Green Party Candidate Margaret Flowers on Healthcare, Climate Change, and Community Economics
Margaret Flowers is running as the Green party candidate for the Maryland senate seat vacated by Barbara Mikulski. She faces Democratic nominee Chris Van Hollen in the November election.
Dr. Flowers, co-chair of the Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, is critical of Van Hollen’s support for the Affordable Care Act and market-based approaches to climate change.
“He has this kind of progressive air, but he is very much a Wall Street establishment candidate. And with the crises that we’re facing right now, we don’t need another kind of a Hillary Clinton in the Senate,” said Flowers.
Her campaign is pushing for a national Medicare-for-all system, 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, and community-oriented economic policies.
“People are just sick of the politics as usual. They’re sick of the corruption. They’re sick of not being listened to,” said Flowers.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
As part of our ongoing coverage of the U.S. elections, we’re going to be focusing on various races for Senate and for the House and for mayor, and perhaps even City Council. One of the races that we’re particularly interested in is for the Senate race in Maryland, because we’re in Baltimore and, in case you don’t know, that’s in Maryland. And we’re very interested in this race because this is more or less a Democratic Party state. There’s of course a Republican governor, but generally speaking this [state] votes for the Democratic Party, which means that in this state–I guess in others, similarly–it’s known as the machine. And people running against the machine we find interesting.
So today we’re going to speak with one of these people, meeting the Green Party candidate for Senate in Maryland.
Thanks for joining us.
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS, MARYLAND GREEN PARTY CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE: Thank you for having me, Paul.
JAY: So Margaret Flowers–
JAY: –Dr. Margaret Flowers–is running for Barbara Mikulski’s Senate seat. She’s on the Green Party ticket. She’s a pediatrician in the Baltimore area, a cochair of the Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, and also codirector of PopularResistance.org and It’s Our Economy.
So thanks for joining us.
FLOWERS: Thank you for having me.
JAY: So first of all tell me about the Democratic Party nominee, who is Chris Van Hollen.
JAY: And the machine has backed him against Donna Edwards. He won the primary. And usually in Maryland, for Senate, if you win the primary, you win the election. What is it about his program you disagree with? What are two couple of key points? And what would you do differently?
FLOWERS: Well, first, just to put it in context, Chris Van Hollen has been a member of Congress for quite a long time and was a former head of the DCCC, which is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that helps to elect the Democrats, the House Democrats. His job as head of the DCCC was really to funnel the money from Wall Street to the various Democratic candidates. And so what was interesting in the primary race is that he raised over $8.4 million, which is really unheard of for a Senate race in the state of Maryland. And his primary funder is actually a PAC that primarily funds Republican candidates, and then the rest of them, many of them were financial institutions, K Street lobbyists, real estate developers.
JAY: And he had very strong support from AIPAC, which is the sort of neocon pro-Likud lobbying arm of the Israeli government.
FLOWERS: So he has this kind of progressive air, but he is very much a Wall Street establishment candidate. And with the crises that we’re facing right now, we don’t need another kind of a Hillary Clinton in the Senate. We need to move towards candidates that are actually going to fight for the solutions that we need.
So if we look at kind of two areas where Chris and I are very different, one would be health care. Chris Van Hollen is a big supporter of the Affordable Care Act. He says that quite openly. And I have been a longtime supporter of a national, improved Medicare-for-all type of system. Now, that support, we had very strong support for that going into the health reform process in 2008-2009, 2010. And then, when the Affordable Care Act passed, that support kind of dropped off as people thought, well, let’s give this bill a chance and see if it works. Now here we are six years later. People are seeing that health care costs continue to rise, people still can’t afford to get the care they need, tens of millions are uninsured. The polls have flipped back around to where they were before. Over 80 percent of Democratic voters want a single-payer health care system. But Chris Van Hollen is not and never has been a supporter of a single-payer health care system. The Affordable Care Act is a much more market-based type of health care system.
And then the same kind of thing when it comes to the climate crisis. He has this reputation of being such a progressive environmentalist and putting forth strong legislation that would tax and create a tax-and-dividend system on carbon, the use of carbon. And the problem with this approach is that it really is kind of a market-based approach to dealing with the climate crisis, that we’re going to tax the fossil fuel industry and give those taxes back to people who can build up renewable energy.
JAY: Now, is he more for a carbon tax? Or is he for cap-and-trade?
FLOWERS: Not cap-and-trade. It’s a carbon tax and dividend type of–.
JAY: ‘Cause carbon tax is somewhat more rigorous than cap and trade.
FLOWERS: Definitely. Right. It is more rigorous. But it’s still leaving the problem up to the market forces to solve, and we just don’t have the time to have that kind of an approach. That’s not going to be a comprehensive approach to the climate crisis. And right now, with the situation escalating the way it is, we really need a comprehensive all-out push for 100 percent renewable energy as quickly as we can.
JAY: So what does that look like? If you are the senator, what does your bill look like?
FLOWERS: Well, it focuses on a number of things. I mean, one is our Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is the body that regulates interstate energy, basically is a rubber stamp for the fossil fuel industry, and they don’t consider the health impacts of the projects that they approve, they don’t consider the long-term impacts on the climate of the projects they improve. We need to fundamentally change that institution. It’s actually funded completely through the permits that it gives to the fossil fuel industry. It doesn’t actually take any taxpayer dollars at all. So they said, we’re not in the habit of denying a permit. That has to stop. So we need to alter that mission to be, no, we’re going to go all out, pushing for 100 percent renewable energy and stopping the fossil fuel projects that they have permitted, and I think even going back in retrospect and looking at the old ones.
