Debbie Wasserman Schultz Was Forced Out of the DNC. Meet the Insurgent Democrat Trying to Force Her Out of Congress.
Background: Law professor and prominent critic of the Federal Reserve
The Race: U.S. House of Representatives, Florida’s 23rd District
Tim Canova, age 55, is leading an insurrection within the Democratic Party by challenging Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Schultz is a member of the New Democratic Coalition (the congressional affiliate of the now-defunct neoliberal Democratic Leadership Council), which lauds “the innovation, creativity, industriousness and adaptability of our private sector.”
In late March, President Barack Obama endorsed Schultz, citing her “unwavering commitment to … expanding economic opportunity for more people.” Perchance an ironic tribute to her success at preventing regulation of the payday loan industry? In contrast, during the Occupy Wall Street protests, Canova was active in Occupy LA, where he taught a workshop on the Federal Reserve.
Key Endorsements: Progressive Democrats of America, Democracy for America, Communications Workers of America, National Nurses United
Latest Polling: None available Primary: August 30
What are the three most important issues facing America today that should be addressed in the Democratic Party platform, and how are you proposing to address those issues?
Tim Canova: I am focusing on income and wealth inequality, the war on drugs, mass incarceration and addressing climate change. However, I don't think any of these issues can be dealt with in an effective way as long as so much corporate special interest and dark money dominates our elections and political system. I have posted on these four big issues on the issues page of our campaign website (at timcanova.com).
On cleaning up the campaign finance system, we need to overturn Citizens United. Indeed, it should be a litmus test for any Supreme Court nominee, the same way the Republicans have made overturning Roe v. Wade a litmus test. We should have publicly financed elections that maximize the power of small donors. We should have a national Election Day and make it far easier to register, and we should abolish felon disenfranchisement.
All of this should be reflected in the Democratic Party platform. It's easy for candidates to say they're for overturning Citizens United, but it's really meaningless when they're also taking so much corporate and dark money that they'll never follow through. Our campaign is fortunate—we do not need to take corporate money and we never will. As Gandhi said, the means are the ends in the making. If our objective is clean politics, we must practice clean politics.
How have social movements like Black Lives Matter, Occupy and climate change activism influenced your campaign?
Each of these movements is contributing to the wave of volunteers and donations to my campaign. This is not surprising. I was personally active in Occupy, and I have been supportive of climate change activism for years. I support much of what Black Lives Matter is saying and doing, and in fact have been on board with this agenda (to end mass incarceration, reform the criminal justice system, end the drug war and fight institutional racism) well before it coalesced around Black Lives Matter. All three of these movements have shaped our agenda and the way we are conducting our campaign as embracing grassroots activism.
Bernie Sanders' campaign has galvanized young progressive voters across the country and attracted a lot of independent support. What are the lessons here for the Democrats and for your campaign in particular? What is your campaign doing to bring more people into the political process?
I think the lesson of the Sanders campaign is that speaking truthfully and authentically, rather than following pollsters and consultants, is attractive to voters across the political spectrum. My own political views and engagement are reflected by three decades of work, including a public record of published writings. I did not tailor or compromise my views when seeking tenure and advancement in my academic career. I am not about to put my finger up to the wind and flip flop on the issues now. People may not agree with me on every issue, but they know that I am not bought and I cannot be bought.
We are speaking the truth, as we see it, and it is a populist and progressive message that is attracting people into the political process. At the same time, we are putting our precious resources to work in reaching voters here on the ground. Just this week, we hired a campaign manager and four organizers, all with experience in the Bernie Sanders campaign, to help organize all the grassroots volunteer energy that is coming our way.
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?
The Democratic Party has lost its way. It has gone corporate and Wall Street on so many issues that it has unfortunately turned its back on its own grassroots base. When Wall Street gets trillions of dollars in support and subsidies—in a Democratic administration—and Main Street gets little but austerity, that's not a formula for electoral success. I have written about this in "The Bottom-Up Recovery: A New Deal in Banking and Public Finance," my book chapter in When Government Helped. This 2008 Great Recession was arguably the only recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s without a real jobs program to help the unemployed. While the official unemployment rate has fallen to the 5 percent range, this ignores the fact that millions of people have dropped out of the workforce—they are "discouraged workers," part-time workers (often more than one part-time job) who have stopped seeking full-time work. This has fallen particularly hard on young Millennials, as well as Gen Xers and even Boomers.
