During the 2018 mid-term elections, we saw what has been called a “blue wave” of sorts – many candidates with idealistic and progressive pursuits got elected and hope to turn back the far right tide we’ve experienced the last two years. Plenty of races ended in the positive, some in the negative, and a few are still being decided.
In Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District, Justin Dewitt – one of a few openly gay candidates to ever run for office in the state – worked a campaign thinking about our future and how we get there successfully. Defeated at the polls but not in ideas or ideals, he returned to his regular life only to be fired from his job. It would appear that ill will and hard feelings exist beyond our current White House.
I asked Justin about this incident, his campaign/platform, and his outlook on the state and country:
Bill Arceneaux: First things first: How do you feel about America’s legislative future after the 2018 mid-terms? What about Louisiana’s future?
Justin Dewitt: I’m optimistic. I’m proud of how progressives did on Tuesday. We didn’t win everything we’d hoped, but we made some really important progress as a party on Tuesday and managed to flip an impressive number of seats in the House. I’m also proud of the candidates our state ran this year. For the first time in my memory, the Democratic party fielded a candidate in all six Congressional districts. Next year is going to be incredibly important with both state legislative and the gubernatorial race on the ballot. I think we’re going to have some very strong candidates running for state legislature.
BA: When you returned to work following your Congressional campaign, you were “let go” from your day job. How did it go down, and why do you suspect it was politically motivated?
JD: I took eight days of approved vacation time for the last week of the election. I was due to return to work on Thursday. Thursday morning I got a call from my employer letting me know that the company was “cutting back,” and so I was to be let go. I don’t buy the excuse that they were cutting back. At our October quarterly meeting, I got a good performance review and a raise. I was the longest-serving employee in my position at the company and I was also the only person let go. The company has a few job listings up as we speak, so it has nothing to do with “cutting back.” I think the company may have seen me as a liability when bidding on future projects with the DOTD.
BA: In a “Right to Work” state like ours, people lose their jobs for any number of unfair reasons, and with little to no security to help them transition. Part of your platform was to provide support for working families over corporate interests – equal pay, higher minimum wage, etc. Why is it difficult to gain favor for initiatives involving labor? What can be done at the grassroots level to strengthen what we have left of employment rights in Louisiana?
JD: It’s all about the money. Voters are overwhelmingly supportive of these policies. We don’t see them pass because the opposition is far better financed. Organizations like Americans for Prosperity and LABI manage to squash efforts that support workers every time. These organizations finance legislators campaigns, and they get a return on their investment when those legislators vote against the needs of their constituents. The good news is that we’re seeing a growing grassroots movement here in Louisiana, and I think putting more pressure on elected officials goes a long way. The most important thing we can do is replace the legislators that are sold out to special interests with legislators that will truly serve their constituents.
BA: When it comes to Southern politics, I can’t help but think of movies like the classic All the King’s Men, where politicians would strong-arm and intimidate their way to “victory.” Do you feel that by default of being so outspoken against incumbent Graves, a target was essentially put on your back? Did you experience anything during your run that made you worry or take a step back?
JD: I don’t regret any of it. I think there were some elected officials who otherwise may have been interested in supporting me that chose not to because I was so outspoken, but I think it was necessary and I wouldn’t take any of it back. Garret Graves is in the public spotlight and he works for us, not the other way around. I know some people thought I was too aggressive in my criticism of him, but I wouldn’t have done it any differently in retrospect.
BA: It takes a lot of courage to be progressive in Louisiana, more to run for office on that platform, and even more to be open about who you are as a civilian. What struck me about your campaigning is how you never fell for using gimmicks or props, focusing instead on what would help potential constituents. It was a most honest and idealistic approach. If you could go back and re-strategize, would you change anything?
JD: I wouldn’t have changed my approach in any major way. I think we could use some more idealism in our politics. We need candidates who are willing to be bold in their ideas.
BA: What does tomorrow hold for you both job-wise and politically? Will you challenge the status quo once again, privately and/or publicly? Is there anything you’d like to say to anyone interested in statewide and national reform?
JD: I don’t plan to stop being involved. I learned so much running for office, it was a huge privilege. I haven’t made any immediate plans, but I’m looking closely at the next steps. To people who are interested in reform, find out who your state legislator is, get their contact information, and be ready to contact them about issues you care about and vote them out of office if they aren’t doing their jobs.
Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved. Be sure to check out his film reviews and other articles here.