JAY: So how detailed have you worked this out? Like, there needs to be some kind of transition. So what does that look like?
FLOWERS: Absolutely. So I would stop any more investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, because basically when you’re doing that, you’re locking us in to 30 or 40 more years of using fossil fuels. And instead–.
JAY: You’re talking about public investment.
FLOWERS: Right–well, permitting, permitting them. That’s allowing them to be–. These are private corporations that are appealing to the FERC to get their projects permitted. We need to stop permitting that fossil fuel infrastructure and instead do much more of a concerted push for renewable energy, which we can do. We can scale that up much more rapidly than we can–well, just it’s very easy, and quickly, to quickly scale that up.
JAY: Why do you think–we were just talking about this editorially–even in the Democratic primary, climate change was a second, third, sometimes not even a front-of-table issue. Why do you think that is, that given the urgency, given all the science, it’s still not in the public discourse in a serious way?
FLOWERS: Well, more people are getting it. I mean, people in the United States have been so subjected to believing that gas is a bridge fuel and kind of there was so much science trying to persuade people to not believe in the climate crisis. But I think that’s changing. We’re starting to see a majority of people in the U.S. that actually are getting that.
JAY: I think a majority of people now do say it’s a human-caused event. But given that, in the political discourse it’s not that big an issue.
FLOWERS: Yeah. Yeah. Well, they’re also–the fossil fuel industry is major funders of political campaigns, which–actually, we had an interesting action. We went to the DNC, that Democratic National Committee office in D.C. a year or so ago and called out the fact that so many of the Democrats like Clinton, like Andrew Cuomo, like Martin O’Malley and others were in the hands, the pockets of the fossil fuel industry.
JAY: So continue. What else is in your bill? So first of all, over what kind of timeframe do you make this move to 100 percent sustainable?
FLOWERS: So the goal would be to shoot for 100 percent renewable by 2030. Now, that’s going to be a big–we can probably get 80 percent of the way there by 2030. But who knows over the next ten or so years how the research is going to change? Things are accelerating so quickly, and there could be some breakthroughs in storage which–that’s a particular area, as well as, I think, airline travel is another area that we don’t have the technology yet to deal with that, moving off fossil fuels. But I would say aim for by 2030.
JAY: Much of this, you would think, has to be accomplished through regulation, in terms of coal, carbon emissions, and such, even more extremes.
FLOWERS: I wish regulation worked. I wish regulation worked. I think it’s going to have to happen through specific public investment and subsidies.
JAY: On the creation side.
JAY: But you have to also have some kind of slowing down and eliminating emissions.
FLOWERS: Well, coal is already slowing down, which is great.
And there’s another piece of this, too. If we look at the whole picture of the climate crisis, it’s much bigger than just the energy, although that’s a very large part of it. And we need to include in that clean rapid transit and very efficient rapid transit so we can move off of using gas and cars for our way to get around. At least there are some countries that are actually moving towards all-electric cars. We can put in the infrastructure to assist that kind of thing, as well as clean rapid transit.
But there’s also promoting carbon sequestration through agricultural practices and wetland restoration that we need to do to help to bring the carbon levels down. You know, we hit 400 parts per million, and they’re pretty much saying that that’s going to be where we are from here on.
JAY: What else is sort of, in terms of when you’re out campaigning, the issues you’re most talking about?
FLOWERS: Well, I think the economy is another really huge one, and rethinking the way that we structure our economy. And we have very much–like we have an extractive energy industry, we also have a very extractive economy that comes into cities and places, and we have large industries or large box stores that come in and they don’t treat the workers well, they take a lot of the money that they earn there back to their headquarters, wherever that is. And so they’re really extracting the money out of communities. And when they feel that they profit well or they get a better deal somewhere else, they just move there. So we really have to change to economies that are rooted in communities, that are going to stay there, recirculate the dollars there, create good jobs, more worker control over those economies so that they can make sure that they’re getting a living wage, that they have decent working conditions and benefits. So support for more of those types of endeavors, as well as things like public banks that really protect our public dollars from Wall Street banks.
JAY: Have you done any campaigning in some of the areas–Dundalk or some of the other places–where you have sections of the working class that might be sort of supporting Trump and kind of buying into some of that kind of politics?
FLOWERS: I have certainly–.
JAY: And if so, what’s your experience?
FLOWERS: I have certainly–through our kind of–. It’s interesting. A lot of what I’m doing, because–it’s a statewide campaign and I just don’t have the resources to be everywhere at once, so the most efficient way for me to reach people is to either call them on the telephone or go where they are. So that’s really how I’ve been focusing. And so I’ve been calling people all over Maryland. And sometimes I’ll call a home, and maybe it was a younger person in the home that was registered as a Green and I end up getting a parent instead, and so I talk to them. And I would say that most of the time when we start talking and they say, well, what do you think about this issue or what do you think about that, that they say, well, I think I might vote for you. And the same thing down in southern Maryland, in Calvert County, where I’ve been working to fight Dominion, the gas refinery and export terminal that they’re building in southern Maryland. The first one being put in a residential community is very unsafe for that community. And that’s a Republican stronghold down there.
And people are just sick of the politics as usual. They’re sick of the corruption. They’re sick of not being listened to.
Did you see the recent poll that showed that, I think, 90 percent of people in the United States don’t have faith in our political system, that it was, like, less than 20 percent in both the Democrats and Republicans that think their party even listens to the needs of the voters? I mean, people are really fed up with the establishment.
JAY: Okay. Well, this is just the beginning of a conversation. You’ll be back, and we can talk more about some of the other issues.
FLOWERS: I hope so.
JAY: So thanks for joining us.
FLOWERS: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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