The legislators who made a mark in 2019
From Washington to Philadelphia, these are the names that changed the way of doing politics in the country during the last year.
MORE IN THIS SECTION
The last twelve months seem to have flown before our eyes but, in substance,much has changed in American politics.
From a government shutdown for an annual budget, the publication of the Mueller report, a new Attorney General and an impeachment against the president — it’s a lot, packed into a very short time. We’re living in a totally different episode in the history of the country.
That is why we’ve chosen in AL DÍA not only the most important politicians in the national headlines, but those who changed the discourse in one way or another, both in Washington and here at home.
These are the politicians of the year: women and men who decided to ride the wave of chaos and do something productive with it.
Since the Democratic Party won a majority in the House of Representatives, the Representative of the 12th District of Congress in California, Nancy Pelosi, has come to the forefront of national politics.
Her tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives began with a government shutdown which began when President Donald Trump refused to sign an annual budget that did not include funds for his border wall.
Along with the Democratic Minority Leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, Pelosi proved time and again before the cameras that experience and training is sometimes stronger than populism.
Always following regular channels and navigating divisions both inside and outside the party, Pelosi has been key during these last 12 months in which the political crisis seems to have no ceiling.
It was the Speaker of the House who checked the impulse of the most progressive wing of her party when they demanded a premature impeachment against Donald Trump.
However, a phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine was enough for Pelosi to finally orchestrate an orderly procedure, strictly adhered to the order of law, to give rise to impeachment.
Despite serving in the House of Representatives since 2001, this has been the year in which Adam Schiff demonstrated what he’s made of.
As a representative of the 28th district of the California Congress, and a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff took the lead in the investigation into an impeachment against Donald Trump in September 2019.
The telephone call between the US president and the president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky put on the table the Trump Administration's strategy to withhold military funds granted by Congress in exchange for information that favored Trump's re-election campaign in 2020.
This was denounced by a whistleblower within the White House and confirmed by the transcript published by the government, thanks to the pressure exerted by Schiff from the intelligence committee.
However, the highest judicial body of the government, the Department of Justice, refused to conduct an investigation in this regard, which forced the House of Representatives committees to conduct their own investigation.
Since Sept. 13, 2019, Schiff has been in charge of subpoenas, interviewing, questioning and evaluating witnesses and hundreds of documents of evidence that seem to prove that something is rotting in Washington.
His investigations have gone so far that the representative is now the victim of multilateral attacks by the Republican Party, the White House and, obviously, Fox News.
The representative of the 45th district of California is part of the freshman members of the House and the Democratic Blue Wave that took the majority of the chamber in November 2018.
After taking over the position of Republican Mimi Walters, Porter became the first Democrat to represent the district since its creation in 1953, all thanks to a grassroots political campaign without corporate money or support from Political Action Committees.
Despite her short time in office, Porter has become "perhaps the fiercest disruptor in Congress since Elizabeth Warren," according to observers from the Financial Services Committee.
Thanks to her sharp questions and pointed criticism against regulators appointed by the Trump Administration, as well as against its CEOs and the monopoly of banks, Porter is considered the avenger of consumers in Congress.
Her interventions in the committees have become famous for her use of support material - from posters to books - and for her deep knowledge of cause in mortgage matters and in the defense of citizens' rights, especially after having worked as an independent mortgage supervisor in California between 2012 and 2014.
While it is true that the Republican Party has gradually transformed into a tribe led by President Trump's personal interests, there are some individuals inside its political ranks that have decided to make their own way and fulfill the work entrusted by their voters.
Such is the case of the Representative of the 3rd Michigan Congressional district, Justin Amash, who split from the party in July 2019 and declared himself independent as a gesture of disagreement with bipartisanship in Congress.
Despite having drawn attention for being the first Republican to request an impeachment against Donald Trump after the findings of the Mueller report, Amash has demonstrated his attachment to the Constitution since he drafted the declaration of the original mission of the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives.
His training as a lawyer in Michigan and his early entry into the state legislature at age 28 set the tone for his political career, where he defined his positions, which include positions against abortion, and in favor of the Second Amendment and tax reform.
All this makes him a textbook Republican representative, but his work during the Trump Administration has been an example of not having to be a Trumpist to be a Republican.
In 2012, for example, he was expelled from the House Budget Committee after he voted against the budget proposed by Republican Paul Ryan, and TIME magazine describes him as "the Lego under the feet of Republicans."
The U.S. senator for the state of Utah has been another of the most important Republicans in recent months, not only for his open antagonism of the Trump Administration but also for his willingness to continue working despite the storm.
