Even before the howls of rage have subsided in the wake of Karl Rove’s expressed intention to intervene in Republican Senate primaries to keep stone losers from gaining nominations, one of the chief howlers, the Club for Growth, has announced its own “purge” initiative aimed at House GOP “moderates.” For starters, they’ve identified nine House incumbents at a new website called PrimaryMyCongressman.com who need to be taken out:
“Big government liberals inhabit the Democratic Party, but they are far too common within the Republican Party as well,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola in a statement announcing the site. “The Republicans helped pass billions of dollars in tax increases and they have repeatedly voted against efforts by fiscal conservatives to limit government. PrimaryMyCongressman.com will serve as a tool to hold opponents of economic freedom and limited government accountable for their actions.”
This is the same Chris Chocola who earlier this month attacked Rove for his arrogant national interference with the sovereign discretion of primary voters:
“It’s those pesky voters,” Mr. Chocola said in an interview. “They get to decide who the nominee is.”
So why is it an outrage for Rove’s Texas gazillionaires to meddle with Republican primaries but AOK for the Club’s (or the Koch Brothers’) plutocrats to do exactly the same thing? Well, because the latter are “true conservatives,” while the former are trimmers and hedgers, if not actual RINOs. It’s part and parcel of the belief, which I noted a couple of weeks ago in discussing the implications of the “Buckley Rule,” that there’s really no such thing as being “too conservative” unless it means losing a general election, while any even vague step towards moderation is inherently immoral and must be justified by unimpeachable evidence that’s it is necessary. So Rove and company are “interfering” with local voters, while Chocola and company are vindicating their obvious interests.
Now it’s also entirely possible that Rove and Chocola are thick as thieves and are simply staging a phony fight to help each other raise money. But anyway you slice it, the Club’s hypocrisy is pretty amazing.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 27, 2013
“An Electoral Facsimile Of Jim Crow”: Virginia Republicans Move Forward With Mass Voter Disenfranchisement
This morning, I wrote on an emerging Republican plan—in swing states won by President Obama—to rig presidential elections by awarding electoral votes to the winner of the most congressional districts. Because Democratic voters tend to cluster in highly-populated urban areas, and Republican voters tend to reside in more sparsely populated regions, this makes land the key variable in elections—to win the majority of a state’s electoral votes, your voters will have to occupy the most geographic space.
In addition to disenfranchising voters in dense areas, this would end the principle of “one person, one vote.” If Ohio operated under this scheme, for example, Obama would have received just 22 percent of the electoral votes, despite winning 52 percent of the popular vote in the state.
For this reason, I didn’t expect Republicans to go forward with the plan—the risk of blowback is just too high. My skepticism, however, was misplaced. In Virginia, a local news station reports that just this afternoon, a state Senate subcommittee recommended a bill end Virginia’s winner-take-all system and apportion its 13 electoral votes by congressional district.
Unlike similar proposals in Pennsylvania and Michigan, this one wouldn’t award the remaining electoral votes to the winner (Virginia has 11 districts). Rather, the winner of the most congressional districts would get the final two votes. If this were in effect last year, Obama would have gotten just 4 of the state’s votes, despite winning 51 percent of its voters.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Charles W. “Bill” Carrico, says the change is necessary because Virginia’s urbanized areas can outvote rural regions, weakening their political strength. In other words, Carrico thinks winning land is more important than winning people when it comes to presidential elections.
It should be said that this scheme, if carried out on a large scale, will guarantee an explosion of recounts. In any district where there is a narrow margin between the two candidates, there will be every incentive to challenge the results. Republicans present this as a way to streamline elections, but in reality, it would complicate them, and drag out the process for weeks—if not months. It would be Florida in the 2000 election, multiplied by 435.
It should also be said, again, that this constitutes a massive disenfranchisement of African American and other nonwhite voters, who tend to cluster near urban areas. When you couple this with the move on Monday to redraw the state’s electoral maps—eliminating one state senate district and packing black voters into another, diluting their strength—it’s as if Virginia Republicans are responding to Obama’s repeat victory in the state by building an electoral facsimile of Jim Crow.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, January 23, 2013
As a new Congress convenes, it has become an unquestioned truth among Republicans that their party has as much of a mandate as President Obama because voters returned them to power in the House.
The mantra has been intoned by John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist and many other party eminences, and there is a certain logic to saying that the voters, by giving Republicans the House, were asking for divided government.
But the claim to represent the voters’ will doesn’t add up.
