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Is north MS ready for a congressional...

Is north MS ready for a congressional candidate in the mold of Bernie/AOC?

By: Frank Corder - January 16, 2020

Antonia Eliason is doing something no other Democratic candidate has done in Mississippi… she’s unabashedly running as a self-described Democratic Socialist.

The term “Democratic Socialist” has become trendy among progressives in the wake of Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ pronouncement during his presidential campaigns and the election of New York’s Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC, as she is best known).

In political circles, this ideology has come to mean those espousing this moniker seek some form of universal health care, promote environmental justice and support the Green New Deal, and seek to decriminalize and legalize marijuana, all issues Eliason is promoting in her First Congressional District campaign to unseat Republican Congressman Trent Kelly.

According to the faculty directory at Ole Miss, Eliason is an Associate Professor of Law International Trade Law, International Investment Law, Contracts, EU Law, the Law of Armed Conflict and Law and Science Fiction, and her research focuses on international trade law, particularly issues relating to sustainable development, trade facilitation and the environment, as well as international investment law and Roma rights.

In an interview with Y’all Politics, Eliason says her decision to run is rooted in the desire to make real changes in Mississippi and offer the voters in north Mississippi an option other than Trent Kelly.

Mississippi Democratic Party chairman Bobby Moak says he doesn’t personally know Eliason but her platform is her own.

“If you’re running in Mississippi as a Democrat, you’re running as a Democrat,” Moak told Y’all Politics.  “Your platform is your own.  You’re your own candidate.  You run as a Democrat or a Republican.  Everybody runs their own campaign.”

Portions of the interview with Eliason are transcribed below to allow readers to hear directly from the candidate.

Why Eliason is running, and why she is running as a “Democratic Socialist”

The motivation to run, since I moved to Mississippi, I’ve been by and large disappointed by the platforms and the policies of a lot of the different candidates that run as Democrats for office.  In a lot of cases, I think the politics of the candidates does not align with the national politics of the Democratic Party.

I’ve also seen really an appalling lack of political engagement within the Democratic Party in Mississippi, I think, and so I felt like this is a time to bring some new ideas to Mississippi’s politics.  In my life, I have always voted Democrat.  I’ve never not voted Democrat.  But even at the national level I’ve had some dissatisfaction over the years with candidates and their policies.

And I think there was a real injection of new life that happened in 2016 when Bernie Sanders came to national attention and there’s been since then an injection of progressive ideas that has kind of shifted the whole Democratic Party to address more of the concerns of working class Americans.  I think we see that now in the primaries as compared to four years ago.

Also, I found out that nobody was going to run against Trent Kelly.  I believe that democracy requires engagement and I really thought it was important that this seat should not be left to not have anyone run.  I think it is embarrassing, quite frankly, when you have a national election for the U.S. House of Representatives and there is no Democratic candidate standing against the Republican incumbent…

…I want to bring some awareness as to what Democratic Socialism actually means.  I think I am in a really strong position to sort of debunk some of the wrong notions about it.  My mother was born and raised in Stalinist Hungary and she immigrated to the U.S. to escape the oppressive system there.  When she was a child her parents were imprisoned and they were tortured for opposing the totalitarian communist regime.

So I know better than most how horrific autocratic totalitarianism is, and Democratic Socialism has nothing in common with this.  It’s all about there being a political democracy, all about ideas, a collaboration of community and of grassroots movements to enhance the democratic control of economic institutions and really to improve workers’ rights.

How Eliason will fund her campaign

One of the things we are hoping to leverage with our campaign is this sort of movement with the young Democratic Socialists a lot of candidates, a lot whom it’s their first time engaging in politics in terms of actually running, and there’s quite a coalition of these candidates and quite a lot of national attention on Democratic Socialist Democrats running right now.

I think the goal is that we want to obviously fundraise in Mississippi, and I’ve already had some wonderful contributions from all sorts of folks in Mississippi already. We’ve really been overwhelmed. We’re going to work on getting more contributions and trying to get out young voters, African-American voters who may have felt disenfranchised in the past, people who’ve kind of been overlooked.

