IN a political environment driven by campaign cash, it matters who is at the top of candidate fundraisers because it shows who the candidate aligns himself with, while providing a road map of who is bidding on that lawmaker’s future votes. Who co-chairs a fundraiser can help tell the story of a candidate’s past and future.
With regard to past indicators, my colleague Kartik Krishnaiyer previously discussed here, Darren Soto’s game as being on the extreme right end of what is acceptable to be a Democrat. Kartik says Soto “became the poster child for conservative Democrats who seek higher office by running in safe Democratic seats backed by Republican money and the support of large elements of a bipartisan political establishment.”
So, it was no surprise when I read in Down With Tyranny that Darren Soto’s Thursday fundraiser is co-hosted by former Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire—an anti-choice, ConservaDem Blue Dog, who even lost his seat in Congress after voting against the Affordable Care Act, four times.
It’s also no surprise Altmire is now a lobbyist for insurance giant Florida Blue. He was offered that executive position before he had time catch his breath from his election loss. But, we’re certain the plum job offer had absolutely nothing to do with the fact he voted against Obamacare, four times. Nothing at all.
Altmire is an FSU ex-football jock, who has the unnerving habit of locking into vacant doll-eyed patter when delivering talking points, as seen here on The Colbert Show “Know Your District” segment.
As the robotic übermensch, Altmire is a curious foil to Soto’s diminutive nervous Nelly-ness, making them an unlikely Dude-Bro team, but they have much in common when it comes to the ladies, as revealed in their votes on women’s health. As a Congressman, Altmire had an astounding z-e-r-o rating from NARAL, and voted with Republicans against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. Altmire pushed women aside to vote with Republicans on the redefinition of rape to “forceable rape,” to exclude those who have been drugged, threatened or otherwise unable to fight. Soto has his own backwards view of women’s rights and reproductive freedom, exemplified in his votes against alimony, for paternalistic mandatory ultrasounds, and for instituting the onerous 24-hour waiting period.
Neither of these guys can be trusted with women’s policy issues, but only one still threatens to make law directly. Their anti-woman votes seem so fanatical they make one wonder if they might have gotten some wires crossed in their psycho-religious development. It’s like they’re competing for “Commanders of the Faithful” in some fantasy-football version of The Handmaid’s Tale: Republic of Gilead. And yes, the preceding was a shameless reference to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale which can be purchased at Amazon and should be read NOT as a how-to manual. Great holiday gift, along with Atwood’s Maddaddam Trilogy box set: Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam.
Reflected in their lobbyist-lawmaker friendship, Soto and Altmire also share a loyalty to serving special interests. Altmire was named the “Most Anti-Small Business Congressman,” by the American Small Business League (ASBL) after drafting legislation in his first year of office that would have forced legitimate small businesses to compete head-to-head against big businesses and venture capital syndicates for federal small business contracts, grants and loans. He sought to achieve this by re-defining those Wall Street interests as “independently-owned.” This cowardly, lobbyist maneuvering would have tilted the playing field from small businesses that deserve assistance, to those benefitting from eliminating small competitors.
For his part, Darren Soto’s special interest Loyalty Program Card is punched with an “A” rating from the NRA, 100 percent Florida Chamber rating (the Chamber is a Republican-affiliated group—the opposite of a friend of small business). He also scored 100 percent from Jeb Bush’s Excellence in Education Foundation for being a champion of public school privatization schemes. These accolades reflect work done at the expense of middle class working families in Florida. Taken together they’re a measure of how much we’ve sacrificed by sending a “Democrat in name only” to Tallahassee.
The bread and butter of special interest deals—deregulation, privatization, and other bogus small government policies pushed by business interests—lie at the heart of what is destroying American Democracy from the inside out. Participatory democracy is dying from Congress members only do the bidding of lobbyists. Fortunately, some political theorists are finally starting to point out the obvious: neoliberalism and Democracy are incompatible. That’s a link to another worthy read, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, by Wendy Brown, University of California, Berkeley.
How else does one explain an “A” from the NRA in the time when the country faces more mass shootings than there are days in the year? This isn’t a reflection of the will of the people, it’s an expression of contempt for Democracy as the result of being bought out. This behavior should worry anyone voting in District 9, because policy questions facing the country which are addressed at the Congressional level are becoming more complex and morally fraught. Can we really afford this seat, once held by Alan Grayson, to be sold off vote by vote, the way Altmire ran his seat in Pennsylvania’s District 4?
