By Adam Pagnucco.
Former NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous is running for Governor on a progressive message. That’s a good thing for both the Democratic Party and the state. But part of his message appears to be a claim that he was a big player in progressive achievements that were actually accomplished by others. That’s a problem.
In a blast email dated May 31 and titled “Unlocking the American Dream,” Jealous recites his history as a community organizer, his ties to the City of Baltimore and his parents’ efforts to desegregate the city’s schools and downtown business district. Jealous has a compelling story that deserves respect and consideration, especially by progressives.
After discussing his parents’ civil rights activism, he wrote this.
It was that tradition of fighting for a better life for your neighbors and yourself that motivated this campaign.
In 2012, Maryland had a bounty of civil rights ambitions; we were going to pass the DREAM Act, abolish the death penalty, pass marriage equality, expand voting rights and pass sensible gun safety reform. It was quite the undertaking, but that didn’t stop Maryland.
We went for it, and we won all of them. Because we know our individual movements are stronger together.
That’s the spirit this state needs. A spirit to make our existing movements stronger by combining efforts, to defend our communities, our healthcare, our environment, our working families, students, and seniors.
The operative pronoun here is “we.” Readers of this email might think that Jealous was a key player in passing the DREAM Act, marriage equality, death penalty repeal, voting reform and gun safety. But he wasn’t. Jealous was head of the national NAACP at the time. He was not a leader in state politics. In fact, other than residency and family history, Jealous has few ties to politics and government in Maryland.
Many, many people worked together to accomplish the progressive victories listed in this email. Most of these wins took years to get done. Elected leaders who worked hard on these issues include former Senator and now Congressman Jamie Raskin (marriage equality and the death penalty), former Senator and now Attorney General Brian Frosh (guns), Senators Victor Ramirez and Paul Pinsky (the DREAM Act), Senator Joan Carter Conway (voting rights), Delegate Kathleen Dumais (guns and the death penalty), Delegate Luke Clippinger (marriage equality and guns), Delegates Maggie McIntosh, Anne Kaiser, Kumar Barve and former Delegate Keiffer Mitchell (marriage equality), Delegate Sheila Hixson (the DREAM Act and voting rights), former Senator Lisa Gladden and Delegate Sandy Rosenberg (the death penalty) and former Governor Martin O’Malley, Speaker Mike Busch and Senate President Mike Miller (all of the above). Lots of others in elected office and in progressive advocacy groups played critical roles. One key leader on many of these issues, Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), is planning on running for Governor. (Disclosure: if Madaleno declares, your author will support him.) None of these people did it alone. Politics is a team sport, as everyone who did the nuts-and-bolts work on all of these issues knows.
Jealous could have written, “Progressives in Maryland passed the DREAM ACT, marriage equality and gun safety. They did the right thing and I applaud them. Our campaign is about returning our state to a progressive path. Join us.” But he didn’t.
Here’s a question for the veterans of all these progressive wins: how do you feel about that?