DSCC Raked In Cash From Health Care and Fossil Fuel Lobbyists Before Endorsing Hickenlooper


Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call/AP Images

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding on August 9, 2019.

Sludge produces investigative journalism on lobbying and money in politics. The American Prospect is re-publishing this article.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee upset local Colorado party officials last week when it endorsed former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s bid in a crowded, open primary.

Although Hickenlooper has won two statewide races in Colorado, the moderate Democrat recently ended a lackluster campaign for president, where he failed to register in the polls as he railed against progressive policy priorities like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Just last year, Colorado Democrats won significant victories running to the left on health care and the environment.

“We met with multiple candidates and endorsed John Hickenlooper, a successful mayor and governor who won statewide twice, and is far and away in the strongest position to beat Cory Gardner next fall,” DSCC communications director Lauren Passalacqua told Sludge and MapLight.

Meanwhile, health-care and fossil fuel industry lobbyists raised almost $1.5 million for the DSCC during the first six months of the year, according to a review of campaign finance and lobbying records by Sludge and MapLight. The lobbyists’ clients include major health insurance and pharmaceutical companies whose profits are threatened by the prospect of a universal public health-care system, as well as oil and gas companies and utilities whose businesses depend upon Congress refusing to pass meaningful climate change mitigation measures.

While lobbyist fundraising only accounted for a fraction of the $28 million the DSCC raised in the first half of the year, it fits into a broader pattern of Democratic Party committees cozying up to corporate interests. In April, Sludge and MapLight reported that corporate lobbyists raising money for the House Democrats’ campaign arm had doubled their bundling from the previous election cycle.

The political action committee of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a law and lobbying firm with offices in Washington, D.C. and Denver, has been the DSCC’s top corporate lobbyist bundler this year, raising $292,000 for the committee. Hickenlooper’s former chief of staff, Doug Friednash, leads the firm’s national political strategies group.

Brownstein Hyatt’s clients include health insurance giant Anthem, electric utility Exelon, and a host of drugmakers, including Johnson & JohnsonAbbVie and Amgen. (On Monday, a judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a fine of $572 million for fueling the opioid crisis in Oklahoma.)

The firm has also lobbied for Purdue Pharma, a company that has been blamed for the nation’s opioid crisis. Another client, Ardent Health Services, is a member of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a dark money organization created by the health-care industry to defeat Medicare for All. Brownstein Hyatt is also a member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and has lobbied for at least a dozen oil and gas companies during the last decade.

Holland & Knight’s political action committee has raised $185,000 for the DSCC this year. The firm represents the Edison Electric Institute, a trade organization for electric utility companies, and coal giant Peabody Energy. It has also lobbied for the Florida Hospital Association and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, which are state affiliates of organizations that oppose Medicare for All

Michael Smith, a principal and director at Cornerstone Government Affairs, has bundled $172,000. According to Cornerstone’s website, Smith has been a member of the DSCC’s “Majority Trust Legacy Circle,” a special category of VIP donors, since 2008. He lobbies for oil company Citgo and recently registered to lobby for ExxonMobil.

The Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld PAC raised $100,000 for the DSCC, while its senior policy advisor, Caryn Dyson, bundled $49,000 for the committee. Dyson lobbies for Gilead Sciences, a company that has drawn scrutiny from Congress for the increasing cost of its drug to treat HIV infection. She’s also lobbied for the Healthcare Leadership Council, a health-care industry trade organization that opposes Medicare for All.

Other clients of Akin Gump include Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a lobbying group for drugmakers that opposes Medicare for AllMerck & Co.ExxonMobil, and Chevron.

Jonathon Jones, a partner at Peck Madigan Jones, bundled $84,000 for the DSCC. Another lobbyist for the firm, Timothy Molino, raised $45,000. They both lobby for Anthem, the insurer, and PhRMA. Jones also lobbies for drug companies MerckAmgen, and Celgene, as well as the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and the National Association of Health Underwriters, which opposes Medicare for All.

Additional lobbyist bundlers for the DSCC include:

“Those who contribute do so to support a Democratic Senate and any speculation or insinuation otherwise is inaccurate,” said Passalacqua, the DSCC’s communications director.

Ryan, a former Citigroup lobbyist who previously worked for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told Sludge/MapLight that his firm holds an annual fundraiser for the DSCC. The donations he bundles grant him and other lobbyists access to politicians. The contributions “give people the opportunity to make their case with people who often don’t have a lot of free time,” he said.

Ryan said it was “hard to say” if any of his firm’s clients are opposed to Medicare for All or the Green New Deal, although two of his clients—the Federation of American Hospitals and BIO—are part of an expressly anti-Medicare for All coalition. Ryan said he’s never personally lobbied against either policy.

“I will support Hickenlooper,” he said. “My assumption is [the DSCC] goes based on polling and data on who has the best chance at winning. It’s an expensive state, and he’s taking on an incumbent.”

Hickenlooper has long been an ally of the oil and gas industry. A former oil geologist, Hickenlooper oversaw a massive expansion of oil production as governor. He was also a cheerleader for natural gas development, a process that releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more harmful to climate change than carbon dioxide. Hickenlooper even drank hydraulic fracturing fluid in an attempt to prove the process is safe.

“John has a strong track record of expanding access to quality, affordable health care and combating climate change, and his plans to continue doing so are clear,” Hickenlooper spokesperson Jacque Montgomery said in an email. 

There are 13 other contestants in the Colorado Democratic primary, including former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is supporting Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. 

“Let’s keep the @dscc OUT and the #GreenNewDeal & #MedicareForAll IN,” Romanoff tweeted on Tuesday. “I’m running to combat the climate crisis, secure health care for all, and build an economy that works for everyone. If that makes some party bosses & powerbrokers uncomfortable, so be it.”

This story is a collaboration between Sludge and MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks money’s influence on politics.

Charles Manson as a Symbol of—Actually, Not Much


Barbara Munker/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Charles Manson doesn’t represent the apex of hippiedom, or the dark side of the ’60s dream, any more than Sweeney Todd represents the tastes and attitudes of Victorian-era English barbers.

Strange as it is to say, Charles Manson has had quite an extensive pop-culture afterlife. Recently, he and his infamous cult served as an important subplot in Quentin Tarantino’s new film Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood. He’s also been popping up at various points in the pop-cultural zeitgeist: Fictionalized versions of him appear in TV shows such as Mindhunter and Aquarius, and in Emma Cline’s excellent novel The Girls. Karina Longworth’s superbly researched You Must Remember This podcast, which chronicles lost or forgotten Hollywood history, includes a series of episodes exploring Manson’s peripheral connections to the industry. There are plenty of amateur and professional documentaries analyzing his life and crimes, and he was interviewed by several prominent journalists (as well as Geraldo Rivera) over the years.

