The 2018 election cycle has been absolutely electrifying.
From congressional candidates Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Brooklyn and Rashida Tlaib in Detroit, state’s attorney contenders Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Wes Bell in St. Louis, to gubernatorial hopefuls Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida: this year has been anything but normal in advancing progressive politics nationwide. Progressives are on the march and centrist Democrats are on the way out throughout the country.
But Ben Jealous’ meteoric rise in Maryland politics is worthy of much consideration as the most impactful race of this wild political cycle. And here’s why.
Maryland is a state run by hardcore machine politics, no different than Chicago or Boston or New York City except that it’s at the statewide level. State Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller (D- Calvert) is currently the longest serving Senate president in the entire country, having held that position since 1987. Move over, Mike Madigan (the long-serving speaker of the Illinois House): there’s a more powerful Mike who rules our state with an iron fist.
His $1 million campaign account would make Boss Tammany envious. His large (albeit dwindling) farm of senior citizen political lieutenants follow his orders to kill bills (see: 2017 Trust Act), needlessly delay bills (see: outgoing Del. Joe Vallario’s delay of the bill to expand statute of limitations for child sexual assault) and take credit for legislation they fought tooth and nail (see: Joan Carter Conway’s highjacking of multiple bills from Mary Washington).
Mike Miller is the de-facto King of Maryland and he’s no fan of Ben Jealous. In my opinion, that’s a plus for Ben.
The state legislature, in the words of civil rights hero and state Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City), “is run like a plantation” – fueled by a seniority system where those who curry favor are rewarded with prominent positions, more favorable redistricting, donations to their campaign coffers, and endorsements from the establishment. Those who don’t stand with the establishment are marginalized in the legislature. In SPITE of this machine culture, Ben Jealous won the Democratic primary for governor by a mile. And this victory is quite awe inspiring.
In 2014, then-lieutenant governor and establishment favorite Anthony Brown, running on a ticket with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, won the Democratic nomination for governor with 249,398 votes in a race that was effectively between them and two other tickets: Attorney General Doug Gansler/Prince George’s County Del. Jolene Ivey (117,383 votes) and Montgomery County Del. Heather Mizeur/Prince George’s pastor Delman Coates (104,721 votes). Brown received 51.4% of the vote and won 20 jurisdictions out of 24.
In 2018, Ben Jealous and Emerge Maryland co-founder Susie Turnbull received 231,895 votes in a primary with six other serious contenders. The ticket of Rushern Baker, the eight-year Prince George’s County executive, and Elizabeth Embry, 2016 candidate for mayor of Baltimore, had the support of nearly the entire Maryland political establishment. The majority of polls in the primary had Baker up double digits against Ben.
Yet, somehow, Ben beat Baker by over 10 points and won 22 of the 24 jurisdictions (all except Calvert and Prince George’s). How can a political newcomer and Bernie Sanders-acolyte beat the Democratic club that runs our state, the establishment must have wondered! And they are still wondering.
Out of the 2016 Bernie campaign, many Americans came to realize that Medicare-for-All, a living wage, fighting climate change, mass transit, legalized cannabis, and universal pre-K are absolute necessities within Democratic politics. The ideology of “moderation for moderation’s sake” has been thoroughly thrown out the window in this year’s Democratic primary.
The argument can be made that voter coattails from the Jealous campaign helped Johnny Olszewski and Marc Elrich narrowly win the nominations for county executive in Baltimore and Montgomery counties, respectively, along with bolstering turnout to support the winning efforts of soon-to-be State Sens. Arthur Ellis in District 28, Antonio Hayes in District 40, Jill Carter in District 41, Mary Washington in District 43, and Cory McCray in District 45.
Unfortunately, far too many Maryland Democrats are cozy with the Republican governor. Mike Miller’s PAC has funded mailers in District 8 and District 38 with Hogan on them. Courtney Watson, candidate for House of Delegates in District 9B, has done the same. Even those Democrats who aren’t directly aiding Hogan by funding mailers and offering praise of him alongside criticisms of Jealous aren’t necessarily helping: the team effort of Democratic leadership and many elected officials is, at best, dragging their collective feet.
While the Baltimore City Central Committee has been working hardcore to elect Ben, I can’t say the same effort has been put forth by all of the central committees around the state, which have the singular goal of working to elect Democrats. Why? I believe it is a deliberate effort to throw the race to Hogan and put the party behind a “unity ticket” of candidates that the establishment likes in 2022: soon-to-be Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and Attorney General Brian Frosh.
Selling out the duly nominated Democratic candidate for governor to bolster future goals is the exact opposite of “democratic.” Fortunately, I believe that Ben will win using the same strategy that won the primary, despite a polling and fundraising gap.
The Jealous campaign has built an enviable grass-roots effort with a strong focus on door-knocking, phone-banking, get-togethers, and social media. The #TeamJealousFacebook page has over 8,000 members. Campaign events, such as the rallies with Dave Chappelle and Cory Booker, have been packed to the brim.
The campaign itself, along with the Democratic coordinated campaign, SEIU Local 500, Progressive Maryland, Our Revolution, and the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus have remained motivated and we will win this election through energy, enthusiasm, and a progressive message that has been absent from Maryland for too long. As Ben has put it: “Organized people beat organized money.” We progressives are organized and the on-the-ground energy and momentum is blowing towards Ben, strongly.
I’m with Ben Jealous, in case you didn’t know already. We can get health care for all Marylanders, higher wages, a more favorable environment for small businesses, bring back the Red Line in Baltimore, and promote renewable energy to mitigate climate change. I would encourage anyone who thinks Maryland can do better on health care, on education, on transportation, on mitigating climate change, on police accountability, to support Ben Jealous.
Join me in electing the progressive Democrat, free from the reins of the Annapolis political machine and corporate dollars, as our governor on Nov. 6: Vote for the Ben Jealous/Susie Turbull ticket and Democrats down the ballot, too!
— Richard DeShay Elliott
The writer is a Ph. D candidate at Johns Hopkins University, an electoral fellow for Progressive Maryland, and a former campaign staffer for Allison Berkowitz (District 7) and Allison Galbraith (Maryland’s 1st congressional district). You can find him on Twitter: @RichElliottMD.