What I observed is that when a Republican, Larry Hogan, in 2014 was elected governor of Maryland in a shocking political upset, the Democratic legislature was more willing to pass progressive laws around criminal justice than they were under a Democratic Administration. During Larry Hogan’s tenure as governor, the Democratic legislature had passed a law that allowed returning citizens the right to vote upon release which is a law that was put in the legislature before but always rejected by Democratic Party before Larry Hogan came into office. Democrats also supported during Larry Hogan’s tenure the Justice reinvestment act, a piece of legislation aimed at decreasing the prison population in the state of Maryland. Also under Larry Hogan’s tenure, there has been a move to try to open up civilian participation and oversight of law enforcement.
All of these legislative efforts happened under a Republican governor and a Democratic-Party-dominated legislature. This is a clear example of how Democrats often have to be pushed to actually support laws that affect the condition of Black people. This also demonstrates the leverage that Black people can have over Democrats when there is a not guarantee that Black people will vote for them. I am providing this context to demonstrate that my position on the 2016 election for president of the United States and my approach that the Democratic Party is not born out of a desire for revolutionary purity but it is born out of my own observations of the leverage that Black people have because we decided not to show for the Democrats in Maryland in the 2014 Gubernatorial election.
In my book, “Worse Than Trump: The American Plantation” I explain the importance of the plantation metaphor in making political assessments about the condition of Black people. I reference a quote from Hubert Henry Harrison in 1917 when he said that post-Emancipation, America moved from chattel slavery to wage slavery. Chattel slavery is maintained by brute force while wage slavery is enforced through starvation. The plantation that is in effect today is one that is configured and structured in such a way that to ensure that a person’s livelihood is reliant on the benevolence of a white, wealthy elite and their gatekeepers. Considering the Maryland political sphere, it’s important to ask the questions: “Who are the powerful elite and gatekeepers that maintain the plantation politics in Maryland?
In the excerpt above I mentioned some of the things that Democrats had done to undermine racial justice when there was a Democratic governor. They championed mass arrest (i.e., “tough on crime” measures), denied voting rights to returning citizens, and resisted efforts to address the historic underfunding of HBCU’s. These are important policy positions that the Democrats have taken in the past that go against a commitment to racial justice. It has only been in the last few years, with a Republican governor, that Democrats have felt pressured into supporting efforts that address issues of racial justice. One of the central figures of the Democratic Party machinery is Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. He has been an obstacle to meaningful police reform, bail reform, and many other criminal justice issues. Theresa Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educator’s Association, during her bid for chair of the Prince George’s County Democratic State Central Committee, literally brought a chain during her presentation to the members of the State Central Committee to symbolize the control that party leaders like Senate President Mike Miller has over the Democratic Party. The Maryland Democratic Party plantation has Mike Miller as one of its top leaders. An important question in light of this is: How do we disrupt the dynamic of the Democratic Party plantation?
There are corporate interests in Maryland that have traditionally been the power center of the Democratic Party establishment. The resistance to raising the minimum wage, the resistance to paid sick leave, the support for a crime bill of 2018, etc. are the kinds of stances that Democratic Party leadership has taken on behalf of the corporate sector. For instance, the bail bonds industry used its money to finance its support of State Senator Bobby Zirkin in an attempt to roll back reforms to the pre-trial system in Maryland in 2017. Bail bondsmen generated $265 million between 2011-2016 in revenue primarily from poor people in Maryland. They were able to spend thousands of dollars to buy the support of leading Democratic legislators. This made for a ferocious fight (fortunately for us, we were able to beat the bail industry with the support of the community) on an issue that for Democrats who claim to be champions of the poor should have been a no-brainer.
Similarly, Democrats felt the need to pass a crime bill with mandatory minimums during an election year in response to the pressure from the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC). The GBC is an organization compromised of the various corporate leaders in the Baltimore region. They were one of the main drivers of the Crime Bill of 2018 and were responding to their predominately white corporate base which was more concerned with their employees feeling safe to work in Baltimore than they were concerned about the communities that have to live with violence and police corruption on a regular basis. Even though there is a wing of the Democratic Party in Maryland that seeks to push against the centrist, moderate, corporate Democratic Party machine, the leadership is beholden to the corporate sector.
The power that the corporate sector has is its ability to starve people. The ability to impact people’s livelihood is an essential method used to control the political landscape. As Hubert Henry Harrison describes in the quote mentioned above, we live in a society structured on wage slavery. Corporate donors can use their money to produce spokespeople for their interest. The people that go against their core interest are punished with financial and political starvation.
With the upcoming General Election, we have an opportunity to disrupt this Democratic Party plantation in Maryland.
Larry Hogan has done a good job of crafting his public image as a moderate, non-partisan politician. This has made it difficult to frame him in the mold of Donald Trump. It is important that we see beyond the public persona and begin to look at the larger political dynamics at play. In the Democratic Party primary, many of the major institutional figures of the Democratic Party – Martin O’Malley, Mike Miller, and others – supported Rushern Baker as the Democratic Party nominee for Governor. These are all folks that have powerful roles in maintaining the Democratic Party plantation. Ben Jealous is not connected to the Democratic Party machine. While his leadership with the NAACP required certain relationships to the national Democrat Party network, he is not beholden to the Maryland Democratic Party plantation politics. Ben Jealous is running on a platform of fighting mass incarceration, increasing the minimum wage, and facilitating universal healthcare. These are policies that are disruptive to the Democratic Party core. What we are seeing during this current General Election season is a Democratic Party that has not put its support behind Jealous, and in some cases has undermined his ability to win the election. There are Democratic State Senators that are campaigning in support of Republican Governor Larry Hogan because Ben Jealous is “too extreme.” Ben Jealous, as the Democratic Party nominee not supported by the establishment, represents an opportunity to disrupt the Democratic Party plantation. He is not beholden to the corporate sector that has exerted so much control over the Democrats.
We have an opportunity to push Maryland to have a Democratic Party that is more accountable to the grassroots and less beholden to the corporate sector. We have to make intelligent political decisions with the concept of the very real Democratic Party political plantation in mind. It is clear to me that centrist and corporate Democrats are quietly supporting Larry Hogan because electing Ben Jealous, who is campaigning on a platform that is most responsive to the needs of Black people, will disrupt the Democratic Party Plantation. A vote for Ben Jealous is a vote that will take Black people one step closer to being able to exercise the level of political independence that is necessary to empower our community.