Then there are the biographies and true-crime books, including one by the lawyer who put him away, that explain his case in exhaustive detail. His songs have been covered by famous musicians, and back in the ’90s he occasionally appeared on T-shirts. I can think of a few times when he’s been used as a punch line in various comedy bits. It’s fair to say that at this point pretty much every aspect of his lurid life story has been thoroughly told and retold through different lenses. There really isn’t much left to uncover about him—and truth be told, there wasn’t really all that much there to begin with. The issue isn’t necessarily the quality of any of these particular examples—some of them are quite thoughtful and multifaceted in their own right—but the quantity of his appearances in pop culture is a little troubling.

The first problem with all this sympathy for a devil is that all of this attention bestows on Manson a certain measure of the fame he always craved. It also unintentionally indulges in a certain aspect of his shtick, which was to subtly suggest that he had more depth than he really possessed. Part of what helped him to create his cult in the first place was his fairly ordinary obsession with fame and pop culture. Who hasn’t wished to be a rock star or celebrity at one point or another? Manson continually stoked a murderously distorted version of that normal desire in some gullible, alienated youngsters, and demonstrated equal amounts of ruthlessness and cluelessness about what it meant and how to accomplish it. In a certain sense, he’s no less of an amoral social climber than Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, who doesn’t waste any time having moral qualms about killing his way into hanging out with the beautiful people. It’s a common American trait to want fame and fortune but not have a very clear idea about what to do with it if it’s ever attained. When you get right down to it, Manson’s truest motivations were really about as banal as evil gets.

On some level, we are all intrigued by the dark side. Centuries of mythology and literature are full of dynamic villains who flout convention and shatter the social contract to get what they’re after. Satan famously gets the best lines in Paradise Lost, and lots more people tend to want to check out Dante’s Inferno than his travels to purgatory or paradise. But one thing that every great writer knows is that the bad guys need to have something interesting about their characters, a compelling motivation or psychological complexity or dark eloquence that keeps them interesting. There really isn’t any of that going on with Manson.

Sure, Manson had a miserable and brutal childhood and was increasingly warped by spending most of his life in prison. But that only made his later violent inclinations even more textbook. Manson was decidedly not a criminal mastermind, as the pathetic tale of his misdeeds proves. Nor was he a talented but misunderstood artist—just listen to his songs for two minutes and you’ll be quickly disabused of that notion. And he was hardly any kind of radical or revolutionary leader, no matter what he tried to tell himself as he sat around playing Beatles records backwards.

The biggest problem with how we talk about Manson is ultimately categorical. He is often lazily used as a kind of easy framing device to talk about larger cultural issues and generational shifts, usually involving some hand-wringing clichés about “the death of the ’60s,” in the mode of Joan Didion’s declaration that “the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community.”

This is plainly ridiculous.

Charles Manson doesn’t represent the apex of hippiedom, or the dark side of the ’60s dream, any more than Sweeney Todd represents the tastes and attitudes of Victorian-era English barbers. There were plenty of scruffy loners with stoned raps about “The Man” wandering around Haight-Ashbury at the time, but it’s not as if they went off on killing sprees at Grateful Dead concerts. Elevating Charles Manson into any kind of representative generational figure is absurdly hyperbolic.

In truth, it wasn’t Manson or Altamont that did the counterculture in as an effective force for change. It was Richard Nixon’s massive re-election in 1972. Though the Watergate break-in soon proved to be his undoing, he did win 49 states in one of the biggest landslides in American history. And it wasn’t because he found the vital center, either.

If we’re talking about the dark impulses of an era rearing their ugly head, our object of scrutiny should be Nixon’s re-election campaign, which pushed the culture wars as far as they could go. Painting poor George McGovern as the candidate of “acid, amnesty, and abortion,” and linking Democrats to avatars of depravity was clearly intended to extend the fear and loathing in which Nixon’s target audience held dissidents to his more garden-variety political opponents. Several decades later, we can see how this set the stage for a very different president’s similar culture-war scapegoating. In a sense, treating Manson as a symbol of any general cultural drift unintentionally echoes the demagogy on which Nixon depended.

Waving aside the haze of the pseudo-philosophizing that Manson built up around himself about his ultimate meaning, motives, and impact, it’s clear how little there really was to the man himself. Manson was merely a creep who happened to use basic manipulation and stoned bullshit on already vulnerable kids, and who ended up killing an alarming number of people for no real reason at all. To say any more about him at this point, to keep analyzing him or his place in history, or to make him into a meaningful cultural signifier of any kind merely bolsters his grandiose idea of himself and reinforces how his ghastly image can be used to demonize otherwise fairly harmless folks. As a cultural frame, Manson is empty, except for whatever is projected onto him by others.

Maybe the best way to think about Charles Manson is not at all.

The Worker’s Friend? Here’s How Trump Has Waged His War on Workers


Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Workers listen to President Donald Trump speak at the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas. 

When it comes to wowing workers, Donald Trump is an absolute magician. Through some mysterious sorcery, he has convinced millions of American workers that he is their true friend, fighting hard for them, even though he and his appointees have taken one anti-worker action after another—dozens of them.

Yes, it is perplexing to many of us that so many workers are still wowed by President Trump even when his administration has rolled back overtime protections for millions of workers and made it easier for Wall Street firms to rip off workers’ 401(k)’s (to cite just two of many such actions).

A labor leader recently explained to me, with considerable dismay, how Trump performs his magic on workers. Day after day, Trump pounds and pummels China over trade, and his macho trade war often dominates the headlines. That, this labor leader said, convinces many workers that Trump is their guy: While previous presidents refused to stand up to China, he alone has bravely launched this trade war to make sure that China stops cheating America—and American workers. The media trains its spotlight on this trade war day after day, while paying scant attention to the continuous stream of anti-worker and anti-union actions that Trump and his administration have taken. Not surprisingly, millions of have little knowledge of Trump’s flood of actions undermining workers.

I once went to a Broadway theater to see a magician famed for his card tricks—and that has helped me understand how Trump works his magic. With his strong voice and with one hand in the spotlight, that magician dazzled and did amazing tricks. But with his other hand, which was in the dark, he performed all but invisible sleight-of-hand that made those tricks and successes possible.

That’s Trump: With one hand he enchants the crowd, while the other hand, outside the spotlight, steadily pushes down and squeezes down on workers day after day.

Think tanks and worker advocates have compiled lengthy lists of Trump’s anti-worker and anti-union actions—some more than 50 items long. Herewith, a representative sample:

Trump has effectively scrapped the “fiduciary” rule that required Wall Street firms to act in the best interests of workers and retirees in handling their 401(k)s—a move that could cost many workers tens of thousands of dollars. Trump erased a rule that extended overtime pay to millions more workers, a move that will deprive many workers of thousands of dollars per year. While Trump boasted that he is the best friend of miners, his Labor Department pushed to relax rules for safety inspections in coal mines, but was stopped by a federal circuit court. Trump has made it easier to award federal contracts to companies that are repeat violators of wage laws, sexual harassment laws, racial discrimination laws or laws protecting workers right to unionize.