But definitely a lot of the money we’re hoping to fundraise will come from across the country from people who are energized by the fact that Mississippi has a Democratic Socialist for a Democratic seat.

On aligning with Sanders and AOC

It’s absolutely safe to say I align more with the Bernie Sanders / AOC platform.

One of the main reason that I am running as a Democratic Socialist is I worked in international finance for a number of years.  I really understand the stranglehold large corporations and investment banks have over our economy.  And so we see that right now the stock market soars but that’s so not much because of what’s being produced but it’s because of the financialization of the economy.  Most of the wealth is being generated from investments rather than actual production, and that’s not really sustainable.

Also, one of my biggest concerns is climate change.  While we have this really financialized economy, as long as the markets continue to perform well there’s not going to the impetus to take those drastic steps that’s necessary to curb climate change.  I really believe in environmental justice and at the core of environmental justice are issues of racial justice and economic justice…

…There’s been policies in Mississippi and nationally that have long privileged corporations and the very wealthy at the expense of the majority of Mississippians.  We are the poorest state, and so in a lot of ways we have the most to gain from a shift into those kinds of policies.

I’m not running a theoretical campaign.  I’m not just running to make a statement.  A lot of harm has been done and I want to help find alternative solutions to fixing those harms…

…If Bernie Sanders and AOC would endorse me and wanted to come here, of course we would love that.  That would be phenomenal from a fundraising perspective, from an awareness perspective.  Absolutely.

How would an Eliason vote look in Congress

Assuming that President Trump wins a second term, I think my vote in the House I would vote very strongly with the Democrats.

If you look at the voting patterns of AOC, and you look at Rashida Tlaib, and some of the “squad” as they’re known, I think those core issues that’s really at the heart of my values and not something I would compromise on.

I also really believe that that would give the best future for Mississippi.  You look at the fact that we rejected the expansion of Medicare and what that’s done for countless Mississippians who struggle to pay medical bills.

On Trent Kelly, President Trump and voter outreach

Generally, Trent Kelly has voted in lock step with the GOP.  Obviously, in most ways that’s gone against what the Democrats have voted for.  One key thing about this campaign though is I’m not running this campaign as a hit campaign against Trent Kelly.  I don’t think the people who vote for Trent Kelly are going to switch over to vote for me, necessarily.

This is about getting people out to vote who aren’t voting.  When you look at the voter turnout there’s a lot of people who are either undecided or apathetic or disenfranchised.

I don’t want a run a hit campaign against Trent Kelly.  I can say that obviously he does vote lock step with the GOP and consequently as a Democrat, particularly as a progressive, left wing Democratic Socialist, I disagree with those votes.

But my goal is not to call him out so much as to give productive, positive, alternative solutions for a better future for Mississippi and to engage new voters…

…I don’t plan to run a campaign that is geared against President Trump because I also don’t see that as being particularly constructive.  This is about working Mississippians.  For me personally, whether or not I like them, whoever wins the Democratic nomination I will vote for.  That is my personal stance.

On Democratic Socialism and Karl Marx

Most of the people who talk about Karl Marx have never actually read any Karl Marx.  I think what is considered to be Marxist is incorrect.  Whenever people sort of say broadly Marx what they are talking about in their minds they are talking about Leninism, they’re talking about Stalinism, they’re talking about Maoism.  And in everyone of those you are talking about autocratic regimes.  You are talking about totalitarian.  You’re not talking about anything that has sort of a democratic component.

And if you actually read Marx he never advocated for any kind of totalitarian system like that, and so I think one of the things we are also hoping to do is recognize that Marx wasn’t a politician, he was an economist.

I think whenever people tend to talk about Marxism as a political movement, but the people who took his words and who twisted them and who tortured them into this horrific autocratic system they were not Marxist.  I think Marx would be rolling over in his grave to be aligned with that.

When you read Marx a lot of what he had to say about economics is still relevant and valid today, and I think that’s also part of hopefully an education campaign to help people understand that Marxism per se as it’s described has nothing to do with Marx.


About the Author(s)
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank: