Midterm Madness

Published August 24, 2018.

Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend. Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere. Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow. Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. On this week's agenda midterm madness including candidates we love and we're watching and we're showering with our time, attention, and hard-earned dollars including Felicia French who's running for the Arizona State Legislature and Cynthia Nixon who's running for governor of New York. [Theme Song] (2:00) Aminatou: Hello! Hello from beautiful Los Angeles. Ann: I love having you here. Aminatou: [Laughs] Listen, I love being in your house. So when, when, when, when, when? Ann: Oh my god, great transition, win, win, win, win, win, because today's episode is all about the midterm elections. Aminatou: I know! We're checking in on candidates we're watching, organizations that we're keeping an eye on. The midterms are approaching rapidly. Ann: You know that November 9th feeling of oh god, I did work on this campaign or I did make phone banking calls from my laptop but was it enough? This is horrible. This is just like I am trying very hard to avoid that feeling. Aminatou: Right. And the truth about that feeling is elections are not won on election day. We've gone through so primaries, so many -- some places still have primaries that are coming. And so it's getting real but this is where the work happens. So a couple of candidates that I have had my eye on recently are Lauren Underwood who is running in Illinois for Congress. Her campaign is super rad. She is cool. She has like win, win, win, win, win, win, win written all over her. So if you're thinking you live in a safe state and you want to adopt a candidate she's a pretty cool lady so I would look into her. Two other candidates that I'm super excited about are Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Rashida Tlaib is famous for heckling Donald Trump so she's already a winner. Ann: Iconic heckler Rashida Tlaib. Aminatou: Right. Like hecklers are running for office now, y'all. Ann: And she is in Michigan, correct? Aminatou: Yes. Both of them are poised to become the first Muslim women in Congress so that's pretty exciting. Ann: Can you believe we're out here having first still? Aminatou: Yeah, we're still having firsts. But you know what? I'll take it. So again if you're like I'm looking for some kick-ass Muslim women I want to throw my money and support around I would look into both of them. Also want to shout-out Christine Hallquist who won her primary in the Vermont governor race. She is a really, really rad trans woman and it just makes me really, really happy. Fucking progressive values out here winning again one day. So it feels cool. (4:20) Ann: Identity politics winning elections out here. Aminatou: I know! I'm like out here. So it's just like, you know, it's cool to go through these primaries and instead of having that feeling in the pit of your stomach that the world is on fire, you're like oh, I forgot what it felt like to win, that blue wave could be real. Ann: Also I have to say that I understand the need for opposition. Like calling members of Congress; calling my representatives and being like "Stop this Trump thing. Stop this horrible bill. Stop Paul Ryan from existing in the world." And it feels really, really good with an eye to the midterms to be like "Oh, here is a positive thing I want to happen in the world. This is not just stop a negative thing; this is like these are candidates who I want to see remake politics at every level." Aminatou: It's exciting to be excited about new people, you know? Ann: Yes! Aminatou: That sexy feeling where you're like ooh, possibilities everywhere. Ann: Good candidates coursing through the pipeline. Aminatou: [Laughs] Throbbing through the pipeline. Love it. Ann: So I'm paying special attention to Abby Finkenauer who's running for Congress from Iowa very, very near to where I grew up. And I'm also just like there are a few orbs that I rely on to do some of this filtering for me. Aminatou: Ooh, tell us. Ann: Well you and I are both big fans and supporters of Higher Heights. Aminatou: Yes. Ann: Which provides training, money, essentially all these things that need to come into play to build political power and leadership among black women. So they have like a slate of candidates and work that they are doing. They do this campaign called Sister to Watch which is like, you know, if you are looking for a hero, say . . . Aminatou: Looking for a shero. Ann: Looking for a shero, it is a great place to start. That is higherheightsforamerica.org. I also love Sister District. Aminatou: Yes. Ann: Which here's the thing about Sister District is state-level politics are a place where Republicans have continued to just pummel everyone else when it comes to organizing at that level, and Sister District does the hard, nitty-gritty, nerdy work of like looking at people who are running for state-level office, often for state legislatures in places like Virginia and Arizona and Nevada, that have populations that are a lot more progressive than their representation in the state house would suggest. And they are really good at targeting those candidates with cash and attention. So I have been clued into their races to watch because look, my representation in the state legislature in California, I'm cool with it. And I'm very interested in how we can all pay better attention all the way down that pipeline to people who are potentially running for the first time at the state level. (7:08) Aminatou: I love that. Ann: Yeah. And Sister District is actually how I got in touch with the first candidate we're going to talk to today. Her name is Felicia French. She's running for the state legislature in Arizona. She is a retired Army colonel, so leadership box checked. Aminatou: Thank you for your service! Ann: She is a registered nurse who until very recently when she decided to focus on her campaign was working as a volunteer hospice nurse. She's also an educator, and yeah, she's running in a rural Arizona district where look, her views on the border are incredible. It's a part of the country where we need candidates like her. So anyway, I called her up to talk about running for the first time, what's going on in Arizona, yeah, and her state-level ground game. [Interview Starts] (7:55) Ann: Felicia, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Felicia: Ann, thank you very much for this opportunity. Ann: I know that it can be hard for those of us, even people who really care a lot about the midterm elections, to internalize