News Politics

Terry McAuliffe Considers Tapping Anti-Marriage Equality Mayor to Lead Democratic Party of Virginia

Erin Matson

In a move that has left some marriage equality advocates expressing dismay, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is reported to be considering appointing Mayor Dwight Jones, who has stated his opposition to marriage equality, to lead the Democratic Party of Virginia.

In a move that has left some marriage equality advocates expressing dismay, Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is reported to be considering appointing Mayor Dwight Jones (D-Richmond) to lead the Democratic Party of Virginia.

Mayor Jones, who also serves as a minister at the First Baptist Church of South Richmond, said the following after President Obama made a statement supporting marriage equality in 2012: “This is one issue that President Obama and I disagree on. Despite this disagreement, however, I applaud the efforts and work of President Obama and his administration and I will do whatever I can to ensure he is re-elected.”

This is not the first time McAuliffe has dismayed progressives within the base that elected him to office. As covered extensively in Rewire, McAuliffe chose to retain his anti-choice predecessor’s secretary of health and human resources after running a campaign heavily focused on support for reproductive rights. McAuliffe also stung supporters of environmental justice with his picks for natural resources secretary and transportation secretary.

This latest controversial pick has gathered criticism within equality-focused constituencies in the legislature, the faith community, and the party.

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The only openly gay members of the Virginia legislature, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), have stated opposition to appointing Jones to the unpaid position.

People of Faith for Equality in Virginia wrote a letter to the governor, which the group shared in a media advisory. It stated that the prospect of an appointment of Mayor Jones would “affect the perception by Virginians of your own commitment [to equal rights for LGBT Virginians].” The letter also asked that the governor discuss with the mayor his position on marriage equality and request that Jones make a public statement affirming a commitment to marriage equality and equal rights regardless of sexual orientation.

LGBT Democrats of Virginia is running a petition calling on “all State Central Committee members to join with us in opposing Mayor Jones in this election for Chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia, and in finding a candidate for party chair who supports equality and justice for all Virginians.”

Virginia has emerged as a key player in the national struggle for marriage equality. Earlier this year, a federal judge declared Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional and it has been suggested that the case could reach the Supreme Court.

While national shifts in progress and opinion toward same-sex marriage may appear rapid, they have taken time. Rewire asked the Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline, president and CEO of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, to comment on Mayor Jones in light of the time it took President Obama to evolve. “Evolution does take a while but you have to start,” he said. “I’m hoping that’s what Mayor Jones is doing. People have to want [to evolve] … and show signs that they are. We’re not quite seeing that yet.”

An announcement of Gov. McAuliffe’s support for Mayor Jones in the party leadership seat is said to be possible as early as this week.

Commentary Politics

The Contenders to Watch in the Fight for the California Democratic Party’s Soul

Asher Huey

Many people expect Sen. Dianne Feinstein to join Sen. Barbara Boxer in retirement in 2018, the same year Gov. Jerry Brown will be termed out. The ensuing scramble for California’s top three seats could determine whether the state’s dominant Democratic Party swings in a conservative or progressive direction.

The retirement of California Sen. Barbara Boxer, while not unexpected, heralds the first of several big changes the state is likely to see in the next few years. Many people also think Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who was elected along with Boxer in 1992, will retire in 2018, the same year Gov. Jerry Brown will be termed out. The ensuing scramble for California’s top three seats could determine whether the state’s dominant Democratic Party—which controls every statewide office and has a large majority in both chambers of the legislature and in 39 of the 53 congressional districts—swings in a conservative or progressive direction.

California may be a deep blue state, but it is by no means a unilaterally left-leaning one. Fortunately, legislators do have fairly settled, progressive stances on certain key topics—namely LGBT and reproductive rights. However, other issues, such as as economic justice, support for public education, or environmental advocacy, will be sure to separate the state’s politicians along an ideological spectrum in the coming years.

