By Will Collette
Now that campaign signs are starting to sprout along Route One – mostly “Mattson the Carpenter” but also signs for independent Abel Collins, it’s worth noting that there’s a race on for U.S. House District 2, the seat held by Congressman Jim Langevin.
The dilemma for progressives is that most of the candidates we really like can’t get elected to office, though there are some exceptions.
Abel Collins, a 33 year old RI native who lives in Matunuck, is running as an independent for Congress, opposing Rep. Jim Langevin and whoever wins the Republican primary.
Collins is a good person, a progressive who works long and hard for the Sierra Club of Rhode Island. He wants to get people more involved in politics by overcoming their apathy and cynicism, wants to take on the Big Banks and promote green jobs.
All of these goals are excellent. Except I am concerned his candidacy could have the opposite effect.
In 2012, voters will decide who sits in the White House and who controls Congress. Rep. Jim Langevin is a moderate Democrat who has served Rhode Island well. He is not anywhere near as far to the left as Collins. But he believes in most of the things I care about and works hard for his District. Plus, as the Republicans in Congress have become more extreme and hard-right, Rep. Langevin has gotten more progressive.
Whatever votes Collins secures are most likely going to come from the Democratic (and independent) left, people who would otherwise vote for Langevin, because they are certainly not going to vote for Langevin’s Republican opponent.
Indeed, the probable Republican candidate, Michael Riley, is the anti-Collins. Riley is a hedge fund operator who retired after a wild and wooly career pumping stock futures like Lehman Brothers and tech companies (before the bubble burst) on the Chicago Commodities market.
Riley commented that he really didn’t care whether those companies lived or died, just that he made short-term profits for his clients (and himself, of course).
Riley decided to retire to Rhode Island, unretired, and started some new hedge funds, as well as the non-profit RI Hedge Fund Association dedicated to convincing the public that hedge fund operators are being picked on unfairly.
Riley intends to self-fund his own campaign against Langevin using his own millions.
|What Michael Riley has in mind for federal lands like the |
Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge
Riley’s core issue is his cracked teapot plan to fund Social Security and Medicare by opening up federal land to massive oil, gas and coal mining. Imagine natural gas ”Christmas Trees” in the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge.
Riley is already running warm and fuzzy TV ads on the Rhode Island stations – you may have seen them – touting this mathematically impossible environmental abomination.
All of the main issues in Abel Collins’ campaign platform are mirrored – truly mirrored in that they are the exact opposite – in Michael Riley’s campaign.
I liked Al Gore, but wasn’t too thrilled with his milquetoast, middle-of-the-road campaign. I knew George W. Bush was going to be a disaster. Nader entered the campaign thinking much the same way as Abel Collins – re-energize the electorate, challenge the big money interests, promote green initiatives, etc.
But it turned out to be a really big mistake. I respected Ralph Nader and appreciated the help he gave to Lois Gibbs and me when we were organizing communities to fight hazardous wastes. He was an inspiration to hundreds of grassroots environmental leaders who gathered at the first national grassroots environmental convention in 1993.
But he gave in to ego in 2000 and cost Al Gore the election. Take out the Nader votes and Gore would not only have won Florida but several other states and we would have been spared the horrors we still suffer under today. Ralph has never admitted that he gravely miscalculated the consequences of what he did.
Collins cites Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and interestingly, not Ralph Nader, as the role model for his campaign. Bernie is a great Senator. He is officially listed as an independent, caucuses with the Democrats, but is proud to call himself a Socialist.
But one big difference between Collins and Bernie Sanders is that Bernie worked his way up through the ranks, running for and holding local office, including mayor of Burlington, before running for the House and after many years, moving up to the Senate.
I think Abel Collins would have been a dynamite candidate for South Kingstown Town Council, a dysfunctional body that needs fresh blood and new ideas. And it’s also a place where a novice can begin the process of getting some political seasoning.
Why challenge Jim Langevin and why now? The nationwide battle for control of the US House of Representatives, currently controlled by Tea Party Republicans is a national battle for survival.
The last thing Rhode Island needs is to send a Tea Party guy like Michael Riley to Washington. Indeed, given that all of Riley’s positions are anathema to Collins, you’d think that the best way for Collins to act on his convictions would be to fight to make sure Riley does not get elected by making sure that Langevin does.
Despite his non sequitur campaign slogan, “ElectAbel,” he’s not. And playing a Nader-style spoiler against Langevin is not the way to advance the noble positions he espouses.