Progressive democrats are Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean types – peace-loving, PATRIOT Act-hating, environment-embracing Americans who take firm, left-wing stances. While a minority voice, theirs elevates debate – at least when the diffident Democratic Party listens to them.
Like most niche voting blocks, progressives understand their importance in this election. But they won't simply jump on a wagon led by mainstream positions. This gang has spine.
"The progressive vote is not going to go away," said Diana Smith, who along with her husband organized the Nevada Progressive Democratic Caucus. "But if the Democratic Party doesn't listen, the progressive vote will go green or independent, and we saw what that did in 2000."
At a central committee meeting last spring, democrats were introducing planks to build Nevada's platform. Smith and husband Raj Rathor were astonished that no one even mentioned the war in Iraq, the PATRIOT Act or universal single-pay health care.
So, Rathor did.
The meeting didn't exactly boost Smith and Rathor's confidence with the party. But the couple did not want to discontinue participation, as defeating Bush is too important.
So when Smith came across progressivevote.org, the Website of a national organization to unite the progressive base behind the Democratic Party, she and Rathor formed NPDC. Progressive Vote, now three months old, is 10,000 members strong and 200 locally.
On July 3, the group hosted a peace rally at Freedom Park. Also, the NPDC circulated four petitions: one to repeal the PATRIOT Act, another to replace U.S. troops with U.N. peacekeepers, a third to establish universal health care and another to establish equal civil rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.
Nearly 300 signatures were sent to Miami, along with others from around the country, for the platform committee meeting July 10. There, the party developed its planks – and gave progressives a familiar cold shoulder.
Except for one minor amendment, progressive platforms lacked support for passage and even debate. The democrats took no position on justice in Palestine, a department of peace and a scaled-back military. The democratic platform also doesn't call for the United States to leave Iraq immediately.
In Nevada, progressives have experienced the same attitude. NPDC has rallied behind four local candidates: Rick DeVoe and Brian Kral for Congress, Rosa Mendoza for state assembly and Robert Taylor for county commission.
DeVoe, vying for Republican Jon Porter's seat, must first clear the primary hurdle against Tom Gallagher. Party leaders already back Gallagher, which dumbfounds DeVoe and other members of the NPDC. A former CEO of Park Place Entertainment, Gallagher gave $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney campaign in November.
"I don't think there is anyway around the fact that when somebody gives the maximum contribution to a candidate, you support that individual's agenda and what they stand for," said DeVoe, who assumes the party didn't know about the contribution before it offered support.
"The contribution was very simple and straight forward," Gallagher said. "A friend asked me to buy a ticket with him to a Bush lunch, and as a favor to him I did.
"I've given money repeatedly to the Democratic Party and democratic candidates in each election cycle," he added.
DeVoe further points to Gallagher's former position as a CEO.
"Tom Gallagher represents corporate America, and looks at things from an old bottom-line standpoint," said DeVoe, a journeyman mechanic. "I represent a new bottom line, and that's putting people first, not profits."
Democratic support for Gallagher destroys progressive confidence, Kral added. Even the democrat he's up against, Shelley Berkley, is questionable, he added. She voted for the PATRIOT Act and the war in Iraq.
Berkley has since admitted that she was duped by President Bush to believe Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. But that raises another concern for Kral.
"That doesn't give me a lot of confidence in her judgment," he said.
Kral understands how difficult it will be to defeat Berkley in the primary election. After all, he walks District 1. That, and he has mingled with other democratic organizations.
At a meeting among Paradise Democratic Club members, Kral introduced himself as a candidate running for Congress. Kral said John Ponticello, longtime president of the organization, pulled him aside and said the group is disappointed that a democrat is running against another democrat – Berkley.
Kral explained that Ann Reynolds, a member of Ponticello's organization, is also challenging Berkley. Ponticello expressed disappointment with her also.
"I thought that was pretty chilling," Kral said. "That's the attitude that took us into Iraq – the fact we can't speak up for different ideas and we can't debate or have a discourse. We are expected to be quiet and follow the party line."
Mendoza's experience mirrors Kral's.
"I'm painted as the more liberal one," Mendoza said. "Although I've had pretty positive feedback, I'm getting the sense that the Democratic Party tends to keep a lot of its more progressive ideas watered down."
Like Kral and DeVoe, disappointment struck Mendoza regarding organization endorsement processes. A UNLV graduate, Mendoza is a high school teacher. When she registered as a candidate, she figured the Nevada State Education Association might take an interest in her District 28 campaign.
NSEA already endorsed Moises Denis, a computer network technician and former executive director of the Nevada Parent Teacher Association.
"I felt it was unfair that they made these decisions before we filed," Mendoza said. "Who would know more about education than an educator?"
Kral is an intructor at the Community College of Southern Nevada and his wife is a second grade teacher. He thought NSEA might consider him. But the teacher's union announced its endorsements in early May. The filing deadline for candidates was May 14.
The AFL-CIO, as well, didn't pay attention to one of its members – DeVoe.
While the primary isn't until Sept. 7, most organizations and party leaders are backing candidates in all four races that NPDC candidates are in – Gallagher, Berkley, Denis and David Goldwater for county commission.
The deadline to register to vote in the primaries is Aug. 7. Smith called awareness of this date crucial to the success of underdog candidates.
"Most who vote in the primaries are die hards and that's why the same people keep going back to office," Smith said. "The regular Joe doesn't realize that you have to register for the primaries early."
NPDC members believe the party and its leaders should wait until the people pick their candidates in the primary election before support is given. But many democrats feel Nevada's primary election is too deep into the year and too close to the general election. Backing a candidate early in a race gives momentum for the party to defeat Republicans.
Referencing Ed Bernstein, who unsuccessfully challenged John Ensign for U.S. Senate in 2000, caucus member Roger Ko said early backing of candidates with money doesn't always work, especially when their positions aren't clear.
"It's a sad story that whoever has the most money gets the nomination," Ko said.
While progressives may be viewed as divisive, Smith assures they are not. "We simply want to build the party, but we are not going to be afraid to speak up."
A progressive candidate forum takes place Aug. 14 from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. in the Laborer's Hall located at 4201 E. Bonanza, Las Vegas.
Las Vegas City Life