Trump has reversed a ban on a toxic pesticide, chlorpyrifos, that causes acute reactions in farmworkers and does neurological damage to children. He has greatly relaxed requirements for employers to report workplace injuries, making it harder for workers to know how dangerous their workplace is and what hazards need correcting. His administration is hurting gay, lesbian and bisexual workers by urging the Supreme Court to rule that federal anti-discrimination laws don’t cover them, which would give employers a green light to fire them. His administration has rolled back rules that sought to prevent payday lenders from preying on financially strapped workers.

Trump has repeatedly pummeled federal employees—he precipitated a 35-day government shutdown that left many dedicated federal workers desperate, without paychecks. He ordered a pay freeze for federal workers, only to have Congress reverse that move. His administration has also maneuvered in myriad ways to weaken federal employee unions.

In a bizarre, pro-corporate twist, Trump’s Labor Department is even allowing many employers who violate minimum wage, overtime and other wage laws to avoid any penalty by volunteering to investigate themselves. In a blow to workers of color and women, the Trump administration scrapped a rule that let the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission collect pay data from large corporations so it could obtain insights into possible pay discrimination by gender and race.

Trump’s appointees have eased safety requirements for oil and gas drilling workers. His Administration has even relaxed child labor rules, allowing 16-and 17-year-olds who work in nursing homes and hospitals to operate power-driven patient lifts without supervision— even though thousands of experienced adult health-care workers get injured each year moving and lifting patients.

The list goes on and on.

As I explain in my new book, Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, Trump has done next to nothing to make good on his campaign promise to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure—a promise that had excited many workers. Nor has he lifted a finger to raise the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased in a decade, the longest stretch without such an increase since Congress first enacted the federal minimum wage more than 80 years ago. Nor has Trump done anything to enact a paid sick days law or to increase the earned income tax credit. But, of course, he pushed repeatedly to gut the Affordable Care Act, a move that would jeopardize millions of workers and their families by leaving many more Americans without health coverage.

Trump’s appointees to the federal courts and federal agencies have moved aggressively to undercut workers and unions. Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, cast the deciding vote in the Epic Systems case, which went far to gut workers’ ability to enforce their rights against wage theft, sexual harassment or racial discrimination. That ruling gives companies the court’s blessing to prohibit workers from bringing class action lawsuits and instead lets employers require workers to resolve their grievances through closed-door arbitrations, which, according to numerous studies, greatly favor employers. Gorsuch also delivered the deciding vote in the 5-4 Janus v. AFSCME case—the most important anti-union decision in decades. In that 2018 decision, the court’s conservative majority ruled that teachers, police officers and other government workers can’t be required to pay any fees or dues to the unions that bargain for them.

Trump’s National Labor Relations Board has also moved to weaken unions and undercut workers’ ability to band together. By making it far harder to define companies like McDonald’s as joint employers, the NLRB has made it far more difficult for workers employed by subcontractors and franchised companies to unionize

Trump’s NLRB appointees have said gig economy workers like Uber and Lyft drivers should be considered independent contractors and not employees, thus blocking any possibility for them to unionize under federal law. And now Trump’s NLRB appointees seem intent on stripping graduate student workers at private universities of their right to unionize and bargain collectively.

Nor has Trump hidden his disdain for unions and union leaders. Last September, he attacked—and insulted—AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a tweet, writing “some of the things he said [on television] were so against the working men and women of our country and the success of the U.S. itself, that is easy to see why unions are doing so poorly.” In another anti-union tweet, Trump absurdly blamed Dave Green, the president of the UAW local in Lordstown, Ohio, for the closing of G.M.’s huge auto assembly plant there, even though no one worked harder than Green to keep that plant open. In yet another ugly tweet Trump savaged Chuck Jones, the president of a steelworkers local in Indianapolis. Jones had criticized Trump for not making good on his promise to save all the jobs at a Carrier plant there after Carrier announced plans to move the Indianapolis operations to Mexico. Trump wrote that Jones “has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!” (I have interviewed Richard Trumka, Dave Green and Chuck Jones many times, and I can assure you that they have fought very hard to lift and defend American workers.)

Trump repeatedly boasts that he’s created the “best economy ever”—although the day Trump was inaugurated, the economy was on third base, and Trump thought he had hit a triple. Under President Obama, the unemployment rate fell from a peak of 10.0 percent to 4.8 percent when Trump took office. Under Trump the jobless rate has fallen to 3.7 percent. And while Trump has roared about how great the economy has done under him—it was goosed slightly by $1.5 trillion in unnecessary tax cuts to corporations and the rich— average monthly job growth was higher in Obama’s second term (217,000 a month) than it has been under Trump (191,000).

Any president who cared the least bit about workers would have demanded that business agree to something—for instance, a federal law that guarantees paid parental leave and paid sick days—in return for the trillion dollar tax cut he bestowed on corporations at a time when they already had record profits.

Trump appears to have made good on one promise to workers: that he would be a warrior on trade, that he would fight to improve Nafta and battle against China’s trade violations. That, however, is somewhat illusory, because Trump has fought his trade battles so unwisely and ineffectively. One problem is that in negotiating a revised Nafta, Trump utterly failed to do the most basic thing that U.S. unions were demanding: ensure that Nafta had an effective enforcement mechanism to stop Mexico and Mexican companies from violating workers’ rights and union rights.

As for China, it was good that a president finally stood up to China’s stealing trade secrets, demanding technology transfers, and improperly subsidizing its industries. But every American worker should realize that Donald Trump has blundered hugely in his trade war with China. As any ten-year-old could tell you, if you’re going to go up against a powerful opponent, it’s best to have some strong allies line up at your side. To maximize pressure on China, to maximize the chances that a powerful country like China would make concessions, Trump should have lined up America’s traditional allies—the European Union, Canada, Japan, Australia—to join the U.S. in pressuring China. Instead, Trump has needlessly angered and alienated nearly all our allies, compelling the U.S. to take on China all by itself. As a result of Trump’s strategic blunder, China’s retaliatory countermeasures are doing far more harm to America’s farmers, workers, consumers and industries than they would have if Trump had lined up a broad alliance of countries against China. Had he done that, China could not have singled out America’s farmers, workers and consumers for harm.

Indeed, Trump—who held himself out as a champion of workers during the 2016 campaign —seems close to single-handedly pushing the industrial world into recession, which would, of course, do serious harm to workers in the U.S. and around the world. With a friend like that, America’s workers need no enemies.