The final results from the November election were completed Friday, and they show that Democratic candidates for the House outpolled Republicans nationwide by nearly 1.4 million votes and more than a full percentage point — a greater margin than the preliminary figures showed in November. And that’s just the beginning of it: A new analysis finds that even if Democratic congressional candidates won the popular vote by seven percentage points nationwide, they still would not have gained control of the House.
The analysis, by Ian Millhiser at the liberal Center for American Progress using data compiled by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, finds that even if Democrats were to win the popular vote by a whopping nine percentage points — a political advantage that can’t possibly be maintained year after year — they would have a tenuous eight-seat majority.
In a very real sense, the Republican House majority is impervious to the will of the electorate. Thanks in part to deft redistricting based on the 2010 Census, House Republicans may be protected from the vicissitudes of the voters for the next decade. For Obama and the Democrats, this is an ominous development: The House Republican majority is durable, and it isn’t necessarily sensitive to political pressure and public opinion.
According to the Jan. 4 final tally by Cook’s David Wasserman after all states certified their votes, Democratic House candidates won 59,645,387 votes in November to the Republicans’ 58,283,036, a difference of 1,362,351. On a percentage basis, Democrats won, 49.15 percent to 48.03 percent.
This in itself is an extraordinary result: Only three or four other times in the past century has a party lost the popular vote but won control of the House. But computer-aided gerrymandering is helping to make such undemocratic results the norm — to the decided advantage of Republicans, who controlled state governments in 21 states after the 2010 Census, almost double the 11 for Democrats.
To be sure, Democrats tend to be just as flagrant as Republicans when they have the chance to gerrymander. And the Republican advantage isn’t entirely because of redistricting; Democrats have lopsided majorities in urban clusters, so the overall popular vote overstates their competitiveness in other districts. An analysis by FairVote found that nonpartisan redistricting would only partially close the gap, which comes also from the disappearance of ticket-splitting voters who elected centrist Democrats.
But the 2012 House results show the redrawing of districts to optimize Republican representation clearly had an impact. Consider three states won by Obama in 2012 where Republicans dominated the redistricting: In Pennsylvania, Democrats won just five of 18 House seats; in Virginia, Democrats won three of 11; and in Ohio, Democrats won four of 16.
Using Wasserman’s tally, Millhiser ranked districts by the Republican margin of victory and calculated that for Democrats to have won the 218 seats needed for a House majority they would have had to have added 6.13 percentage points to their popular-vote victory margin of 1.12 points.
To put the Republican advantage in perspective, Democrats could win the House only if they do significantly better than Republicans did in their landslide year of 2010 (when they had a 6.6-point advantage). That’s not impossible — Democrats did it in 2006 and 2008 — but it’s difficult. Republicans don’t have a permanent House majority, but they will go into the next several elections with an automatic head start. For many, the biggest political threat comes not from Democrats but from conservative primary challengers.
In theory, the Supreme Court could decide before then that this rigged system denies Americans fair and effective representation. But this won’t happen anytime soon. For now, Democrats need to recognize that the Republican House majority will respond only sluggishly to the usual levers of democracy.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 4, 2012
“A Pig By Any Name Is Still A Pig”: Why Congress Cannot Operate Without The Bribing Power Of Earmarks
It seemed like a great victory at the time.
After years of federal taxpayer dollars being misappropriated to pay for pet projects in the districts of congressmen and senators looking to curry political favor with the voters back home, a moratorium was passed in 2011 ending the Congressional pork parade known as “earmarking”.
It appeared to make sense. Federal taxpayers had grown sick and tired of paying the bill for something like the construction and renovation of a botanical garden project in Brooklyn, New York when such a project, obviously, had nothing to do with core federal objectives, serving only to improve the re-election prospects of the Congresswoman who brought the money home to Brooklyn—along with the few Americans who spend their Saturday’s enjoying a picnic in the greatly improved botanical gardens at your expense and mine.
While the concept of earmarking—at the outset—had merit in that it compensated for the inability of the executive branch, who proposes the federal budget, to fully understand what might be rightfully required to achieve federal objectives in a state far away from the nation’s capital, earmarking quickly devolved into a system of vote-buying where a Member of Congress, reluctant to cast a vote for a particular piece of legislation, could be ‘persuaded’ to do so if enough pork was piled onto that Member’s plate in the effort to satisfy an important constituency at home.
