“The States Are Not An Alternative America”: Republican Control Of Governorships Does Not Indicate A Solid Majority Of “The People”
There are two perpetually silly memes going around the commentariat these days in connection with the very limited but loudly expressed self-examination of the Republican Party, both involving the GOP’s relatively strong standing at the state level.
The first, which I’ve attacked before (here, here and here), and will keep attacking as long as it rears its ugly head, is that there is this essentially moderate (or at least “pragmatic”) brand of Republican pol operating at the state level who “gets it” and is free of the ideological manias of Washington-style GOPers. Give them the leadership of the party, it is often said, and “reform” will take care of itself.
When you start looking for these “pragmatists,” however, they seem to be in short supply. You can apply the label to Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, I suppose, but these gents are not about to be handed the leadership of the national party, having just been excluded from the national party’s most important 2013 event, CPAC. Looking deeper in the gubernatorial ranks, though: Does Paul LePage “get it?” Is Rick Scott a “reformer?” Are Rick Perry or Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley or Phil Bryant or Mary Fallon or Scott Walker or Jan Brewer “non-ideologues?” Is John Kasich really “reaching out” to non-GOP constituencies? Is Rick Snyder exhibiting freedom from conservative litmus tests? No, no, no, no and no.
A closely associated meme, which CNN’s Roland Martin articulates in a well-meaning but misguided column, is that Republicans by focusing on state politics are actually running the country as the two parties wrangle in Washington. So:
[M]any Republicans have told me they couldn’t care less about Washington, because legislation with real impact is being proposed and passed in the states. That’s why you’ve seen groups quietly backing initiatives on the state level and bypassing the hot lights and screaming media in Washington….
Think about it: Obama won Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Nevada, all states with GOP governors. So clearly voters in those states chose the Republican alternative in statewide elections, but when it came to the presidency, said “No thanks.”
I’m not buying for a second this silly notion that the GOP will have a Damascus Road experience and drastically change. It’s not going to happen. There will be some movement on the national level, but Republican grass-roots organizers are very well aware that the message the GOP is selling statewide is a winning formula.
Sorry, Roland. Republicans are touting their success at the state level not because they don’t care what happens in Washington, but because they didn’t win the presidency or the Senate in 2012 so what else are they going to tout? Their control of 30 of 50 governorships does not indicate a solid majority of “the people” in the alternative America represented by the states, but just a majority of state governments according to measurements whereby Alaska and North Dakota count the same as New York and California. And most important of all, their victories in 2010 and defeats in 2012 did not represent some self-conscious “split decision” whereby voters preferred Republican leadership at one level and Democratic leadership at another, but different election cycles that featured different electorates. So even if Democrats decide, as Martin wants them to do, to “focus” on state elections as Republicans allegedly have, 2014 will be tough for them because of the landscape and the shape of the midterm electorate, just as Republicans, no matter where they are “focused,” will face a stiff wind in 2016.
Sorry to keep harping on these issues, but Lord-a-mighty, these are fairly simple empirical matters that an awful lot of well-compensated and highly visible writers and talkers just can’t seem to get straight, or don’t want to because it interferes with a desired grinding of axes.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 19, 2013
The other shoe in the saga of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting crusade dropped last week, and it landed with a ton-and-a-half thud. That’s the literal weight of the more than 1 million signatures in favor of Walker’s recall that progressive activists gathered over a 60-day window.
That’s more than 16,000 signatures collected per day. It’s nearly as many people as voted for Walker in his 2010 election (1.1 million) and roughly the same number that voted for his opponent. Roughly one in every three registered Wisconsin voters signed up. And since the threshold for a recall election is 540,000 signatures, it virtually guarantees Walker will face the voters this year.
But its significance extends beyond the fate of one right-wing zealot. Walker is the best known of a class of freshmen GOP governors whose conservative power grab might be Barack Obama’s not-so-secret re-election weapon.
Walker, you will recall, ran for governor with nary a word about breaking the backs of the state’s public unions and then made it a key part of his signature administration policy, an action he later compared to dropping “the bomb.” He sparked a backlash that initially took the form of mass protests, with tens of thousands of enraged Wisconsinites occupying the state capitol before “occupy” became a movement.
The 1 million signatures should send a chill up the back of Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or whoever the GOP taps to bear its standard. Wisconsin is a key swing state and the progressive movement just flexed some awfully strong organizational muscle there, sparked by Walker’s ham-fisted overreach. The recall election, likely to occur in the late spring or early summer, will serve as a perfect progressive dry run for the Obama re-election in the fall.
