Live Chat: Blue America Welcomes Eric Griego (D-New Mexico)

This week the DCCC spent a quarter million dollars on media in the Buffalo suburbs to advance the candidacy of conservative Democrat Kathy Hochul. Hochul is certainly "better" than her opponent, GOP hack Jane Corwin -- but does Hochul deserve that kind of expenditure? Her first TV ad starts with her throwing the immigrant community right under the bus. Still, she is a Democrat and that's the DCCC's job: elect Democrats -- the good, the bad and the ugly.

Blue America has a different mandate: we leave the bad and the ugly to the DCCC and try to lend a hand with the Good. Let's see if anyone can find anyone better anywhere than our newest candidate, New Mexico state Senator Eric Griego.

Kathy Hochul brags that she "led the fight" to prevent illegal immigrants from getting drivers' licenses. Eric took a very different approach to the problem in his career. When New Mexico's new Republican governor signed an executive order attempting to mimic the Arizona "Let me see your papers" law, Eric became the champion in the fight to oppose her. It was the most controversial and politically risky issue he had tackled.

"She signed an Executive Order requiring state law enforcement to ask for immigration status for all 'criminal suspects.' I introduced legislation barring state and local law enforcement from ever asking about immigration status. I also led the fight against the repeal of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants. The policy had been effect for several years and became an effective wedge issue for the new conservative Republican Governor and her cronies. In a rare showing of Democratic unity, the state senate thwarted the repeal of the drivers licenses."

A very different kind of Democrat than Kathy Hochul. And a very different kind of Democrat than the kind of conservative Big Business shill the DCCC is rumored to be recruiting to run against Eric for the Albuquerque seat opening up due to the departure of our old friend Martin Heinrich for the open U.S. Senate seat. Right now Eric's only declared opponent is an extremist religious-fanatic, Republican pastor named Dan Lewis, who is hellbent on wrecking government regulations.

The Albuquerque chapter of DFA first alerted us to Eric's decision to run for the seat, describing him as "a hard-nosed progressive fighter for families, children and workers who's ready, willing and able to take on the right wing attacks on education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid." That's the picture his record in public service paints. The first thing I ever heard him say was "The last thing we need to send to Washington is a Democrat who's a kinder, gentler version of the Republicans, frankly."

Blue America has spent weeks talking with him since then. He's exactly the kind of unapologetic progressive leader we need in Congress, an antidote to the dozens of Blue Dogs and conservatives always scurrying across the aisle to vote with the Republicans against the interests of working families and for their corporate donors. In contrast, Eric led efforts at the state level to do what our kind of Democrats are trying to do at the national level-- "Before cutting core spending on kids, seniors and working families," he told me passionately, "we should ask big oil and other corporate tax evaders to pay their fair share. We should also repeal the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year. For the Republicans to defend subsidies for big oil is indefensible given their outrageous profits. To say taxes on the richest CEOs and multinational corporations are 'off the table' is outrageous when at the same time the Republican leadership is willing to ration Medicare, Medicaid and limit Social Security."

In the state legislature he sponsored several tax reform bills that would have raised personal income taxes on the wealthiest two percent of New Mexicans and to limit subsidies to large out of state corporations. The bills were killed by state Senate leaders. "In my first year in the Senate, I passed a green jobs bill that provides state-funded training for solar, wind and other renewable energy workers. That year [2008] and in 2011 I sponsored comprehensive ethics and campaign finance reform legislation including public financing for all state elections, contribution limits, and a state ethics commission. The ethics and campaign finance bills never got heard due to opposition from Senate leadership." In 2005 Eric was behind the successful Albuquerque initiative to provide voluntary public financing for local elections. "We are now one of the few cities in the nation with public financing of local elections."

Kicking off his campaign a couple weeks ago, Eric told his supporters in Albuquerque why he's the right man for the job. Those reasons resonate perfectly with Blue America:

“We need a Democratic Congressional candidate who will unapologetically stand up for Democratic values. The current Republican leadership in Congress wants to dismantle the protections that it has taken generations to build, like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. We need a strong courageous advocate for working families and who has a record of taking on those who put the interests of the richest two percent of Americans and the largest corporate interests ahead of our children, our environment and our local businesses.”

If that kind of message appeals to you-- and, by the way, I should mention that Eric is also the Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children, a non-profit research, policy and advocacy organization that fights for the state’s vulnerable children and working families-- please consider making a donation to our newest endorsed candidate, Eric Griego.



