The Justice Democrats

By Jim Ellis

The Justice Democrats logo (click on image to go to their website)

Jan. 18, 2019 — Similar to the time when the Republicans controlled the House, it appears the most ideologically committed faction of the Democratic Party is already beginning to target the more centrist majority members for primary defeat.

The Justice Democrats organization spokespeople reiterated yesterday that they will be opposing certain incumbents in Democratic primaries beginning with Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo).

The group boasts of having newly-elected Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) as members after the pair defeated Reps. Joe Crowley (D-Queens) and Mike Capuano (D-Somerville) in their respective 2018 primaries. The Justice Democrats also list veteran Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) as members along with newly elected freshmen Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

The Justice Democrats have a published issue agenda that includes “Medicare for All”, guaranteed living wages, federal guaranteed jobs, taxpayer financed higher education for anyone who wants to attend a university or college, their “Green New Deal” pertaining to environmental policy, and law enforcement reform, among other issues.

In addition to helping elect Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley, the Justice Democrats also backed unsuccessful intra-party challenges to Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Danny Davis (D-IL), Lacy Clay (D-MO), and Adam Smith (D-WA).

The strongest of these came from media consultant Marie Newman opposing Rep. Lipinski who held the incumbent to a tight 51-49 percent re-nomination victory. It is probable that most, if not all, of the aforementioned members will again see a 2020 nomination challenge coming from their political left.

The Justice Democrats further helped deny a former member, ex-Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE), re-nomination as he lost to activist Kara Eastman, who then fell to Rep. Don Bacon (R-Papillon) in a close race.

The JD also supported very long-shot races against Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Joe Manchin (D-WV), while opposing then-Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) in the open Arizona Democratic primary and involving themselves in difficult challenges to Govs. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Gina Raimondo (D-RI).

On the other hand, two Justice Democrats supported candidates who advanced into the 2016 California general election, attorney Bryan Caforio and former Marine Corps officer Doug Applegate, failed to again do so in 2018. Yet, they saw other Democrats unseat Republican incumbent Steve Knight and convert the open San Diego/Orange County district from which Rep. Darrell Issa was retiring.

Beating Rep. Cuellar, however, appears as another tall order. The congressman was first elected in 2004, defeating then-Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-San Antonio) in the post-redistricting Democratic primary. The victory spread was only 203 votes from just under 50,000 ballots cast, but the small margin withstood all of Rodriguez’s post-election challenges. The two battled again in 2006, but this time Cuellar’s winning margin topped 53 percent. Since then, the congressman has drawn only two minor primary challenges, in 2016 and 2018, contests he won with 90 percent and 84 percent of the vote, respectively.

Rep. Cuellar has averaged 75.0 percent of the vote in his eight congressional general elections, including running unopposed in 2006 and 2018. He began campaigning for Congress back in 2002 in the former 23rd District that even then stretched from San Antonio to El Paso. In that year, Cuellar lost to incumbent Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-San Antonio), securing 47.2 percent of the vote.

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