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To progressive Democrats: Follow the lesson of Maine state Sen. Chloe Maxmin

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), President Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
Greg Nash

[Note to reader:

In case you haven’t noticed I have suspended for the last year my regular column in “The Hill” (going back more than a dozen years) while I am writing my autobiography aimed primarily at an audience called “Family” — my wife of 37 years and my four children and six grandchildren. My book will recount my early years that shaped my political views — encountering during seven years in the 1960s at Yale two future successive presidents of the U.S., three U.S. senators, two secretaries of State, and many other future national political and judicial officials whose experiences were shaped in the 1960s.

The key political influence in my life back then — the late, former Rep. Allard Lowenstein (D-N.Y.) (to whom I devote a separate chapter in my draft autobiography) taught me and an entire generation of progressive activists in the 1960s involved in the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements the phrase “pragmatic liberalism.” For Lowenstein, the only way to achieve progressive change is to reach out to the center — and to compromise to get something, rather than nothing, done. That is the core subject of this column — the lessons to be learned from Democratic state Sen. Chloe Maxmin, elected to represent a rural, pro-Trump district of Maine].


All Democrats, especially the House Democratic Progressive Caucus, should read today’s Washington Post column, written by the brilliant progressive writer Katrina vanden Heuvel. The headline:  “What a progressive champion from rural Maine can teach Democrats about winning.” There are three important takeaways for Democratic progressives:

First, see vanden Heuvel’s reference to Maine’s state Sen. Chloe Maxmin’s approach to getting a more limited version of the “Clean New Deal”/climate-change bill enacted by the Maine legislature. Katrina Vanden Heuvel wrote: “And though the bill was scaled back, it ultimately passed by a large margin.” 

Compare this “scaled back” approach to what I believe, respectfully, is the opposite strategy of House progressives regarding the “Build Back Better” legislation that could have been enacted, along with the infrastructure billbefore the November 2021 elections. The progressives could have gone to Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) right away and asked them a simple question: What version of BBB can you vote for? Whatever the answer, progressives could have supported that bill, and gotten it enacted. (Of course, the BBB legislation would still have to be budget-related in order to use reconciliation to pass with 50 votes and avoid the filibuster). Had they used this strategy and gotten BBB passed before November, it is almost certain Democrat Terry McAullife would be the Virginia governor and Joe Biden’s approval ratings would have been much higher then and now. After all, even without passage of BBB, McAullife lost by less than two percent.

Second, on the voting protection rights bill: This legislation is crucial to our democracy to prevent the country from returning to the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow legislation that obstructed African American voters. Many Republican and independent voters agree on the need to override these race-targeted new state laws and prevent partisans to be in charge of counting the vote.

However, Democratic progressives must stop blaming Joe Biden for the failure of this legislation. There is no way that Joe Biden can force — require — Sens. Manchin and Sinema to support a filibuster carve out even just for this voter rights legislation, even if the bill is scaled back to the minimum that both senators would support. Only hard work and persuasion at the grassroots in their home states — West Virginia and Arizona — will do that. The failure of civil rights leaders to appear with President Biden in Georgia this week, including Stacey Abrams, was both counter-productive and disappointing.

And third, read what a rural (probably Trump) voter told the state Senate candidate Maxmin when she walked down a “dirt road leading to a nondescript trailer.” The man who answered the door told her:  “You’re the first person to listen to me. Everyone judges what my house looks like. They don’t bother to knock. I’m grateful that you came. I’m going to vote for you.”

To the national Democratic Party/DNC, to the House and Senate Democratic Campaign Committees, to all Democratic officials at the state and local level — especially in Trump/Red State rural areas: Please read these words and put into place the strategy used by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean when he served as DNC chair from 2005-09:  A 50-state strategy that did not write off most of the “Red State” country.

Let’s follow the example of Maine’s state Sen. Chloe Maxmin. Let’s ask for her advice. Let’s go to rural voters and show them we care. Let’s talk about the issues they care about. Let’s get over being overly politically correct and show greater sensitivity and a willingness to show up and listen to Trump voters who disagree with us on cultural and social issues — but don’t buy Trump’s Big Lie and his lack of humane values and a moral compass too often when he served as president.

Let’s do it — now, for the future, from now on.

Lanny Davis is a co-founder of the Washington D.C. law firm Davis Goldberg Galper and crisis management communications firm, “Trident DMG.”  He is a former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton and a privacy and civil liberties advisor to President George W. Bush.

Tags 50 state strategy Bill Clinton Build Back Better Filibuster Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema

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