As discussion ramps up about Boxer’s replacement, it’s vital to keep an eye on possible contenders for the seat, as well as those who could run for Senate or governor in 2018. Here’s a list of potential candidates in California we should be keeping an eye on in the next few election cycles:

The Progressives

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California Attorney General Kamala Harris: Pundits and commentators widely see Harris as the top prospect for Boxer’s seat in the state, so her announcement to run was no surprise. As a prosecutor, Harris has charted a progressive path. She tends to look at society as an ecosystem, making the case for a holistic approach to issues of social justice and policy. She has said, for example, that in order to reduce crime and have safe neighborhoods, civic official must invest in public schools. In her first race for attorney general, her opponent promised to defend Prop 8 to the Supreme Court, while Harris refused to do so; after the Ninth Circuit overturned the law, Harris moved swiftly to usher in marriage equality throughout the state. One of Harris’ most impressive accomplishments, though, has been her response to the mortgage crisis. She secured more than $18 billion from big banks to help California homeowners with underwater mortgages and introduced the California Homeowner Bill of Rights to prevent unfair practices from banks and lenders in the future.

Harris’ legacy is not without controversy, however; advocates for abolishing the death penalty have been disappointed in her office’s support for the law, though Harris says she is personally opposed to it. Thus far, activists have drawn particular attention to Harris’ office’s actions surrounding the Daniel Larsen case: When a federal judge declared Larsen, who had been convicted and sentenced under California’s draconian three-strikes law, to be innocent, Harris’ office held him for an extra four years based on the technicality that he missed a filing deadline. She may also have to clarify her statement to BuzzFeed that “in general” the police have not become too militarized.

Harris should address those very serious issues; without dismissing those, though, she is also one of the leading progressive figures in the state. Furthermore, the importance of having another woman of color in the Senate cannot be understated.

Rep. Jackie Speier: San Francisco Bay Area Rep. Jackie Speier is a dream figure for progressives. After decades in county office and the state legislature, Speier was elected to Congress in 2008. Speier is one of the strongest advocates for reproductive freedom in the House, and her voice could certainly be used in the Senate. NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood have given her 100 percent approval ratings; she has also discussed her own experience with having an abortion on the floor of the House. In addition, Speier has been an advocate for gun safety, including background checks and safety locks. She is a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus and has stood up for marriage equality. And she has fought for strong environmental regulations and an energy plan that focuses on creating green jobs, addressing climate change, and regulating polluters.

Tom Steyer: It’s unusual to put a white male hedge fund manager in a list of progressives. Still, Steyer is a big environmentalist; he’s pumped millions of dollars into campaigns in California and around the country for pro-environmental candidates and ballot measures. He put $2.5 million into the campaign against Prop 23, helping defeat the Dirty Energy Prop, which would have rolled back clean energy standards in California. Through his NextGen Climate PAC, he’s supported candidates across the country with mixed success. That said, he has yet to take sides publicly about other issues, such as corporate education reform—a hot-button topic that other hedge fund managers tend to approve of. And will he favor economic and labor regulations for companies, the way he favors environmental regulation? Plus, some activists worry that spending big on his own underdog campaign could be a waste of money that he could put toward competitive races around the country.

John Chiang: Chiang was elected state treasurer in 2014, having previously served two terms as state controller. He has a good record as an economic progressive, including a pivotal moment in 2008, when he refused to allow then-Gov. Schwarzenegger to use state employees’ pay as a bargaining chip during a budgetary battle. He could be a strong alternative if a conservative or neoliberal Democrat makes a push for one of the seats.

The Conservatives and Neoliberals

Antonio Villaraigosa: As he publicly considers running for Boxer’s seat, the former Los Angeles mayor has been more frequently referring to himself as a progressive. Villaraigosa’s record, however, suggests otherwise. He has embraced corporate education reform, even holding an event with corporate education lobbyist Michelle Rhee during the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He’s also joined the board of Campaign to Fix the Debt, a corporate group dedicated to cutting Social Security and Medicare, which prompted progressive organizations such as Courage Campaign to call on him to resign from it. He did not do so; he has, to date, refused to meet with the tens of thousands of constituents who started and signed a petition about their concerns about his involvement.

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom: Lt. Gov. Newsom has already bowed out of the race for Boxer’s seat, leading some people to believe that he’ll either running for governor or Senate in 2018. Newsom is known to both state and national audiences for his bold stance in favor of marriage equality while he was mayor of San Francisco. But while he has a generally liberal track record on social issues like those, as well as environmental ones, he has a history of being not-so-great on economics. Alarmingly, Newsom has embraced a Silicon Valley “tech-bro” mindset on regulations—in his book Citizenville, he made the argument that government should get out of the way of corporate innovation. He also sent an email during his re-election campaign claiming regulations hurt tech businesses. When Democrats want to loosen regulations—which, in turn, widens the inequality gap throughout California and puts workers at risk of exploitation—then you have to ask what Democrats actually stand for.

