It Figures To Be A Razor-Thin November Everywhere. That’s Why I Had To Meet Shomari

I won’t lie; the fact that it was a chance to scarf a little wine and cheese at the end of the month, when my bank account is dipping below three figures, was a good deal of the motivation why I actually pursued what seemed to a random invite from a business colleague who’s now more deeply involved in politics.

But I was also intrigued by the back story of the person who was being feted at this intimate meet-and-greet last night.  In a scant matter of months, he has risen from virtual political obscurity to become a significant enough factor in the complicated and potentially cutthroat battle for the Democratic Party to save at least some sector of democracy.

As Michael Jones reported in January for ONCE UPON A HILL:

Shomari Figures, a former aide to former President Barack Obama and Justice Department official raised $250,000 in the first nine weeks of his campaign to become Alabama’s second Black member of Congress.

It’s an impressive haul for a candidate who’s relatively unknown on the national stage in a state without much of a Democratic money machine. The early money will help him compete in a crowded field with at least 10 other candidates vying the seat.

And in April, he made good on those investments, as AL.com’s Mike Cason reported:

The race in Alabama’s new 2nd Congressional District, which once had 21 candidates, is down to two finalists.

Shomari Figures, who worked for the Obama administration and in the U.S. Justice Department, has defeated Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels in a runoff for the Democratic nomination.  

Caroleene Dobson, an attorney and first-time candidate, defeated Dick Brewbaker, a former state senator and longtime automobile dealer in Montgomery, in the Republican runoff.

Unofficial results from the Alabama secretary of state’s website showed that Figures received 21,926 votes, 61%, and Daniels received 13,990, 39%.  Figures and Dobson will square off in the general election on Nov. 5.

Why a couple of dozen people on the Westside of Los Angeles mattered to Figures was obvious, a point even he admitted in his remarks to the sparse but captivated assemblage.  “You don’t find a lot of potential donors with impact as a Black man running for office in Alabama.  People are too busy simply trying to stay alive.  Did you know that Alabama has the third lowest life expectancy in the United States?  Just below Mississippi and West Virginia.”

Which, I imagine, is the kind of attitude necessary for a Democrat running for any office these days.  Especially since its party leader, despite what virtually all in attendance contend is an impeccable list of accomplishments and is described as a “really great guy”, continues to trail in poll after poll, especially those being conducted in crucial swing states.  And no matter how vehemently they may want to dismiss the validity and meaningfulness of spring polling, when there’s that much out there being conducted by researchers on both sides of the aisle and those with no affiliation at all, there is both opportunity and need for folks like Figures to step in and do their part.

Literally as I was writing this musing, I received an update from researcher Rich Thau, who regularly conducts focus groups for the likes of NBC and Axios.  Here’s part of what he wrote as a recap to his most recent work:

In focus groups conducted in partnership with NBC on May 21 with 14 “double-hater” Hispanic-Americans in Arizona, only two could name something Trump has pledged to do in a second term. Five could name one thing Biden has pledged.

In focus groups conducted in partnership with Axios on May 14, only four of 14 Trump-to-Biden voters in Georgia could name a single thing Biden has pledged to do in a second term. Five of 14 could name one thing Trump would do in a second term.

And in focus groups conducted in partnership with NPR on May 23 to be released this Friday, only one of 12 Trump-to-Biden voters across six swing states could name a single thing Biden has pledged to do in a second term.

So yes, down-ticket candidates matter.  Especially when one considers the strategic implications of the election Figures is hoping to win.  Per Cason:

In October, a federal court approved a new map that gives Democrats a chance to flip a Republican seat in the redrawn 2nd District. Figures would be the second Black lawmaker and second Democrat in Alabama’s seven-member delegation in Congress.

And that reality check is not lost on the congressman who has become Figures’ local champion, Ted Lieu.  Lieu represents an influential district that encompasses the likes of Beverly Hills, the Beach Cities and Santa Monica.  Pretty well-heeled zip codes, to be sure.  But, almost as importantly, the home of an awful lot of content creators, many of whom aren’t busy at the moment with any storytelling, particualrly those who had been employed by companies like Paramount.  Some were among last night’s attendees–I suspect the free wine and cheese appealed at some level to them, too.