Let’s face it—at a point, almost any elected official’s objection to a bill or judicial appointment will crumble when offered enough goodies to ensure endless re-election to office because the elected official is bringing home the bacon to the voters who hold his or her fate in their collective hands.
So, when the Senate and the House of Representatives agreed to end the earmarking process a few years ago, it certainly appeared to be a positive step in the direction of gaining a little control over wasteful government spending and a move towards bringing a bit of honestly to the process of government.
But what actually happened?
For starters, if you believe we have done away with the concept of earmarking money for special projects back home—thing again. The earmark moratorium has brought forward an even more insidious process called “lettermarking” where Congressional slush funds are created as tools for funding pet projects without even the limited accountability and public information that came with earmarking. While earmarks required publication of a pork project—along with the amount of taxpayer money being spent and identification of the elected official proposing the earmark—lettermarking allows for such expenditures without any identification of the project, sum and sponsoring legislator whatsoever.
Additionally, we now find that when an elected official is unsuccessful in convincing an agency of the executive branch to contribute money to a pet project, that official often turns to blackmailing the agency involved by threatening to cast a vote to deny some Administration objective. This is precisely what occurred when Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened to block Obama administration appointments unless money was provided for a harbor dredging project in his home state.
But something even more insidious has followed the ban on earmarking—
Without the persuasive powers of the political ‘carrot’, congressional leaders and the President no longer have the ‘stick’ required to move Congress to get anything of significance accomplished.
The moratorium on earmarks went into existence in February 2011. Since that time we have seen some of the greatest legislative fails in the history of the nation, highlighted by the debt ceiling fiasco of 2011, the inability to pass a jobs bill, an ever-increasing vacancy rate in the federal judiciary as one nominee after another is shelved and, of course, the current fiscal cliff clunker that might be the most embarrassing and damaging display of congressional incompetence of all.
One cannot help but wonder if our current inability to legislate our way out of a paper bag might be different were party leaders and the President to, once again, be free to avail themselves of the one thing that could always win the hearts and minds of elected officials who care, first and foremost, for their own jobs—a healthy and legal bribe.
If the fiscal cliff fiasco has taught us anything, it is that our elected officials no longer even pretend to place the needs of the nation ahead of their own—to quote Mel Brooks—phony baloney jobs. Does anyone imagine that it is a coincidence that Speaker John Boehner has disappeared into the background in the final days of the fiscal cliff debate so as to avoid another misstep that might cost him the Speakership? Does anyone doubt that Boehner’s inability to deliver his own caucus’ support for his ill-conceived “Plan B” is the direct result of special interest groups—such as Club For Growth—whose political contributions are the life-blood that flows into the treasure chests of the more extreme elements of Boehner’s GOP caucus and remain the only carrot of any value when it comes to winning the affections of Congressional Members ?
Indeed, the only politician involved in this game of political chicken who appears to have a reason to actually put the public before politics would be the President—not because he is above playing the game, but because he no longer has to run for political office.
Accordingly, as we head into the new Congress and the expiration of the earmark moratorium, should we not be questioning whether the ban on earmarks has delivered the results that were intended? If Congress has already found a way around the ban—and is doing so by using a process that is even less transparent than what we previously had in place—maybe we would be better off simply accepting that our government only works when legalized, congressional bribery is allowed to more easily enter into the equation.
But how is it any more cynical than a political system that welcomes the bribery offered up by special interests in the guise of huge and often unlimited campaign contributions that benefit incumbents in exchange for their vote—particularly if the cost of earmarks to the taxpayer is far less than the cost to taxpayers when our legislators refuse to act, despite knowing that their inaction will cost our economy, and therefore our taxpayers, even more money?
According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, the cost of earmarks to taxpayers in 2010 totaled $15.9 billion dollars—a drop in the bucket when compared to the economic losses resulting from the failure of Congress to act rationally during the 2011 debt ceiling drama or what we stand to suffer if government cannot find a little courage as we hang over the edge of the fiscal cliff.
Accordingly, while returning to earmarks may mean a return to wasteful spending of taxpayer money on projects that bring no benefit to the nation as a whole, it could also mean saving even more money than is wasted by avoiding the financial setbacks that come with endless debt ceiling debacles and fiscal cliff fumbles.
Until we decide to completely remove the systematic rigging of elections to favor incumbents—which is precisely what earmarks seek to do as does the unlimited money that flows to incumbents from the myriad of special interests who call the shots in Washington—we may as well give in and allow the system to, at the least, function.