Mayor Kevin Johnson: Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has signaled that he may seek higher office in the next few years. When his wife, Michelle Rhee, stepped down from her position at StudentsFirst, she said it was to support her husband’s future plans. There are many reasons progressives shouldn’t support Johnson. He’s embraced corporate-style education reform and bills. Local news outlets have reported his improprieties with fundraising, noting that he was using his office for his own pet projects: In 2012, the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission fined him more than $37,000 for failing to report contributions to these nonprofits from Wal-Mart’s foundation and other groups. While progressives in California were fighting against Prop 8 in 2008, Johnson opposed marriage equality, stating that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman. He eventually switched to opposing Prop 8, but the statement was worrying nonetheless. In addition, he has a shady history involving allegations of sexual misconduct, which came to light during a federal investigation.

Rep. Raul Ruiz: Rep. Ruiz is a second-term member of Congress from the Palm Springs area, holding a decidedly moderate swing district. He’s broken with the Democratic Party on some key decisions, including recently voting with Republicans to condemn Barack Obama for a prisoner exchange that freed a U.S. soldier who had been held captive for nearly five years. In fact, CQ Weekly found that he was one of the most likely House Democrats to vote against the Democratic leadership.  He either believes in his conservative voting record or he does it because he thinks it makes good politics. Either way, he’s not the candidate progressives will want.

The People No One Is Talking About—But Should Be

Rep. Mark Takano: Rep. Takano is serving his second term for a moderately Democratic district based in Riverside, Calif. Takano is one of those true gems: a genuine progressive who works hard and is committed to maintaining his values. He’s gained headlines for his clever use of social media, including highlighting his past as a teacher by taking a red pen to Republican letters. Takano is the only openly gay minority member of Congress and has spoken about the intersection of the LGBT and labor movements. He’s a proud member of Democrats for Public Education, and he’s also worked hard to protect taxpayers and seniors from unscrupulous lenders where reverse mortgages are concerned. Unfortunately, as of now, no one has discussed him as a potential candidate for Boxer’s seat in the Senate. If progressives are looking for a strong candidate, Takano should be a top draft pick.

Rep. Karen Bass: Rep. Bass has served as a member of Congress from Los Angeles since 2010. She’s been outspoken on gun safety issues and has supported rules that would require gun dealers to report their sales to the Justice Department. She’s used her position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to push for domestic job creation rather than overseas outsourcing, and she has voted against unfair trade deals that would harm workers in California. In addition to her position as secretary of the Congressional Black Caucus, she’s a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the LGBT Equality Caucus, and several other caucuses that matter to many progressive California voters. Electing a progressive Black woman to the U.S. Senate would be a win for California.

Supervisor Hilda Solis: Supervisor Solis was elected to her seat in November, so it’s too early for her to run for another office just yet. If progressives push, though, we may be able to convince her to run for one of the seats in 2018. Solis has a long history in California and national politics. As the U.S. secretary of labor from 2009 to 2013, she focused on workplace safety and veterans’ workforce issues in addition to overseeing the Labor Department’s successful fight for back wages for employees who had been cheated by their employers. Prior to her stint as labor secretary, she served as a Los Angeles member of Congress and was an active member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. As a Latina in an increasingly diverse state, Solis would be a strong pick for progressives. Hopefully, her name will be floated for future cycles.

Rep. Ted Lieu: Rep. Lieu was elected to his first Congress term in November, so like Solis, it’s too early for him to run for Boxer’s seat. But Lieu would be a valuable contender for progressive votes if he ever decided to move up. With strong environmental, labor and economic credentials, Lieu would be able to unite the left around a progressive vision. Notably, as a state senator in 2013, Lieu authored California’s ban on harmful anti-gay conversion therapy. His record in the state legislature also includes combating cyber-bullying and standing up for survivors of domestic abuse.

There are a wealth of options for progressives to support and to urge to run for office, both in this election cycle and those to follow. For a progressive victory, it will take us working together. Environmentalists, for example, will need to screen candidates for education reform, because privatization often means not teaching science. LGBT groups will need to push for labor advocacy, because workers’ groups have a track record—including concerning California’s anti-equality Prop 8—of being financially strong allies in the fight for LGBT rights. Reproductive rights organizations will need to screen for environmental support, because fracking matters to the quality of life of families throughout the state. If and when progressives come together to hold these candidates accountable for all of these issues, California will be able to elect fantastic progressives to top offices.