How Immigrant Workers Are Fighting Deportation Raids


Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo

U.S. immigration officials raided several Mississippi food processing plants on August 7 and signaled that the early-morning strikes were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as employees.

This week, scores of employers throughout the U.S. received “no-match letters” from the Social Security Administration, informing them that workers employed by them have invalid Social Security numbers and may be undocumented immigrants.

“People were just so afraid to leave the house that they didn’t go to work,” says Cal Soto, workers’ rights coordinator at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). “This is a huge economic hit to the finances of many immigrants and immigrant communities.”

This year alone, the Trump administration has already sent over 500,000 no-match letters to employers. Coming on the heels of a massive raid on poultry plants in Mississippi that saw more than 600 immigrants detained, the letters sent shock waves through the immigrant community over fears that raids may be coming soon to their workplaces.

“These no-match letters are like a silent raid,” says Soto. “It makes the boss even stronger, which makes workers a lot more vulnerable to all kinds of abuses.”

Immigrant worker advocates say that the effect of these workplace raids and no-match letters is sowing a sense of fear, preventing many workers from getting involved in organizing. Many advocates speculated that the poultry plants raided in Mississippi were targeted because workers there had been involved in organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers, unionizing two of the seven raided poultry plants and winning a $3.75 million sexual harassment settlement.

“We’ve always thought there are risks when you’re a person who fights for your rights and their community in terms of social, economic, and racial rights. But at this time, raising our voices is also a motive for retaliation. We’ve heard that’s what happened in Mississippi,” says Rocio Aguilar, an organizer with the Congress of Day Laborers in New Orleans.

Paradoxically, immigrant worker advocates warn that workplace organizing is the only protection that immigrant workers have against the traumatic effects of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. Without connections to worker advocacy organizations, many workers are unaware of their rights in the event of a workplace raid.

“The most important thing you can do in these situations is not panic, not to hand over any of your documents or say anything incriminating,” says Cristobal Gutierrez, a staff attorney with the immigrant worker center Make the Road New York. “If you know what to do ahead of time, you won’t panic, and you will reduce the chance of doing things that increase your chances of getting deported.”

Beyond training on how to prepare for ICE raids, being involved in a worker organization gives workers additional legal avenues to fight back. Some immigrant workers have been able to successfully fight deportation by claiming that the raid on their workplace is in retaliation for organizing.

“If we don’t have any organizing going on or a group where workers come together, you aren’t going to have the ability to bring in resources or allies when a raid does happen,” says Cal Soto. “People think about organizing as coming after a raid, but we need to think of a way to get that solidarity and network of support first.”

Some unions are starting to lead in training workers on how to fight raids. More than 30 national unions, including the Painters Union, UNITE HERE, the Ironworkers, the Bricklayers, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Teamsters, and Laborers have launched the Working Families United coalition to get unions to focus more on immigrant rights organizing.

“Our union is a union of hard-working people, which includes immigrants; and we stand with all immigrant workers, who are trying to support their families and better their lives,” says Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a division of the UFCW, whose union has developed a training program and rapid response to help workers in the event of ICE raids.

Other unions, like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), have begun developing curriculum and rapid-response teams to help children traumatized by the effects that raids have on their parents.

“As educators, we know that separation from a parent causes trauma for a child that can impede learning opportunities and social and emotional health,” says Jackson (Mississippi) Federation of Teachers President Akemi Stout, who was part of an AFT emergency response group that helped respond to the raids in Mississippi this month. “Our members will do their part as frontline protectors of students.”

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network’s Cal Soto says that while unions are starting to step up to the plate to defend immigrants, the bulk of immigrant worker organizing is still being done by underfunded worker centers and immigrant rights groups like his.

“I think the unions need to be more at the front of this,” says Soto. “If immigrants saw unions out front leading on more of these issues, it would do a lot to encourage immigrants not to be scared.”

While many immigrant workers are skipping work and plunging into an economic catastrophe because of fears of the raids, immigrant worker rights advocates say that workers involved in organizing are less scared about going to work

“New members or members who stopped coming for a while or who aren’t as consistently involved are the ones who at this moment are feeling the most terrorized,” says Aguilar of the Congress of Day Laborers. “We’ve got to push them to move forward.”

Fine Purdue Pharma? No. Nationalize It? Now We’re Talking.


Jeff Chiu/AP Photo

Purdue Pharma, makers of the market-leading opioid OxyContin, faces more than 2,000 lawsuits from states and localities across the country.

A judge’s ruling in Oklahoma, granting the state a $572 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson for its role marketing heavily addictive opioids, actually sent company stock up initially, though it’s fallen off since then. The award was far less than Oklahoma asked for, covering only one year of costs for the state to combat the opioid crisis rather than 30.

But Johnson & Johnson was not a major player in the opioid crisis, which has claimed over 400,000 lives since 1999. Its painkillers Duragesic and Nucynta were not the most popular and widely used. The verdict, the first against an opioid manufacturer in the U.S., really had its greatest implications for Purdue Pharma, makers of market-leading opioid OxyContin, which faces more than 2,000 lawsuits from states and localities across the country.

Purdue paid Oklahoma $270 million to settle its role in the crisis last spring, and this week’s verdict showed that figure to be woefully inadequate. If Oklahoma can get $572 million from a less-heralded manufacturer for opioid deception, then Purdue, the poster child for such shenanigans, is cooked.

Sensing this, Purdue tried to sue for peace, offering $10 to $12 billion for a “global settlement” of all claims. The last time we heard the term “global settlement,” it resulted in a $25 billion deal in 2012 with five mortgage companies for mass fraud during the foreclosure crisis. The actual benefit to homeowners bore no resemblance to that headline number, the companies were able to easily minimize their losses, and no executive saw the inside of a jail cell or had to return a penny of their bonuses. Law enforcers must do better this time; they can hardly do worse.

The Purdue case is one where individual accountability is certainly warranted. Emails of members of the billionaire Sackler family pushing for higher doses and more sales of OxyContin, even years after learning of the drug’s addictive risks, are damning. Even at the end, the Sacklers brainstormed how to move into addiction treatment services, in a brazen attempt to profit from the very pain they caused.

Elizabeth Warren has already characterized anything that doesn’t result in personal hardship for the architects of the opioid crisis as not good enough. Considering that a drug pusher selling small amounts of marijuana would almost certainly go behind bars, a pusher at a far higher and more deadly level who happens to wear a suit to work should see a more proportional response.

If there will be no jail, then the fine should be far higher. The prospect of a global settlement for $10 billion is laughable, given that a state with a little over 1 percent of the population got $572 million in a case against an opioid manufacturer with far less impact. Moreover, Purdue executives, in particular the Sackler family, should be personally liable for whatever transpires.

