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On to 2020

I'll add my two cents to the chorus of advice for Democrats in 2020: Do not limit your imagination by falling back on candidates who have previously appeared on the ballot.


  • Brian Chilson

I'll add my two cents to the chorus of advice for Democrats in 2020: Do not limit your imagination by falling back on candidates who have previously appeared on the ballot. I know everyone wants to reward those who have run with a second chance, but it already seems as if Josh Mahony, Jared Henderson and Clarke Tucker are joining the ranks of Conner Eldridge and Bill Halter as perpetually suggested candidates. I am so proud of Mahony, Henderson, and my former law school classmate Tucker. They worked hard and left everything on the table in their races. They built up the Democratic Party in counties that had all but been abandoned, inspired the old guard, and got young people excited about voting. They may be the best choices to run in 2020. I'd argue it is too early to tell and by "anointing" them this early, other viable choices, especially women and men and women of color, may be too intimidated to come forward to run. I'll add that other candidates, like Chintan Desai, Susan Inman, Mike Lee, Hayden Shamel and Anthony Bland, are to be commended equally for their tireless work and sacrifice. Maybe they are making 2020 shortlists, too, but I've not seen it the same way I've seen Mahony, Henderson and Tucker mentioned. The pull toward Kennedyesque white men with good hair is just too strong, I guess.

From my view in Fayetteville, it is clear that women candidates motivated folks to open their wallets and put on their canvassing shoes. Incoming Reps. Megan Godfrey, Denise Garner and Nicole Clowney were all first-timers who beat experienced politicians, with Clowney knocking off Fayetteville Alderman Mark Kinion, a Democratic Party favorite, in the primary, and Godfrey and Garner defeating GOP incumbent representatives. For those reading this outside of Northwest Arkansas, the energy surrounding these candidates was incredible. Contagious. The only other candidate I see that has that type of sustained appeal among progressives across Arkansas is state Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock).

And now I'll discard the advice I gave earlier to say the nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton seems to be Elliott's to take. And rightfully so. She is a former high school teacher who has served us well in the state legislature. She found a way to bridge the bipartisan gap without abandoning her values. She's fought for teachers, for racial justice and for unions. A lot of people would love to back Elliott in a statewide race and get the chance to cast a vote for her. She ran for Congress in 2010 in the 2nd District and lost to now-Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. A lot has changed in 10 years. Elliott has broader popularity, the progressive left has awoken in Arkansas, and our public schools, for which Elliott has long been a champion, are under attack. The battle to beat Cotton will be nearly impossible with his big war chest and corporate friends, but it does not mean we should abandon the race. I'm open to other possible candidates, but I have to say my heart is set on Elliott. So are the hearts of many other women across the state.

And maybe that's where my advice should lie. What do the women want? I'm not talking about the Trump-voting white women. I'm talking about the progressive women who put their jobs and lives on hold to work to get their candidates elected. The women who missed their kids' soccer and football games. The women who had to balance running their households with the new task of helping run a campaign. I overheard a conversation recently in which it was pointed out the majority of canvassers and donors seemed to be women. I believe it. I've said more than once that the women of Moms Demand Action deserve the 2018 MVP award. This new political army of progressive women seems to be most motivated by other women and by people of color who have historically been left out of the conversations surrounding candidate selection. These potential candidates may not be active now in party politics or electoral politics. They may be busy being nurses, nonprofit workers, caterers, stay-at-home parents, or, as in the case of newly elected Washington County Justice of the Peace Andrea Jenkins, working as a teacher while also driving a daily school bus route.

I hope the Democrats continue to look outside the regular political channels. To encourage more women and people of color to run, they will also have to shut down some of the negative language around primaries. There will almost always be a white man who wants to run for every office. Nothing wrong with that, but to encourage other candidates, primaries should not be referred to as divisive or party-splitting. That actually discourages new faces from running. Primaries are part of democracy. It means we have a wealth of people wanting to enter public service. We should welcome them.

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