Here’s a Democrat Who Doesn’t Mind Being Called a Socialist — And He’s Trying to Start His Own Political Party

Amid the red-baiting name-calling this election season against certain Maryland Democratic politicians, like gubernatorial nominee Benjamin T. Jealous and Montgomery County executive nominee Marc B. Elrich, comes a lesser-known Maryland Democrat who wouldn’t mind being called a socialist, thank you very much. In fact, he is trying to start a socialist political party here in the Free State.  Jerome Segal  Jerome Segal is an author, lecturer, philosopher, former Capitol Hill staffer and political activist who spent about $1.4 million to garner 20,027 votes, good for 3.4 percent, in the Democratic primary this June against U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin. For his next act, Segal wants to launch the socialist-leaning Maryland Bread and Roses Party – and last week turned in about 19,500 petition signatures to the Maryland State Board of Elections in an attempt to do so. “We’re looking to change the way people think,” Segal said in an interview. Segal ran an aggressive if little-noticed challenge to Cardin, spending tens of thousands of dollars for ads in The Washington Post. Many featured his commentaries, which Cardin’s staunch pro-Israel stances (Segal is a co-founder of the Jewish Peace Lobby, which advocates for better relations between Israelis and Palestinians and seeks to be a counterpoint to the political powerhouse American Israel Public Affairs Committee). But the 74-year-old retired University of Maryland lecturer wants to broaden the political debate. He has written extensively about the “simple living” movement – an attempt to move American political discourse away from the push for wealth, power and overwork – and has authored books with titles like, “Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream.” “We have one of the most inefficient societies in world history,” Segal said. “We should have a society that’s user-friendly to the alternative American Dream.”   The idea to call a new political party the Bread and Roses Party comes from a legendary strike at textile mills in Lawrence, Mass., in 1912. It became known as the “Bread and Roses” strike because the workers – most of whom were immigrant women – were looking to nourish both their bodies and their souls. The workers eventually won better pay and other concessions from mill owners. Segal wants the Bread and Roses Party to field candidates for political offices. But he also wants it to serve as a vehicle to facilitate dialogue on how to advance progressive causes. That goal becomes more realistic, he believes, in the context of a campaign. “The real free speech drama,” he said, “is the electoral process.” Segal said the “bread” is many of the proposals that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is trying to advance, like single-payer health care and affordable education for all – though he does not agree with all of Sanders’ specific policy prescriptions. The “roses” is something a little more ephemeral. The New York native peppers his conversation with references to Norman Thomas, Samuel Gompers, John Kenneth Galbraith and “early Marx.” He says he admires the goals of The Green Party and Democratic Socialists of America, but sees them as imperfect organizations.  Segal would like to be the Bread and Roses Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate this fall — “My goal is to be in the fall debates,” he said. But the chances appear slim. As a practical matter, the State Board of Elections has 20 days to validate Segal’s petitions. Jared DeMarinis, the board’s director of candidacy and campaign finance, said even if the signatures are validated, the party did not have a timely nominating process. What’s more, Segal, having already lost the Democratic Senate primary, would be ineligible to run this fall due to the state’s “sore loser” law. Segal said he is contemplating challenging that section of election law in court. “Sore loser is a very bad term,” he said. “I’m no sore loser. I wasn’t given a fair chance to win.” Segal blames progressive organizations like Our Revolution for not getting behind his primary challenge to Cardin. And he blames the media for ignoring his candidacy. But Segal remains undaunted, and says that if the party is sanctioned by the state, he will prepare to recruit candidates and volunteers for 2020 and beyond. “I want something nimble and interesting that will spark new ideas,” he said. [email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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