guest recommendation: Zephyr teachout

jake honig

Equal parts Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Zephyr Teachout is exactly who we need in Congress.

Citing a belief in term limits, a Republican congressman named Chris Gibson announced in January 2015 that he would not seek reelection in New York’s 19th Congressional District, which covers a large majority of the Hudson Valley all the way up to Albany.

The race for his Congressional seat has become one of the most competitive in the entire country and could determine which party controls the House of Representatives. 

New York is arranged like most of the country: a sizable left-wing population is crammed into an urban center and the further out you go the more life becomes rural and, so goes conventional thinking, conservative. How crazy would a left-wing progressive who challenged the Democratic governor for not being liberal enough have to be to make a serious run for a Congressional seat so far removed from the socialist utopia of New York City?

Not crazy at all, as it turns out. Current polling indicates a dead heat. 

Like Bernie Sanders, one of her celebrity political equivalents, Zephyr Teachout’s populist appeal could upend conventional political fault lines. It turns out that rural America is extremely receptive to anti-corporate, anti-elitist, anti-corruption rhetoric, as evidenced by Sanders’ lopsided victories in states like Utah, Idaho, and North Dakota. Rural communities, even those in the traditionally deep red South, formed the base of FDR’s untouchable electoral map because their economies were revitalized by fair government spending intended to raise wages instead of corporate profits.

As a candidate whose message promotes local farming as much as small business (recognizing that both Wal-Mart and factory farming present a clear and present danger), Teachout has become our country’s newest rural-progressive icon. 

Her background reads like the textbook definition of a perfect Democratic candidate: she was raised on a farm in Vermont (rural cred), attended Yale University then Duke, where she graduated summa cum laude with dual law and political science degrees (intellectual cred), joined various nonprofits focused on getting money out of politics and breaking up big banks (populist cred), collaborated with Occupy Wall Street (progressive cred), worked on the 2004 Howard Dean presidential campaign (political cred), and taught at the Fordham School of Law (legal cred).

So why didn't young progressives, many of whom aren’t thrilled with Andrew Cuomo, flock to Teachout’s side back in 2014? The reason is both sad and obvious: most young voters don’t get excited about gubernatorial primaries. They don’t find about congressional races sexy either. They tend to tune in only once every four years when Facebook reminds them the Presidency is up for grabs.

It’s about time the state that gave us Franklin Delano Roosevelt turns out another prominent progressive with bold plans to transform this country from one that caves to big money to one that functions on behalf of the working people. If the 2016 presidential primaries taught us one thing, it’s that candidates like Zephyr Teachout represent the future of Democratic Party.

Candidates like Zephyr Teachout don’t come around very often. As a resident of New York City, I am unfortunately unable to vote for her. But as a young person arrogant enough to want to influence congressional races outside my own district, I urge the voters of New York's 19th: please don’t blow this.