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Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Headshot

Ashley Judd, Please Reconsider!

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Ms. Judd, I was disheartened to read that you decided not to run against Mitch McConnell for the Kentucky senate seat. Several days prior to your announcement, I was especially disturbed by reports that the Clinton machine had thrown their support behind newly elected Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes. News accounts suggested that they favored Ms. Lundergan Grimes because of her family's political ties and her more moderate ideological views, which they believed would go over well in the supposedly conservative state.

Before you decide to completely give up a career in public service, there are five things that you should know:

1. Not all Democrats are made of the same stuff. There is plenty of ideological diversity within the Democratic Party but the current dominant split is between New Democrats and Progressives. Founded by former President Bill Clinton, the New Democrats represent the neoliberal wing of the party and they ascribe to a policy agenda that is, like Republicans, highly responsive to the interests of Big Business, including Wall Street interests that helped tank the U.S. economy in 2008. They typically support conservative-leaning positions such as less regulation on big banks, the Keystone XL pipeline and expanded oil drilling in the U.S., and "entitlement reform" which they define as cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits needed by the disabled, seniors, surviving dependents, and the poor. In contrast, the traditional Progressive wing of the party stands for effective regulation on big banks, protecting the environment against the degradation created by expanded drilling, and the strengthening of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid so that main street Americans can have improved health and economic security. Unfortunately, the New Democrat wing of the party is currently dominant in Washington but their policies are unsustainable from a human and environmental needs perspective over the long term.
2. The New Democrats were afraid of your candidacy. You should understand that they were afraid of your progressive values and the likelihood that you would make decisions based on those values if you had run and won. Like Elizabeth Warren who successfully ran for and won a Senate seat in Massachusetts, your platform would have been based on popular public support, not on the largess of the New Democrat-controlled Democratic Party apparatus. Needless to say, Senator Warren's strong advocacy in support of the interests of regular people has already proven to be a nightmare for New Democrats and their Wall Street backers. Adding you to the Senate mix would have reduced their grip on power. In short, they figured that they wouldn't be able to control your politics so their best option was to try to tank your candidacy before you could officially declare. Sadly, they have been successful in their quest.
3. Politics is a dirty business. The McConnell/Republican political apparatus will launch a scorched earth strategy against any challenger, Democrat or Republican, which Secretary Lundergan Grimes will soon discover if she chooses to run. Their opposition researchers are likely already sharpening their blades using searches of Internet and public records as well as interviews with long lost "friends" from high school who may recount less than stellar youthful behaviors in order to construct a damning public narrative against any challenger. This sad state of affairs has become commonplace in political races at all levels of government but it is especially prevalent when the stakes are high, as they are in the Kentucky senate race. Instead of a process where candidates compete based on their best ideas, politics in America has become a race to the bottom. And it will remain focused on its most base aspects and instincts, unless people rise up to demand a better system. In the meantime, the nastiness of politics is just a fact of life that can be weathered by developing a thick skin and a determination to succeed despite the obstacles.
4. Scandal can be overcome. Just ask Bill and Hillary Clinton. Rumored reports that private photos from your cell phone had been hacked and distributed on the Internet is nothing to be ashamed of. Instead of running from this experience, use it as a platform to increase penalties against hackers and to strengthen Internet privacy laws. Similarly, your refreshing willingness to share your experience of abuse during your youth, gives you a unique platform to fight against sexual abuse and trafficking of all kinds as well as for the rights of women and girls. Oftentimes, experiences that are rooted in pain and shame can be used to strengthen a person's resolve to ensure that others don't have to go through the same thing. I sense this fighting spirit within you. At a time where the rights of women and girls are being assaulted on all fronts, the nation needs your voice.
5. Kentucky and America need more progressive voices like yours in positions of power. According to 2011 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the poverty rate in Kentucky was 19.1 percent; higher than the national average of 15.9 percent and just as devastating. The fact of the matter is that people in Kentucky and around the nation are suffering from foreclosures, unemployment, inadequate health care, and a host of other ills that should be problems of the past in the richest nation on this earth. However, instead of fighting to build on systems designed to improve the quality of life for all Americans, our nation's democratic processes have been captured by elite actors hell bent on making the system serve their narrow interests at the expense of the majority. The current battle in Washington is more than a presumed battle over partisan politics and budget deficits. It is really a battle for the heart and soul of the United States of America and its prospects for offering a decent future for its residents. Americans of today and tomorrow deserve better than what the moneyed interests envision for them. We need progressive candidates who are willing fight this pitched battle in Washington, DC.

Because the stakes are so high, I am writing to request that you reconsider your decision not to run for the U.S. Senate. I understand that the pain of the process may be more than you are willing to bear, but if your reticence is because you think Democrats who don't want you in Washington, think again. Many Progressive Democrats, including myself, were looking forward to you joining the Senate ranks to add to a small but scrappy chorus of Senators who have been willing to fight for the people.

If you think that you can't reverse course because you have now publicly stated you aren't running, I ask that you remember the old adage: "it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind." Life is short, live big. A groundswell of Progressives--including Americans who don't self-identify this way but hold these values--will support you, even if New Democrats won't.

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is a political scientist, policy analyst, and radio host. She is President and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a social change strategy firm dedicated to making policy work for people and the environment.