the importance of state-level races especially in places like Arizona. I'm hoping you can talk a little bit about your district and the importance of your campaign really when you think about state-level politics in Arizona, what you have the ability to change or the capacity to change if you get elected. Felicia: It always reminds me of that adage think globally, act locally and that's what I'm doing is running in my district here in Arizona which is legislative district 6, it happens to be one of the largest districts in the country, so it is very spread out. It's predominantly rural. And I love this rural area, and the bottom line is the state representatives write the laws for the entire state in every state. So it's really important to look at the entire slate of representatives and vet them. If the states start making progressive comments, laws that profoundly impact everyone else whether it be good or bad, well it affects the rest of the country too once one state does it. Like California is a classic example. It has enacted many very progressive laws that look out for the environment and immigrants and the greater good and the rest of the states start to look at that as the benchmark. And so it makes it easier for for the states -- especially Arizona being a border state -- I'm hoping that's going to fall over and we start becoming more progressive too. (9:30) Ann: Yeah. And I understand that in the state legislature in Arizona, it's flippable as they say or pretty close or it's in play that it might have a Democratic majority. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that. Felicia: Yes. Right now the state house, we're six away from breaking even and one more to flip it. And it's been over 51 years since we've had a Democratic house in Arizona. We also have a trifecta -- Republican trifecta -- where the governor, the senate, and the house . . . you can say that that's great if you're a Republican but the reality is that's not a true democracy when you have that kind of monopoly and control. You want some diversity of thought if nothing else. Ann: Is this your first campaign for office? Felicia: Yes it is. Ann: Tell me what prompted you to run. Was there like a day when you were like "This is it, I'm going to do it?" When you finally made the choice? Felicia: It's been just a series -- it's like death by a thousand paper cuts. And November of 2016 obviously was the major -- the big slice, the paper cut there. My whole life I've always been very concerned with what's going on in the rest of the world and it's always profoundly impacted me. I was in the military for 32 years and I traveled a lot. My last assignment was in Afghanistan so I've seen so much stuff I just can't stand it. So when 2016 happened and we started becoming more and more isolationist I was embarrassed. The thought of people in the rest of the world, through all my travels, before they thought America was great. And to see now all of a sudden our standing in the world's eyes, that we're the big bully now instead of the big brother? It really bothered me. So I kept thinking about doing something but I didn't know what. I volunteered for all kinds of things, you know, search and rescue, civil air patrol, the cadets and community emergency response teams. It just wasn't enough. So somebody approached me about running a couple times and as a typical female I thought oh, what do I have to offer the world? And I didn't think I'm not a leader, I'm not a politician. But the irony of it is I was a leader for seven years in the military. I commanded three different units for seven years total. But translating that to the civilian sector I was kind of how does that work? (11:40) But then really the straw that broke the camera's back was August of last year at Charlottesville. I was so appalled at the hatred towards the minorities and blacks and women and just that our government would condone that. I literally had a visceral reaction. I couldn't stand it. And that's when I decided to throw my hat in the ring. Ann: Yeah, and how are you finding it in terms of . . . this is something I always wonder about people I know and love and think should be in office, that the kinds of things you say around the kitchen table that have to do with politics like how appalled you are with the government's reaction to Charlottesville or what you think about what's happening at the border, all that stuff has to be translated into messaging to voters. And I would love to hear you talk a little bit about how the constituents in your rural district are receiving the kinds of things you're saying about your worldview and what you would do if you're elected. Felicia: Surprisingly well. I think at the end of the day most people are good. I really do. I know it sounds idealistic and Pollyanna but I think people are good for the most part and they generally care about things. It's just they don't know how to make a change, how to do it. So instead they get overwhelmed with all that. In the nursing field we used to call it compassion fatigue, and I think they don't know what to do. So when you kind of point out to them "Hey, we have the commonalities of we do care about education. We do care about healthcare. We do care about clean water and clean air." You remind them of that. It's just how we go about doing it. And also one of the other approaches, there's two things I use frequently to get constituents to kind of side with me or understand my position. One is my military background that both parties obviously respect military veterans for the most part. It gives me some credibility. I've traveled around the world, been to six continents. So that right there, I've seen a lot of things we can benchmark off of and give ideas. I have a lot of solutions. The other thing is instead of pointing fingers at people and blaming -- I know, there's enough blame to go around, we know that, and it's very tempting to do -- I'd rather say hey, let's come up with solutions. Let's figure out how we can get this together and work on this because definitely if you really sit down and talk to people we almost all feel the same way about these issues. It's just we've been pitted against each other kind of like divide-and-conquer and we've got to stop that. It's got to come from us because it's not going to come from our leadership. Ann: Yeah. What has been the hardest part of campaigning so far? Felicia: Oh, the time. [Laughs] I had no idea it was going to be a full-time job. I was working -- and I'm retired military, thank goodness, and I have a pension so I can live off of that pension, but I'm not one to sit back and not do anything so this