Progressives score big wins in Missouri and Michigan
Cori Bush, once homeless, wins a Congressional seat in Missouri held for 52 years by the Clay family. She ran on a strong progressive program. | screenshot via YouTube

ST. LOUIS—Progressive candidates, running on causes such as Medicare For All, the $15 minimum wage, workers’ rights, and the Green New Deal, scored impressive wins in the August 4 Democratic primaries in Missouri and Michigan. Next battle up: Minnesota.

The biggest win came in St. Louis, where Cori Bush, in her second try for the U.S. House, defeated incumbent Rep. William “Lacy” Clay, D-Mo., in the majority-minority First Congressional District, 49%-46%. Two years ago, she lost to Clay, 37%-57%.

Missouri voters also approved expanding Medicaid, over the opposition of the GOP-run state legislature and governor.  The expansion will help hundreds of thousands of low-income people who now do not get Medicaid due to GOP refusal to accept it.

In Michigan, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D), a Democratic Socialist, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, and one of “The Squad” of four progressive Democratic women of color first elected two years ago, beat establishment candidate Brenda Jones, a Detroit City Council member.

Last time, Tlaib won the primary by around 900 votes. This time, Tlaib won two-to-one, 63,650-32,582.

“Rashida is a strong leader of our movement and it is important she continues fighting for our progressive agenda in Congress,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., a Democratic Socialist like Tlaib and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Tlaib “has stood up to the ugliness of the Trump administration and has taken on the greed and corruption of the economic establishment,” he continued.

Indeed, Tlaib was the first lawmaker to call for GOP President Donald Trump’s impeachment and removal from office, using a Nixonian deleted expletive (“m*****f*****“) to describe the Oval Office occupant. She set that goal on Jan. 4, 2019, literally hours after she was sworn in to her House seat.

The big news, though, was Lacy Clay’s loss.

Clay and his father, Rep. William Clay, Sr., had held the seat for 52 years combined. Clay had, as usual, establishment backing, including endorsement from the Missouri AFL-CIO. Now Bush, who pushes all those progressive causes, and who drew an enthusiastic endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt.,  will be the first Black Lives Matter activist to enter the U.S. House, as the district is rated safely Democratic.

“We are making great progress because supporters like you are getting involved to make a big difference in these races,” Sanders declared after wins by Bush, Tlaib, and House Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., also not an insider favorite, in her primary in Seattle.

“We won a remarkable victory in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District where Cori Bush defeated a 10-term incumbent,” Sanders said. “Cori is a strong progressive who understands that real change only happens when we all come together to fight for justice.

“She emerged as a leader in Ferguson following the tragic police murder of Michael Brown, and she knows the struggles facing the people of Missouri because she has lived those same struggles herself,” he explained.

Bush, frequently wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, supports Medicare For All, raising the minimum wage, the Green New Deal and the Protect The Right To Organize Act, the comprehensive, union-pushed labor law rewrite.

“I fight because I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck, to be burdened with student and medical debt, and to live day to day in St. Louis where poverty is violence, crime is rampant, and our unhoused community grows daily. We need a champion for policies that will affect residents of Missouri’s 1st directly. I AM that champion,” she declared on her website.

“As a registered nurse I have seen my patients die because of the inability to afford treatment. While running for office and being uninsured myself, I have been in and out of the emergency room during the COVID-19 pandemic and before getting well enough, I have already received a hefty hospital bill. My story is like so many St. Louisans and people across America.  Our government needs to join every other industrialized nation and pass Medicare for All.” The disease hit her in April. She recovered.

Bush also signed National Nurses United’s pledge not to take cash from the fossil fuel industry, which NNU and other unions hold responsible for the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Indeed, she swore off big givers altogether. Clay milked them.

Campaign finance committees, from both unions and business—such as Boeing—gave Clay $561,000, or 75% of his total, Ballotpedia reported.

“It is important to talk the talk and walk the walk—which is why our campaign is 100% grassroots, funded by the people and for the people,” Bush replied. Contributions smaller than $200 from individuals were $346,000, 61% of her total, Ballotpedia added.

And Missouri showed Show Me State voters still don’t like GOP attempts to curb or kill universal medical care in general and trash the Affordable Care Act in particular. The state’s ruling Republicans aped the national GOP and refuse to expand Medicaid, as the ACA would let the state do with federal subsidies to cover more poor people.

But Missouri unions and progressive groups pushed for Amendment 2 to the state constitution, mandating such expansion, on the August ballot. Then they campaigned hard for it, and even the state Chamber of Commerce supported it. Voters agreed by an 82,000-vote margin,  53%-47%.

“In my 10 years as a state lawmaker in Jefferson City, I watched my colleagues time and again fail to do the right thing,” state fed President Jake Hummel, an Electrical Worker, said. “Now it’s time for Missouri voters to decide.”

“Expanding Medicaid will help about 230,000 hardworking Missourians who make too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford private insurance––delivering healthcare to individuals who earn less than $18,000 a year while bringing home more than $1 billion of taxes Missouri residents are already paying Washington,” the fed told the St. Louis Labor Tribune.

Supporters estimate some 14% of Missourians live below 133% of the federal poverty line and would be covered by the Medicaid expansion.

“Amendment 2 will protect frontline healthcare jobs, help keep endangered rural hospitals open, ensure all Missourians have access to emergency care, and create on average more than 16,000 jobs annually in the program’s first five years, including jobs in the construction industry,” the fed added.

The next progressive-versus-establishment battle will be August 11 in Minneapolis. There, another member of  “The Squad,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minn., faces lawyer Antone Melton-Meaux. Like Walsh in her contest against Tlaib, he contends Omar is concentrating too much on national issues and fights with Trump while not paying attention to the needs of Minneapolis. Melton-Meaux contends he could “reach across the aisle” to pass legislation.

Trump hates all four of The Squad members, saying they should return to developing nations they were born in. Omar is a Somali refugee and naturalized.  Tlaib and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., are mainland U.S. natives. Ocasio-Cortez was born in Puerto Rico. All four are citizens.

Omar counters by citing her consistent stands for workers in the district, and for the poor—notably the Somali and Hmong communities who have been exploited by Amazon in its Twin Cities warehouse. Those workers are also at more risk of catching the coronavirus.

She also cites legislative achievements, her efforts to ban Trump from ejecting Liberian migrants—who happen to be Black–from the U.S., her introduction of the Student Debt Cancellation Act, and her co-sponsorship of legislation to end Trump’s racist anti-Muslim travel bans.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.