[FDL is pleased to welcome Daniel Biss for a Blue America chat today. As with all guests, please stay on topic and be polite. Take any off-topic discussions to the prior thread. Thanks much, gang, and please help give Daniel a big FDL welcome! -- CHS]
[Contribute here. -- Pach.]
Remember when we did the vlog session with John Laesch a month or so ago? Christina put together a memorable event built around that and I got to meet some of the best progressive minds in Chicago. One was a 29 year old math professor named Daniel Biss who Christina was especially keen on me meeting.
And now I’m keen on you meeting him.
Daniel is running for State Representative from a district just north of Chicago, the 17th. It’s a Democratic district with an unimpressive squishy Republican rep, just like the congressional district it overlaps (Kirk’s). The district includes a bit of Evanston, where Daniel lives, plus parts of Skokie and Wilmette, as well as Winnetka, Glencoe, Northfield and Glenview. Kerry and Gore each beat Bush handily here.
Obama swept the area when he ran for Senate. Beth Coulson, the current Rep., isn’t a monstrosity; but she is a Republican and she supports her party’s leaders and their venal and destructive agenda. She has enjoyed support from one-issue liberal groups like the Sierra Club and the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, whose heads are too far up their butts to be able to understand why Republicans are their enemies.
Daniel Biss is anything but wishy-washy or squishy. He’s a genuine progressive leader with a powerful understanding of what government’s role in society should be. “People in this district,” he told me, “believe government is capable of benefiting people. The Republican Party functions as if government has to be kept out of the way.” This primitive, anti-social Republican outlook helps draw the distinction between Daniel and Coulson. Mathematicians are logical and, above all else, they are problem solvers. Not only is that different from a Republican, that is different from most politicians of any stripe. It goes beyond the intellectual dishonesty that makes the political system a cesspool. Daniel, who graduated from Harvard and MIT, is a guy I found intellectually rigorous.
He finds the notorious shortsightedness engendered by our politics to be unhelpful to people and their problems and issues.
“They’re incentivized to focus on the 2-year election cycle rather than the 20-year plan. As an academic, I’ve spent my whole career thinking about long-term projects and goals. I think it’s no coincidence that the issues I stress most, education and environmental policy… these are places where common sense dictates that making major changes now is a great long-term investment, and yet our politicians can’t seem to bring themselves to make that investment, because they’re too caught up in the short term.”
He’s actually a guy who has spent a lot of time seriously considering what it means to be a progressive.
“I keep coming back to etymology: progressives like progress, which means that we’re focused on the future. Believing in a better future has to also mean planning for and making a better future. And I find it flabbergasting how little of that goes on in our politics today.”
Illinois, one of the richest states in America, is 48th in the country in dollars spent per pupil.
“In the last legislative session there was a bill to increase the education funding level per pupil by a few hundred dollars– rather than the thousand or more that many people feel is absolutely necessary– and [in a party line vote] Coulson voted against it.”
It doesn’t look like she’s in a position to do anything for her constituents even if she wanted to do so. She’s boxed in between the progressive and moderate voters of the 17th on the one hand and her own crazy, incompetent party leaders — the ones who imported Alan Keyes to run for Senate — on the other hand.
Daniel got his political start as a grassroots organizer, after despairing over the river of misdeeds flowing out of the Bush Regime. He organized volunteers for Kerry and three congressional candidates, but with Democrats controlling every facet of Illinois government, he sees dysfunction where there could be a model for good government.
He is hoping to help build a new independent power based within the Democratic Party — a coalition of workers, middle class African-Americans, people in suburbs not enamored of a Chicago machine politics that spits up corrupt reactionaries like Rahm Emanuel and Dan Lipinksi, latinos newly galvanized by the immigration issue, etc. He hopes to open debate in the party, debate that has never been welcome in the old style political machines.
Daniel Biss is the kind of young leader we need to help build a Democratic Party that will be worth something. There are 65,000 registered voters in the 17th and he intends on meeting every last one of them. We can help him.
Remember, Illinois practically has no campaign finance laws and the big corporations have a history of buying elections. Campaign mailers and even cable TV spots are not prohibitively expensive…but they cost something. Daniel is one of us, a friend of Rick Perlstein’s and Siun’s. Let’s welcome him to Blue America and help him raise the money he needs to conduct a competitive campaign.