Saturday, April 15, 2017

Something amazing is happening in Georgia's 6th District race

Tuesday, something pretty amazing happened in a Kansas special election to fill a seat in Congress left vacant by one of Trump's cabinet appointees, Rep. Mike Pompao to head the CIA.   In a district that he won by 30% and Trump by 27% just five months ago, a Democratic candidate came within 7% of defeating the state treasurer for the seat.

That's a 20% decline in Republican support in a deep, deep red state, with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the White House.  In 2016 Republicans won 75 House seats by less than 20%.  A turnover of only 24 of those in 2018 would win back control of the House.  Read on;  it could be only 23 after next Tuesday.

Look at what's going on in Georgia's 6th District race to fill the seat left by Trump's choice for Health Secretary, Tom Price.   Price has handily won re-election multiple times, and easily won by 23 points in 2016.   But Trump won the district with less than 2%.   GA-06 is suburban, better educated (60% college degrees), affluent (triple average state income), but increasingly diversified both ethnically and economically.

Enter Jon Ossoff, a 31 year old Democrat whose campaign has roared out of nowhere to capture the excitement of the millennials who got energized by the 2016 election and wanted to do something about it.   While in college at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, Jon worked as an aide in John Lewis's congressional office, and later was on the staff of Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson's office.   He learned how to get things done in Washington, learned how to conduct an investigation of corruption in government contracts, and won the admiration and strong support of both Johnson and Lewis.  It was John Lewis who encouraged him to run, saying "If anyone can win the 6th [for the Democrats], you can do it."

Jon followed this experience in Washington with study at the London School of Economics, where he wrote his masters thesis on trade policy between the U.S. and China.   He currently is the CEO of an investigative journalism and documentary film company that focuses on corruption and graft worldwide.  They have helped expose corrupt judges in Ghana, doctors in Zimbabwe selling HIV/AIDS medicine on the black market, and kidnapping and sex slavery in ISIS.

This campaign then is not just a bunch of naive, idealistic young people who don't know what they're doing.   They're idealistic all right, but they're also smart, wise and practical. They're managing a terrific campaign.   Fueled by an unheard of $8.3 million war chest raised by grass roots with some nationwide fund-raising help from progressive blogsites -- all coming in with an average donation of less than $50.   They're putting a lot of money into some great tv and internet ads.  But the core of the effort is the thousand-plus group of volunteers making phone calls and knocking on doors, talking intelligently and interestingly to neighbors.   This is, after all, a geographically small congressional district within the confines of a section of metro Atlanta.

Republicans are running scared that they're going to lose this seat, so they're countering with millions of dollars from national GOP political organizations and dark money, mostly from out-of-state SuperPACs, running negative and dishonest smear tv ads.  It's beautiful to watch these young people not take the bait and get defensive.   They shrug and say that negative smear tactics is what people do when they think they're losing.   They're sticking to the high road of a positive campaign.  Their ads are emphasizing what Jon will bring to our district, and what he can bring to Washington.

Nothing I can write, however, can explain this campaign as well as this message, written by Jon's long-time friend, Jon Mitchell, who designed the campaign website.   It's well worth reading to get a sense of these young, smart, practical idealists -- the kind of people who might really change things in Washington.

*     *     *
"I am probably almost as thrilled as he is to announce that my friend Jon Ossoff is running for Congress in Georgia.

"He and I started talking and writing about politics together when we were sophomores in high school. . . . and now look at him -- running for Congress! . . .  This is the moment we've been preparing for. . . .  He came to his friends and said, 'Hey, I'm gonna run for Congress.   Can you help?, and we just said, 'Well, yeah!  Sure!'

"This is not political theater, this is the realest thing ever.   You see, our friends are a hopeful, progressive, rather intelligent bunch.  We don't respond kindly to gaudy, self-interested, willfully ignorant presidents who really just want to be crowned king.  It is our natural tendency to want to snatch back the first national election after such a president takes office.  Leave it to Jon Ossoff to actually try.  I couldn't be prouder of him already.

"I'm not just proud of him.  I'm grateful to him.  His decision to run is unquestionably good for America;  he's rather well qualified to be a freshman congressman, and he's the kind of Democrat who gets a deserved endorsement from John Lewis calling him 'committed to progress and justice.'   

"But I'm grateful to Jon in a more personal way, too.  He's galvanized his whole tribe.  He's given us something to do to respond constructively to the political emergency in America:  We can do everything in our power to get a good, talented person elected to national office.

"So yeah, I did the website. . . for my best friend.  It was also my first political job, and I have to say, it was incredibly rewarding to design for that purpose, especially in collaboration with dear friends whose values I know and share.   The tagline says that I work for 'clients who want to repair the world,' a reference to the 20th century, social justice-oriented reinterpretation of the mystical concept of tikkun olam.  I never thought of the U.S. House of Representatives as deserving of the sacred sense of that term until now.   The world looked dark to me a few weeks ago.   Thanks to Jon Ossoff, now there's light streaming in. . . . Let's do this!"
*     *     *

The thought of this practical idealism and these values being defeated by run-of-the mill Republican politicians, who would go to Washington to help Donald Trump repeal Obamacare, defund Planned Parenthood, build walls, and throw the world into chaos is just not acceptable to me.

A month ago, I would have said:  go for it, but don't get your hopes up and be disappointed.  This is, after all, a Republican district.    But these young folks have run an extraordinarily intelligent, efficient, personableenlightened campaign.   They put jaded politicians to shame -- not just with their idealism but with their political skills and smarts. Jon was impressive in an interview with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC Thursday night.

In the latest poll in this jungle special election with 18 candidates of all parties, Jon was leading with 43%.   The Republican vote is essentially split among three politicians in the low teens, with 7% undecided.   With the superior get-out-the-vote efforts of Jon's team, it's possible he could get over the 50% mark next Tuesday and avoid a runoff.

[Added Sat. noon:   a later poll released Friday has Jon at 45% with Karen Handel in a comfortable lead over other Republicans for second place.]

I'll let you know next Wednesday how it turned out.


PS:   I also have a personal interest in Jon's campaign.   He and my grandson David are friends, going back to elementary school.   David lives in Santa Fe and is about to move to New York for a job with the ACLU;  but I'm sure, if he were here in Atlanta, he would be part of this campaign.

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