Tag Archives: Susie Turnbull

National Insider Ben Jealous on the Outside in Maryland

Ben Jealous is the latest in a long line of national political figures with little to no experience running for office who try to parachute into Maryland politics and find the landing rocky.

Republicans often tried this strategy in the past due to the dearth of local talent. Barbara Mikulski easily dispatched Linda Chavez to win her Senate seat in 1986. Paul Sarbanes defeated Alan Keyes with little trouble in 1988 and Mikulski trounced him in 1992.

More recently, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost to Bob Ehrlich. While Townsend had developed Maryland roots, her strong links to the Kennedys undermined perception of her as a local. Moreover, her only successful previous run for office was as lieutenant governor on Parris Glendenning’s ticket.

Though many Marylanders hail from elsewhere, especially in the DC area, Maryland identity remains strong. Candidates perceived as having stronger national than local ties don’t do well.

The relatively unknown Jealous smartly likes to tout his Maryland roots. His bio page on the campaign web page states he “has lived in Maryland throughout his career as a civil rights leader and businessman.”

Unfortunately, it’s a four Pinocchio. Jealous only began voting here in 2012. He was touted as a candidate for mayor of Oakland (California not Maryland) in 2008, and voted in California in 2006 and 2008. Even when Jealous headed the Baltimore-based NAACP, he lived in DC, where he voted from 2000 to 2004, and in 2010 to 2011.

His running mate, Susie Turnbull, has been active in Maryland much longer, including as head of the Maryland Democratic Party. Like Jealous, she has not run previously for local office. Instead, she was Vice Chair of the DNC and worked for Members of Congress.

It didn’t help when Jealous began his campaign by talking about removing Larry Hogan from “the White House” and Turnbull spoke about when she moved to “Washington” and meant Maryland.

Jealous’s primary campaign had far more backing from national than local Democratic officials. He touted endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker and Kamala Harris, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, and New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio.

Meanwhile, he did not tout a single endorsement by a local official during the primary on the endorsement page on his web site. Jealous’s primary campaign benefited heavily from an independent expenditure campaign by one-percenter Californians.

As the Democratic nominee, Jealous now has the backing of most elected Democrats, though many expect him to lose and are not heavily invested in his campaign. Jealous’s tendency during the primary campaign to make Sanders-like attacks on the Annapolis Democratic establishment yet simultaneously take credit for so much of their work, understandably grated and hasn’t been forgotten. Comptroller Peter Franchot and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett have not endorsed him.

Jealous has felt lots of love from the national political establishment and from ultra-progressives. Not so much from Maryland officials or Maryland general elections voters.

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Looking Ahead for Jealous-Turnbull

Today is a day for winners to celebrate and the Ben Jealous-Susie Turnbull ticket is certainly entitled to do that after an impressive win with just under 40% of vote in a crowded field, according to preliminary returns. (I don’t expect absentee or provisional ballots to change the results much.).

Perhaps most impressively, Jealous carried 22 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions. The exceptions were Prince George’s, Rushern Baker’s home base, and Calvert, which is right next door. Even in Prince George’s, Jealous did respectably. Baker won 50% to 38% for Jealous – not far off his statewide percentage.

While not a majority, it sets up Jealous well as the clear winner and better positioned than eking out a narrow statewide win as he pivots to the general election. One might also note that the top two candidates were both African Americans and together won 88% of the vote, which should perhaps quiet talk that Democrats are unwilling to vote for black candidates for a bit.

The biggest advantages Jealous has going into the general election are the political nature of the state and national trends. Maryland is one of the few states that voted slightly more for Hillary Clinton in 2016 than for Barack Obama in 2012. Places Clinton won with 60% of the vote are not looking good for Republicans lately.

Even more crucially, the political climate is utterly reversed from four years ago. In 2014, the Democratic vote was depressed as a Republican wave crossed the country. Today, Maryland Democrats are hopping mad and energized in opposition to Trump and his supine Republican supporters.