And Wisconsin is not an isolated example. The Cook Political Report lists 10 states, with 142 electoral votes, as toss-ups. In that group, with 73 total electoral votes, are four states, including Wisconsin, where first-term Republican governors are foundering in the polls after their excessive policies spurred the kind of grass-roots movements that can be a huge boon to a presidential campaign.
Take Walker’s neighboring colleague, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. With the help of a GOP-controlled legislature, Snyder enacted a law that allows him to appoint “emergency financial managers” in financially troubled cities and school districts. These appointed individuals would have the power to fire actual elected officials, void union contracts, terminate services, sell off assets—even eliminate whole cities or school districts. And these localized tyrants could take these actions without any public input.
It’s no wonder that Michigan State University’s “State of the State” poll, released in early December, found that only 19 percent of Wolverine State residents rate Snyder’s performance as excellent or good (down from 31.5 percent in the spring). Critics of the law have already collected nearly 200,000 signatures for a November referendum on the law.
Snyder’s neighbor to the south, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose approval rating languishes in the mid-30s, received his stinging rebuke from the public last November. By 62 to 38 percent, voters repealed his legislative centerpiece, a Wisconsin-like law that barred public sector strikes, curtailed collective bargaining rights for public workers, and terminated binding arbitration of management-labor disputes. Opponents collected more than 1 million signatures (there’s that number again) to get the issue on the ballot, and raised $30 million in support of repeal, outspending the law’s defenders 3 to 1. It was a stunning win for labor unions, with help from Obama’s Organizing for America, a mere year after the Ohio GOP had swept every statewide office and won the legislature. “Unions and their allies have done a lot of things transferable to next year,” the University of Akron’s John Green told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “In some respects, the campaign was a trial run for the presidential.”
A bonus for the Obama campaign: When Mitt Romney made an October swing through Ohio, he unbelievably pleaded ignorance of the law, prompting speculation that he was trying to avoid endorsing it. So the next day, in Virginia, he announced his foursquare support for it, masterfully reinforcing his reputation as a political calculator even as he landed on the wrong side of the biggest issue in Ohio politics.
Rounding out the four horsemen of the GOP’s gubernatorial apocalypse is Florida Gov. Rick Scott, whom Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling declared in December to be the nation’s most disliked governor when he scored a 26 percent approval rating. That was due in part to the $1.35 billion Scott and the GOP legislature cut from education last year, as well as his push to drug-test welfare recipients. Apparently able to read the polls, Scott now wants to put $1 billion back into education funding, offsetting the spending by cutting $1.8 billion from Medicaid.
While a recent Quinnipiac poll found that Scott’s approval rating has soared to 38 percent (with 50 percent still disapproving), the same survey showed voters against cutting Medicaid to pay for education by 67 to 24 percent. Perhaps most alarming for Scott and the GOP is that independents disapprove of the governor by an even wider margin than Democrats.
After South Carolina, the Republican presidential traveling circus will move on to Florida. Watch as Mitt Romney embraces his toxic GOP colleague and listen for the sound of cheers from Obama 2012 headquarters.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, January 25, 2012
The death penalty is a barbaric anachronism, a crude instrument not of justice but of revenge. Most countries banished it long ago. This country should banish it now.
The state of Georgia was wrong to execute convicted murderer Troy Anthony Davis as protesters and journalists kept a ghoulish vigil Wednesday night — just as the state of Texas was wrong, hours earlier, to execute racist killer Lawrence Russell Brewer.
That’s hard for me to write, because if anyone deserved a syringe full of lethal poison it was Brewer. He was an avowed white supremacist who had been convicted, along with two accomplices, of the 1998 hate-crime murder of a black man, James Byrd Jr. They offered Byrd a ride, beat him up and then killed him by chaining his ankles to the back of their pickup and dragging him for more than two miles. When police found Byrd’s body, it was dismembered and decapitated.
“I have no regrets,” Brewer said in an interview with Beaumont, Tex., television station KFDM this year. “I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.”
Sweet guy, huh? Still, I can’t applaud his death at the hands of the well-practiced Texas executioners. It’s not that I believe his life had any redeeming value, just that the state was wrong to snuff it out.
The Davis case drew worldwide attention because of questions about the evidence of his guilt. Davis was found guilty of killing a Savannah, Ga., police officer, Mark MacPhail, in 1989. The conviction was based almost entirely on eyewitness testimony, and in the two decades since that trial, seven of nine witnesses have at least partially recanted.
The case became a cause celebre. Luminaries who could never be accused of being soft on crime — such as former FBI Director William Sessions and former GOP Rep. Bob Barr — argued that Davis should not be executed because of doubt about his guilt.
Wednesday night, in his last words, Davis told MacPhail’s family that “I did not personally kill your son, father and brother. I am innocent.” Then a deadly cocktail of drugs was pumped into his veins.