Conversely, if you are offended and troubled by earmarks—and you should be—you should be equally offended and troubled by the special interest groups that have taken their place. When incumbents cannot gain an advantage over challengers by bringing home the pork, they will go for the next best thing—enough campaign cash to allow them to outspend their challengers at election time.
To get rid of one without getting rid of the other makes no sense. At least earmarks produce legislation that might protect and create jobs for taxpayers while unlimited campaign money produces only jobs for elected officials themselves.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, December 29, 2012
“New GOP Voter Suppression Strategy”: Gerrymander The Electoral College To Dilute The Influence Of Democratic Voters
For a brief time in the fall of 2011, Pennsylvania GOP Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi unveiled a plan to deliver the bulk of his state’s electoral votes to Mitt Romney. Pileggi wanted Pennsylvania to award its electoral votes not via the winner-take-all system in place in forty-eight states but instead based on the winner of each Congressional district. Republicans, by virtue of controlling the redistricting process, held thirteen of eighteen congressional seats in Pennsylvania following the 2012 election. If Pileggi’s plan would have been in place on November 6, 2012, Romney would’ve captured thirteen of Pennsylvania’s twenty Electoral College votes, even though Obama carried the state with 52 percent of the vote.
In the wake of Romney’s defeat and the backfiring of GOP voter suppression efforts, Pileggi is resurrecting his plan (albeit in a slightly different form) and the idea of gerrymandering the Electoral College to boost the 2016 GOP presidential candidate is spreading to other GOP-controlled battleground states that Obama carried, like Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Thanks to big gains at the state legislative level in 2010, Republicans controlled the redistricting process in twenty states compared to seven for Democrats, drawing legislative and Congressional maps that will benefit their party for the next decade. (The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that Republicans picked up six additional House seats in 2012 due to redistricting.) Republicans now want to extend their redistricting advantage to the presidential realm.
Pileggi’s plan, if implemented in all of the battleground states where Republicans held a majority of House seats, would’ve handed the White House to Romney. According to Think Progress:
Assuming that Mitt Romney won every congressional district that elected a Republican House candidate in these key states, the Corbett/Husted (named after the Pennsylvania governor and Ohio secretary of state) plan would have given Romney 17 electoral votes in Florida, 9 in Michigan, 12 in Ohio, 13 in Pennsylvania, 8 in Virginia, and 5 in Wisconsin—for a total of 64 additional electoral votes.
Add those 64 votes to the 206 votes Romney won legitimately, and it adds up to exactly 270—the amount he needed to win the White House.
According to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, Republicans currently hold the majority of House seats in thirty states, compared to seventeen for Democrats, giving them a big advantage in any bid to rig the Electoral College.
Take a look at Virginia, where State Senator Charles “Bill” Carrico Sr. introduced legislation to award his state’s electoral votes based on the winner of each Congressional district. Here’s what that would mean, reports ThinkProgress:
With a Republican-controlled redistricting passed earlier this year, Virginia Democrats were heavily packed into three districts. Under these maps, Obama won Virginia by almost a 4 point margin, yet he carried just four Virginia Congressional Districts. Were Carrico’s scheme in place, Mitt Romney would have received seven of Virginia’s 11 electoral votes despite receiving just 47.28% of the vote statewide.
Or take a look at Ohio, where controversial Secretary of State Jon Husted briefly voiced support for a similar plan following the 2012 election. Obama won Ohio by three points, but Republicans control twelve of eighteen congressional seats there, meaning that Romney would’ve netted more electoral votes than Obama if Husted had his way.
The GOP supported voter suppression efforts in 2012 as a way to make the electorate older, whiter and more conservative. But that push backfired when opponents of voter suppression turned out in large numbers for Obama, cementing an electorate that was younger and more diverse than in 2008. The shifting demographics of the country indicate that Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant” will only grow in size in future elections. So Republicans are searching for new ways to dilute the influence of Democratic voters.
Will the GOP’s bid to gerrymander the Electoral College be more successful now than it was last election cycle? Let’s hope not. Pileggi’s plan divided Pennsylvania Republicans and ultimately went nowhere. Husted had to quickly backtrack from his statements due to the national uproar. Here’s an idea for Republicans: instead of diluting the votes of your opposition, how about supporting policies—like immigration reform and a more equitable distribution of taxes—that will win you more votes from a growing chunk of the electorate?
And here’s another idea for both parties: instead of gerrymandering the Electoral College, how about abolishing it altogether?
By: Ari Berman, The Nation, December 10, 2012