that democracy is supposed to work is how it’s working now. We have to remember that the primaries are always hard because all of a sudden, the person you’ve always been at the same rally with is on the other side. But at the end of the day, that’s what makes us better. We will unify. We have to, because Donald Trump just can’t happen.
Democrats have lost their majorities in both the House and Senate. What do you think the Democratic Party needs to do to gain them back?
Turn out. Turn out. Turn out. I have to give a big shout out to Congressman Ellison who started the Voters First Campaign, which is brilliant. It’s getting Democrats in safe Democratic seats to commit to upping turnout in their districts by three percent in every election and it’s really important because a lot of times folks in safe seats will say “okay, well, I’m good” and move on. But really, this comes from the part of me that’s the organizer, that says you need to constantly, constantly be pushing people to turn out to vote, especially on our side.
Look at Obama in 2008. When the voter turnout is huge, we win, and we win places we never thought we would win like Florida, North Carolina, Virginia. You’ve got to focus on the mechanics of turning out, voter registration, absentee ballots, good GOTV operations. You also have to fire up your base, and that’s all about the grassroots. It’s hard work, but if we don’t do the work, that’s when we watch the American Dream slip away from people.
The effects of climate change are quickly becoming a reality in Florida, probably more than any other state. Is there significant concern in your community? What do you think are the best options to address climate change in Congress?
Major natural disasters remind us of how unequal our society has become economically, because the first people to get out [in the event of a disaster] are the people who can. The other people who are left behind die tragically. When you have a very poor district like this one, it is a big concern, because these are the folks who are going to need the most help.
About the ways to address it: you’ve got to trim fossil fuels, so definitely no offshore drilling. In Florida, we’re stopping that. If you look at, in particular, New Orleans, which has been ravaged by offshore drilling, it absolutely destroyed coastal wetlands that absorbed a lot of that flooding. In my district we are land-locked, so it’s a little bit less of a concern. But when you’re talking about the whole state, if you have major flood issues on the coast, where do you think people are going? They come here. So it puts a burden on everyone.
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