Hogan will try to distance himself from his party label but in a Democratic state in a Democratic year, waves can overtake even the best efforts. Regardless, the popular Hogan will have to continue to run a good campaign to stay in office.

So today is a day for Jealous and his supporters to celebrate. Next up, what challenges does Jealous face as he looks to become Maryland’s governor?

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Our Revolution is Neither

Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign resonated with Democratic voters in a rare way. While he did not achieve the success of Barack Obama’s electrifying 2008 election, his campaign helped create a spontaneous movement of support. Certainly, I saw it among my students who overwhelmingly favored Sanders and felt about him much like I had about Obama.

But spontaneous happenings only achieve long-term success if they institutionalize themselves and evolve into something more than what was once known as a happening in the 1960s. The Sanders movement has done that as the Sanders’ call for “a revolution” has evolved into the decidedly non-revolutionary organization called Our Revolution.

Our Revolution Maryland’s (ORM) approach in this election is emblematic of this new highly institutionalized, even establishment, approach. The campaign by Ben Jealous, a co-chair of Sanders’ 2016 bid, has all the spontaneity of your average Brezhnev-era central committee meeting. The contrast with the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign could hardly be greater.

While Sanders supporters bitterly objected to what they viewed as the Democratic National Committee’s tilt in favor of Hillary Clinton, that has nothing on ORM’s “process” for endorsing a gubernatorial nominee. Before the official process even began, Jealous told other candidates in no uncertain terms that ORM and Sanders’ organization would back him.

Prior to the launch of ORM’s kabuki endorsement process, ORM’s Director appeared right behind Jealous at the announcement of his gubernatorial campaign. Unsurprisingly, no other gubernatorial candidate agreed to participate in ORM’s endorsement charade because they didn’t want to validate a pre-determined outcome.

The Jealous campaign has been no less establishment. Its pollster, for example, is Fred Yang. He’s a deservedly well-respected Washington Democratic pollster. Yang has also worked on campaigns for numerous other mainstream Democratic candidates and issues, such as the Maryland marriage equality referendum in 2012.

Jealous’ running mate, Susie Turnbull, has held no elective office but she practically defines the term “insider” as a wealthy and connected former Maryland Democratic Party Chair – and not a renegade choice for that position. Turnbull has also long been very active in national DNC politics. Hardly the choice of a self-proclaimed revolutionary running to take down the Democratic establishment.

ORM has also made the highly strategic choice to avoid endorsing in the U.S. Senate campaign in order to support Jealous. Most mainstream Democrats regard U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin as a great guy but the more overtly hardline progressives are not happy, especially about Cardin’s unflinching support for Israel. ORM didn’t endorse either of Cardin’s more left-wing primary challengers as part of an effort to keep the influential Cardin out of the gubernatorial race.

As it turns out, the vaunted vanguard of the progressive revolution is not so different from the mainstream Democratic Party. Jealous hires the same political people, has an establishment running mate and received the pre-determined support of a political organization that, in turn, has tactically decided not to endorse other progressive candidates to help out Jealous.

It’s not surprising that Jealous would take this route. The NAACP remains the grand old dame and most established of African-American organizations. Moreover, the reason smart candidates don’t expect their campaign to be spontaneous electrifying happenings is that approach generally doesn’t work.

Just don’t expect much revolutionary out of Our Revolution or its candidate. Jealous decries half-measures and enjoys citing his grandmother’s wisdom that if you only fix half of a problem, you still have a problem. But, if elected, you should still expect lots of compromises, a hallmark of the American political system, or not much to happen at all. The revolutionary rhetoric cannot really mask a non-revolutionary approach.

That’s all to the good, as revolution is vastly overrated and most don’t turn out nearly as well as the American version.

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Ben Jealous’s Need to Claim Credit for Marriage Equality is Just so Wrong

It’s a strange day when a straight man takes credit for marriage equality in Maryland but Ben Jealous is that guy.

