Zephyr Teachout On Why Primarying Right-Wing Democrats Is Necessary
Former New York Congressional Candidate looks back on her 2016 campaign, talks about corruption and ethical violations in both parties
Michael Sainato: This is Michael Sainato with the Real News Network and I have with us former New York Congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout. Miss Teachout, thank you for agreeing to interview with us.
Can you start off by telling us a little bit of a background on the lawsuits you’re involved with with CREW and what updates you can provide us with.
Zephyr Teachout: Great. I am one of the lawyers on a lawsuit representing CREW, which is a watchdog group in Washington, D.C., sussing out ethics violations and then several other plaintiffs who are in the hospitality industry, suing Donald Trump for violating a key provision of the Constitution, the emoluments clause and the foreign emoluments clause and then another emoluments provision in the Presidential compensation’s clause.
We brought the suit in January and actually the government replied on Friday, June 9th. So we just got the government’s reply and we’ll be putting forward our own briefing and reply to that fairly soon.
Michael Sainato: Running in New York against is traditionally a republican district, what were some of the challenges you faced? I know in previous interviews you said that the democratic party leadership is really you to be anti-Trump. So what advice could you give to other progressives running for office?
Zephyr Teachout: Just to be clear, I am anti-Trump.
Michael Sainato: Yeah.
Zephyr Teachout: I was in a district that went from 6%, where Obama won by 6%, to where Trump won by about 10. So, it was a huge, huge, nine points is a huge, huge flip in that district. I got to be honest, I was both deeply shocked and deeply not shocked. I was deeply shocked cause I thought we were a lot closer. I thought on a national level we were a lot closer. And then the non shocked part is that people were just so stinking mad. Just like, ready for something different.
I have a lot of advice for people who are thinking about running for Congress. I’m proud of the fact that we ran a good race, we slightly outperformed Hillary Clinton. We showed that our message could resonate more deeply in some, throughout the district. And then also we were really tagged by the super PACs. Robert Mercer who’s famous for his close connection with Donald Trump, in fact, probably his biggest funder. Our congressional race was the race he spent the most money on, as far as we can tell, but well over $500,000.
So, I don’t mind being a target of the super PACs but they can hurt you. If I were to say things that I wish I’d done differently, I wish we’d focused even more on organizing. We did a lot of organizing. More on organizing, more on the grass roots. That’s absolutely essential.
To your Trump question, I think the key was you got to be representing your district. Of course, I think Donald Trump’s not fit to be president and I always have and I’m not ashamed to say that and I wasn’t ashamed to say that then. What people in the district really want to know is what you’re going to do for them. One of the messages that really resonated is people are like, yeah, small businesses are getting screwed. And we actually ended up talking a lot about small businesses and how they have been just crushed by Wall Street and by big business.
Michael Sainato: What do you think it’s going to take to defeat John Faso in 2018?
Zephyr Teachout: Well, John Faso’s doing a pretty good job of showing who he is. He’s shown that he’ll lie, showing that he will hide from voters, won’t hold town halls, be disrespectful to women Congress, female members of Congress. So, he’s digging his own grave. I think the key across the country, including in the 19 Congressional district, is not just being against but also talking about how we’re in this revolutionary moment and we have an opportunity to, with the political energy we have now, really do something about the huge problems of legal corruption in our society and of these big companies that are taking over, dominating, paying bad wages and treating their customers badly too.
Michael Sainato: How do you think the democratic party and progressives, in particular, can push democrats to weed out corruption within party ranks? Even just a few weeks ago we had former Congressman Corinne Brown be convicted of charity fraud. Last year we had Congressman Chaka Fattah convicted. Even in New York we had the state assembly speaker-
Zephyr Teachout: New York’s gotta, you got a plague going on.
Michael Sainato: Yeah. How do you work to purge this corruption not only within the republican party but within our own ranks.
Zephyr Teachout: Just to be clear, there’s two kinds of corruption. There’s the kind that’s legal where people end up in handcuffs, illegal and people end up in handcuffs. Then there’s the kind that is legal, but that everybody knows is problematic, or at least everybody who’s not in politics themselves, who might want to defend it. So what I think the most important thing is, if you care about our country and if you care about our democracy, it’s not enough to just agree with your candidate on a few issues. You actually have to say, hey, we’re going to primary you if you’re not also taking on some of the structural problems in our society.
I think the way to not just beat Donald Trump in 2020 or win a race in 2018, but to deeply win back our country, is that democratic party, in order to win, needs to separate itself from the Wall Street finance years, separate itself from the big corporate interests and return to the best part of it’s history, which is fighting for the little guy against the big billionaires and big guys. That’s not as against opposing Donald Trump, that’s an alternate vision. That’s a vision of true flourishing.
Michael Sainato: Well, thank you Miss Teachout.
Zephyr Teachout: Thank you.
Michael Sainato: Thank you.