has been a full-time job. Ann: [Laughs] That's so interesting and also it must feel difficult having this -- I mean maybe I'm projecting here so just tell me if I'm wrong. But you have all this really deep many years expertise in all these areas in nursing, in terms of being a global citizen, in terms of your military background. You know, and I think what intimidates a lot of people about running for office and starting at the state level is it's like starting from zero at a new career, let's be honest, but also doing it very publicly, like you're in the spotlight starting from zero. Is that your experience? (15:00) Felicia: That's one -- yeah, definitely. I often jokingly say, because I started my military career when I was 17 as a private. That's the lowest rank. Then I ended at the colonel. And I feel like I'm starting off again as a private as a politician. And I don't even like that. I'm really very reluctant to use the word politician because it has such negative connotations. I consider it a public servant, and I want to continue me public service because in the military I think we're public servants. Police officers, firefighters, teachers. I just, yeah, it's starting over again and it's really hard in that sense. But that being said I've sort of been preparing for this all my life in a way because I'm feeling curious. I research a lot. I read all the time. I get up at 5 in the morning and I start reading the Washington Post and New York Times. I listen to the Audible tapes -- books -- and they're mostly about history and science so that part has made it kind of easy for me. Honestly the part about fundraising and those kinds of things, the nuance of the fiscal laws about fundraising, that's the hard part. Ann: You find the fundraising rules and the asking for money part difficult and I know there are a lot of people listening to this who would be able to contribute maybe a small dollar donation but contribute something to help your campaign. And I'm curious what you're making use of those donations for at this point in the campaign, like you need those small dollar donations to accomplish. Felicia: Well because I live in a rural area mostly we'd be using it on mailers, and those are very expensive and we have over 10,000 homes that we have to send them out to. And generally speaking you want to send them out at three different times, so that's the main thing. Then there's the palm cards or the walking cards where we go door-to-door. And literally we have been going door-to-door in these really remote, rural areas and carrying the card so you can show them your platform and a little bit about yourself, so getting some name recognition. And running as an unknown candidate any first-time candidate has the same problem. There's no name recognition. Ann: Right. So hopefully those who are listening who care about state and local politics and supporting a first-time candidate who we want to see really ascend through the ranks can make a small donation to you, or at the very least follow your campaign on social media and talk you up to their friends in Arizona. Felicia: Thank you for that. [Laughs] Ann: All right, Colonel French, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Felicia: Thank you so much for the opportunity and I'm really impressed with your organization. I think it's a great, wonderful thing you're doing for women's issues and women's rights. It's very important that we get the word out there and show that women can lead and we can make a difference. We are actually -- we are going to be the ones to make a difference. [Interview Ends] Aminatou: Yes! Ann: Colonel French! (17:50) Aminatou: Listen, like I said, it's exciting to be excited about someone. Ann: Totally. [Music and Ads] (21:15) Aminatou: Ooh, speaking of exciting I talked to Cynthia Nixon who is running for governor of New York. You might know her as Miranda from Sex and the City. I am also getting to know her as Miranda from Sex and the City because I'm watching Sex and the City and it's fun. But here's the deal: I am down for celebrities who run for office who know what the fuck they're talking about. The thing about this race that's been really funny is that people try to belittle her as like "She's just an actress." It's like 1) look at the dumpster fire we have in office. [Laughs] But 2) the thing about Cynthia Nixon that's exciting is she's a lifelong New Yorker. She says over and over again that she's a proud graduate of New York City schools. She sends all of her kids also to public school. She has been an activist for almost 20 years in every issue of education so it's not like she woke up one day and was like "I can do this!" She's actually been doing it for her kids and the kids of other New Yorkers forever and ever and ever. And the thing about her running that is so nuts to me is it's almost too woke. It's like oh, is this what it's like when real people run for office? Ann: Like people we would be friends with or fully agree with? [Laughs] Aminatou: Yeah, but also, you know, she'll just casually drop systemic racism in a sentence. Her education plan is amazing. Like literally the hashtag is #SchoolsNotJails. She's running a platform of fixing the subway. She believes in single-payer healthcare. She's been really outspoken about reproductive freedom. She's onboard with universal rent control. She wants to legalize marijuana. On the right side of immigrant rights, on the right side of disability rights. She wants to end corruption. It's so wild to me that New York State is, for as progressive as New York is, the current governor, he basically governs like a Republican. And it's so interesting that it doesn't feel like -- for a long time it hasn't felt like a priority to get him out of there. And so having her even push him on the issues right now, it makes it exciting on that level. Ann: So dumb question/request for clarification. Aminatou: Tell me. Ann: So Andrew Cuomo, the incumbent democratic governor . . . Aminatou: The son of Mario Cuomo, yes. Ann: Yes, is running for re-election and she is challenging him also as a Democrat? Aminatou: She is challenging him also as a Democrat, but here's the thing about Andrew Cuomo is he's a Democrat only in name. Ann: Sure, sure. Aminatou: He is basically in cahoots with all of the Republicans in the state house. Ann: Cahoots. [Laughs] Aminatou: Cahoots. And they're running a dirty game over there. So it's exciting to have somebody who's like "Listen, I don't have to do this job but I'm going to do this job." And it's funny to also watch him run scared. So if you like me are a New Yorker you know that election day is September 13th. You know