Progressives running for Congress had a good night on Tuesday. To discuss the results, the Signal spoke with Aaron Chappell, the political director for Our Revolution, a grassroots member-driven movement that emerged following Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 run.
The group endorsed and organized on behalf of former Austin City Councilman Greg Casar, who won his contest in Austin’s TX-35 by a landslide, as well as state Rep. Jasmine Crockett (TX-30) and immigrant rights attorney Jessica Cisneros (TX-28), who each secured a runoff in their races.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On a federal level y’all endorsed Greg Casar, Jasmine Crockett and Jessica Cisneros. What are your thoughts on this week’s primary in Texas?
We’re thrilled about the results in Greg’s race and about the margin in Jasmine’s race as well. Overall, this is about where we hoped to be.
It would have been amazing obviously to avoid a runoff in Jasmine Crockett’s race, but she dominated in that race so it’s just another hoop to jump through. But it doesn’t seem like a threat to her viability to have a runoff in that race, there were a lot of candidates in that race, it’s reasonable to not hit 50 percent with 9-10 candidates in the race.
Cisneros as well, we knew that was a challenging race and she appears to be making a runoff. That’s a victory in itself, an 18-year incumbent with millions of dollars backed by the fossil fuel industry.
Do you think that says anything that Cisneros’ race was so close? I know Cuellar said he was going to be in full campaign mode, that it would be a blowout. What does the tightness of that race mean to y’all?
The fact that a real progressive like Jessica Cisneros can poll even with an 18-year incumbent that has the backing of Texas’ iconic oil industry, it’s amazing. It’s a tougher district than the other two we’re talking about.
And so props to Jessica Cisneros and to groups like ours that have been pounding the phones and pavement to turn out voters there. Cuellar is one of the worst Democrats in the House. He is blocking the most popular parts of the Democratic agenda with his fight over the Build Back Better Act. We were particularly incensed by his call to support continued subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, which is a critical piece of mitigating climate impacts and of paying for the important measures in that bill. He’s the only Democrat in the House that voted against the Protect the Right to Organize Act that would help level the playing field and get workers the ability to exercise their right to join a union and create better jobs. That’s the kind of thing that hurts the Democratic Party as a whole.
We see in South Texas, trends going — I don’t want to overstate the trends — but there’s been a lot of reporting about trends toward the Republican Party among Latino voters in South Texas. And why not if Henry Cuellar is what they think Democrats represent?
What has Our Revolution’s involvement been in these races so far and what are the plans for the future in the state?
We’re a huge network of people that came out of the Bernie movement. So we’re very focused on turning out our own base and own contacts. We’ve just been emailing, texting, calling in each of those races. We made about 40,000 dials with 50 to 100 volunteers plus sending lots of emails and texts to reach those folks that are part of Our Revolution.
I think that’s a bit unique, we’re not coming in before a race with an ad war. We’re running a ground game and we’re there for the long haul. We have our folks in Texas, we’re not just coming in every two years. We were very involved in local elections last year and then we stay around and work with candidates when they become elected officials.
What is Our Revolution’s overall strategy? It sounds like a lot of ground game. Has it changed at all since 2016?
It’s always been about small donors, we’re grassroots funded, we’re not getting grants or foundation money. We’re getting support from our members. Several of these candidates are our members. Greg Casar is a member, Jasmine Crockett is a member. We have members running on the local level as well.
That focus hasn’t changed. We believe in turning out the base and organizing. We believe that progressive issues are popular winning issues for the Democratic Party. And I think Greg is a great example of the success of that vision.
We’ve seen increasing strength of the progressive movement, increasing viability of progressive candidates. We see people that were inspired by the Bernie movement coming out to run. And again, our own members running for office.
Greg is someone I’ve known personally from the beginning from his days as a labor organizer to city councilman. We’ve had the opportunity to build a deeper bench of candidates, Greg is a perfect example. We supported him at the city council, he’s proven himself as a leader and effective elected on the city council.
Same with Jasmine Crockett, we supported her for statehouse and saw her do a tremendous job, especially last year summer in the voting rights fight. We know she’d be a great member of Congress and a real outspoken progressive.
There’s been time for our movement to mature and deepen our bench of candidates and our base.
I wanted to get your thoughts on the upcoming midterms in Congress. There’s some predictions saying Dems will lose the House. What can Our Revolution and other progressive organizations do to have their elected leaders have more of a voice in the Democratic Party? I remember the Force the Vote movement on Medicare for All, and I’ve seen some folks suggest that maybe progressive Democrats should operate in a more disruptive fashion, kind of like the Tea Party. What’s your thoughts on how progressives should operate as a minority in the House?
I’d love to talk about this because it’s not what progressives have done. Nobody forced the vote, people fought with a reasonable outlook on what was achievable through the Build Back Better Act to expand access to Medicare — not to force the vote on Medicare for All, because we know that we have winnable issues and we want to show that we can win on these issues.
Progressives are the ones who fought the hardest for President Biden’s agenda. It was Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema who blocked the agenda, the so-called moderates that aren’t willing.
Progressives are trying to deliver on the most popular items on the Democratic platform that would help them win in the midterms, and they were stymied. We can’t save the Democratic Party if they can’t pass their own agenda, but we can certainly fight to get more progressives elected for the future.