If we are ever going to get the kind of progressive change our society so desperately needs, we are going to have to elect representatives who will stand up to corporate power and fight for the progressive agenda that the majority of Americans want. We want things like a living wage for all, universal single-payer health care, serious criminal justice reform, transition to a clean energy economy, and no more endless wars and regime changes. Unfortunately, our congressman in Washington’s 10th District, Denny Heck, is far from progressive. He is a corrupt, establishment Democrat that consistently puts corporate interests over the people’s needs on the most crucial and pressing issues of our time. He is a quintessential example of why increasing numbers of people are losing confidence in the Democratic Party and why the Democratic Party is increasingly losing to Republicans (who get even more money from big corporations). The Democrats have historically depended on the support of working-class people, but, it turns out that consistently selling out your constituency—while good for bringing in PAC money—is a losing political strategy in the long run.
Follow the money
Denny Heck’s campaign finance information reveals who he really represents. This information is easily accessible thanks to the website opensecrets.org. What really stands out is that his largest source of funding, over $500,000, comes from the banking, finance, and insurance industries. It is also notable that 78% of his total PAC donations come from business interests vs. 18% from labor and only 4% from single issue groups.
This campaign finance record stands in stark contrast to progressive representatives like Bernie Sanders and Pramila Jayapal, the newly elected representative from Washington’s 7th District. Jayapal’s largest sources of funding come from single issue groups and labor, and she gets comparatively less from banking and insurance. Only 4% of Jayapal’s PAC funding comes from business groups, while 62% comes from labor and 33% from single issue groups.
Selling out the people
So, what do all these campaign finance dollars buy for the corporate interests bankrolling Heck? The answer is, they buy them a congressman who will vote for corporate interests over the people’s interests on a consistent and ongoing basis.
Denny Heck has sold the people out to the corporate interests on a wide range of critical issues. He has failed to support progressive bills in Congress that would enact Medicare for All, create a $15 per hour living wage, reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent and drug offenders, increase social security benefits to keep up with the cost of living, stop the US from providing arms to terrorist groups in Syria, end marijuana prohibition, renegotiate NAFTA to include stronger environmental and labor rights standards, and strengthen worker’s rights to recover lost wages and increase penalties for wage theft among other important progressive measures.
During this same time, he has helped to enact a number of regressive laws. He voted to reduce food stamps by $8.7 billion, to expedite natural gas exports from fracking, in favor of federal subsidies for fossil fuel research and development, for building more nuclear weapons, against a 1% reduction in defense spending, for expanding defense spending at the expense of social services, for arming groups in Syria fighting to overthrow the Syrian government, for at least three banking deregulation laws, in an early vote in favor of fast track trade agreement approval (though he later changed his position), and for huge corporate tax breaks at the expense of social services.
Denny Heck’s town meeting
In a recent Town Meeting, Denny Heck was challenged by a number of his constituents on a few of these issues. Before the meeting, some of us handed out flyers listing many of Heck’s anti-progressive votes and positions.
Medicare for All
One audience member asked why Heck was not supporting the Medicare for All bill currently in the US Congress. With 93 representatives now cosponsoring it, which is almost half of all Democrats currently in the House, this bill has substantial support. But Heck refuses to support the bill. Could it be because his largest single source of campaign funds comes from the insurance industry which gave his campaign more than $100,000 in 2016?
Heck’s justification for not supporting the Bill is that it has several flaws and is not “fully formed.” Even if this is true, he did not say that he would support Medicare for All with some improvements or whether he supported the idea of single payer healthcare in general. He did not offer an alternative vision for how we are going to make sure everyone has full access to complete, high quality health care which is a basic human right in modern society. His focus, he said, was solely on preserving Obamacare.
Regime change in Syria
I challenged Denny Heck on his votes in favor of regime change in Syria and asked why he was supporting the regime change war. He has voted at least two times in favor of bills to authorize the CIA to arm and train groups fighting to overthrow the government of Syria. This policy has played a major role in fueling the horrific war there. His response was that I “misconstrued” his votes and that he opposes regime change. But this is disingenuous. His documented votes speak for themselves. I also brought up his failure to support the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, a bill, introduced by progressive Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, to stop the US from providing arms to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Syria who are fighting to overthrow the government. He did not respond to this at all.
Campaign financing and corruption
Tamborine Borrelli, a progressive “Berniecrat” who has stepped forward to run against Denny Heck (see below), asked Heck whether he thought his source of campaign funds affected his decision making. He said he believes he represents the people well and, “he sleeps well at night.” Unfortunately, the same probably cannot be said for the thousands of Muslim children living in endless war, or people with serious medical conditions and no health insurance, or those whose water has become unsafe due to fracking.
Time for progressive change
Unseating Denny Heck and electing a real progressive representative who refuses to take corporate money will not be easy. It would be an extraordinary political development. But are we not in extraordinary times? From growing inequality to grotesquely bloated prison populations, unchecked climate change to endless war, the crises we face are real, the human suffering is genuine, and the situation is continuing to get worse. The success of the Bernie Sanders campaign needs to be our wake-up call, and the election of Trump our snooze button. The majority of the American people are frustrated with government and thirsty for progressive change. But for people power to beat corporate power, we will need more than having public opinion on our side. An organized mass movement will be required. We will need tens of thousands of small donations and thousands of people stepping up to help with a campaign. We must mobilize the progressive majority in our district and get them to vote in the Primary election in August, 2018.
Tamborine Borelli steps forward
Former state senate candidate and national Sanders delegate Tamborine Borrelli has stepped forward to run as a progressive independent candidate against Heck in the 2018 Congressional election. She has declared that she will take no corporate money. She has the courage to stand up to corporate power and fight for real progressive change. We will have the opportunity to hear more about Tamborine’s vision at an upcoming Town Hall Meeting at Traditions Cafe in Olympia on Tuesday, May 16th from 7-9pm. This event will be an opportunity to discuss Denny Heck’s voting record, what real progressive representation looks like, and what people want from their congressional representatives. I hope to see you there.
Jeff Sowers is a high school teacher at East Grays Harbor (alternative) High School, a volunteer with WIP for more than a decade, and a long time nonviolent peace and democracy activist from Olympia, WA. He was active in organizing against the first and second Gulf Wars. Last year Jeff joined the Thurston County Democrats to support Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and is currently serving as a progressive, “Berniecrat” precinct committee officer.