that. It's in your calendar. You're going to take five friends to vote with you. You're going to check in with the rest of the friends and if they don't vote we are going to call them low-lives for the rest of our lives. It's a really, really big deal. And it's cool, you know, to hear her talk about the challenges and the ups and downs of it and also she totally does feel like a regular person. I can't tell you how many times I've seen her no shoes, standing on a table giving a speech or sitting on somebody's kitchen floor. Like real talk. Ann: I passed her on the street in downtown Brooklyn. I was like hello! (24:45) Aminatou: Oh my god, make politicians real human beings again. [Laughter] I love it. So here is Cynthia Nixon. Have a listen. [Interview Starts] Aminatou: Cynthia Nixon, thanks for coming on Call Your Girlfriend! Cynthia: Thank you, Amina. Thank you. Aminatou: [Laughs] I feel like we're old pals now. Cynthia: I feel that too. Aminatou: Just like are you sick and tired of seeing me everywhere? Cynthia: Not even a little bit. Not even a little bit. Aminatou: Well the election here is very soon. Cynthia: It's very soon. Aminatou: September 13th. If you're listening to this and you don't have plans to vote on September 13th we'll be very upset with you. Cynthia: Yeah, it is September 13th which is on a Thursday as opposed to most elections which are on a Tuesday. But this year it's a little different. Aminatou: Right. New York makes it really hard for people to vote. Cynthia: Yes we do. We have some of the worst voting laws in the entire country. It's what's called soft voter suppression. It's not like we've got intimidating sheriffs keeping you away but we just make it really hard for New Yorkers to vote. We split the federal election which we had just a couple months ago and the statewide election which is coming up on September 13th but also we don't have early voting. We don't have same-day registration. We don't have automatic registration through your driver's license or anything like that. We don't put 16- and 17-year-olds funneled in to be ready to vote when they turn 18. And we also are literally the only state in the entire country that doesn't have either open primaries or an ability to change your party in a timely way before the election. Like my wife will not be able to vote for me. Aminatou: Oh wow. Cynthia: Because she would've had to switch -- she's a Working Families Party member and she would've had to switch her party affiliation a year before. And, you know, if you're thinking about switching your party usually it's because you're excited about somebody's candidacy and you generally don't know a year out who's running. Aminatou: Right. It's almost as if they're doing it on purpose. Cynthia: I think they are. Aminatou: I think they really are. Cynthia: I think they are doing it on purpose because when you make it hard to vote in this way, certainly when you don't have early voting, it makes it really hard for working people to vote. But again really I think the voter suppression is really of young people and people of color and people who we really want -- we want our electorate to expand and we want everybody to be participating in our democracy. And frankly the way it is now it only benefits incumbents and it just deters people from voting. Aminatou: You know, one of the things that's been really refreshing about having you run for office is that you're very much no bullshit. I was like maybe we should . . . maybe the non-politicians should do politics because they talk to us like real people. In my friend group we used to joke that whenever there was a rap concert you would be there announcing because you were very much in the community. And it is refreshing. It also is you were talking about legitimate issues. Like when you talk about issues of economic justice or when you talk about issues of race and things that specifically affect black people in New York, I know that it is the first time -- certainly for me -- that I have heard a white politician or even a white person even acknowledge that these issues can be different in our community. Can you talk a little bit about why that is so important for you to emphasize? (28:10) Cynthia: Well, so I'm really -- if I had to boil it down to one reason that I'm running it's I'm running to combat inequality because New York is the single most unequal state in the entire country and I have been fighting for the last 17 years for better funding but especially more equal funding for New York's schools since my oldest kid -- I have three kids -- since my oldest kid entered kindergarten 17 years ago. And we think of ourselves as oh, we're such a diverse state. We're so progressive. We're two-to-one Democratic. But frankly the racial and the economic and the gender inequality is just swallowing our state whole. New York schools are the second most unequally-funded in the entire country. Aminatou: Wow. Cynthia: The second most unequal. Only Illinois has us beat and that's because of Chicago. No surprise there. So for example we spend 10,000 more per pupil in our hundred richest school districts than in our hundred poorest school districts and that is directly attributable to a systemic racism, no question about it. And we're talking about enormous gaps of funding. Like in a school of 500 kids we're talking about a five million dollar gap. Aminatou: I know. But you know it's nuts to hear somebody who's running for office even say the words systemic racism right? Like we don't hear it. All I can think of is like wow, a real person running for office. [Laughs] Cynthia: But I think there -- I mean I think there is an enormous change that's happening and I think so much of it has to do with the Black Lives Matter movement putting these issues front-and-center and frankly I think it has so much to do with the technology that we have now that everybody's walking around with a camera phone. And so when you're talking about interactions with people of color and the police we now have such a record so that people who were unaware or how can you be unaware, but not as aware as they should be of these interactions, now how can you deny it? It's right in front of your face. And it's really entering our discourse for white people who have really been asleep to this. And so the Black Lives Matter movement has done so much to bring it to our consciousness and now we really need to elect people to office who are going to make it part of our policy, addressing racial inequalities in our education, in our housing, and certainly in our justice system in the way communities of color are over-policed. (30:45) One of the first