Jonathan Tasini — BASometimes I have to pump some political courage into our candidates and incumbents and coax them to support difficult or controversial items on the progressive agenda. Our guest today isn’t that kind of candidate. Jonathan Tasini, whose politico-spiritual mentor is Paul Wellstone, is the kind of figure who I fully expect to call me and ask me why I’m not working harder to round up more votes for Employee Free Choice or against the War Supplemental. He’s determined that Kirsten Gillibrand not march into the office to which she was appointed without facing a progressive challenger committed to seeing it through all the way to the end and not liable to be bullied or bribed out of the race.

He is excited that because the economic crisis is offering us a once-in-a-lifetime chance to profoundly change the country for future generations. "But, while we have a great majority in Congress," he told me, "the values and principles of that majority are very important. Jonathan Tasini isn’t going to be Blanche Lincoln or Ben Nelson or Mary Landrieu. Nor, if he manages to get into the Senate, is he going to morph into a slick corporate shill like New York’s senior senator. There are a small– very small– handful of senators who don’t look at their place of work like an American House of Lords: Bernie Sanders, Dick Durbin, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown, Sheldon Whitehouse… a couple others. Jonathan wants to join them.

In some way, I’m reminded of the time when Howard Dean challenged our party, asking why we were not standing up to George W. Bush and the obscenity of the Iraq War. Now, we have a president who truly stands for something. And I am running both to support our president and push him to move our country in an even more progressive direction. To some extent, the vision, then, is much broader than the issue of who I’m running against. I want our party to stand:

  • for single-payer health care,
  • for a different foreign policy
  • for the right to belong to a union,
  • for marriage equality

And these are values and principles I’ve stood for my entire life, not values and principles recently discovered in order to run for Senator. These values and principles are who I am.

Needless to say, Jonathan is appalled that anyone calling himself or herself a progressive would even contemplate shutting down the democratic process by discouraging primaries the way Biden, Rendell, Schumer and Emanuel are in Pennsylvania and New York. He wants to see the primary as a contest of ideas that will help define what the Democratic Party will look like in the state and nationally. He points out that Kirsten Gillibrand has never stood before the voters and has the seat because of the vote of one person, an accidental governor. "This should not be a coronation or a selection like a monarchy. Voters should have the choice to pick who they want to represent them."

Beyond the process, though, people want to know what precisely Jonathan stands for that differentiates him from Kristen. Since being appointed to the Senate, she’s virtually disowned the Blue Dog persona that she had adopted in the House. Her Senate voting record is very progressive, among the top 20.

We have a very dramatic different set of values and principles. If you look at my life and history over the last 25 years I’ve done nothing but work for economic justice– for the labor movement, for the rights of workers. At the same time, my opponent was a corporate lawyer who represented the tobacco industry and has been very closely allied with the National Rifle Association. She had very different positions when she ran in 2006 for her House seat on immigration. I’m a long time advocate of single payer health care and that isn’t something Kristen Gillibrand supports…

As for the Supplemental, Jonathan might as well be a front page FDL blogger. Aside from being adamantly and unswervingly against wars of foreign occupation– "I will vote No on every procedural vote to advance unnecessary wars and occupations"– he’s also against (to put it mildly) "money that has been pouring into the banks to bail out the bond holders and the share holders and, essentially, the people who have mismanaged the financial system. And I have been a long time critics of the IMF, mainly because of the kinds of structural adjustment policies it has forced upon Third World countries, policies that I believe increase poverty by forcing already poor countries to privatize and curtail services."

In the middle of the primary season, Jonathan happens to have a book coming out, The Audacity of Greed– Free Markets, Corporate Thieves And The Looting Of America. I think we can look forward to an exciting campaign. And now let’s go meet Jonathan down in the comments section.