Given that Altmire and Soto are peas in a pod, the contrast couldn’t be more clear between Soto and the real progressive running in District 9, Susannah Randolph.
Randolph won the endorsement of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America as an “Elizabeth Warren-wing” Democrat who will fight to enact policies such as debt-free college, Social Security expansion, greater Wall Street regulation and campaign finance reform. She also just landed the endorsement of Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Chief Deputy Whip for the 113th Congress. As Alan Grayson’s former right hand, there’s no better person to pick up where he leaves off.
There’s a lot more to our work as Democrats than simply sending any politician to Washington who happens to have a “D” next to their name. It matters who you send. It matters if they intend to fight for their constituents once they get there, instead of fighting on the side of special interests. It matters if they are committed to building power for the community, and it matters that they know how to run a campaign without relying on special interest largesse.
Let’s dig deeper into the Dude-Bro thing. There’s the classic golf-playing Chamber Dude-Bro who does little transactional favors for special interests. This is the most common form of Dude-Bro. When Dude-Bros circle the wagons on reproductive health issues, alimony and violence against women, you might label them Christian/MRA Dude-Bros.
I believe there’s a new form of Dude-Bro to add as we enter new, dark new territory with Donald Trump calling for Muslims to be barred from America. Raging Dude-Bros are a sub-set currently benefitting from tickling America’s rage nuts. This behavior is dangerous and it must be stopped. There’s no middle ground to be found with Raging Dude-Bros who are instigating open contempt against American Muslims. There’s no “compromise” bipartisan deal to strike. You’re either on board with the Constitution or not. It’s an easy yes/no question.
Not to put too fine a point on The Handmaid’s Tale analogy, but the threat of “Islamic terrorism” was the trigger in the story for the creation of the “Republic of Gilead,” which suspended the Constitution and instituted a surveillance and control apparatus based on data collection. The “strong men” who took over were Christian “patriots”—fascists actually, like Trump—who amassed power through fear, force and propaganda. And it seems we’re rapidly moving in this direction.
Just today Rep. Steve King demanded that colleagues who practice the Muslim faith, including the above-mentioned Keith Ellison, needed to prove their fealty to the United States by “renouncing Sharia Law.” This is as offensive as it is dangerous and stupid, and the similarities with the Republic of Gilead are striking. We seem to be standing at the top of a vertical drop into Atwood’s dystopia. This is not the time to send spineless Dude-Bros to Congress to make nice with the other side.
Separating the pragmatic from the fanciful, what I find particularly relevant about about The Handmaid’s Tale is Atwood’s description of the power dynamics leading up to our country’s reversal of fortune. The tribal, Dude-Bro nature of Christian “strong men” who gather to react in a crisis has a predictable trajectory. It doesn’t matter which out-groups end up in their crosshairs. Someone must wind up in their crosshairs. You either head off the Raging Christian Chamber Dude-Bros before they achieve power, or prepare for that swift dystopic descent.
Regardless of who wins the 2016 Presidential race, the American people are going to be left traumatized from another 11 months of constant xenophobic head banging. The zeitgeist is so poisonous right now, that even some Republicans are calling out Donald Trump as a fascist. These are uncharted waters.
I’m quite convinced that every elected Congressperson we send to DC must be a courageous fighter on Constitutional issues, social justice and individual rights. We can’t afford the kind of transactional politicians who make a habit of sneaking around to the other side to make “bipartisan” deals, and line their golden parachute. We don’t have the luxury of supporting their Blue Dog lifestyle anymore.
So, let’s just list out three reasons why putting a ConsevaDem for District 9 is such a bad idea.
First, putting ConservaDem in District 9 means wasting energy to keep a DINO in line instead of making progress on issues that matter to middle class working families. You thought you might see some progress on issue you care about? Well, forget it, because instead you’ll be wasting your time calling his office making sure he stays the course on key votes. Making headway on issues like fully funded schools, reproductive rights, good jobs and reasonable gun control will not come from this representative.