I’m certainly happy that the NAACP moved to endorse marriage equality on his watch. It was a good decision and showed leadership. But it is a far cry from claiming to be the critical guy who made marriage equality happen.

In debates and on twitter, Jealous and his campaign have repeatedly cited the Baltimore Sun editorial honoring him as Marylander of Year as evidence to back up his claim. Indeed, it’s a generous editorial:

“Maryland is a better state — and ours is a more perfect union — because of Ben Jealous and his commitment to justice, equality, and the dignity of every child’s home,” Governor O’Malley said. “Here in Maryland, he was an indispensable part of repealing the death penalty, passing the Maryland Dream Act, ensuring civil marriage equality and expanding access to voting.”

When it comes to his being “indispensable” on marriage equality, however, Jealous and his campaign have been categorically unable and unwilling to provide any evidence to back up the claims of the editorial.

When the Jealous campaign tweeted a link to the editorial at me, I read it and then asked which legislators’ minds he had changed. The reply is revealing:

In other words, Jealous cannot identify a single legislator who changed their mind thanks to his efforts. I followed up by asking how many community organizers he had placed on the ground, as he claimed that had made the difference:

Personally, I preferred the Taylor Swift version of his reply. But again, it’s revealing. Rather than answer the hard-hitting question, he attacks the questioner. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to accuse me of “pride” when he’s the guy claiming to have gotten marriage equality and numerous other legislative initiatives done.

So ultimately, beyond the editorial and the nice quote from Martin O’Malley of the sort that politicians tend to give when asked about someone receiving an award, we’re left with a whole lot of bupkis for evidence.

As someone who was actively part of Equality Maryland’s legislative lobbying team and Co-President of Equality Maryland during the referendum fight, I have some knowledge on the question. Jealous never showed up at any of the strategy sessions held with key legislators that I attended.

Jealous  was certainly never mentioned when it came to recruiting key votes on the issues. Carrie Evans, the Executive Director of Equality Maryland, played a key role in recruiting at least one Republican to a yes vote. Rep. Jamie Raskin, then a state senator, played a similar role in wooing the vote of a colleague on the fence.

Most importantly, I know that Sen. Rich Madaleno, who I support, spent years indefatigably working on this issue long before it was fashionable. As part of a long-term strategy, he built legislative capital and support to get the bill on the floor and passed. So many outsider candidates like to denigrate Annapolis politics, yet how do they think bills become laws and why then are they running for office?

Moreover, Rich Madaleno focused his energies so heavily on raising money for the marriage campaign that his own campaign account was sufficiently low to attract a challenge from deep pocketed Dana Beyer. (I should also mention that Ben Jealous’s running mate, Susie Turnbull, was very active in assisting the effort to win the 2012 referendum.)

None of the leaders of Equality Maryland, or any other incredibly kind and giving people who worked hard on the bill, have ever claimed to have been the key person in getting marriage equality accomplished. While I feel I did my bit, I also know that many were on the scene long before I arrived and also personally saw the self-effacing involvement of many good people.

One example I remember often is that of Del. Ben Barnes. He carried the bill for years in the House before it had a real chance of becoming law. Nevertheless, when asked to step aside for other sponsors in order to help advance the bill, he did so without any hesitation whatsoever. That’s someone who will never get much public credit but deserves it. The late Sen. Gwendolyn Britt similarly sponsored the bill in the Senate until she passed.

I do want to thank two straight African-American men for their incredibly helpful support: President Barack Obama and the late former NAACP President Julian Bond. President Obama’s timely evolution on the issue in advance of his own 2012 reelection bid created a critical and noticeable bump in the polls among African-American voters. When I asked Julian Bond if he’d be willing to appear in pro-marriage ads (he had the office next door to me at AU), he said yes immediately. I’ve also never seen anyone look so embarrassed when I thanked him in his office just before I got legally married.

Back to pride for a moment. If Ben Jealous wants to spout quotes on pride at me, he might think on another one before claiming credit for being the critical person in a long-term effort of someone else’s civil rights movement: “Pride goeth before a fall.”

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