Thank you, Stacey Abrams, Kirsten Gillibrand and Jason KanderJen Psaki
Stacey Abrams is not running for Senate to replace Johnny Isakson, despite some high-level pressure from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and many on Twitter urging her to step into the race.
On the pure politics, there is good reason behind the disappointment. She is probably the best chance for Democrats to win the Senate seat in Georgia. And winning back the Senate means Democrats would wrestle back control of nominations, judicial appointments — including to the Supreme Court — and position Congress to fix the disaster of the Trump years with a Democrat in the White House.
But Abrams isn’t passing up the opportunity to take a lucrative job in the tobacco industry or even a high-powered law firm. Instead, she’s leading an effort to make every vote count in the next election with her initiative Fair Fight 2020.
There is more than one way to be a public servant. Running for office is a grueling, often thankless and noble pursuit. But so is running an organization to register more voters and address voter suppression. Abrams has the personal experience, the toughness and the charisma to be a strong voice and advocate for people from communities with historically high rates of voter suppression — and she’s someone who candidates and elected officials will listen to. That alone will help more Democratic officials get elected and maybe even in the White House.
Abrams isn’t the only former elected official who has recently chosen not to run for office again and who deserves more gratitude than grief.
In October, Jason Kander, who was the frontrunner in the Kansas City mayoral race, dropped out, citing a need to seek PTSD treatment. Now, he has announced he is leading the national expansion of the nonprofit Veterans Community Project, which will, in part, build tiny homes for homeless veterans.
His return to public service has prompted a fair amount of speculation.
Kander said this week he is repeatedly asked when he is “coming back.”
His answer? “I am back…This is how I want to serve.” And good for him.
The age of Trump — and the Democrats’ taste of winning back control of the House last November with the most diverse freshman class in history — has elevated running for office to an accessible pursuit. That is a great thing for democracy.
But it isn’t the only way to serve.
There is rarely a predictable or completely straight line in public service. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced the end of her presidential run on Wednesday. And she wasn’t the only candidate who dropped out in recent weeks.
When I met Sen. Gillibrand in 2005, she was as underdog running in a race for a New York House seat against a Republican incumbent. When she won, many bet that she wouldn’t last more than one term. Not only did she end up serving in the Senate, at first through an appointment but later through re-election, but she has been vocal, impactful and bold as a Senator. And my bet is that at only 52 she is just getting started.
The same goes for Abrams and Kander. I don’t know if either of them will run for office. Not now is not the same as never. But if they do, their advocacy for voter protections and veterans will make them even more powerful voices than they would be in office today.
For now, I am just grateful for their public service. We all should be.