things I came out with in my campaign was the need to legalize recreational marijuana and there's a lot of reasons that we would want to do that. Eight other states have done it plus the District of Columbia. But first and foremost we need to do it because it's a racial justice issue. Plain and simple, end of story. Aminatou: Can you explain what you mean by that? Cynthia: So people across all ethnic and racial lines use marijuana at the same rates. But when you look at who's being arrested, when you look at who's being incarcerated in New York State, 80% of the people who are arrested are black or Latino. It's completely obvious the way in which we police people of different races entirely differently. How many people of color are being trapped up by the justice system for these minor ticketable offenses? You know, like riding your bike on the sidewalk or jumping a turn-style or being in a park after dark. Things that if somebody who looked like me did them frankly the police wouldn't even notice. And we are capturing people in the justice system, and in New York our system is so deeply -- deeply broken is the way I always have the impulse to express it, but then I stop and I think well actually I think our justice system is working exactly the way it was designed to work right? Aminatou: Yep. Cynthia: And so there are so many concrete things that we need to do here like ending cash bail. 25,000 people are in New York's jails on any given day and 70% of them -- 70% -- are there because they can't afford bail. They're there because they're poor. They're legally innocent, right? They haven't been brought to trial. And they sit there for months and even years having their lives destroyed, losing their jobs, losing their homes. There are families suffering. Aminatou: Right. And an issue that uniquely affects black women also. (32:42) Cynthia: Yes, whether black women are being incarcerated or black women are connected to a husband or a son or a daughter who are being incarcerated. And there's . . . we have just two systems of justice for somebody like Harvey Weinstein who has a million dollars to post bail then he's out in a few hours, then we have this really tragic case here in New York of Kalief Browder, this black teenager who was accused of stealing a backpack. A backpack. He was arrested. He was taken to Rikers. He was there for three years because he didn't have $3,000 bail and he wouldn't accept a plea bargain because he kept saying over and over again "I'm innocent. I'm didn't do it." He was in solitary for over 800 days. He was frequently beaten by guards and by other inmates. He was finally released because they had no case against him, but after three years. And shortly after he was released he took his own life. We need a remedy. We need a legislative remedy do this. We need to ensure speedy trial so he's not in there awaiting trial for three years. We need to ensure a right to discovery so the defense knows what the prosecution knows at the arraignment, you know, right away. And we need to end cash bail. Because what we've seen is if you're a threat to the community you shouldn't be out on the streets. And if you are, whether you have a million dollars bail to post, you shouldn't be out on the streets. But cash bail is something that serves the bail bond industry but it actually has very little effect on whether people show up to trial or not. Aminatou: Why do you think that our . . . because this seems like common sense. They're things that we've talked about for so long. They're also things that go beyond party affiliation, like why do you think that our current governor doesn't care? (34:30) Cynthia: To be perfectly blunt I think our current governor is someone who campaigns and talks like a Democrat but who frankly governs like a Republican. He's of the Democratic party because he's Mario Cuomo's son and because he's in New York but his allegiance seems so largely with the Republican party. He let the Republicans in our New York State senate draw their own districting maps and he incentivized a group of Democratic state senators to go and vote and caucus with the Republicans giving the Republicans in the state senate the majority when they didn't have it. So it means all of the progressive things that we could've done here like campaign finance reform, like passing the New York Dream Act, the Reproductive Health Act. All of these things were blocked by the Republican senate. And so Andrew Cuomo can say "Oh, I tried. I would've liked to but the Republicans wouldn't let me." Frankly he doesn't want to do these things A) because he doesn't want to pay for fully funding our schools, our schools are owed 4.2 billion dollars which is the thing that I've been fighting for for 17 years. But also at the end of the day he wants to position himself as a centrist so when he runs for president he doesn't look too progressive for the heartland. Aminatou: He certainly is not looking progressive at all. [Laughter] So that's going to work out for him. (35:50) Cynthia: It's going to work out for him but for the last seven-and-a-half years it has not worked out so well for New Yorkers, particularly with Donald Trump in the White House. We have a chance to be the seat of the resistance here, to be a real progressive beacon, and we are just nowhere on the map. Certainly we can't compete with California, California's getting all the glory, but we're being left in the dust by Washington and Oregon and Minnesota and New Jersey and so many other states that I could name because of Andrew Cuomo's lack of progressive leadership and his allegiance to his corporate donors first, last, and always. Aminatou: You're finally going to get to debate him. Cynthia: I am! Aminatou: Something that you've been wanting for a long time. Cynthia: Yes! Aminatou: That he has been resisting. I wonder why he's scared. Are you looking forward to that? Cynthia: I am. I am really looking forward to it. I mean as with so many other things he's done it in his own particular way. You know, more than 100 days ago we agreed to a debate with ABC and more than a month ago we agreed to a debate with New York One and he was totally mum. Then this week it came out that he's been negotiating the whole time with CBS and all of the terms of the debate are set, the location, the format, who's doing it, whether we're sitting or standing, down to a T. And CBS said "Look, this is the only way he would do it so take it or leave it." And this is something that happens to women a lot. It happens to people of color a lot that there are a totally different set of rules and a number of bars you have to jump over. There's this saying