Disgraced former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants to continue to represent Florida’s 23rd Congressional district. In order to do so, she will have to overcome a surprising number of hurdles for someone so deeply entrenched in the establishment power structure.
There is the hurdle of her Democratic primary opponent Tim Canova, a nationally recognized figure on legal and economic issues. As well, there is a curious irony when someone with such disdain for the democratic process, as Wikileaks has shown Wasserman Schultz to have, then asks for votes within this very process. And perhaps the tallest hurdle is, in fact, Wasserman Schultz’s own record, both as DNC Chair and as a representative of the state of Florida.
Nationally, the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump has shown the issues of campaign finance and a seemingly ‘rigged’ political process to be perhaps the prominent issues of this election cycle.
On a local level, constituents of Florida’s 23rd are asking their own questions about the political influence of special interest money, specifically and pointedly with regards to their representative — Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Ignore for a moment that Wasserman Schultz has one of the highest absentee rates in Congress, missing more votes than anybody in the Florida House delegation. What concerns her constituents is not the number of votes she misses, but rather what votes she casts.
Take a walk through Florida’s Everglades region and you will see what is fast becoming an environmental catastrophe. Algae blooms choke coastal estuaries, the Biscayne freshwater aquifer is becoming contaminated, natural vegetation is dying, and water levels are at unnatural levels along Lake Okeechobee, the coastal regions, and the aptly titled ‘River of Grass’.
These are the impacts of Florida’s sugar industry.
Floridians, unsurprisingly, do not enjoy the destruction of their unique ecosystems any more than most, and as such, have repeatedly and overwhelmingly supported legislative action to address the problem.
Unfortunately for them, the sugar industry spends tens of millions of dollars each year funding political campaigns and lobbying government officials. This allows them to, as Everglades Foundation CEO Erik Eikenberg told The Miami Herald, become “directly involved with every decision.”
The result is that initiatives with enormous public support such as polluter-pays systems, land purchase and clean-up, and reform of the sugar industry subsidy structure are routinely blocked, delayed, and rejected by legislators.
Despite having never been opposed by a primary challenger and running in a safely Democratic district, Debbie Wasserman Schultz has regularly ranked among the top 20 recipients of campaign contributions from the sugar industry. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wasserman Schultz has unfailingly voted against the environmental interests of her constituents and in favor of ‘Big Sugar’.
Continue to walk through the 23rd and you will come to a site which is the subject of an ongoing legal battle over the prospective construction of a detention center. Proposed in 2011, this private prison project was and is massively unpopular with residents in the area, triggering protests in the streets. These protests, along with petition signatures, phone calls, letters, and office visits did not even manage to elicit a response from Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Instead, she co-signed a letter of endorsement for the project on behalf of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
That would, of course, be the same CCA which represents an industry that has donated to Wasserman Schultz’s many political campaigns, and which continues to fight Floridians in court.
Complete your walk by venturing into one of the 23rd’s low income neighborhoods. It is here that Floridians are affected on above-average levels by a national problem.
The payday lending industry is an industry based on trapping people in a cycle of debt. After loaning beyond a person’s means, these legalized loan sharks then charge ludicrous interest rates, often greater than 300 percent. Florida has more payday lenders than Starbucks’. Within the state, the enterprise collects nearly $300 million per year in fees, disproportionately from African-Americans, Latinos, senior citizens, and veterans.
It is an industry which is criminal in every way but law.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz has a nickname in her home state – “Debt-trap Debbie.” This is because rather than endeavoring to protect her constituents from these for-profit predators, she, in fact, co-sponsored legislation to delay and prevent industry regulation and to gut Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
Wasserman Schultz’s actions have been widely panned by groups like the NAACP, The Consumer Federation of America, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, but, unsurprisingly supported by the payday lending industry which has donated tens of thousands of dollars to her campaigns.
A 2014 Princeton University study on American democracy concluded that “the preferences of the average citizen” have “a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact on public policy.” Conversely, it found that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on United States government policy.”
