Even as Republicans boast of their chances to take over the United States Senate come November, their party’s governors across the country are facing dimmer prospects. From Georgia to Alaska, right-wing ideological rule imposed by GOP chief executives have left voters disappointed, disillusioned, and angry.
The problem isn’t that these governors failed to implement their promised panaceas of tax-cutting, union-busting, and budget-slashing, all in the name of economic recovery; some did all three. The problem is that those policies have failed to deliver the improving jobs and incomes that were supposed to flow from “conservative” governance. In fact, too often the result wasn’t at all truly conservative, at least in the traditional sense — as excessive and imbalanced tax cuts, skewed to benefit the wealthy, led to ruined budgets and damaged credit ratings.
Consider Gov. Scott Walker, famous for surviving the recall effort that Wisconsin’s outraged citizens mounted in response to his attacks on labor. While seeking to end collective bargaining in 2010, Walker also passed a series of regressive tax cuts that he vowed would bring at least 250,000 jobs. By sharply reducing state aid to schools and local governments, he temporarily closed a structural deficit – but this year, with state tax revenues declining precipitously in the wake of his tax cuts, Walker is facing a $1.8 billion budget deficit. And as for the jobs, most of them never materialized. Wisconsin is near the bottom of Midwestern states in creating new jobs.
In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback was equally faithful to right-wing orthodoxy. With the advice of Arthur Laffer, the genius responsible for Ronald Reagan’s exploding deficits in the 1980s, Brownback imposed an historically huge tax cut on the state. Declining revenues meant huge reductions in state services, especially education. And, as furious Kansans have discovered, the Brownback experiment has achieved poor employment growth combined with…yes, a massive budget deficit of nearly $350 million this year.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett’s first budget in 2011 included major tax cuts for corporations that cost about $600 million annually. By this point, it should be obvious who was required to pay for those favors: the children served by the state’s education system, who saw a billion dollars in cuts to their schools and programs, from kindergarten through college.
This year, the state is facing a budget shortfall of over $1 billion, but Corbett doesn’t seem to have learned much. He has demanded further income tax cuts that will benefit the wealthy – and will cost Pennsylvania another $770 million in annual revenue. And what about his promise that the state would become number one nationally in job creation? As of last summer, it ranked either 47th or 49th, depending on the data measured.
So far, so feeble – and it is scarcely more impressive in the other red states whose governors face reelection this year.
The politician tasked with rescuing his party’s beleaguered governors is none other than their colleague from New Jersey, Chris Christie, who serves as chair of the Republican Governors Association. From that perch, of course, the blustering Christie hopes to run for president – an aspiration that may recede still further from his grasp with each lost governor’s mansion this fall. Emotional as he tends to be, Christie surely empathizes with his fellow governors – because his very similar policies have landed New Jersey in equally precarious condition.
So it is puzzling to hear voters in places far from the Garden State – such as Iowa and New Hampshire – tell reporters that they admire Christie because he “saved New Jersey.” Evidently they don’t know that the state’s finances have been sufficiently terrible to provoke not one but two downgrades in its credit rating this year alone.
But bad bond ratings aren’t the only woe confronting the Big Boy, as President Bush called him. Christie is perfectly suited to his leadership role among the GOP governors – if only because his economic record may well be the very worst of any American governor in either party. The question that voters must answer, this November and two years from now, is when these failed fiscal and economic “experiments” – and the suffering they have caused – will at last end.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, October 1, 2014
“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