What we all learned is why Figures should matter to us.  As both gentlemen patiently explained, this is, in effect, a new opportunity to flip a seat with a rare situation where redistricting worked to a Democratic advantage.  Lieu pointed out that if the Democrats can flip four seats, they flip the house.  Figures represents 25 per cent of that goal.

And when you look at Figures’ platform, one picks up some breadcrumbs that seem awfully familiar to those who have followed 21st century politics:

Alabama is home. It is where I was raised in my grandfather’s church and where I was educated from kindergarten to degree in law. The people and places of the state made me who I am today. Inspired by parents Michael and Vivian Figures, who devoted their careers to public service and instilled in me the values of service and community, I’ve dedicated my life’s work to advocate for the people and places that have always been at the core of who I am: the people of Alabama.

After serving as a law clerk on the federal court, I worked on President Barack Obama’s campaign, and then went to work in the White House with President Obama, serving as the Domestic Director of Presidential Personnel. In the White House, I worked to build the teams at agencies critical to implementing President Obama’s policies. I worked closely with senior leadership at agencies that touch the daily lives of people in Alabama, including the Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Justice. I was proud to be able to support, from the ground up, the implementation of policies and legislation like the Affordable Care Act, which has improved the lives of thousands in Alabama.

I went on to serve as the White House Liaison at the Department of Justice, and then as a Counsel in Congress, where I served as an advisor on issues including civil rights, immigration, homeland security, child welfare, and policing. After leaving Congress, I worked on the  Biden-Harris Transition Team, and then returned to the Department of Justice where I most recently served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Counselor Attorney General Merrick Garland. The time I spent in the federal government was dedicated to advising leaders on issues that impact families across Alabama and throughout the nation. I worked on issues that supported students and teachers, expanded access to quality healthcare, increased job and workforce opportunities, and building stronger, safer communities.

Now, as the proud husband of a former school teacher and strong advocate for our communities, Dr. Kalisha Dessources Figures, and father of three – Micah, Novah, and Zorah – I came  home to run for Congress so that I can put my experience to use for the people and communities that mean the most to me. People across the newly formed District 2 deserve to have a leader in Congress who will prioritize them and can effectively fight to get things done.

It would be quite premature to say that someone with that story could be ready to ascend to national prominence at the moment, particularly in the climate we find ourselves in.  But I’m pretty sure that a few folks in Illinois might once have had similar thoughts about an up-and-coming state senator candidate who had a legal background.  And he didn’t even grow up in the state he was running in. And I’m fairly sure that when someone with similar tick marks spends time around a boss like that, they likely learned more than a few entries from that playbook.

But it’s pretty darn clear that the role that Figures can play in 2024 is potentially a lot more significant that the Illinois state senate race Obama won in 1996, or even the U.S. Senate race he won in 2004.  Strategery and an aversion to broccoli were a lot less threatening than a manic midnight tweeter awaiting the verdict of a criminal trial who somehow still commands the respect and vote of more than 40 million registered voters in the same polls and focus groups we’ve previously cited herein.

I don’t have a penny to give to Mr. Figures, sorry to say.  But I do have my mind, my time and, for it’s worth, this space.  And I know many of the others I met last night have slightly more of a megaphone, let alone a bank account that’s at least in FOUR figures, to do their part.

This is a story that needs to be told.  This is an election you need to be aware of.  Shomari Figures should be someone who these temporarily derailed creators should be chronicling.  And make sure that the voters not only in Alabama know about him, but also the otherwise uninformed and apathetic voters who contribute to kind of focus group results that Thau has been conducting.  Someone in the party has to inspire them enough to choose someone other than Fat Orange Jesus.

I know I came away a bit more positive about the party from last night than I’ve been of late.  Yes, the wine and cheese helped.  But the main course was far more nourishing.

Until next time…

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