Romney is one of the few Republicans to "keep an open mind" to the evidence against Donald Trump in the impeachment investigation led by Democrats in the House, and has remained on the side of investigations since the publication of the Mueller report.
The former governor of Massachusetts between 2003 and 2007, Romney has been known for his 2012 presidential campaign against President Barack Obama, and for winning the position of Utah senator with 62.6% of the vote.
During the last months, the senator has crossed the bipartisan lines to join the representative Ben McAdams and fight to maintain programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and considers himself “a lonely GOP voice battling Trump for the soul of the party.”
Before she took home the most votes of any City Council candidate in decades during May’s primary, Helen Gym was already on the rise to becoming one of Philadelphia’s most popular representatives in City Hall.
As a member of the growing progressive wing of the Democratic Party in Philly, Gym came into office a champion of Philadelphia’s youth.
Her freshman term on City Council has been eventful to say the least. In keeping with her youth-driven message, Gym has won record investments to support pre-K education, pull youth from homelessness and further fund resources for the Philadelphia School District.
She also has been at the forefront of labor rights legislation, including "Fair Workweek" and the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
Gym’s voice has also been heard on the front lines of both Philadelphia’s standoff with ICE as a “welcoming city” for immigrants and the ill-fated fight to keep Hahnemann University Hospital open alongside its more than a thousand workers.
Some of her most recent legislation has also given more protections and accessibility to Philly’s LGBTQ community.
The approximately 109,000 votes Gym received in May was the second most received by any candidate in the 2019 primary races (the first was Mayor Jim Kenney). Speaking of mayors, Gym’s success has put her name in the growing name of qualified women looking towards 2023.
The dynasty-defeater from West Philadelphia, Jamie Gauthier handily claimed victory against longtime Councilmember Jannie Blackwell, who held the District 3 spot on City Council for 27 years.
Gauthier’s extensive public service career includes stints with a plethora of community aid and development organizations — both long-standing and ones she created herself. Her most recent post was as executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, which overlooks improvement projects at parks and green spaces across the city.
The platform on which Gauthier ran her successful bid for City Council tackled many issues currently plaguing Philly, including gentrification, poverty, climate change, justice reform and education.
Her hot button issue is gentrification. As someone who was born and raised in West Philly, Gauthier has seen its effects first hand and is on a mission to find a more equitable path to redeveloping Philly’s neighborhoods.
In addition to reforming the tax abatement, Gauthier thinks the city can be smarter about where it places its affordable housing, such as in areas surrounding major transit hubs. Philly’s process of property reassessment is also in Gauthier’s line of reform.
After defeating Blackwell in the May primary through a strong, community-driven campaign, Gauthier ran unopposed in the November general election. She will assume office in January 2020.
Kendra Brooks is arguably the most surprising name to skyrocket to political stardom this election season. A third-party at-large City Council candidate, Brooks repped the Working Families Party banner alongside fellow community organizer Nicolas O’Rourke.
Both were on a mission to unseat the Republican Party from both of the reserved minority party spots on City Council. Their reason for chasing spots on City Council is so it can realize a “true progressive” platform throughout all of Philadelphia.
It’s a platform that confronts the mass incarceration of a racist justice system, while also demanding a higher minimum wage despite state regulations. The message is no longer a pipe dream. Brooks and O’Rourke have received endorsements from heavy hitters near and far, including fellow high-flyer Helen Gym and national juggernaut and presidential front runner Elizabeth Warren.
The campaign raised the most money of any third-party campaign in Philly’s election history at $250,000.
When Brooks celebrated her victory on Nov. 5, she became the first third-party candidate to be elected to Philadelphia City Council in the city’s modern history. Beyond that, her victory serves notice of the presence of the Democratic Party’s strong, and rapidly-expanding progressive wing across Philadelphia.
If you were a low-wage worker in the past year in Philadelphia needing a champion in government, more than likely that person was District 9 Councilmember Cherelle Parker.
Along with standing beside fellow councilmembers María Quiñones-Sánchez, Blondell Reynolds Brown, and Helen Gym in their fight for a domestic workers bill of rights in Philadelphia, Parker is also the only official to take a strong stance with the city’s parking lot workers.
Like Philly’s domestic workers, many of the workers that run the city’s parking lots find themselves in poor conditions and sometimes questionably fired for bringing up those circumstances with supervisors.
In response, Parker introduced a bill on April 26, 2019, that would require “just cause” for any of the parking lot companies to fire an employee, while also mandating each of their garages or lots are adequately staffed for safety reasons.