Although the Democratic primary in Florida's 23rd Congressional district ended late last month with a victory for the controversial incumbent, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, her firebrand progressive challenger, Tim Canova, did not end the campaign quietly. As the results slowly trickled in from FL23, indicating his opponent had won, Canova bucked political politeness when asked if he would concede the race to her, saying, "I'll concede she's a corporate stooge." He went on to say, "This is a rigged system and everyone knows it."
Joe Kreps, a senior advisor to Tim Canova and volunteer for his campaign, was in agreement, saying "The fact of the matter is, all kinds of crazy things went on during the [Democratic Presidential] primaries: peoples votes weren't counted, people were knocked off of voter rolls...the whole thing about predicting that [Clinton] won before one vote was counted [on June 5th], it's just incredible." Although he conceded none of those "shenanigans" were proven to have occurred in FL23, he added, "There's a real problem in proving fraud in an election, because the people who do the counting and the people who make the machines are all in cahoots. So if, for instance, the machines were hacked and they reversed the vote, we would have no way of knowing it...that whole system needs to be shaken up."
In talking with Mr. Kreps this past week, I was able to glean some valuable insight into the Canova campaign as well as a clearer picture of Florida state politics in particular, and national politics in general. It seems the struggles facing progressive challengers in Florida could, for better or worse, end up being a microcosm for the future of the progressive movement nationally.
Mr. Kreps began his political activism in the 1960s at Ohio State University where he protested against the Vietnam War, helping to shut down the university for a short period in an effort to bring an end to the conflict. After a long career, he decided to become an activist once again. His first foray as an advisor was for Nan Rich's unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial primary bid in 2014 against party-favored Charlie Crist. "That [campaign] was the thing that opened my eyes to the corruption in the Democratic party," Kreps said. He remains a member of the party although he says he has, "a lot of problems with [it]."
One of those problems included Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "I didn't like the way she changed from a nice liberal to a corporate enabler," Kreps said. Then along came Tim Canova in January 2016 providing a possible solution. Joe says he immediately called Tim and offered to be his senior advisor. As a fellow resident of FL23 with in-depth knowledge of Florida politics, Joe was quickly welcomed aboard. When he first met with him, Joe realized just what an asset Tim's legislative intelligence could be for progressives in Congress. "Tim Canova is a man that could not only be a great Congressperson, he could write legislation. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and all of these other characters take legislation from lobbyists and put it in as their own. They don't write legislation, they're not smart enough to write legislation."
This gets at the core of what progressives, and most Americans, feel to be the biggest impediment to positive change in this country: big money's influence in politics. Corporate lobbyists write legislation favoring certain industries or corporate interests and feed them to "corporate stooge" politicians. The stooges then push them through committees and whip votes in their favor in exchange for lavish campaign funding the following election cycle. That is essentially the way the corporate political establishment operates. It's become so ubiquitous that the average person doesn't even bother with outrage anymore, they simply resign themselves to thinking all politicians are corrupt, c'est la vie.
I asked Joe about his thoughts on Our Revolution, of which Bernie Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, is President, and its choice of organizational structure; specifically whether he thought it hindered the Canova campaign, as has been previously suggested, "I don't know why they went the way they went. Jeff Weaver is a money-man and I believe it was his decision...I think it hurts the grassroots part of [the organization]. It's allowing people with money to influence things again and that's what we were against."
As far as Bernie's lack of of campaigning on Tim's behalf, Mr. Kreps boldly stated his opinion, "I can guarantee you [Bernie] was told to 'shut up and sit down'... If not one, then both Hillary and President Obama told him 'you're working for Hillary now. You can't go down and campaign against Hillary's right arm.'...There's no way of knowing, but a giant rally would have introduced a lot more people to Tim....Something like that is worth literally millions of dollars in advertising as far as name recognition is concerned, so it definitely hurt." Another hurtful aspect of the campaign was Wasserman Schultz' reluctance to heed Canova's repeated calls for debates until public pressure eventually demanded it. The debate was hurriedly scheduled two weeks before the primary on an early Sunday morning, a time when many constituents would likely be at church. As poor timing as it seems, it's par for the course when considering Debbie's history with debate scheduling.
Since the end of the FL23 Democratic primary, Kreps and Canova have remained in contact and are planning to stay politically active in the run up to the general election and beyond. In what capacity is still unclear. When asked specifically about Canova's political future, considering he has retained the lease on his main campaign office and has filed 2018 FEC paperwork, Kreps essentially repeated what Tim has said publicly, "No comment," but then added, "Let's just say he's not going away."
Kreps isn't going away from Florida politics either. He has recently offered his advisory talents to Dr. Alina Valdes (D-FL) who is running for Congress in Florida's 25th District. Her opponent, entrenched Republican incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart, has a sordid history with none other than Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as Kreps explains, "He is a compatriot of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, they are friends...they helped gerrymander their districts together when they were in Tallahassee, they made her district impenetrable and made his district impenetrable....Therefore, Alina gets not a dime from the Democratic Party. She gets not a word [of support] from Debbie Wasserman Schultz."
Joe said Dr. Valdes has reached out to one of Wasserman Schultz' assistants to ask if she could speak with her, since she's running as a Democrat in a neighboring district, but Wasserman Schultz has yet to respond. He continued, "Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was head of the DNC, in the past would not help any Democrat running against Mario Diaz-Balart, and that was her job. The Democrats and Republicans want you to think that they are enemies and that they will do anything they can to destroy each other. The truth of the matter is, they work as one establishment. They love the status quo. They want [incumbent] Republicans to win their seats and they want [incumbent] Democrats to win their seats."
Another race Mr. Kreps is supporting is that of Steven Machat (I-FL) who is running for the United States Senate. He is challenging Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic primary winner, Rep. Patrick Murphy. Murphy, a former Republican, won one of the dirtier Democratic primaries of the season against progressive former Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL). The Democratic Party establishment poured resources and star-power, including campaign appearances by both Pres. Obama and V.P. Biden, into that race to defeat Grayson, a Democrat, showing once again the power the establishment will exercise to protect one of their own.
Steven Machat is a progressive running as an alternative to the establishment status quo cronyism that has been on display in Florida and across the nation. He is currently being barred from the statewide debates due to an inhibitive polling threshold requirement, but, according to Kreps, "In his words, if he were able to get on stage with these two clowns, he could win this election....He would make them out to be the clowns that they are." Machat has informed Kreps that he is prepared to file a lawsuit against Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association (the "Debate Partners") for damages in the event that he is excluded from the debates. Meanwhile, Rubio and Murphy are busy bickering and mudslinging about who is more afraid to debate. How courageous of them.
Florida is clearly shaping up to be a national template for how the political establishment will try to defeat populist, progressive candidates through esoteric debate rules, chicanery and corruption. The only way for anyone outside the establishment system to stand a chance is to have their voices heard and, as we've seen in Florida and across the country, the powers that be have intentionally made that a very difficult task. Just ask Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. As Mr. Kreps reiterated many times in our conversation, "In debates, forums, etc., [candidates] have to answer to their constituents, that's the key that is so important." The more voices and differing viewpoints we can hear, the more informed our electorate will be. Anyone presuming we live in a democracy should agree. #OpenTheDebates