Reforming the Filibuster, with the Progressive Congress Action Fund Fellowship Program

No one has to tell you at this point that Republican obstructionism in the Senate is probably the biggest impediment to the ability of Congressional Democrats to implement a progressive agenda. And I'm equally sure nobody has to tell you that the filibuster has been the single most frustrating weapon in the arsenal of the Republican obstructionists.

So it won't surprise you that when Congressman Barney Frank was asked recently what ought to top the progressive agenda going forward, he replied that it ought to be getting every Democratic Senator to sign on to restricting the filibuster, as you can see in the video above.

As you know, the filibuster and the need it creates to find 60 votes in the Senate is the reason we don't have a public option in the new health care bill. It's why we haven't addressed climate change. It's why a significant percentage of appointments to the Obama administration remain vacant, crippling the administration's ability to do its job.

The clamor for change-- and the American people's frustration with its pace-- is just starting to get traction inside the Capitol, where newer Senators like New Mexico's Tom Udall are pointing out that despite the Constitution clearly giving each house of Congress the right to adopt its own rules of procedure, just a handful of today's Senators have ever had the opportunity to actually vote on whether they want to continue working under the filibuster rule.

The opportunity to change that is coming, and momentum for it is growing every day. Senate precedents say that the beginning of each new Congress, the Senate has the opportunity to adopt or amend its rules by a simple majority vote, so January 2011 could be a real turning point. But organizing for such a big change needs to start now.

That's why I've been pushing for the launch of an organized campaign toward this end, and why I'm so pleased that the Progressive Caucus Action Fund has created a fellowship program to help support efforts like this one and others aimed at bringing the netroots into a working partnership in moving our the progressive agenda forward in Congress.

Over the years, I've built something of a niche expertise in unraveling the mysteries of Congressional procedure for netroots activists and the wider blog-reading audience. And lately, we've been seeing the positive effects of informing an engaged community about the ins and outs of the rules and other mechanisms that make the Hill tick. The public option, declared dead at least half a dozen times over the past year, survived as a possibility nearly up to the last minute of the health care reform debate because we identified the pressure points that kept it alive. “Citizen whip counts” driven by a new and better understanding of voting dynamics helped apply needed pressure for passage of last year's stimulus package. And when we discussed how the decision on renewing Joe Lieberman's committee gavel would go through the previously obscure Senate Democratic Steering & Outreach Committee, members heard in unprecedented numbers from thousands of you on a process normally conducted entirely behind closed doors.

We'd all agree that an informed citizenry is an empowered one. It's something we accept as an axiom when it comes to knowledge of the issues. But the same and more goes for Congressional procedure. It's something that's generally been shrouded in mystery for most people (and don't think Members of Congress don't sometimes like it that way), yet its critical not only to understanding why things on the Hill happen the way they do, but also to explaining why high-priced professional lobbyists tend to get their way so much more often than the millions of ordinary citizens who tend to want… something different. Getting what we want means understanding how to get it. Not just in terms of emails and phone calls, but in the mechanical terms of draft legislation, committee markups and floor procedure. There's a good reason why Congressman John Dingell of Michigan-- the longest-serving Member in the history of the House of Representatives-- once said, “Let me control the procedure and I'll never lose.”

So that's what this is all about. More than just the filibuster, though that's where we're starting. If you choose, we can make this a long-running project aimed at increasing our leverage in Congress over a broad range of issues. Not just with my help, but potentially with the help of many more dedicated activists who can put their time, energy and expertise to work for all of us.

What are we asking you to do? For starters, how about joining in our filibuster reform petition effort, sponsored by CREDO Action? By sigining on, you're also signing up to receive CREDO Action's alert e-mails, so you can stay on top of the latest hot topics that need your attention on the Hill and elsewhere in the government. Is it a list-building exercise? You bet it is. But the good news is that for every name we add to that list, CREDO Action makes a generous donation to the fellowship program.

And if you're in a position to do more and help us with a direct donation, we've got an ActBlue page set up for that, too. We'll try and make this as transparent as we can.

So if you felt like you were well-served with good procedural information during the health care reform debate, and want to see our ability to build that kind of knowledge continue to grow, think about pitching in with us and making it happen. I'd appreciate it, and I hope you will too!




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