Md. pro­gres­sive groups grow, clash over is­sues

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY JOSH HICKS

With four Mary­land pro­gres­sive groups hold­ing ma­jor events in dif­fer­ent parts of the state last week­end, ac­tivists had to make tough choices about which ac­tiv­ity to at­tend — or rush from one to the other.

Try­ing to avoid the same prob­lem, an­other group is re­think­ing plans to hold a fo­rum for gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates on Sept. 9, the day a dif­fer­ent coali­tion of ac­tivists is sched­uled to march on Wash­ing­ton for racial jus­tice.

The scores of left-lean­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions that have cropped up since the 2016 elec­tion of­ten trip over each other as lead­ers try to har­ness a groundswell of op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Trump and Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) in a way that could im­pact the state’s 2018 elec­tion.

In ad­di­tion to sched­ul­ing prob­lems, they have clashed over is­sues as ba­sic as whether to en­dorse a can­di­date early in the Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary, or wait un­til all the hope­fuls have had a chance to cam­paign.

“There al­ways seems to be some kind of con­flict,” said Betsy Halsey, who chairs United for Mary­land, which had pro­posed the Sept. 9 fo­rum. She has­tened to add that she thinks the pro­lif­er­a­tion of groups is good for the pro­gres­sive move­ment, and that ef­forts are un­der­way to im­prove


Bob Muehlenkamp, a long­time ac­tivist who chairs Our Rev­o­lu­tion Mary­land, said the lead­ers of many emerg­ing groups are new to po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and are strate­giz­ing as they go along.

“They’ve been very ef­fec­tive with var­i­ous re­sis­tance ac­tiv­i­ties since Trump was elected, but that’s not enough,” he said. “You can’t have an ef­fec­tive state leg­isla­tive pro­gram or po­lit­i­cal pro­gram with th­ese groups func­tion­ing on their own.”

The Mary­land groups are part of a vo­cal and vis­i­ble wave of ac­tivism that has swept the coun­try since the 2016 elec­tion cy­cle. Pro­gres­sive or­ga­ni­za­tions fu­eled the up­start pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.), and turned the se­lec­tion of a Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair af­ter the elec­tion into a bat­tle be­tween the party’s left and cen­trist el­e­ments. But pro­gres­sives ul­ti­mately lost both bat­tles, with the nom­i­na­tion of Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton and the se­lec­tion of es­tab­lish­ment fa­vorite Tom Perez for DNC chair.

It re­mains to be seen whether pro­gres­sive groups in Mary­land will suc­ceed in nom­i­nat­ing one of their own to chal­lenge Ho­gan in 2018, or will be able to achieve their other goals of push­ing the party to the left in An­napo­lis and dent­ing the gover­nor’s sky-high ap­proval rat­ings.

“I’m not sure yet how this will play out in the Demo­cratic pri­mary for gover­nor, but I think it means go­ing into the gen­eral elec­tion that there will be a lot of en­ergy and ac­tiv­ity,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

When pro­gres­sive and re­sis­tance groups have formed a united front, they have of­ten made an im­pact. For ex­am­ple, sev­eral joined forces this year to suc­cess­fully fight a Bal­ti­more County Coun­cil mea­sure that would have re­quired lo­cal cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers to par­tic­i­pate in a fed­eral pro­gram to carry out cer­tain im­mi­gra­tion-en­force­ment mea­sures.

Many ac­tivist lead­ers say col­lab­o­ra­tion will be key to repli­cat­ing that kind of suc­cess in the midterm elec­tions.

“We have to demon­strate and write let­ters to elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, but that has to be backed up by then work­ing on elec­tions, sup­port­ing can­di­dates that meet our ide­ol­ogy and even re­cruit­ing can­di­dates,” said Sheila Ruth, of the Bal­ti­more County Pro­gres­sive Democrats. “In or­der to do that, we have to work to­gether. There’s a lot at stake here — not only the Trump-Repub­li­can thing we have to re­sist, but we want to go be­yond that and start to work to­ward pro­gres­sive pri­or­i­ties.”

Kath­leen Matthews, who was tapped by party el­ders this year to chair the Mary­land Demo­cratic Party, has made a point of reach­ing out to pro­gres­sives, invit­ing ac­tivists to par­tic­i­pate in voter-out­reach train­ing ses­sions and giv­ing Ruth a seat on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s di­ver­sity lead­er­ship coun­cil.

