Five Bold New Progressive Ideas for California’s Next U.S. Senate Race

Photo Credit: Herb Neufeld

If you want to read the five ideas first, skip to the Five Ideas heading below. If you want to know why I wrote this, start here:

The outcome of the 2016 election was politically crushing for me and for many progress-minded activists. But I also have a personal reason to feel disappointed as this year ends.
On a personal note, I’ll also remember 2016 as the year I was forced to face the fact I would not achieve a lifelong ambition I had nurtured since 1968, when I was just 11. It was a goal others may scoff at, but it was important to me.

By 2016, I had planned to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in California. It is a dream that dies hard.
As best as I can recall, my dream of running for the U.S. Senate emerged in the weeks after we lost Bobby Kennedy. I shook RFK’s hand a few years earlier after my mom had chased him down a U.S. Capitol corridor with me in tow. But my hope to one day run to serve in his U.S. Senate didn’t really begin to take shape until I watched Kennedy’s friends and associates gather to bury him, as my mom wept quietly in her bedroom, and the TV networks kept airing his speech to student activists in South Africa. It had a profound impact on me. Hearing RFK’s words left me wanting to move the world as he had, to pick up the banner that had fallen from his hand.

Robert F. Kennedy, Day of Affirmation Speech, June 6, 1966

In the ensuing years I worked as a reporter and media producer, published hundreds of articles and commentaries about social, economic, and political issues, volunteered in scores of political campaigns, made campaign contributions whenever I could, ran for the state legislature and lost, ran for a seat on our community college board and won, served as president of that board, founded a non-profit, and, in the highest honor of my professional life, served for more than five years as a senior policy advisor in the administration of President Barack Obama.
But I couldn’t run for U.S. Senate in 2016. What’s more, there’s no reason to think that will ever change.

Because, like most Californians, I must work for a living and help support my family. Most of us can’t afford to spend two years running fulltime for high public office without any income, no matter how much we care or want to help set our country on a smarter path. That requirement, of not having to worry about personal finances, takes me out of the race.
The same reason why I can’t run for the Senate is also why we almost always get candidates for high office who don’t live like the rest of us. Instead, we end up with candidates who are so wealthy they don’t have to care about money. Or, more often, we get Senate candidates who are members of our professional political elite, the familiar faces who run for one office while they hold another, or are members of an established political family dynasty.

Just for the record, and to satisfy something deep inside that young boy who still recalls a speech about “ripples of hope,” here are some ideas about what a platform from a candidate for the U.S. Senate in California might look like if it came from someone like me.

Five Ideas

1. Use Trade Agreements to Build Worker Power and Reduce Income Inequality

Sponsor legislation that provides a three-year deadline after which the U.S. will withdraw most-favored-nation trading status and suspend all other trade-related preferences with any country that does not fully protect collective bargaining rights for workers. Compliance with this new more worker-friendly rule will be certified by an expert panel comprised of independent labor unions and government labor ministries using openly-defined rules and guidelines enforceable by U.S. law.

2. Dedicate 10 Percent of Copyright Registration Fees to Build and Protect the Shared Digital Commons

Set aside 10 percent of all copyright fees paid to the U.S. Copyright Office to be matched annually by an equal amount drawn from the U.S. general fund to support the use and additional development of open intellectual property licenses to create new forms of shared wealth, including a publicly-owned municipal digital infrastructure, to provide a foundation for accelerated, more equitable progress in culture, science, education and business.

3. Mandate Government Procurement Policies that Favor Worker-Owned Platform Cooperatives

Phase-in a requirement over five years that government-funded contracts to procure goods and services grant substantial vendor preferences to firms organized as worker-owned platform cooperatives. The federal government is the single largest customer for many big multinational corporations, including big tech firms. These purchases are made on behalf of the American public. At present, these public funds fatten the bottom lines of supplier firms whose compensation and subcontracting practices all too often fuel rising levels of income inequality. The time has come to put the enormous purchasing power of our government on the side of worker-owned cooperatives which can act as a brake on income inequality, particularly as more work spreads and is subcontracted to the notoriously insecure gig economy.

4. Mandatory 5-year Prison Sentence for Executives Implicated in Major Corporate Fraud

Pass a new federal law that requires a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence for the CEO, Treasurer, and Chairman of the Board of any firm that agrees to a civil settlement of more than $25 million dollars in any case alleging fraud. No one should be too big to jail. Corporate executives will be less likely to countenance deceitful acts of fraud when they can no longer easily evade personal responsibility for their actions.

5. Legally Impound Federal Income Taxes Payable by Californians Until the Federal Government Protects Equal Access to Voting and Ballot Security Nationwide in Presidential Elections

Voting in Ohio, 2008 Presidential Election Photo Credit Dean Beeler

Sponsor legislation in coordination with state lawmakers that legally impounds future income tax obligations payable to the federal government by California taxpayers in interest-bearing accounts for safekeeping by the state until the federal government properly protects the integrity of voting in presidential elections in all 50 states. In the interim, prohibit IRS collection actions against individual taxpayers who make their payments to the state for safekeeping. We must ensure that no voter is required to wait more than one hour to cast a ballot, except in the most unusual circumstances, and require universal use of paper ballot back-ups that leave a secure audit trail whenever electronic voting terminals are used. California must not continue to stand idly by while the United States of America becomes a banana republic.

Illustration by DonkeyHotey

You didn’t get a chance to vote for ideas like this in the last race for the U.S. Senate in California. You won’t get a chance to vote for them in the next one, either. But you would, if I had a say.

The views expressed are solely those of the author.