The Davis case makes a compelling case against the death penalty — but not because it is exceptional. On the contrary, it’s fairly ordinary.
Despite what you see on “CSI,” there isn’t always DNA or other physical evidence to prove guilt with 99.9 percent certainty. Jurors often have to rely on witnesses whose field of vision may have been limited — and whose recall, imperfect to begin with, degrades over time. Even when there’s no “reasonable doubt” about the defendant’s guilt — the standard for conviction — there’s often some measure of doubt.
And there are questions of process. Were witnesses coerced into testifying against Davis? A few say now that they were. Did prosecutors prove their case? The jurors certainly believed they did. Could racial bias have been a factor? Unlikely, given that the jury included seven blacks and five whites. Should Davis’s attorney have done a better job of presenting a defense? Almost surely.
It’s a mixed bag. I can’t ignore the fact that over the years, not one of the many judges who examined the case concluded there had been a true miscarriage of justice. This suggests to me that Davis was probably guilty.
But “probably” isn’t good enough in a capital case — and this is why the death penalty is flawed as a practical matter. Someone who is wrongly imprisoned can always be released, but death — to state the obvious — is irrevocable.
In scores of cases across the country, newly examined DNA evidence has proved that inmates jailed for rape or other sexual crimes were in fact not guilty. It is not just likely but certain that some defendants now on death row are innocent. Even if only one is eventually executed, that will be a tragic and unacceptable abuse of state power.
There was a chilling moment in a recent GOP candidates’ debate when Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked about having authorized 234 executions, more than any other governor in modern U.S. history. The crowd, drawn largely from Tea Party ranks, cheered this record as if it were a great accomplishment. “I’ve never struggled with that at all,” Perry said, referring to execution as “the ultimate justice.”
But he should struggle with it. We all should.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 22, 2011
Buried in this Saturday’s Washington Post Metro section was a short piece about the request from conservative Virginia Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell for $39 million in federal disaster relief for his state.
This was an initial request for 22 localities in Virginia hard hit by Hurricane Irene. According to the article, other local governments can request more aid and, in addition, McDonnell also asked for Hazard Mitigation Assistance for all Virginia localities.
This comes from a governor who, along with his Republican congressional counterpart Eric Cantor, rails against Washington and “government spending.”
What makes this quite interesting is the position taken by Cantor last week on Federal Emergency Management funding for disasters. We have had a record 66 natural disasters this year and Hurricane Irene was one of the 10 most costly ever.
Cantor, whose district was hit hard by the earthquake and the hurricane, has said that any spending for FEMA should be tied to cuts elsewhere, dollar for dollar, “Just like any family would operate when it’s struck with disaster,” says Cantor. Funny, that is not how he felt back in 2004 when he appealed for money for his district after another hurricane and voted against the amendment by Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas to do require offsets.
Did Eric Cantor ask for dollar for dollar cuts to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did he ask for dollar for dollar cuts to pay for the Bush tax cuts for the millionaires and billionaires? Did he ask for dollar for dollar cuts to pay for increases to homeland security? How about border agents?
Another very conservative congressman from Virginia, Leonard Lance, totally disagrees with Cantor. Help is needed now. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, no friend of government spending, talks as though Eric Cantor has lost his marbles: “Our people are suffering now, and they need support now. And they [Congress] can all go down there and get back to work and figure out budget cuts later.”
It is time for a host of protesters to go to Cantor’s district office and call him on his absurdity. Does he believe we should help the victims of these disasters? Is that what government has done for over 200 years? Does he just want to play politics and delay help? Does he represent the people of Virginia? Does he care about the others who have been the victims of tornadoes and floods across this country?
It reminds me of a Senate debate where a certain Republican from Idaho was complaining about a bill that included funding for rat control in New York City.
“In Idaho, we take care of our own rats,” to which the New York senator replied, “In New York, we take care of our own forest fires.”
That about sums it up.
By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, September 6, 2011
In his quest to win the Republican presidential nomination, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is perpetuating a convincing hoax: that implementing Texas-style tort reformwould go a long way toward curing what ails the U.S. health care system.
Like his fellow GOP contenders, Perry consistently denounces “Obamacare” as “a budget-busting, government takeover of healthcare” and “the greatest intrusion on individual freedom in a generation.” He promises to repeal the law if elected.
Unlike those in the “repeal-and-replace” wing of the Republican Party, however, Perry has emerged as leader of the “repeal-and-let-the-states-figure-it-out” wing that believes the federal government has no legitimate role in fixing America’s health care system.
