Over the last six months I volunteered with a team of supporters to elect Heather Mizeur as Maryland's next governor.
Heather's campaign was inspiring, honest, respectful, progressive and transparent. She ran on issues that matter to Maryland's people. She brought up things that others wouldn't dare touch in a campaign (for example, death with dignity, disability rights and marijuana legalization). She inspired so many new people to care and rally around the vision we share for Maryland.
There was just one problem: Heather was never given a chance in Maryland's broken electoral process.
Heather ran on public financing and went even further by rejecting corporate cash and state contractor money. Making the decision to return power to Maryland's people, she launched a truly grass-roots campaign — one that couldn't afford yard signs, or t-shirts or lots of paid staffers like the others.
Instead, Heather's campaign relied on volunteers and limited staff pouring their souls into electing her. Not to mention we had two weeks of television ads, compared to months for the corporate-funded candidates. If you saw yard signs or t-shirts, they were made by volunteers who believed in her vision enough to make them on their own.
Early on, most of the Democratic establishment decided to anoint Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown as the winner. They lined up with endorsements and threw resources his way. It was sickening to witness how corrupt and off-base the endorsement process was.
For example, despite the fact that Heather would have been the first openly gay governor in the country and was the strongest candidate on LGBT issues, Equality Maryland endorsed Mr. Brown early on.
Another example: The Maryland League of Conservation Voters decided to endorse Mr. Brown despite the fact that he had a worse environmental record than Heather as a delegate — based on their own score cards. Heather was the only candidate in the race to push for a moratorium on fracking and oppose liquefied natural gas exports from Cove Point.
Mr. Brown even managed to trot Bill Clinton out with an endorsement. I wonder how closely Mr. Clinton was truly paying attention to the options in the Maryland gubernatorial race. I'd bet that he was doing the state's Democrats a favor.
I personally heard from candidates in Maryland who wanted to endorse Heather but were afraid of the wrath of the Democratic Party for doing so. Is that democracy?
And how about the media?! They were worst of all. Even while Heather's popularity was surging, the media treated her like a fringe candidate. We barely received mentions in stories that focused on Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Mr. Brown attacking each other.
Why not give more attention to the only candidate who decided to run a campaign without mudslinging?
Despite all this, Heather ended up with 22 percent of the vote. With next to no funding, no yard signs, little name recognition and two weeks of TV ads, we came very close to tying Mr. Gansler for second place.
That's because the people who actually heard Heather's message were excited by it. It was refreshing and different and drove new people to vote.
Perhaps if the Democratic establishment, the media and local organizations decided to endorse candidates based on their principles and their record rather than placing bets like it was a horse race, things would have ended up differently. Mr. Brown might still have won, but at least the election would have been fair and based upon real ideas.
I believe it all starts with getting big, corporate money out of politics. Every Heather supporter should be rallying around this issue. People power is squashed if someone can buy an election. You're simply up against too much with the barrage of TV ads, fliers and signs. I also believe that publicly financed candidates are hampered by the expenditure limit, which is about $2.5 million. This sets a candidate back immediately and forces incredibly tough campaign decisions about resources.
We should also push to allow independents to vote for either party in the primary. I personally know probably 100 individuals who wanted to vote but weren't allowed to because they didn't change their party affiliation or didn't want to. Why shouldn't we give these people a voice too? These are individuals who are bold enough to think outside the two party system, and they should be allowed a vote.
I'm hopeful that Heather Mizeur will run again and that she'll run a clean, honest campaign a second time. In the meantime, I hope that we can tackle the reasons so many amazing candidates are held back. Let's stop allowing corporate media, corporate politicians and corporate contributions to determine our elections.
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