A year after Trump was elected president, we finally have something to smile about. This month’s elections brought a tidal wave of victories for Democrats and progressives in gubernatorial, state legislative, county and city races across the country. The next governors of New Jersey and Virginia are Democrats. Many women, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ folks were elected. Montana now has its first black mayor and New Jersey has its first Sikh mayor.
In Virginia, Danica Roem became America’s first openly transgender state representative. She is a 33-year-old former journalist who campaigned about traffic problems, jobs and schools. She defeated Robert G. Marshall, a 13-term incumbent who authored several anti-trans bills and who said he was the state’s “chief homophobe.”
In Philadelphia, Larry Krasner was elected district attorney. He is a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer who has defended the city’s poor as well as Occupy Philly and Black Lives Matter protesters.
He has sued the Philadelphia Police Department at least 75 times. His campaign pledges were to stop mass incarceration, end bail and civil asset forfeiture, and to resist the Trump administration.
Maine became the first state where voters defied their Republican governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid. The ballot initiative passed by an almost 20 -point margin. Now an estimated 70,000 low-income residents will get health care coverage.
One of the most intriguing developments is the rise of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). It is not a political party. This month, 15 DSA members were elected around the country. They ran in non-partisan races and as Democrats. This is in addition to 20 elected members already in office. On Nov. 7, DSA was represented in 25 elections across 13 different states. DSA members won races in 11 states, including red and purple states like Montana, Tennessee and Iowa.
In Virginia, DSA member Lee Carter unseated the Virginia House GOP Majority Whip Jackson Miller in a nine-point victory. Carter is a 30-year-old IT specialist and Marine veteran from Manassas. He ran openly as a socialist.
Near the end of the campaign, Miller sent out mailers comparing Carter to Joe Stalin and Mao Zedong. Carter preferred to talk about what he would do as a state legislator rather than philosophizing about socialism. He advocates a state-level single payer health care system and a ban on corporate campaign contributions in Virginia and a limit on individual contributions. Virginia currently has no limit on campaign contributions.
Nevertheless, Carter was quite willing to discuss his democratic vision of socialism when asked. He said he wanted to bring democracy into the workplace by supporting unions and worker-owned co-ops.
He told The New Republic, “If you’re to the left of Barry Goldwater, Republicans are going to call you a socialist anyway, so you may as well just own the label. The issues that I care about and the issues that the Democratic Socialists of America are working on are the issues that the Democratic Party’s voter base cares about.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Patrick Wilson wrote that Carter was “the kind of rogue candidate that gives an apparatus like the Democratic Party of Virginia a fit.” Carter did get the support of the local Democratic Party and grassroots groups like labor unions, Planned Parenthood, Indivisible, Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution and the Metro D.C. chapter of DSA.
Wilson said that the state party establishment abandoned Carter when he wouldn’t tone down his anti-corporate message, particularly his opposition to Dominion Energy’s plans for a natural gas pipeline.
“The Democratic Party establishment,” Wilson noted, “is aligned with Dominion Energy, a regulated monopoly, and supportive of Dominion’s desire to build the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline across Virginia. Like their GOP counterparts, the Democrats are recipients of the cash Virginia’s top corporate political contributor pumps into the system, and the Democratic Party of Virginia received $125,000 in 2016, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.”
David Sirota of International Business Times asked Carter about the advice that Democratic Party strategists give to candidates who compete in a suburban district like Carter’s. They are told they should be corporate-friendly “moderates.” Carter replied:
“My district, even though it is a suburb of Washington D.C., it’s the suburb where most of the blue-collar workers live. It’s one of the more affordable places. We have a lot of people that are in the building trades. We have a lot of carpenters, painters, electricians, and so on and so forth, that live here and work throughout the rest of the D.C. area.
“It’s also one of the more diverse places in Virginia. Our population is about 13 percent African-American, about 23 percent Hispanic and Latino.”
Carter said that a lot of candidates are “playing it safe” but that isn’t working anymore. “That’s the big takeaway I got from all of 2016. The center doesn’t hold. We had Bernie Sanders on the left. We had Donald Trump on the right. Things are completely different. The parties are due for a realignment, and who knows how that’s going to shake out.”
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.