As detailed above, there is perhaps no better symbol of this phenomenon than Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The advantage of positioning oneself as a representative of this corporate faux-government, rather than one’s constituents, is to reap the rewards of a broken system.
For Wasserman Schultz, that reward was the Chair of the DNC.
But if the idea of a democratic system is to place the best of us in positions of power, the problem with a spoils system of politics is that this does not always end up being the case.
The tenure of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC chair was, for the Democratic Party, an unmitigated disaster.
They hemorrhaged Congressional seats and Governorships to the Republican party, including losing more Senate seats in 2014 than either party had in a mid-term election since 1958. The party’s finances descended into disarray, with some sources reporting late in 2015 they had become financially insolvent.
And during the 2016 presidential primary process, clouds of corruption rolled over nearly all aspects of the proceedings. Former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley described Wasserman Schultz’s leadership as “a very undemocratic way to run the Democratic Party.” Millions of voters claimed disenfranchisement and multiple states opened investigations into electoral fraud and corruption.
The clouds turned into a full-blown storm and led to the resignation of Wasserman Schultz when emails between DNC higher-ups released by Wikileaks showed the DNC to have broken not only their own charter on “impartiality,” but perhaps federal election laws as well.
It is either hilarious or sad that Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is currently the implied or stated target of multiple lawsuits regarding the subversion of the democratic process, wants this process to bestow upon her the moral and legal authority to create laws and to send our sons and daughters to war.
There is, however, some good news for both Florida and the nation.
On August 30th, the constituents of Florida’s 23rd will have an opportunity to remove Debbie Wasserman Schultz from the levers of power, end her pro-corporate reign of terror over their community, and, in the process, become national heroes in the struggle for democracy.
Even better news is, to do so, they will not have to throw their support behind a token, a protest candidate, or even a Republican. Rather, they will have a chance to vote for an intellectual heavyweight and legitimate people’s champion – Tim Canova.
After graduating with a law degree from Georgetown University, Canova became a nationally respected and sought-after voice, not because of his connections, but because of his ability.
In the 1980s, he warned about Wall Street deregulation and was critical of predatory lending. In the 1990s, he warned about derivatives and spoke out against the removal of Glass-Steagall. In the early 2000s, he sounded the alarm about the housing market bubble, and called for increased supervision and restriction of Wall Street.
To compare the careers of Canova and Wasserman Schultz is to observe prophet vs. profit.
Additionally, Canova has worked tirelessly in his community as an agent for change. He has taught at multiple universities, including three in the state of Florida, as well as teaching impromptu classes at the Occupy protests. Quoted by the likes of Noam Chomsky, he is also a celebrated writer and frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, The Miami Herald, and many other sources.
In 2011, his national standing was displayed when he was selected by Bernie Sanders for a Federal Reserve advisory council, alongside juggernaut economists Robert Reich and Joseph Stiglitz.
It is uncontroversial to state that Tim Canova has the intellectual and participatory background that a functioning democracy should seek in its leaders.
But what makes Canova truly special is his personal connection to the issues on which he speaks.
He does not speak of defending Florida’s environment in order to win votes, but rather because as an avid runner, cyclist, scuba diver, and sailor he has seen, touched, and felt the impacts of ‘Big Sugar’.
In speaking out against predatory lending and a rigged economic system, or private prisons and the war on drugs, he decries the corporate adventurism he sees harming his friends, neighbors, and former students.
Quite simply, Tim Canova is what American democracy was designed to produce: An individual of the highest quality who seeks to lead their community through representation of shared public interest. He cannot subvert these interests to those of corporate donors because he has none.
A victory by Tim Canova over Debbie Wasserman Schultz would be a victory in a contest between differing ideas of what governmental representation is.
As Canova said in his one and only debate with Wasserman Schultz, “This election is not really about Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and it’s not about me. It’s about the kind of democracy we want to have in the future.”