Analysis Politics

Ohio’s Anti-Choice Governor Could Be a Shoo-In for Re-Election

Nina Liss-Schultz

Though the race for the Ohio governor’s seat was initially expected to be close, Democratic candidate Ed FitzGerald’s chances of beating incumbent John Kasich are becoming more and more remote.

Though the race for the Ohio governor’s seat was initially expected to be close, Democratic candidate Ed FitzGerald’s chances of beating incumbent John Kasich are becoming more and more remote.

After news slipped that Westlake, Ohio, police had, one morning in 2012, found FitzGerald in a car with a woman who wasn’t his wife, and follow-up reports showing that he had been driving for nearly six years without a valid license, his poll numbers have continued to trail Kasich’s by double digits.

FitzGerald’s campaign manager and communications director quit. Since then, Chip Shannon, who worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign, has stepped in to pick up the slack.

And these struggles, which the Washington Post called a “remarkable implosion,” are only the most recent. Early on in the campaign, FitzGerald’s pick for lieutenant governor, Ohio Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney, pulled his name from the ticket after reports surfaced that Kearney faces serious financial trouble, including about $1 million owed to the IRS and a lawsuit filed by American Express over unpaid debt.

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Still, as FitzGerald plays defense, the run-up to November has turned on abortion access and the economy, two issues which will prove important for all of Ohio’s elections this year.

Abortion and Reproductive Justice

Reproductive justice, and specifically access to abortion, has become central to the campaign being run by FitzGerald, who is the executive of Cuyahoga County and a former FBI special agent in Chicago. Focusing on the anti-abortion position of Republican opponents is a strategy that has paid off in the recent electoral past: Current Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s win over Republican Ken Cuccinelli last year is often credited to the McAuliffe ad criticizing his opponent’s anti-abortion stance.

In January this year, FitzGerald announced that Sharen Neurhardt, an Ohio attorney widely known as an abortion rights activist, would be his running mate. Neuhardt, who ran two failed bids for the U.S. House of Representatives, was on the board of the Greater Miami Valley’s Planned Parenthood in southwest Ohio. Last year, she gave the opening remarks as part of a protest at the state capitol against Kasich’s anti-abortion budget legislation.

“Gov. Kasich and the state legislators are trying to turn back the clock, but we are here today to tell them ‘We won’t go back,” Neuhardt said at the time.

After announcing her appointment, FitzGerald’s and Neurhardt’s first public appearance as running mates was for an endorsement by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio.

“I will stop talking about women’s rights when [Kasich] stops trying to restrict women’s rights,” FitzGerald said at the time. “I think Gov. Kasich has been avoiding an open discussion on that, and we have to force that discussion in the election.”

Anti-choice advocates have tried to frame FitzGerald’s position on abortion as largely out of touch with Ohio residents. After an Ohio Democratic organization called the candidate “100 percent pro-choice,” Ohio Right to Life president and one of Kasich’s appointee to the State Medical Board, Mike Gonidakis, decried the statement as proving how wrong FitzGerald is for Ohio.

“FizGerald identified as ‘100 percent pro-choice,’ which would include abortions through the ninth month of pregnancy. But three in four Ohioans reject that extreme position,” he said.

In an interview with the local paper, the Times Gazette, FitzGerald clarified that claim, telling a reporter that not only does he not support abortion up to the ninth month of pregnancy, but he doesn’t know any another Democrats “in favor of extreme late-term abortion.”

Like FitzGerald, Kasich has made his position on abortion abundantly clear: He is staunchly anti-abortion and will fight to shut down every abortion provider in Ohio.

Gov. Kasich has headed a targeted effort to pass anti-abortion legislation and close down clinics in the state; during his term, Ohio has become one of the worst states for abortion access in the country.

In 2011, Kasich, who was a U.S. representative from 1983 to 2001 and a Fox News commentator until 2007, signed into law a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. In a statement released at the time of the signing, Kasich said that “life is a gift from God and one way that we express our ongoing gratitude for it is by respecting it. This bill does that in a very fundamental way and I’m proud to have signed it into law.”

Later that year, Kasich signed into law a bill imposing restrictions on minor women seeking to get an abortion without the consent of their parents, which is required by law in most cases.

He also signed a bill banning health insurance plans available through the Affordable Care Act from covering abortion.