that I always love about when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were dancing Fred Astaire got all the credit but Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did but she did it backwards. Aminatou: Backwards. Cynthia: In four-inch heels, right? So I feel a little bit like Ginger Rogers at this debate but I will be thrilled to be there and thrilled to dance with Andrew Cuomo even though we have to do it sitting down because he doesn't want to be standing. (37:50) Aminatou: Can't stand next to you, god forbid. [Laughter] You know, for the past couple of years actually we've been talking to a lot of women who are running for office and highlighting a lot of women who would like to run for office and all sorts of things. Over and over one of the things that we hear that is a barrier to entry is the personal cost that a lot of women feel that, you know, they have to bear. And frankly I think about that. I'm like are you kidding me? This job sucks. [Laughter] There's not enough glory or money in the world to make me want to do it, but somebody competent should do it. But I really wonder how you have navigated around that because especially when you were throwing your hat in the ring people really tried to reduce you to "Oh, she's just an actress." I'm like do you see who we have for president? [Laughter] Or, you know, Andrew Cuomo saying -- very richly trying to say you're just a name. Cynthia: Right. Aminatou: You know, you've managed to navigate that very gracefully but how hard has it been? Cynthia: I mean running for office is not easy and it's something that I've thought long and hard about. And frankly year-after-year, since Andrew Cuomo has been elected, I've been going up to Albany fighting for this 4.2 billion dollars that our schools are owed. And year-after-year . . . Aminatou: So you've been a school activist for a very long time. Cynthia: I've been a school activist for 17 years and I've been specifically fighting for this pool of money. I mean basically even before -- I got involved in the fight in 2001 but eight years before that there was a lawsuit brought on behalf of the children of New York saying their state constitutional rights were being violated because so little was being spent on the students in our black and brown and poor white communities. And that lawsuit winded its way through the courts. We had victory after victory after victory. And finally in 2006 the highest court in New York, the Court of Appeals, said absolutely this lawsuit is spot-on and we need to invest this money in our schools. And Eliot Spitzer was the incoming governor. He and the legislature created a solution to this lawsuit called Foundation Aid and Eliot Spitzer as we might remember was only in office for 15 or 16 months. Aminatou: A lifetime ago. [Laughs] (40:10) Cynthia: But we were able to put in half of the Foundation Aid. We were halfway towards fully funding and more equally funding our schools and then he left office and a combination of the next governor, Governor Patterson and Governor Cuomo, gave the two biggest cuts to education we'd ever seen in this state, 1.4 billion and 1.3 billion and they erased all of the progress that we had made. Then they cut almost another half billion out to set us back farther than we had been before the lawsuit had been settled. So since Andrew Cuomo has taken office he refuses to acknowledge that this money is owed. And like so many other women this year who are running for office for the first time I've seen the job that our elected leader is doing and I've said if I really want this change that I believe in so deeply and know New York needs so badly I'm going to have to step up and do it myself. Aminatou: Are you encouraged by the wave of women that are running? Like what do you think we can do more with? Cynthia: I'm encouraged by the wave of women. I'm certainly encouraged by Stacey Abrams' campaign, by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's campaign, and we have a whole host not just of women but of immigrants, people of color, queer people. It's a real sea change and I think a lot of it has to do with people who were inspired by Bernie Sanders and his progressive vision, a lot of people who were inspired by Hillary Clinton and the hope -- the prospect -- of the first female president, and a lot of them were inspired by the horror of Donald Trump and that this is a time not to sit on the sidelines. And in the case of New York we're so motivated now to fight against the Trump agenda and we have a governor who's doing it rhetorically and not with legislation and not with real change. (42:00) For example, you know, we need to protect our undocumented people. We need to fight back against this heinous attack on our immigrants, on our immigrants both documented and undocumented, and there's such a simple thing that the governor of New York State can and should do which is expand access to driver's licenses for undocumented New Yorkers. This is something that Andrew Cuomo could do by executive order. This is something I will do on my first day in office. If we really care about fighting back against the Trump agenda why wouldn't we offer this simple protection? And wouldn't it be better for all New Yorkers to make sure that everybody on the road had a driver's license and had insurance? For me it's like legalizing marijuana. Why wouldn't you do this in a state where you could do it and you could fight back against such a wrong, such an injustice, such a totally disparate way of treating different categories of people? Aminatou: I mean I think you're, you know, you're really hitting the nail on the head here that a lot of people think New York is this very progressive place. Immigration rights are very tenuous here. Another thing that I think a lot of people don't realize is how precarious our abortion laws are. Cynthia: Yes. Aminatou: And actually we don't have any protection beyond what the federal protections are and those are being eroded all the time. Cynthia: Well and we actually have less than the federal protections because we're sort of a victim of our own success in that we legalized abortion here in '71 before we did it on the national level in '73. And so we never bothered bringing our laws into code with the federal standard. And again Andrew Cuomo positions himself as a champion of women's reproductive rights and reproductive justice but it's not true. He has again sided with the Republicans in the state senate who refuse to bring this up for a vote. And so what it means is with Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance we're really in danger here and women who need to have