Secondly, a ConservaDem is more vulnerable to challenge in off-year elections. This is because their votes don’t earn the respect or support of the base, which makes them easy off-year targets for toppling by a challenger who does have base support, from either party, depending on how the political winds blow that year. So, why waste a couple of years on someone who is going to be a short-termer at best? The game they’re playing is to extract some sweet booty from their special interest buddies, and cash out with a lobbyist job. Why should the voters of District 9 support this?
Third, ConservaDems weaken the base because they don’t return power to the community. When all their time is spent schmoozing special interest lobbyists, there’s not much love leftover for The People—and, The People take notice. See above Altmire vote against Obamacare followed by permanent Congressional vacation. Altmire didn’t build any power back into Pennsylvania’s 4th District. That wasn’t his plan. Instead he gave Obamacare the finger then high-tailed it back down to Florida, where he played football for FSU, and took a high-paying lobbyist position at Florida Blue. Gotta love that revolving door. Voters get screwed, while lawmakers never play without a safety net.
Don’t cry for Darren Soto. He won’t lack for options when he loses this race. He has plenty of friends in the lobbyist circles around Tallahassee. He can easily land a position at Jeb Bush’s Excellence in Education Foundation, or snag a gig as spokesman for the NRA, pushing AR-15s after the next mass shooting. The Right To Life Coalition might find something for him to do if there’s any reproductive rights still in existence anywhere—his history indicates he’d be happy to lend a hand to curtail them.
I realize that sounds harsh to picture Darren Soto doing that sort of work when not in office, but that is exactly the kind of work he did while in office—in our name. To expect a vast moral turnaround would be mad.
As Howie Klein quips in Down With Tyranny, “Soto is about as BAD a Democrat for liberals and progressives as anyone in the state.” That puts Soto in the company of Patrick Murphy and Gwen Graham—in a district with an estimated PVI of D+5. Putting a ConservaDem in that seat invites disaster. The candidate most able to win and keep that seat has a profile that is reliably more to the Democratic side of the Democratic party than Soto’s.
Unless your agenda is to overturn Roe Vs Wade, assist the NRA in their campaign to ensure everyone carries a gun, and hope to one day send all our children to privatized Christian academies funded by public tax money that benefit private business associates of Jeb Bush, it’s nuts to waste time and energy on electing Darren Soto for District 9.
The choice in this race couldn’t be clearer. There’s a real champion for middle class working families in Susannah Randolph. She’s a sharp politician, with deep roots in Florida circles, and is passionate about building power back into the community. She’s the real deal. Unlike Darren Soto, Susannah Randolph can win in District 9 seat, and hold on to it beyond a Presidential year with its expected coattails effect. She is a true leader with depth and integrity, who will continue Alan Grayson’s legacy of making Central Florida a force to be reckoned with. Susannah Randolph won’t disappoint on issues like women’s reproductive health, sensible gun control, and fully funded public schools. She’ll be a true fighter on the Elizabeth Warren Wing making Central Florida proud to call her our own. That’s leadership worth fighting for, because she’s ready to fight for us.
Darren Soto falls sadly short of that.
With Darren Soto, we’d have to put on our boxing gloves to just keep him in line on key votes. I’d rather spend my energy fighting Republicans after the 2016 elections, than keeping a “Democrat In Name Only” from afflicting damage on those who fall on the unprofitable side of his moral compass.
The Handmaid’s Tale, The Maddaddam Trilogy box set, and Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Buying stuff thru my Amazon links helps me continue my work here at The Florida Squeeze and doesn’t cost you a penny. Pretty cool, huh?
Brook Hines spent most of her career as an award-winning advertising creative, crafting strategy for clients ranging from healthcare companies and regional banks to non-profits and museums. Look for her new ebook, Econo-cracy coming in January.
Brook can be heard on The Florida Squeeze Podcast here (released every Thursday), and on Sunday evenings listen at 7pm for her segment called The Nitty Grittyon the Progressive News Network (download pod anytime).
Brook is Communications Chair for the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. All opinions offered here are her own, delivered from the perspective of social theory, cultural criticism, and near constant stream of caffeine.
These are her Italian Greyhounds, Trouble and Daphne. After many cancer-free months, Trouble has suffered a relapse. He’s the toughest dog you’ll ever know, the little bastard.