No wonder that 29 million people who voted for Obama in 2008 just didn't bother voting in 2010, when the Democrats lost the House so badly. Pretending away the problem by redefining unemployment doesn't change the facts on the ground. Our party must have a program that addresses the real needs of millions of people, including a genuine full-employment agenda: jobs for all, healthcare for all, educational opportunities for all.
It's not progressive if its not progress for all. And it's not enough to promise this kind of fairness and social justice; the party must deliver when it's rewarded with electoral success.
As part of the progressive full-employment agenda, I would be pushing for the kinds of reforms in public finance and monetary policy that I have written about for years, including redirecting the Federal Reserve’s assistance from Wall Street to Main Street (as it did in the 1930s and 1940s), creating a federal infrastructure bank (modeled on the Depression-era Reconstruction Finance Corporation), and creation of postal banking and state-owned commercial and community banks (like the Bank of North Dakota).
When Democrats choose their nominee in Philadelphia, the party will come together for the November election. What stands in the way of Sanders supporters and Clinton supporters working together under the Democratic Party big tent?
Many Sanders supporters are clearly skeptical of Hillary's commitment to a progressive agenda. She changed her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), regulating Wall Street and private prisons only when it became clear that she needed to appeal more broadly to the party's progressive base. If she is the nominee, she will need to signal a real commitment by selecting a genuinely progressive running mate. If Sanders is the nominee, then the Democratic Party establishment has to realize that we're all better off with Sanders than Trump or even an establishment Republican.
Your opponent being the chairperson of the Democratic Party puts you in a particular position to advocate not just reforms to the law you might make in office, but to the party that would send you there. What effect has Wasserman-Schultz's tenure at the DNC had, and what would you like to see done at a party level?
For openers, the DNC should reverse its recent decision to allow corporate lobbyists to donate to the DNC. That decision itself was a reversal of President Obama's 2008 ban on lobbyist donations to the DNC. Beyond that, the DNC must better reflect non-elite interests across the board. It should push aggressively for reform of the campaign finance system and banning the revolving door between big corporations and the DNC itself.
Republicans have managed to secure important down-ticket and off-year electoral victories; how can Democrats build strong state and local party organizations?
It's got to be from the grassroots. We need to recruit activists committed to our progressive agenda to run for office, and that includes challenging incumbent Democrats.
The DNC and state Democratic parties must stop favoring incumbents over insurgents in Democratic primaries. And primary challengers may need to not just share a progressive agenda but also fundraising and campaign infrastructure to maximize the power of grassroots support.
In our campaign, the Florida Democratic Party has denied us access to its voter database and software, which it routinely provides at reasonable cost to Democratic candidates, but refuses to anyone running against an incumbent Democrat. This past weekend, we attended the Broward County Democratic Party Victory banquet. At the head table, sitting next to Debbie Wasserman Schultz was Allison Tant, her handpicked chair of the Florida Democratic Party—the very person protecting Wasserman Schultz by denying us access to these important campaign tools.
Sanders and Clinton have assembled coalitions with stark divisions along the lines of age and, in some cases, racial category. What sort of bold progressive platform can unite these constituencies in November and in years to come?
The war on drugs and mass incarceration fall most heavily on people of color. Ending the drug war appeals to people across racial lines who understand the futility and hypocrisy of the drug war. People of all ages also understand the need for progressive economic reform. Millennials are clearly a base of support for Sanders, and in large part because they see him responding to their needs (tuition-free public education, for example) and they see his integrity in rejecting corporate funding.
Although Clinton has done better among African-American voters, it's important to remember there are millions of people of color, and in particular African-American men, who have been disenfranchised for drug convictions under the crime control regime ushered in by the previous Clinton administration. While a progressive economic agenda (jobs for all) should appeal across racial and generational lines, we must keep focused on the institutional racism that permeates our criminal justice system at all levels. Together these platforms should unite these diverse constituencies and build coalitions for electoral success.
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