One possible outcome is that the Sackler family assets could be seized and placed into a trust, with the fines paid out of that. This obviously doesn’t create the full deterrent effect that jail time would. But the structure that the Sacklers have proposed could yield benefits that might provide a solution to the crisis of high prescription drug costs, as well as opioids.

The Sacklers have proposed kicking in $3 billion to settle claims against Purdue, and selling off Mundipharma, the company’s global subsidiary, to raise another $1.5 billion. They’ve also floated giving up control of the company, moving it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and emerging with Purdue as a “public beneficiary trust” corporation. All profits from drug sales from the new Purdue Pharma would go to the plaintiffs in the cases: cities and states, mainly. Addiction treatment drugs that Purdue is in the midst of developing would be free to the public.

This effectively nationalizes Purdue, making it a company run for the public benefit. The larger the fine, the more years that Purdue could be run in this fashion. And one vision of this could be a publicly run drug company that identifies failures in the prescription drug market and seeks to remedy them.

Giving out a free version of naloxone, the nasal spray that reverses opioid overdoses, is a no-brainer. But what if, for the sake of argument, the new public beneficiary trust company decides to manufacture generic insulin and sell it virtually at cost? The public benefit of intervening in the insulin market, where millions of diabetes sufferers stand at risk from soaring prices, would be enormous.

What if the new Purdue became a low-cost generic drug competitor to hundreds of excessively priced drugs that are off patent but remain potent in the marketplace? What if its new corporate charter banned it from making “pay for delay” deals with brand-name manufacturers, who pay off generic companies to delay their entry into the market?

What if the new Purdue became the repository for executive action from the next president, who would have the power to use “march-in rights” to seize the patent of an overpriced drug created with public funding (virtually every new treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the past decade used public funding of some kind) and license it to a competitor? Purdue could be re-envisioned as a discount competitor to every mammoth pharmaceutical company seeking to rip off the public. This would fulfill its public beneficiary mission, and the lower the profit margins, the more years that this could be maintained.

Of course, a slower trickle of profits means less up-front money for the various plaintiffs in the opioid cases. But the settlement could be structured in such a way as to alleviate that as well. The government could give no-interest loans for the full headline amount to cities and states, so they can initiate their anti-opioid programs immediately. Then Purdue profits would flow into the federal Treasury to offset that outlay.

Global settlements with corporate offenders have not worked out recently for America. But in this case, law enforcers could create personal accountability for the opioid crisis, and structure a system that could not only prevent opioid deaths, but prevent deaths from lack of access to prescription drugs more generally. It’s time to think creatively about these kinds of options.

Hurricane Dorian Spares Puerto Rico, but Trump Does Not



Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press

A woman poses for a photo after the passing of Tropical Storm Dorian in San Juan. There remains widespread doubt among residents and the wider Puerto Rican diaspora that the island is ready to handle an active hurricane season. 

Trump used Hurricane Dorian to launch another series of reflexively puerile insults against Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, and the island’s mainland-enabled corruption. Days earlier, science writers lunged at their keyboards to respond to news of the president’s query about breaking up the storms with nuclear weapons—a discredited idea that occasionally resurfaces during hurricane season. This all before an inch of rain from the storm hit Puerto Rico.

One man died preparing for the hurricane; the island escaped severe damage and its infrastructure was not tested. Still, some on Twitter disputed official reports about power outages—the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority claimed that that service was “better than a normal day.” The storm is moving toward Florida and is currently expected to make landfall as a major hurricane.

Dorian did lay bare more evidence of Trump’s continuing abuses of power and the inability of Congress to confront and end these repeated eruptions of presidential malpractice. Only Trump could manage to link his administration’s abuses of migrants in southern border concentration camps to a Puerto Rico threatened by its third hurricane in two years.

The administration ordered the Department of Homeland Security to move $271 million, including $155 million from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, to ICE to increase migrant detention and hearing facilities. Earlier this summer the department redirected $200 million from DHS agencies to ICE. In 2018, the department had steered roughly $10 million to ICE.

According to a letter from Democratic Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, under the continuing resolution funding the government, the 2019 ICE budget only supports detaining and housing an average daily population of 40,520 migrants. Yet the number of detention beds has increased from 44,000 to more than 46,000 during the fiscal year. By August, the number shot up to 55,000 even as the number of border crossings by single adults had significantly decreased. Meanwhile, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard noted, ICE workplace raids required additional detentions.

The funding transfers from FEMA and other agencies should have been signed off by Congress, since transfers boosted ICE funding above and beyond what Congress appropriated under the continuing resolution that funds agencies at the level of the previous year. Of course, since DHS did not seek permission, department officials also did not provide evidence of any “extraordinary circumstances that imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property” that, under the statute, should necessitate such transfers.

Instead, the Trump administration continues to run roughshod over the rule of law, keeping its critics flummoxed and providing reminders daily, if not several times a day, of the inability of Congress to stem the willful erosion of its own powers to check and balance the president. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the FEMA-to-ICE transfers “stunningly reckless.” While other members of the House and Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also registered their own pro forma complaints, the outcry lasted scarcely a news cycle, allowing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues to backstop Trump’s flagrant abuses of executive powers for the greater glory of the party.

The only real offensive weapons in the House’s arsenal that its leaders are willing to deploy are its investigative powers. The House Committee on Homeland Security should move quickly to add the FEMA-to-ICE transfers to its docket of investigations on matters like the border camps and HUD funding irregularities on the island.

The FEMA drawdown means that when a more powerful hurricane hits Puerto Rico the agency will have even fewer resources available to deal with the aftermath. FEMA has already admitted that the agency was unprepared to deal with the 2017 hurricane season on the island and could not cope with the devastation in the wake of Irma and Maria. Meanwhile, there is a leadership void: FEMA administrator Brock Long left the agency in March shortly before the start of the June-to-November hurricane season. His replacement Jeffrey Byard, a FEMA associate administrator, has yet to be confirmed.

There remains widespread doubt among residents and the wider Puerto

Rican diaspora that the island is ready or able to handle an active hurricane season. The day before Dorian hit, FEMA struggled to coordinate some of the basics of emergency preparations like distributing loaner satellite phones to the island’s mayors. (The agency also had satellite phone snafus—not enough working phones—in 2017.) In July, thousands of expired bottles of water were discovered on private property 25 miles outside San Juan. A FEMA official noted that the matter was “under review.” (Thousands of bottles of water were also found on a runway in late 2018.)

