Straight from print: Inside Jamie Raskin’s campaign to victory

This article originally appeared in The Eagle's Feb. 24, 2017 special edition.

It’s clear that Professor Jamie Raskin of AU’s Washington College of Law is passionate about politics. On Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 Raskin went from discussing politics in the classroom to taking part in politics on Capitol Hill, when he was sworn in to the U.S. House of Representatives for the eighth district of Maryland.

Raskin has taught constitutional law at WCL for the past 25 years, while also serving three terms as a Democratic state senator in Maryland from 2007-2016. He is currently on leave from teaching at AU as he begins his new position as a House member

Raskin said he felt the need to get involved in politics after seeing how his state senator at the time was representing his district.

“One day I picked up the newspaper to see that my state senator had introduced legislation to expand the death penalty in Maryland and I did some more research on my state senator and found he had introduced legislation to endorse the Iraq war, had been blocking marriage equality, and just generally had not been representing what I thought was the will of our district,” Raskin said. “And so I said to myself, I could keep whining about the Republicans or do something about my party and I decided to run for the state senate.”

During his time in the Maryland State Senate, Raskin fought for legislation for equal marriage, juvenile justice reform and environmental reform, according to his website. Raskin then received a phone call in March 2015 from Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, asking if Raskin would support him in his race for Democrat Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s seat. Raskin replied that he would not only support Van Hollen, he would run for Van Hollen’s seat in the House as well.

William Leonard, a junior in the School of Public Affairs, interned for Raskin’s Congressional campaign from the fall of 2015 to April 2016, when Raskin won the primary election.

Leonard worked as a finance intern for the campaign, conducting donor research and helping to sort previous donors into different targeted lists, as well as making fundraising and general interest calls. He also canvassed and reviewed research papers and questionnaires for interest groups that were considering endorsing the campaign.

“We had by far the best grassroots, community-based political organization anyone has seen in our district for a very long time,” Raskin said.

Raskin noted his Women for Jamie event on Sep. 27, 2015 was one of the more special moments of the campaign, when more than 400 women, including Raskin’s family, gathered to support Raskin’s campaign. Raskin said it was a breakthrough moment for him.

“Everybody was there, and it was a very special, kind of magical feeling to get that kind of support,” Raskin said.

The best moment of the campaign for Leonard was the night of the primary elections, he said.

“I was so tense I couldn't even celebrate…,” he said in an email. “When the AP called the election for us, I rushed into the party as casually as I could manage and quietly told my fellow interns the news. A few minutes later, the word spread, and we were up late celebrating the result.”

Now that Raskin has been elected, he will continue fighting for the same issues he did in the Maryland State Senate, Leonard said. Raskin will focus on environmental protection, tightening gun laws and defending Supreme Court decisions such as Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges.

He was also elected by his fellow first-time members of Congress to serve on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which means that he will get the chance to influence the Democratic Party’s agenda for this Congress.

Leonard noted that the president-elect’s agenda conflicts with Raskin’s most important priorities.

“However, Jamie has a history of reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans to pass bipartisan legislation,” he said. “Now, the Maryland legislature isn't quite as polarized as Congress, but I think he will be able to use some of those talents he honed over 10 years to work toward getting legislation enacted.”

The tumultuous first few weeks of Trump’s presidency has made it difficult for politicians to react to Trump, as his moves have been dramatic and unexpected.

“Nothing surprises me anymore. We have to be prepared for the worst, including a drive to war. This is a president who tweeted about World War III,” Raskin said. “So we do have to be prepared for everything across the board. We have to be extremely nimble and rapid in our response to various threats and we can’t be distracted by tweets.”

Leonard is just one of many AU students who has interned for a political campaign, and Raskin said he appreciates that AU students want to be involved in today’s political process.

“This generation has evolved lots of its own political activities. I love the balance of online political engagement and on-the-street political activism the young people are practicing today,” Raskin said. “I think every generation has developed some kind of political style or tactic, but I would encourage them to study our history, our political and moral philosophy and to look at great democratic heroes of the past.”

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