late-term abortions, it's very hard to find a doctor who will perform them here because our abortion laws still exist in the criminal code because they've never been codified with Roe v. Wade. (44:30) So we used to be a state where women from other places would come to access safe, legal abortion and women now who are seeking later-term abortions actually have to fly out of here if they can afford it because too many doctors are afraid they may go to jail if they perform a late-term abortion in New York. Aminatou: Can you talk also about some of the policies that you'd want to enact for women's healthcare specifically? I'm a cancer survivor and thinking about my healthcare next year, nothing stresses me out more than that. Cynthia: Yeah. Aminatou: And also just how bad health outcomes are for black women in the country and particularly in New York State. Cynthia: Yes. I mean I also am a cancer survivor and my mother eventually died of cancer but I think of her as a survivor because she died at 82.5 and she was first diagnosed at 49. I still term her a survivor. But when she first noticed a lump in her breast when she was 49, she had just lost her job, she didn't have any health insurance, she went out and got the quickest job she could find that had health insurance then she waited a month because she was afraid if she went -- got a job on a Monday and went to the doctor on Tuesday they would say "Well you already had this. This is a preexisting condition. We're not going to cover this." Aminatou: Wow. (45:55) Cynthia: So she waited a month, she went to the doctor, then had to act surprised when he found this not -- you know, this really noticeable lump. And we still have . . . you know, we have a million people in New York who are uninsured and we have millions more who are one diagnosis or one accident away from bankruptcy. And again with Obamacare, so tenuous, we really need to be fighting for single-payer healthcare here so we can insure all our people. We can do it better, we can do it cheaper. No co-pays, no deductibles. We have . . . this has passed the assembly multiple times. We're one vote away in the Senate. This is something that with a real progressive governor we can be fighting for and we can be achieving. But as you say even if we get to the point with single-payer healthcare we have such racial disparities in health outcomes for black people and for black women in particular. Across the country maternal mortality rates for black women are three and four times what they are for the general population but in New York City they're 12 times. I mean 12 times. That's not just a crisis; that's an epidemic. Aminatou: From a policy standpoint what can a governor do to change that? Cynthia: Well I mean first I think we really need to study this deeply and figure out is this simply implicit bias in our medical system? And if so what are -- how are we going to re-train people? How are we going to make sure that we're treating everybody equally and that we're actually making it a priority to listen to black women? But one of the things that we've seen is that outcomes not only in terms of maternal mortality -- black women surviving their pregnancies but also their babies surviving their pregnancies -- a doula can really, really increase the chances because you have a partner then. You have a partner who is knowledgeable. You have a partner with whom you have a long-standing relationship through your pregnancy and particularly a person who will advocate for you. Being pregnant and particularly being in labor is a very vulnerable time in a woman's life, arguably the most vulnerable, and you can't always advocate for yourself in the way that you need to particularly if the medical personnel are disposed to discount your opinion and discount your voice. So, you know, increasing Medicaid funding for doulas and just making it a much bigger part of the equation. I mean at this session we had last night with so many advocates and experts there were so many different ideas floated and one was that, you know, that hospitals would specifically have black birthing centers. I mean that sounds like a crazy idea but . . . Aminatou: Not to me. [Laughs] Cynthia: Right? But there was a woman there who said she specifically, when she delivered, she chose Harlem Hospital because she wanted to be sure there would be black people there tending to her that she wouldn't have to be trying to prove her humanity to. Right? That that was a barrier she wouldn't have to get past at again this very crucial and very vulnerable and very important moment in her life. Aminatou: So you are progressive. You are a super ally. You get it. You have the politics of everybody who listens to our show. I wonder though what are things as you've gone around the state that you have felt really challenged on or things you have learned new things about? Like issues you thought you had a good grasp on. (49:55) Cynthia: Well when you look at our public housing we're talking about decades worth of disinvestment not just from state government, not just from city government, but from federal government and we really need billions and billions of dollars to be invested. I was on the train with a woman just I guess two days ago, we were stalled in a tunnel for about 20 minutes and she lives in public housing and she was talking to me about her life and she was showing me photos of her apartment and how the ceiling in her kitchen had collapsed, literally collapsed. You could see all the way through and all the pipes. She doesn't allow her son to go into the kitchen anymore because she's afraid that something will fall on him. She showed me a big hole that she tried to patch in her kitchen through which rats come through. Her apartment is essentially uninhabitable and she keeps trying to get recourse. She keeps trying to get them to come and make repairs or move her. They've offered to move her to a different complex but it's where the man, her child's father who abused her lives so she can't go back there. It's overwhelming the problem and the lack of government support and the lack of government intervention and this is just one woman, right? We have 400,000 people living in our public housing and we have betrayed them and we have abandoned them and we need to invest in our major institutions. We're a wealthy state and we should not have people living in third world conditions anywhere in the United States but certainly not in New York State. Aminatou: That seems so overwhelming. Like how do you go on hearing about all the problem, like everything that is broken, and still want to do this job? Cynthia: Because we have the