Yet, the most harrowing fact of the ICE-FEMA-Puerto Rico case is this: Congress continues tolerate a president backed by an executive-branch law enforcement agency to terrorize, imprison, fail to protect and give due process to thousands of Spanish-speaking migrants. Congress also sees fit to ignore how the president castigates Puerto Ricans and their leaders at every opportunity, and blocks the flow of funding and supplies to the island—all in the face of hurricanes strengthened by warming seas, a phenomenon that he cannot fathom. If any predominately white population of comparable size suffered this kind of ongoing abuse and mistreatment, impeachment proceedings against the 45th president would begin tomorrow. It is dereliction of duty of the highest order.

When the annals of the Trump administration are dissected by historians, one of the sorriest chapters of the many that will vie for that distinction will be the plight of Puerto Rico. At a certain level, adapting to more intense and frequent climate changed-fueled storms might be easier to stomach than the torrents of ignorance and calculated harm flowing from the Oval Office.

A Bill in California Has Split the Democratic Party


Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

Supporters of California’s AB-5 circle the Capitol during a rally in Sacramento on Wednesday. The legislation would require companies like Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees.

On Wednesday, a caravan of Lyft and Uber drivers, some 200 in total, arrived on the steps of the state capitol building in Sacramento. It marked the most recent stop in a multiday demonstration that started Tuesday, as drivers have traversed a route from Los Angeles to Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, then on to the capitol, all in support of AB-5, a bill currently under consideration in the California State Senate.

If passed, that bill would reclassify Uber and Lyft drivers as employees, rather than independent contractors, a decision that could have profound and lasting consequences for both drivers and ridesharing companies themselves, along with numerous other companies that use freelancers or independent contractors. For the 220,000 Uber and Lyft drivers in the state, some of whom have been shown to make far less than minimum wage and all of whom are without benefits, reclassification as employees could result in significant increases in pay; for the ridesharing companies themselves, an increased cost of labor would make things even more difficult as they struggle to turn anything resembling a profit even currently. The decision could send shock waves not just through Silicon Valley, but through the gig economy broadly.

Drivers aren’t the only ones taking a keen interest in the bill. It’s quickly become a political litmus test for Democrats at the national level. And it’s fracturing the Democratic Party along battle lines, with Obama-era Democrats lining up behind Uber and Lyft while the presidential candidates and recently elected Democrats stump on behalf of AB-5.

The strange, fractious coalitions that have emerged tell the story of the embattled soul of the Democratic Party in miniature. On one side, the presidential candidates have marshaled their support of the bill, which is being backed by SEIU, a powerful and important labor union whose endorsement many are courting. Support from Elizabeth Warren, who proclaimed that “all Democrats need to stand up and say, without hedging, that we support AB 5 and back full employee status for gig workers,” and Bernie Sanders, who introduced a comparable proposal at the federal level and has endorsed AB-5 unequivocally, come as no surprise.

But other centrist candidates with weaker labor bona fides have also come out in support of it. Pete Buttigieg turned out at Uber’s headquarters on Market Street in San Francisco to join the caravan of protesters as they demonstrated on Tuesday. And Kamala Harris (somewhat tepidly) voiced her support as well, telling Vice News through a spokesperson that she “believes we need to go even further to bolster worker protections and benefits and elevate the voice of workers.” Beto O’Rourke has said he’s behind it too.

Given that, one would think that the Democratic Party was unanimous in its backing of the bill, which, in a state where Dems have a two-thirds majority in the state legislature, should make it a slam dunk. But that’s far from certain, given that the other side is also staffed with Democrats, many of whom are Obama-era stalwarts.

Looking down the ranks of the mounting opposition to the bill, members of the former Obama cabinet are well represented. Tony West, who served for five and a half years in the Obama Department of Justice and was once its third-ranking member, is now the chief legal officer at Uber. He also happens to be married to Maya Harris, who, you guessed it, is Kamala’s sister.

That’s not all. Valerie Jarrett, who served eight years as a senior adviser to Obama (the role now held by Jared Kushner), has worked in Silicon Valley since leaving the administration. Promptly after leaving the White House in 2017, she accepted a position on the board of Lyft. And David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, himself a senior adviser to the president from 2011 to 2013, served as an executive at Uber from 2014 to 2017.

Meanwhile, Barbara Boxer, the former U.S. senator from California, whom Barack Obama campaigned on behalf of in 2010, has been hired by Lyft as a special adviser, vocalizing her opposition to AB-5 in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week.

It should come as no surprise then that Joe Biden, whose chief credential is having been in the room with Obama for eight years, has refused to weigh in on AB-5, as it’s split the Democratic Party into two camps that his campaign is predicated on straddling.

One lingering question is where Governor Gavin Newsom, who has tried to stay out of the AB-5 fight, will come down if the bill reaches his desk. He has talked about “a new and modern compact” for the state’s workers, but ties to Silicon Valley, an ATM for ambitious politicians in California, have made him hesitate. Newsom recently disinvited the head of the state building trades, Robbie Hunter, for an appointment on a Future of Work Commission he’s assembling. Hunter is a vocal supporter of AB-5.

The tumult over AB-5 paints a vivid picture of the Obama-era Democratic Party and the stark differences being seen in the new crop of Democratic figureheads. Democrats during the Obama years were criticized for their coziness with Silicon Valley; indeed, the revolving door between the Obama administration and companies like Google, Facebook, and the aforementioned ridesharing companies was robust throughout his two terms, while donations from the Valley poured in. Now, these deep-pocketed tech firms are calling in the support they paid for.

But the post-Obama Democrats aren’t nearly as smitten with Silicon Valley, and have articulated a set of labor policies notably to the left of his administration. The bill has exposed the ongoing identity crisis for Democrats as they search to find their political footing in the post-Obama years. The widespread support from the presidential candidates shows the party may indeed have moved meaningfully to the left, but it will have to continue to contend with Obama holdovers who have proven hesitant to do the same.

It’s likely that the fate of AB-5 will go right down to the wire: The legislative session ends on September 13, and it would be a surprise to see a resolution before that. It’s currently held up in the senate as business groups rush to carve out exceptions for themselves. But with pressure mounting from the Democrats nationally, the fate of gig economy workers will tell us if the baton has indeed been passed to a new generation of Democratic politicians, or if Obama-era operatives still reign supreme.

9 Ways to Stay Sane During the Primaries


Chelsea Purgahn/Tyler Morning Telegraph/Associated Press

Students filled out voter registration forms at the University of Texas at Tyler prior to the 2018 elections. Once you’re registered to vote, make sure your friends and family are too.

As the presidential primaries get under way, it’s easy to get burnt out or overwhelmed by all the candidates and their platforms. Here are 9 ways to stay sane through the madness of the presidential primaries.

1. Look for a candidate with the right ingredients to inspire you and others. The next president will have to be someone who can bring together Americans from all walks of life—across race, class, gender, ethnicity, and religion—into a movement against the hatred, bigotry, and cronyism that now pervades Washington.

