Progressives take on regular Democrats in Maryland primaries
“Joined more educators in Baltimore County as they get ready to knock on doors and build our movement of working families ready to get our state back to doing big things.” | Ben Jealous for Governor Twitter.

Progressive unions, groups and allies are taking on Democratic Party regulars again, this time in the June 26 Maryland Democratic gubernatorial primary. But whoever wins faces an unenviable task, even in the deep-blue state: Trying to dislodge popular GOP Gov. Larry Hogan in November.

On the progressive side, National Nurses United, the Amalgamated Transit Union, Unite Here Local 7, the Postal Workers, Our Revolution Maryland, the Working Families Party, Progressive Maryland and Trans United Fund launched a joint campaign of people and money to promote one of the two leading hopefuls, former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous.

The eight groups “represent a cross-section of Maryland’s Democratic primary electorate which is heavily comprised of black voters, union members, and progressive white voters,” their statement said.

The Maryland State Education Association also endorsed Jealous. The state AFL-CIO is neutral and both the Maryland and Baltimore Teachers’ union affiliates are silent.

On the party regulars’ side, former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley became the latest regular backer of the other leader, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. O’Malley, also a former Baltimore mayor, tried unsuccessfully to elbow his way into the 2016 Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders Democratic presidential primary contest. O’Malley joined former Gov. Parris Glendening, state Attorney General Brian Frosh and U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer in backing Baker.

The Maryland governor’s race is the latest tilt between the regulars and the progressives, with mixed results for both sides. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used negative advertising to beat a progressive in a Texas Democratic congressional primary, but the progressives came back with wins in three congressional tilts in California and another in Nebraska. In one California race and the Nebraska primary, the Progressive Congressional Campaign Committee criticized pro-business Dems.

And, early on, the establishment, including what’s left of the Chicago Democratic machine, had to pull out all the stops to push Rep. Dan Lipinski over the line against first-time candidate Marie Newman on the city’s Southwest Side and suburbs, 51 percent-49 percent. Unions split there, too, with NNU’s Illinois affiliate backing Newman and the building trades plumping for Lipinski.

The Maryland race is a tossup. Despite their high-profile prior positions, the latest poll shows approximately 40 percent of Maryland Democrats are undecided, while 21 percent back Baker, 16 percent back Jealous, and other hopefuls trail behind. The margin between the two leaders is not statistically significant.

Besides the unions and Our Revolution — the group Sanders supporters established after he lost the presidential nomination to Clinton — Sanders and Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., back Jealous. Jealous, Booker and Baker are African-American, as are thousands of Maryland Democratic primary voters.

One wildcard: A third leader, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a “moderate,” died of a heart attack on May 10. His running mate, former state Working Families Party chief Valerie Ervin, a more-progressive hopeful, took his spot. But the state didn’t order new ballots printed and it’s unclear whether Ervin can also take over Kamenentz’s campaign warchest, the largest among the hopefuls.

Jealous is running on an openly progressive platform, including Medicare for All. “Health care is a moral and economic imperative we can no longer ignore,” he says. He promises to try to implement such a system “regardless of what President Trump does in Washington. Medicare for all, Jealous adds, “will provide better care at less cost.”

He also pledges to raise the state minimum wage to $15 hourly, and implement wide-ranging criminal justice reforms, including establishing personality testing for potential police officers to weed out those with bias or violent tendencies.

Besides spending $500,000 for ads in the last weeks of the race, the groups put six full-time organizers on the ground, recruited hundreds of volunteers for face-to-face conversations, along with emails, phone banking, digital advertising and texting. The coalition plans to target 250,000 households.

“I see the effects of our broken health care system every day. I’m for Ben Jealous because he’ll fight for a single payer health care system that will work for everyone,” said Renelsa Caudill, RN, a National Nurses United leader in majority-African-American Prince George’s County. The county is one of the four big jurisdictions the coalition is campaigning in, along with Montgomery County – the largest in the state – Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

“When it comes to health care, families in Maryland — like the patients I see every day — should be able to focus on getting well, not how they’re going to pay for the bill,” added Caudill.

“I’m proud that my union, Unite Here Local 7, endorsed Ben Jealous for governor. Ben stands for better wages, universal health care, and ending mass incarceration,” said union member George Hancock, a Baltimore city resident who works at the city’s baseball stadium, Camden Yards. “His policies will bring the change that is needed and make for a better Baltimore.”

The governor’s race isn’t the only one where NNU has jumped in. It also backs County Councilmember Marc Elrich, who also is not an establishment favorite, for Montgomery County Executive. Montgomery is Maryland’s most-populous county, with more than a million residents.

“Registered nurses are proud to endorse Elrich, because he is the clear progressive candidate with a history of bold leadership on issues vital to public health, working families, and the environment,” said Anne Varughese, RN, a Montgomery County resident and NNU activist.

“Elrich has been the pivotal council leader on issues as diverse as the minimum wage, environmental health, bus rapid transit, reproductive health and empowering registered nurses to speak up for the safety of their patients and their rights on the job. No one is better prepared to lead Montgomery County or has (better) demonstrated that he shares nurses values,” Varughese added.


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 a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).