ability to change life for New Yorkers, right? We have the ability. We have so many solutions to so many of the problems that we face but we just don't have the political will coming out of Albany. But we have a moment where things like single payer that just a few years ago seemed like a pipe dream, they're now at the center of the debate, at least in Democratic politics. (52:15) I mean one of the things that we have to be doing in New York, we have to pass this bill, the Climate and Communities Protection Act. It's the most ambitious green energy bill in the entire country. It's something that we have to do to show other states that actually not only is this good for everybody's health but it's actually a tremendous economic boon and we can by investing in green energy and investing in infrastructure and transportation and water and roads, this is a really reliable way of improving our state and reliably creating jobs rather than what Andrew Cuomo is doing now which is throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at his corporate donors with no strings attached and saying "Build a factory, create me some jobs. You didn't? Oh well." Aminatou: Must be nice. Tell me about your support system, your best friends. Cynthia: My best friends? Aminatou: When you go home and you're like I am so tired of this shit. Cynthia: [Laughs] Aminatou: You take off your shoes and it has been the worst day, like who do you call? Cynthia: Well, first of all my wife is there and she is my rock. And I absolutely could never be doing this without her, and my kids are amazing. But for me, you know, having grown up in New York I'm still living in the place where I was born and where I grew up. I have a lot of friends who I've known since first grade and stuff. When I'm done here a friend of mine from high school is throwing a fundraiser in Harlem for me tonight. It's that kind of support that people understand, you know, I might not be able to have lunch with you nowadays and my phone calls might be fewer and far between but you know I'm there. I know you're there. I have a particularly good friend who I know from college who is in Texas who just keeps flying out. She just keeps flying out at pivotal moments in the campaign and collecting signatures to get me on the ballot or doing that kind of thing. She wants to be there just showing . . . Aminatou: That's the best. That's the best when you're proud of what your friends are doing. Cynthia: Yeah. Aminatou: It's really cool. (54:30) Cynthia: Yeah. And also I'll just say I was just in California this last weekend and Kristin Davis from Sex and the City and Michael Patrick King from Sex and the City who's a writer and director and a bunch of people from the West Wing, Richard Shift, they threw me this amazing fundraiser and my friend Lisa Gay Hamilton was there and just every -- just the support, even across the country, made me feel so, so loved and so embraced. Aminatou: I can't thank you enough for coming. I hope that you'll come back and get very high with us. [Laughs] Cynthia: Oh really? When we legalize marijuana? Aminatou: When we legalize marijuana, and even if we don't. [Laughter] But you know it is embarrassing that New York State has not legalized marijuana. At this point I'm like don't let California win everything. It's ludicrous. Cynthia: Everything. Everything. Aminatou: So we are rooting for you. September 13th. Cynthia: September 13th. It's a Thursday. [Interview Ends] Ann: Cynthia! Aminatou: I know. I want Cynthia to come and get high with us when she wins. Ann: Yes please, any time. Also you're definitely on the Cynthia Nixon get out the vote, doing all that work on her behalf train clearly, right? Aminatou: Yes, clearly. (55:45) Ann: I'm really trying to do one thing that's directed towards the midterms per week, like from now until it doesn't matter anymore. Aminatou: That's good. Ann: I think that really helps me because I'm like oh, I can send some postcards or whatever or I can show up to one phone banking thing, and it's not like I'm paralyzed by am I doing enough or whatever. It's kind of like a baseline that I've set for myself. So get a midterms buddy. Aminatou: Yeah, get a midterms buddy and set some goals. My goals for this midterm honestly were around fundraising. It's something that I've always looked at and I was like okay, who are the people that I want to max out for this year? And also looking at some of the places that I've lived and saying who are the people I want to support? I am so bullish on Beto O'Rourke in Texas. Ann: Yes. Aminatou: A year ago it seemed like a long shot. Six months ago it seems like a long shot and today it's like ooh. Ann: It's a shot. Aminatou: This is wild, right? So if you like the weird odds in gambling of supports . . . [Laughs] The same is true in politics. But really, you know, there is something about going like the whole world is on fire but there are a few things I can control and just focusing on those things. It's like there are a lot of candidates that I'm super excited about then there are candidates that I'm like these are my candidates. Ann: Yeah. Aminatou: I'm like this is who I am responsible for. Ann: My slate. My personal slate. Aminatou: Exactly. I'm like this is my slate and this is who I'm responsible for and I will raise money for them and I will raise awareness for them and I don't know, it makes me feel like a little less -- it makes me feel a little less hopeless. Ann: Yes. And on that note before we go I just want to put in a quick plug for everyone who felt all of their entrails drop out their butt when they saw the news about the Supreme Court. Aminatou: [Laughs] I am done with you. Ann: That is 100% how I felt. I was like my body just shut down. There is a major day of action to stop the Kavanaugh confirmation happening Sunday, August 26th. You can go to uniteforjustice2018.com, we'll also link to it in the show notes, to figure out where and how to show up near you to tell the people who are currently in office that you are 100% un-chill with this nomination to the Supreme Court. Aminatou: We are not chill. You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, you can download the show anywhere you listen to your favs, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can email us at callyrgf@gmail.com. We're on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn, original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs, our logos are by Kenesha Sneed, our associate producer is Destry Maria Sibley. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac. See you on the Internet. Ann: And like on the campaign trail and getting out the vote.