Tuesday, December 11, 2018


words by Charles Brooks


Photo credit: Onasill ~ Bill - 72m
 When the smoke cleared after the 2018 elections   finally ended – there are still zero black governors. The last African American elected to the governors’ mansion was Deval Patrick in Massachusetts, and that was ten years ago.  The challenge for black candidates for state wide offices like governor is building a campaign that also appeals beyond their local base to white moderate Democrats throughout the state. Nevertheless, the 2018 elections witnessed history in a sense in that not one but three blacks – including one woman - ran as the Democratic Party’s nominee for the Governor’s seat.  Although all three lost their elections, there’s some comfort to be taken from the elections results and exit poll data. 

Opposition to the Trump presidency has clearly translated into a more diverse pool of candidates. Since the 2016 election, there’s been such a surge in electoral politics activism – an opposition that has clearly translated into a diverse pool of candidates running in the 2018 elections on all levels of government – local, state and federal offices.

In Maryland, Ben Jealous not only took on a popular incumbent Republican governor but one with millions of cash on hand who managed to find support among Democrats. His progressive campaign garnered endorsements from Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, as well as labor unions such as Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Maryland State Education Association. Jealous campaigned throughout the state of Maryland delivering his progressive message for $15 minimum wage, Medicare-for-all, the legalization and taxation of marijuana and tuition-free college.

Jealous was defeated with 43.5% of over two million votes cast. The reasons for his defeat comes down to the lack of both financial and political support.  For example, a Washington Post poll taken a month before the election revealed 35% of Democrats and 64% of independents support Hogan over Jealous along with 91% of Republicans. In addition there were reports of Jealous’ paltry coffers with less than $400,000 on hand – refusing to take money from large corporations.

In defeat, Jealous was able to list the progressive gains in Maryland since his campaign began with free community college tuition that is now a reality, the removal of Roger Taney’s statue along with defeating the forces of fracking from setting up shop in Maryland.

The gubernatorial races in both Florida and Georgia however draws a sharp contrast when compared to Maryland.  For one, these two states haven’t elected an Democratic Governor in the last 20 years. President Trump managed to win both states in 2016 and endorsed both of the Republican candidates. Furthermore, both Florida and Georgia have stringent restrictions to voting rights with vote suppression measures.  Yet, despite of the odds stacked against both of the black candidates for Governor with considering the racist activities and voter suppression tactics occurring before and during election day, their progressive campaigns apparently resonated – even in Trump country.  They both lost in very close elections that leaves one to think would the results be any different if every vote was indeed counted. For nearly two weeks, there was a flurry of lawsuits to ensure every vote gets counted despite legally mandated deadlines. In the final count, Abrams got 48.8% of the votes cast, losing her race by less than 55, 000 votes while Gillum lost by a razor thin margin of less than 33, 000 with 49.2 % of the vote.

Just as in Maryland, there are signs of encouragement in defeat. For example, along with increased voter turnout, the 2018 elections witnessed elevated civic engagement, and approved ballot measure to restore voting rights to ex-felons.

Exit poll data for Florida and Georgia reveals when compared to the 2014 elections, the 2018 elections indicated jumps in voter turnout that translated into gains from independents, liberals and moderates. With two years remaining before the 2020 elections, only time will tell if the 2018 elections can finally serve as a model for candidates to unapologetically highlight progressive causes minimum wage, voting rights, and reforms to criminal justice, health care and education – knowing these issues are increasingly gaining traction with voters who either resist or embrace the socialist labels.

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