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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A group of ex-staffers and volunteers from the Bernie Sanders campaign are looking past the 2016 presidential election and towards the 2018 midterms, aiming to replace the United States Congress with a brand new one – or as close to that as they can get – made up of political newbies and outsiders unbeholden to the donor-class.

Last Monday, these Sanders supporters formed a new Political Action Committee called Brand New Congress, and they’ve already raised nearly $35,000 in donations from around 8,000 pledged members. Around 300 have signed up to work for the campaign.

The group has a three-year plan: Throughout 2016 they will continue recruiting organizers and selecting a set of more than 400 candidates — from across the political spectrum, apparently — who conform to the Sanders brand of political integrity, and by January 2017 they’ll begin a hard push to the midterm elections in November 2018.

Although electing an entirely new Congress seems like a stretch, the massive mobilization we’ve seen of previously disenganged primary voters in 2016 makes just about anything seem feasible, at least on paper.

Brand New Congress doesn’t necessarily seem to want to swap out everyone on Capitol Hill — just those they deem part of the “do nothing” problem that has pushed so many voters to the fringes of their respective parties.

A statement on the group’s website reads, “America needs an honest, accountable Congress to enact Bernie’s program. But trying to win each Congressional seat one-by-one is impossible. So let’s run one campaign to replace Congress all at once…that whips up the same enthusiasm, volunteerism and money as Bernie’s presidential campaign.”

The group is pinning most of its hopes on convincing inexperienced political observers to throw their hats into the ring.

In an interview with The Attitude, a progressive talk show out of New Hampshire, Brand New Congress organizer Stacie Hopkins said “[political] experience is good to have, but it’s not always necessary to have that experience to be a good representative of the people.”

“We hope to be able to provide training to people who have natural leadership qualities,” Hopkins said. “We want to encourage people who may not have thought of running for public office, but who have the qualities that would make them conducive to being good representatives.” Hopkins noted that some congress people “may have gotten into [politics] not to serve the public, but for ego and personal ambitions, for the sake of having power.”

The group also plans on taking some of the fundraising pressure off of its newly-minted politicians, an awkward conflict with Sanders’s pledge not to accept money from outside groups. It’s a similar position to Harvard Law School professor — and one-time Democratic presidential candidate — Lawrence Lessig’s Mayday PAC, a super PAC meant to support candidates in favor of campaign finance reform.

Brand New Congress hasn’t shied away from its commitment to recruit new candidates from both parties. In an interview with the Huffington Post, organizer Zack Exley said, “We want a supermajority in Congress that is fighting for jobs, criminal justice reform and the environment. Most Americans actually want that, and I think we get it by running Dems in blue areas, Republicans in deep red areas, and by running independents wherever we didn’t defeat incumbents.”

Given the current — and longstanding – polarity of our political parties, it’s easy to disregard the potential for successfully finding Democrats and Republicans to run under the same umbrella group. According to a representative from the PAC, they plan on endorsing Republican candidates who back progressive social issues like LGBT and women’s rights — and those Republicans are out there, in and around the pro-privacy, live and let live libertarian camp.

If the real hope of Brand New Congress is to break up congressional gridlock and create an environment where all the issues can be contested on a level playing field, then this might be worth watching. It may be a long shot, but what about Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaign for president isn’t?

Photo: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington March 25, 2016. REUTERS/David Ryder  –  

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