Race To The Midterms: Expanding What’s Possible

by Deepa Kunapuli
VP of Marketing and Communications, Wellstone Action

At Wellstone, we help candidates and campaigns run on their values, build with their communities, and create an ecosystem for leaders to practice a more inclusive politics.

Here’s what we’re talking about this week, as we pore over the midterm primary results:

Abdul El-Sayed

Running for: Governor of Michigan
Primary Date: August 7, 2018

We’re Watching: His Branding “A Politics of Purpose”

Abdul el-Sayed, a proud Michigander and Egyptian-American, had an exciting race and unfortunately didn’t secure the nomination for Governor. But we noted his commitment to building up community, interest and love for enriching the lives of his neighbors, and proven results shifting policy at the local level. He was unafraid to campaign with a bold agenda grounded in his values. We’re looking forward to seeing Abdul continue to lead with his values and inspire others to do the same.

In our campaign trainings, we teach folks to bring their communities up with them, and dream of a collective future. It was great to see other progressive candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (check out our thoughts on her campaign here) join Abdul to raise money and support. We know that we need all of us to win.

Cori Bush

Running for: Missouri’s First Congressional District
Primary Date: August 11, 2018

We’re Watching: How She’s Pushing Others to Redefine Progressivism

Candidates like Cori are forcing the mainstream media to ask questions like: Is there a new definition of progressivism? Can the establishment deal with that? What happens now?

Despite not winning her race, Cori changed the conversation in her community about who should run for office and why.

Photo via Refinery29.

“An activist has that love of community and that ability to fight even when folks are fighting you back. I think in the same way, that is what our Congressperson should do. That title is ‘Representative’ — and [what that means is] you have to be an advocate. I bring that to the table, that is my training as a nurse, and as an activist, is to be an advocate.” (Refinery 29).

After the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Cori Bush decided to run for office. An ordained pastor, a nurse, and St. Louis native, she asked her community to come out and stand with her. Cori’s candidacy is absolutely about an inclusive politics — like some of her fellow progressives on this list, she’s embraced ideas like universal healthcare, criminal justice reform, and expanding educational opportunities for all children. We appreciate how she stays true to herself and brings her personality and a sense of humor to her social media presence, amidst the noise:

Paulette Jordan

Running for: Governor of Idaho
Primary: May 18, 2018 (Won!)

We’re Watching: Her Platform of Protecting Public Resources and Challenging Historical Narratives

Paulette Jordan (one of our alumni!) has already made waves in her community — her platform is based on protecting public lands and giving every Idahoan economic opportunity. A member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe (and the youngest person elected to her tribe’s council), Paulette would become the first Native American governor in the United States if elected.

No stranger to public office, she served in the Idaho House of Representatives from 2014–2018.

In 2014, Paulette attended a Camp Wellstone training:

“Too much of our government has lost its connection to the people they represent. My campaign was all about knocking on doors and connecting with people at community events because what I learned from Wellstone is that voters need and deserve a one-on-one connection with their representatives.”

Her visionary platform directly connects her to her community:

Our vision is an Idaho in which every acre of our public land is protected and preserved for future generations. Our vision is an Idaho in which every Idahoan has the opportunity to earn a fair, livable wage and pursue a productive career.

The significance and the need for a Native woman governing in this country is not lost on us; and Paulette is leading the way for a wave of Native women across the country to stand up and run in their communities. Paulette’s commitment to her bold vision for every Idahoan to win is what makes her a race to watch.

Kaniela Ing

Running for: Hawaii’s First Congressional District
Primary Date: August 11, 2018

We’re Watching: How He’s Connecting Anti-Imperialism to Today’s Struggle

Kaniela Ing is not here to mince words — he’s fighting for a Hawaii for All. A first generation college graduate, Kaniela was elected to the Hawaii State House at age 23, after running an impressive field operation. His roots in a middle-class Hawaii family, pitching in to help his mom keep the household afloat, and his interest in challenging corporate interests that have changed his state make him a race to watch.

Here’s a glimpse of the unapologetic message Kaniela is sending via his campaign in an interview:

The term “aloha” means several things: “hi, goodbye, love, caring for one another.” It’s been exploited, obviously, by the tourist industry. But in politics, it’s always the elites that use it. They’re like, “Why can’t we all just get along and have aloha?” — like how national Democrats use the term “civility.”

It’s always the elites telling the oppressed to have aloha. And in this campaign, we’re reexamining what aloha really means.

If there’s an economy that doesn’t work for people of certain races, or genders, or classes, then where’s the aloha in our society? We need to fight for aloha.

That’s actually where the Democratic Party got started from in Hawaii. We were segregated by sugar barons, by race, so we couldn’t even understand each other. We couldn’t organize, [we were] identified by number and not name. The same slave tags were used in the South.

There’s a lot of nostalgia about the plantation days in Hawaii, but we should be nostalgic about the struggle, because that’s really what our lives are rooted in.

Dita Bhargava

Running for: State Treasurer of Connecticut
Primary: August 14, 2018

We’re Watching: How She’s Centering A Strong Financial State Around Families and Opportunity

Dita’s story is one that many of us can identify with — she’s the daughter of an immigrant, a single mother who had to figure out a lot of things by herself, in a new country. With a background in computer engineering and the financial industry, she wants to bring her financial experience to running the state in a fiscally responsible manner, and keep talented young people in CT with jobs and opportunities.

We’re paying attention to Dita for two reasons. One is what motivates her to run — her strong family values, and the opportunity for all families to provide for themselves and contribute to their hometowns. Two, we appreciate that her dynamic candidacy is putting the office of State Treasurer on people’s radars. We need progressives at all levels of office to make policy changes that serve us.

She’s also made paid family leave a campaign issue — something that affects everyone but is often siloed as a “woman’s issue.” We’re excited to see a South Asian candidate like Dita step up to run.

A more inclusive politics means that our lived experiences, perspectives, and ideas are represented in our government. It means that candidates like Abdul, Paulette, Cori, Kaniela, and Dita are not “outsiders” — they’re the ones representing the will of the people.

Do you want to join this new generation of progressives? Interested in learning more about how you can get involved? Stay connected to us, or find us on social media @Wellstoneaction and share your thoughts!

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We believe in a future of inclusive politics where decisions about our communities are made by our communities at all levels.

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We believe in a future of inclusive politics where decisions about our communities are made by our communities at all levels.

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