2. Don’t get distracted by the horse race, who’s up or who’s down in the polls. Focus on the substance: what their vision is for the country and how it will affect all of our lives.

3. Reach out to independents. Avoid political labels, and talk kitchen table issues like the rising cost of health care, housing, and education. Focus on solutions rather than slogans or what you hear on cable news.

4. Get involved. Devote your time and energy to getting others organized and mobilized. It’s going to take a grassroots movement of Americans to take our country back from those who seek to divide us.

5. Study up on the candidates and their positions on issues you care about and see if they align. Visit their websites to explore their policy positions, read independent analyses of their proposals, dig deeper into their records in elected office.

6. Take a deep breath. The most important goal is to reclaim our democracy and forge an economy that works for all. Don’t succumb to divisiveness or carping criticism of other primary candidates. And remember that you can stay centered, mentally, regardless of how close you are to the political center.

7. Make sure you’re registered to vote, and know when and where to vote. The work you put into learning about the candidates means little if you don’t actually show up on Election Day. Once you’re registered, make sure your friends and family are too.

8. Follow the money. Some candidates have already pledged not to take money from wealthy donors or corporate political action committees. Make sure all of them follow suit.

9. Lastly, don’t lose faith in America. We’ve been through dark times before, but we have come out stronger on the other side. We will do so again.


David Koch’s Heirs Will Enjoy the Biggest Tax Loophole Nobody Talks About


Mark Lennihan/AP Photo

David Koch at the Economic Club of New York in 2012.

David Koch died late last week, just shy of 80 years old. Whole books have been written cataloguing his legacy as an industrialist and political figure, but to be brief, he leaves behind his stake in the country’s second-largest privately held company and a political network said to rival the entire Republican Party in scale. Everything from Texas oil pipelines to Dixie cups to the Tea Party owes its existence in some way to David Koch.

He also leaves behind a $50 billion estate, a gargantuan sum that made him one of the richest people in the world. In the past, that would have resulted in a massive inheritance for his heirs—but also a significant amount of revenue returned to the public coffers in the form of estate tax. If David Koch had died between 1941 and 1981, his estate (upon his wife’s death) would have been taxed at a rate of at least 70 percent after the first $10 million. Some back-of-the-envelope math would indicate that’s roughly $35 billion in tax revenue that could go toward any number of public services. (For reference, a 2013 estimate by the Department of Housing and Urban Development pegged the cost to end all homelessness in the United States at $20 billion.)

But thanks largely to a political climate David Koch and his brother Charles helped create, the federal government will never see anything close to that. Part of that is because of his libertarian network’s relentless campaign against the inheritance tax, rhetorically reinvented as the “death tax,” which became a major political cause célèbre, despite the fact that 2018 saw only 1,900 taxable returns from those who died. The top tax rate on estates has dropped from 55 percent to 40 percent since 2000 alone.

But in broader terms, there’s one massive tax loophole that has helped the estates of America’s billionaire class balloon to unthinkable sums, while getting taxed at rock-bottom rates. Thanks to a tax provision called step-up in basis, capital gains on inherited assets—stocks, properties, and more—are totally wiped out upon death. It’s a tax giveaway from Congress that may outstrip all the rest.

Put simply, step-up in basis is a tax provision that allows unrealized capital gains to reset to zero upon inheritance. When an investor parks money in stocks, property, and the like, and that investment gains in value over time, the gain is supposed to be taxed (though at a rate much lower than income tax rates, at just 20 percent) when sold. But if the asset is never sold, its gains never realized, and then passed to an heir, it will be reassessed at its current market value with those gains included. Its basis, therefore, “steps up,” and the capital gains taxes that should have been levied on it are dropped to nothing.

A simplified example: Let’s say an investor with a reasonably high-paying job put $10,000 a year into a distinctly average-performing bouquet of stocks. Done dutifully over a 35-year career, that would sum to $350,000 in contributions into the market all told. At the end of that 35-year period, compounded at our theoretical rate of return, the balance sitting in that account would be $2,710,244, with some $2,360,244 in capital gains.

Under the step-up in basis procedure, the inheritor of that account would have that $2.7 million in stock reevaluated at that level, with the entire tax burden negated. Capital gains tax that could have been recouped by the federal government would go to zero; so too would state and local taxes that might be levied on a sale. Say that the account owner was based in New York City: The combination of federal, state, and local taxes would have been $800,000 on that $2.7 million, leaving the inheritor with $1.9 million. With step-up in basis, the tax is $0.

That decision has a multiplier effect. If the heir holds onto the underlying asset, and it continues to produce an average rate of return, the annual payout on a $2.7 million principal is markedly higher than what you’d get on $1.9 million. The yearly difference in payout could be as high as 43 percent. The heir could also then use that asset to borrow against for a home loan or something else. And if they sold the stock, real estate, or other asset upon receiving it, they could pocket the entire $2.7 million, some $800,000 extra, in cash.

Imagine that scaled up by orders of magnitude. Because for people like David Koch, investments don’t happen in installments of $10,000 per annum; they happen in the tens and hundreds of millions. And as those assets see their basis stepped up upon inheritance, the amplification is colossal. Take the numbers presented above, and move the decimal point six places to the right. The result, as we’ve seen, is dynastic wealth on an unbelievable scale. “You get instances where the head of a family who’s on the Forbes list dies, and then all of a sudden their ten kids are all on the list,” noted Mark Mazur, Robert C. Pozen Director at the Tax Policy Center.

There’s no way to know exactly how much David Koch had taken advantage of this loophole, but it’s safe to assume he was well aware of it. It’s well known that the Waltons, the tycoons behind Walmart who make $100 million a day, position a majority of their holdings to avoid taxes in this very way.

Of course, as Congress generously provides for this loophole, it can also take it away. Even Larry Summers has called for eliminating step-up in basis. And there are plenty of sound reasons to do so, even beyond the obvious benefits of dynasty deterrence. Step-up in basis has been criticized on the grounds that it deters taxpayers from reinvesting capital gains earnings in other areas of the economy, and encourages nonproductive hoarding, known as the “lock-in effect.” And while some objectors have claimed that eliminating it would be needlessly difficult, or have to come in tandem with lower capital gains taxes, there’s no reason to believe that. “You can tax assets annually, tax them at death so you don’t get the tax-free step-up in basis, implement an actual inheritance tax,” Mazur told me. “There’s no shortage of things you can do.”

Step-up in basis is far from the only beneficial inheritance policy the Koch estate has reaped the benefit of. In 2010, Obama conceded to a Republican minority in the Senate, signing into law a tax cut to 35 percent on estates over $5 million. The Trump tax plan, after flirting with eliminating the estate tax, raised the ceiling on tax-free estates to over $11 million per person.