Matthews said she sees pro­gres­sive groups be­com­ing “more and more or­ga­nized” de­spite their dis­parate ef­forts.

“I see them as rocket fuel to help us move for­ward our ef­forts,” she said. “They have a lot of pas­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion and are work­ing with us in many parts of the state.”

State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Mont­gomery), who has said he will run for gover­nor in 2018 and is court­ing the pro­gres­sive vote, said he sees some value in the chaos, as long as the groups are gen­er­ally pointed in the same di­rec­tion.

“Peo­ple are bring­ing their own ac­tivism and is­sues and en­thu­si­asm to the ta­ble,” he said. “It’s or­ganic, it’s ex­cit­ing, and I’d hate for any part of that to be lost be­cause there is a sense that we all have to co­a­lesce around cer­tain is­sues.”

Sim­i­larly, Ge­orge­town Univer­sity his­tory pro­fes­sor Michael Kazin, who spe­cial­izes in U.S. pol­i­tics and so­cial move­ments, said that “move­ments are messy” but tend to suc­ceed be­cause “peo­ple agree in gen­eral what di­rec­tion to move.”

For their part, Mary­land Repub­li­cans say they are not par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about the surge in ac­tivism, and are fo­cused on their quest to win enough seats in the state Se­nate to dis­rupt the Demo­crat’s veto-proof ma­jor­ity.

“Anger is not a strat­egy,” said state GOP chair Dirk Haire. “We’re pretty uni­fied, and I’ve been work­ing closely with all of our var­i­ous Repub­li­can groups across the state to make sure ev­ery­one is on the same page. Repub­li­cans aren’t sit­ting around in a sa­lon in Takoma Park talk­ing about how bad Trump is. They’re walk­ing the streets with an app on their phones, fig­ur­ing out who might vote for us next year.”

With just un­der a year un­til the Demo­cratic pri­mary, pro­gres­sive groups dis­agree over whether and when to en­dorse one of the can­di­dates vy­ing for the right to chal­lenge Trump.

Some want to hold off un­til can­di­dates have par­tic­i­pated in de­bates and proven that they can ap­peal broadly to an elec­torate, while oth­ers plan to en­dorse early, in part out of con­cern that the state’s Demo­cratic lead­ers move quickly to help cen­trist can­di­dates win the party’s nom­i­na­tion.

“We have to make the de­ci­sion ear­lier and unite around one can­di­date and bring in all the re­sources — the money and the peo­ple — be­hind them,” said Muehlenkamp, of Our Rev­o­lu­tion, which on Fri­day started can­vass­ing its sup­port­ers about en­dors­ing Jeal­ous, a for­mer board mem­ber. “You won’t get the es­tab­lish­ment Demo­cratic Party to hold off. They’ll get to­gether and qui­etly come up with who­ever they’re go­ing to sup­port.”

Groups associated with the In­di­vis­i­ble move­ment and Women In­di­vis­i­ble Strong Ef­fec­tive, say that en­dors­ing a gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date could hurt their cause in con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing dis­tricts. Their lead­ers said they will fo­cus in­stead on ed­u­cat­ing vot­ers about the vot­ing records of in­cum­bents and where can­di­dates stand on the is­sues.

“If we go is­sue by is­sue, there’s a lot more room for con­sen­sus,” said Kather­ine Bain, a mem­ber of the steer­ing com­mit­tee for WISE’s Sev­erna Park chap­ter. “We want to cre­ate a wealth of in­for­ma­tion for peo­ple and hope­fully avoid this habit of peo­ple mark­ing an en­tire col­umn for ei­ther the D’s or the R’s.”

To­gether We Will, which hosted a June 24 meet­ing with pro­gres­sive lead­ers from across the state, is work­ing to or­ga­nize a fol­low-up ses­sion this fall, with the goal of co­or­di­nat­ing strate­gies for the state’s 2018 leg­isla­tive ses­sion and pri­mary elec­tions.

Ad­di­tion­ally, a coali­tion of ac­tivists or­ga­niz­ing as the “pro­gres­sive cau­cus” plans to meet July 26 to dis­cuss how to bet­ter co­or­di­nate their ef­forts.

“There’s room for dif­fer­ent strate­gies,” Bain said. “And we’ll see at the end of the day if that adds up to more pro­gres­sive can­di­dates win­ning elec­tions.”

“Peo­ple are bring­ing their own ac­tivism and is­sues and en­thu­si­asm to the ta­ble.” State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Mont­gomery)

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