In perhaps the biggest anti-abortion push during his term, Kasich in 2013 signed a budget bill that included at least five anti-abortion provisions. The bill stripped funding from Planned Parenthood, reallocated that money to “crisis pregnancy centers,” and created a new requirement for surgical abortion facilities, mandating that they have written transfer agreements with local public hospitals. That is a requirement not backed up by medical evidence showing that abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures.

Aside from legislation, Kasich has also appointed political allies and anti-choice advocates to state medical positions that hold regulatory power and set the standards of health in Ohio.

Kasich has made several anti-choice appointments to state-level positions designed for medical professionals. In 2012 he appointed Michael Gonidakis as a member of the State Medical Board, a body tasked with protecting and enhancing the “health and welfare of Ohio’s citizens” by issuing and monitoring more than 55,000 licenses to Ohioans interested in practicing medicine.

Gonidakis is currently the president of the Ohio Right to Life organization, and previously served as the campaign manager for two pro-life judges.

In 2013, Kasich appointed Dr. Sushil Sethi to the State Medical Board. According to the local news outlets Plunderbund and Cleveland.com, Sethi has pushed his anti-choice position while on the board. For example, according to the minutes of a board meeting in 2013, during a discussion about the importance of genetic counselors to communicate sensitive information about disease and medical predispositions, Dr. Sethi “asked if there are any ethical behavior controls for genetic counselors to prevent them from swaying their patients’ decisions regarding abortion.”

Gonidakis followed up by asking, “With the rapid increase in autism and the main theories as to its cause, at what point are those in the field of genetics scaring couples into making decisions that probably are not the right decisions?”

Taken together, these laws and appointments resulted in the closure of some four clinics in the state since 2013. Three other clinics are currently in legal limbo and face closure.

Economy

Though abortion access has become a central issue in Ohio elections, including in the gubernatorial race, like every rust belt state, the economy is crucial, and both candidates have taken aim at the other’s economic policies.

Faced with the receding U.S. manufacturing industry, rust belt states like Ohio were dealt a particularly hard blow by the Great Recession. According to the Chronicle-Telegram, Ohio also lost thousands of jobs due to “an auto industry free fall” that left the state economy reeling. When Kasich was elected in 2010, the state had a $8 billion budget deficit.

Rebooting the economy has been central to Kasich’s plan as governor; however, the first half of Kasich’s term was marred by unpopularity and policy missteps.

Toward the end of his first year in office, Kasich was among the least popular governors in the country. A poll that fall by Public Policy Polling put Kasich as the least-liked governor, beating Florida’s Rick Scott for the title. That poll found that only 36 percent of voters in Ohio approved of their governor, and 53 percent disapproved.

Kasich’s favorability among voters wasn’t helped by the fact that what was then his and the Republican Party’s signature piece of legislation was also wildly unpopular. The bill, SB 5, was a one of several “right to work” bills introduced in the Midwest during that time.

SB 5 would have curbed collective bargaining rights for public works and made their unions effectively powerless. Though Kasich signed it into law early in 2011, Ohioans repealed SB 5 later that year at the polls.

In a statement at the time, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that “Ohio’s working people successfully fought back against lies pushed by shadowy multinational corporations and their anonymous front groups that attempted to scapegoat public service employees and everyone they serve by assaulting collective bargaining rights.”

But since then, Kasich’s popularity has been gradually on the rise, a change that can in large part be credited to the Ohio economy. Since 2011, the state economy has improved in several important ways: The unemployment rate has gone down and is now lower than the national average, and the state is now operating with a budget surplus.

But FitzGerald has said that the numbers are misleading because only a small group of Ohioans have benefited, a fact that is backed up by numbers.

According to the Chronicle-Telegram, though overall state income has gone up, median household income has actually decreased, and at a rate higher than the rest of the country. The number of people living in poverty increased from 2007 to 2012, and home ownership rates in the state decreased during that time period.

FitzGerald has said that strengthening the economy is his “number one priority,” and that he will cut taxes for the middle class and focus on middle-class job creation.

Still, Kasich’s approval by Ohio voters has continued to rise, and FitzGerald has had no such luck. Kasich is now considered by many to be a shoe-in for the spot. But whether or not he is re-elected to the governor’s mansion in Ohio, we should expect to see more of Kasich: He is widely expected to make a bid for the presidency in 2016.