With Democratic presidential candidates turning their focus to wealth taxes rather than income taxes as a more effective way to combat runaway inequality, step-up in basis represents one of the more flagrant and easily rectified programs. It’s a huge giveaway that overwhelmingly benefits the very rich, while its positive-feedback nature amplifies wealth disparity. And while tax policy is decided by Congress, recent proposals from Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have already started to reverse a long-standing trend in the conversation about the estate tax, which has been steadily shrinking for decades. As Democrats in Congress seek ways to overturn the Trump tax cuts, nixing step-up in basis could prove to be a quick and lasting fix for a more equitable tax policy.

Why Governors Have Flamed Out as Presidential Candidates


Cliff Owen/Associated Press

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Washington Governor Jay Inslee both dropped out of the 2020 presidential race last week. Despite their practical experience, governors with an eye on the country’s top office face several handicaps in the current political climate.

For decades, governors dominated presidential politics. This year, they’ve turned out to be duds.

On Wednesday, Montana Governor Steve Bullock will officially miss the cutoff for qualifying for the next round of Democratic debates in September, falling short both in terms of polling and numbers of donors. Last week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper dropped out of the race before suffering the same fate.

None of the three were exactly household names before the race began, but their failures follow the lack of success during the last presidential cycle by no fewer than ten current or former governors, including such putative heavy hitters on the Republican side as Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. “Governors have had a pretty good track record,” says Columbia University political scientist Justin Phillips, “but that all seems to have vanished.”

It wasn’t always this way. Between 1976 and 2004, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush—governors all—combined to win seven out of eight presidential elections. Since that time, only one governor (Mitt Romney of Massachusetts) has gotten as far as winning a major-party nomination.

Governors face several handicaps in the current political climate. By the nature of the jobs they hold, which involve bread-and-butter government operations such as building roads and funding schools, governors remain less ideological and more pragmatic as a group than their rivals in legislative roles. Freezing in-state tuition is never going to sound as sexy as offering free tuition.

“The politics that governors engage in, or have to engage in, in order to succeed is not what’s appealing right now in our combative, polarized politics,” says Phillips, co-author of The Power of American Governors. In that book, Phillips and UC San Diego political scientist Thad Kousser show that governors may sometimes have to sign bills regarding hot-button issues such as abortion, Bible studies, or restrictions on transgender bathroom use, but they almost never raise such matters themselves.

That said, Inslee devoted his entire presidential campaign to the hot-button issue of the climate crisis, and highlighted his liberal policymaking in the governor’s mansion, including the creation of a public health insurance option. So there’s something more going on than just pragmatism not playing well in a polarized age.

Governors sit outside the swim of national issues obsessing not just Washington players but cable news and social media. Their remove from the center of the partisan storm limits their exposure. It also hampers their fundraising, especially on the Democratic side, where big donors are often motivated by a limited set of issues. In a politics that plays out nationally, chief executives in the states can find themselves permanently outside the conversation.

Attempts to capitalize on national issues can fall flat. Last year, Hickenlooper signed an executive order blocking any state agencies or funds from being used in support of President Trump’s policy of separating children from their immigrant parents. Asked at a news conference whether any state money was being used for that purpose, Hickenlooper had to concede, “Not to my knowledge.”

Governors simply have less flexibility, legally or in terms of logistics. “When senators are out of state, no one misses them,” says Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “When governors are out of state, it is noticed and they are often criticized. Heaven help them if a crisis occurs in the state while they are visiting the Iowa State Fair.” Most important, governors are at a severe fundraising disadvantage. While a senator such as Elizabeth Warren can kick-start her own presidential campaign by transferring $10.4 million from her Senate campaign account, governors don’t have the legal leeway to shift funds from their state accounts to a federal race.

None of the governors in the current field managed to hit the kind of partisan notes that might have distinguished them in a two-dozen-candidate field. Inslee brought additional attention to his centerpiece issue of climate change, but with any number of Green New Deal proposals floating around, he wasn’t able to claim it as his exclusive turf. More critically, he wasn’t an enduring figure within politics, known to a national audience. It’s hard in the modern age to start a presidential run from scratch, which is surprisingly the position governors find themselves in.

Bullock and Hickenlooper each sought to market their comparative centrism as a strength. They got no traction presenting themselves as alternatives to more progressive challengers or, for that matter, to the centrist standard-bearer, former Vice President Joe Biden. For the time being, at least, Biden has the support of more moderate Democrats pretty well sewn up.

According to Morning Consult, the most popular governors in the country are all Republicans in the otherwise blue states of Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Moderation plays well at home, but gains them nothing on the national stage, as Maryland’s Larry Hogan found when he floated the idea of a primary challenge against Trump. In just the few days since launching his GOP bid, combative former Representative Joe Walsh seems to have garnered more media attention than the patrician protest campaign being pursued by William Weld, the moderate former governor of Massachusetts.

As late as February 2016, Gallup found that Americans viewed being a governor as the best preparation for the presidency, with 72 percent of respondents agreeing it was “good” or “excellent” training for the job. That year, of course, Donald Trump won the election, becoming the first president in U.S. history with no prior experience in government or the military. The outsider message peddled by governors such as Chris Christie and Scott Walker was no match for Trump’s shake-things-up shtick.

The country has to be in a certain mood to turn to a governor. Governors got nowhere in the early days of national politics, in part because the focus was on creating a national politics and culture. During the centennial year of 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes became the first sitting governor elected to the White House (albeit barely, while losing the popular vote), in the wake of the scandal-plagued Grant administration. He ushered in an era of governors with “clean hands,” reformers who promised to change the culture in Washington, including Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, and Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, notes Saladin Ambar, author of How Governors Built the Modern American Presidency.

Governors went out of style during the Cold War, when the nation craved foreign-policy experience from the likes of military hero Dwight D. Eisenhower and fellow World War II vets and old Washington hands such as John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon.

Following Vietnam and Nixon’s downfall and disgrace with Watergate, the country was again ready to elevate a Washington outsider. Jimmy Carter’s promise of “a government as good as its people,” followed by Reagan’s complaint that Washington was the problem, not the solution, ushered in the recent era of gubernatorial dominance of the White House.

Both Clinton and the second Bush sought to shift their parties to the center. In Clinton’s case, wanting to show that Democrats could be tough on crime, he returned home to Arkansas from the campaign trail in 1992 to preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a condemned killer so brain-damaged that he saved the dessert from his last meal “for later.” Bush branded himself a “compassionate conservative,” touting his record working with Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and other Texas Democrats.

That kind of message no longer sells. That was apparent during Romney’s campaign, when he sought to distance himself from his own signature achievement as governor, a health care plan that served as model for the Affordable Care Act. “Romney had to get more conservative for his presidential run,” says Phillips, the Columbia professor. “That suggests governors are aware of this dynamic, that there’s not a big market for pragmatic, relatively moderate politics.”