“To hear federal officials tell it, they’ve got all the answers on health care and it’s up to the rest of us to sit, wait and embrace whatever solution — if any — they may eventually provide,” Perry wrote in a newspaper commentary in 2009. “I find this troubling, since states have shown they know a thing or two about solving problems that affect their citizens.”
Even as he points with pride to the alleged benefits of malpractice and other tort reforms that have been enacted during his tenure as governor of Texas, Perry says he is opposed to tort reform at the federal level. He cites the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which states-rights advocates say limits the role of the federal government.
But if Perry had his way, all the states would do as Texas did in 2003 when lawmakers enacted legislation, which he championed, limiting the amount of money juries can award patients who win malpractice lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. The legislation capped non-economic (pain and suffering) damages at $250,000 in lawsuits against doctors and $750,000 against hospitals. A few months after he signed the bill into law, the state’s voters narrowly passed a constitutional amendment, also endorsed by Perry, which had the same effect. Proponents of the amendment wanted to be sure the new law would be constitutional.
Texas, he wrote in that 2009 commentary “stands as a good example of how smart, responsible policy can help us take major steps toward fixing a damaged medical system, starting with legal reforms.”
As a result of the 2003 tort reform law, malpractice liability insurers reduced their rates in Texas and, according to Perry, the number of doctors applying to practice medicine in the state “skyrocketed.”
He says that in the first five years after tort reform was enacted, 14,498 doctors either returned to practice in Texas or began practicing there for the first time.
Tort Reform Backfires in Texas
That certainly sounds impressive — so long as you look at that number in isolation. But when you look at how Texas stacks up with the rest of the country in terms of physician growth in direct patient care, tort reform appears to have given Texas no leg up in competition with others states for doctors. In fact, according to statistics compiled by the American Medical Association and other physician organizations, Texas has actually lost ground when it comes to the number of doctors practicing in the state since tort reform was enacted. Big time.
In 2008, the number of physicians in patient care per 10,000 civilian population in the United States was 25.7. At just 20.2 doctors per 10,000 people, Texas ranked near the bottom of the 50 states. In fact, only nine states fared worse. In 2000, three years before tort reform, Texas was still bringing up the rear, but not as badly. Back then, 11 states fared worse than the Lone Star state.
Even more revealing, the number of doctors in patient care increased 13.2 percent nationwide from 2000 to 2008. It increased only 12.8 percent in Texas. The rate of growth was actually greater in 41 other states and in Washington, D.C. than it was in the Lone Star state.
It is true that malpractice insurance rates dropped in Texas after tort reform was enacted, but Texans would be hard pressed to claim any direct benefit from that drop — except, that is, Texans who are doctors.
The Dallas Morning News published a chart earlier this year showing that the average malpractice rate charged ob/gyns in Texas by the state’s largest domestic insurer of physicians fell from $53,752 in 2003 to $33,881 in 2011. The paper reported drops of similar percentages for doctors in family practice and general surgery.
Advocates of tort reform have long claimed that one of the reasons for escalating health care costs is the “defensive medicine” doctors practice, such as over-treating and prescribing more medications and diagnostic tests than necessary, out of fear of being sued. Well, if Texans believed their own health insurance rates would go down once tort reform made defensive medicine less prevalent, they have by now been disabused of that notion. The chances of a Texas family saving a few bucks on premiums would actually be greater if they moved to another state.
In 2010, the average premium for family coverage in Texas was $14,526. That’s $655 higher than the U.S. average. Those numbers seem to indicate that doctors have not passed on their own insurance savings to their patients and that they are not practicing medicine any less defensively than before tort reform was enacted.
Not only are Texans paying more for their own insurance while doctors are paying less for theirs, their chances of getting employer-subsidized coverage is less than it would be if they lived in another state. The Dallas Morning News, citing statistics from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and other sources, reported that a smaller percentage of employers in Texas offered coverage to their workers last year than in the U.S. as a whole (51 percent and 53.8 percent, respectively). And the Texans who do have coverage through the workplace are contributing far more out of their own pockets for that coverage than people who live in most other states. In Texas last year, the average employee contribution toward company-sponsored coverage was $4,500. The U.S. average was much lower: $3,721.
Another statistic Perry is not likely to mention when he talks about the benefits of tort reform is the number of Texans who are uninsured. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Texas continues to be the state with the highest percentage of its residents without coverage, a whopping 25 percent last year, compared to about 16 percent nationwide. It was dead last in 2003 and it is dead last now.
All this should leave us wondering what “thing or two” states have come up with to solve the problems that affect their citizens. Considering the dismal state of health care in Texas, perhaps Perry had Massachusetts in mind.
By: Wendell Potter, Center for Media and Democracy, September 1, 2011