“The Voters Should Choose Their Representatives”: The Supreme Court’s Election Reform Ruling Is A ‘Big F-ing Deal’
This, in the words of Joe Biden, is a big fucking deal.
The Supreme Court’s vote on marriage equality and its refusal to gut health-care reform justly got the banner headlines over the last few days. But a less-publicized case on Arizona’s independent redistricting commission had those of us fighting for election reform holding our breath in the march toward the last day of decisions.
At stake was nothing less than the ability to fight back against the forces of polarization, paralysis, and hyper-partisanship in our politics. Out of 435 House seats, only 35 are considered competitive, and the rigged system of redistricting is to blame. It’s a process of collusion between the two parties that takes place every 10 years in state legislatures and draws the congressional district lines—a subversion of democracy where politicians pick their people rather than people picking their politicians.
The result is a screwed up incentive system where members of Congress are virtually guaranteed re-election as long as they don’t lose a low turnout partisan primary, which means they live in fear of offending the base rather than reaching across the aisle to solve problems.
Increasingly, the remedy for this corrupt status quo has been voters bypassing the state legislators with ballot referendums that create independent redistricting commissions. California has done it to great effect, dislodging 14 incumbents who decided to retire after the independent commission promised to make their re-elections less than rubber-stamped.
And that’s what Arizonans did in advance of the 2010 districting, which upset then-Governor Jan Brewer. First she tried to remove the independent commission’s chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, in a power grab that was overruled. Then Brewer decided to take the commission to court, arguing that the panel—composed of two Republicans, two Democrats, and one independent—tried to “elevate ‘competitiveness’ over other goals.” Seriously.
“This isn’t anything more than Republicans trying to hold on to a majority in a state where they constitute less than a third of the voters,” explained former Phoenix mayor Paul Johnson at the time. But still the baseless, desperate, cynical case wound its way to the Supreme Court.
If the court decided that the voters’ attempt to impose a nonpartisan redistricting commission over the self-dealing of the Arizona state legislators was unconstitutional, the best mechanism citizens have to restore fairness to congressional mechanisms would have been removed.
As Stanford law professor Nate Persily, the author of the new book Solutions to Political Polarization in America, explained: “Not only would many redistricting commissions, such as Arizona and California’s, have been thrown out, but any state regulation of congressional elections that was passed by initiative would have been legally vulnerable. This would have cast doubt, for instance, on California’s nonpartisan primary, Arizona’s voter ID law, and any number of other laws regulating voter registration, campaign financing, and ballot technology.”
It could have meant open season on election reforms of all kinds. But happily, by a narrow 5-4 vote, with Justice Anthony Kennedy serving in his role as the swing vote—possibly aided here by his roots in California, which has seen evidence of success in election reform—the Supreme Court decided to back the integrity of Arizona’s independent redistricting commission.
As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her majority decision (PDF): “We see no constitutional barrier to a State’s empowerment of its people.” She continued by pointing out that “‘[P]artisan gerrymanders,’ this Court has recognized, ‘[are incompatible] with democratic principles’” and attested to the fact that reforms like independent redistricting commissions have resulted in “districts both more competitive and more likely to survive legal challenge.” Quoting founding fathers from Madison to Hamilton, the decision concluded that Arizona voters sought to restore “the core principle of republican government,” namely, “that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”
The decision is a big win for election reform and a defeat for those professional partisan forces that want to keep the rigged system of redistricting in place. Now the prospect for future nonpartisan election reforms remains open and inviting to more citizens who understand that when you change the rules, you change the game.
By: John Avlon, The Daily Beast, June 30, 2015
They say there’s honor among thieves, but I say: That depends on the thieves.
Your common street thief, yes — but not those princely CEOs of corporate larceny. America’s working families have learned the elites in the top suites are rewarded for being pickpockets, swindlers, thugs, and scoundrels, routinely committing mass economic violence against the majority of America’s working people to further enrich and empower themselves.
But now comes a cabal of about two-dozen corporate chieftains pushing a vicious new campaign of physical violence against workers. The infamous anti-labor bully, Walmart, is among the leaders, but so are such prestigious chains as Macy’s and Nordstrom, along with Lowe’s, Kohl’s, and Safeway. Their goal is to gut our nation’s workers’ compensation program, freeing corporate giants to injure or even kill employees in the workplace without having to cover all (or, in many cases, any) of the lost wages, medical care, or burial expenses of those harmed.
Started more than 100 years ago, workers’ comp insurance is one of our society’s most fundamental contracts between injured employees who give up the right to sue their companies for negligence when injured on the job and employers who pay for insurance to cover a basic level of medical benefits and wages for those harmed. Administered by state governments, benefits vary, and they usually fall far short of meeting the full needs of the injured people. But the program has at least provided an important measure of help and a bit of fairness to assuage the suffering of millions.
But even that’s too much for the avaricious thieves atop these multi-billion-dollar corporations. Why pay for insuring employees when it’s much cheaper just to buy state legislators who are willing to privatize workers’ comp? This lets corporations write their own rules of compensation to slash benefits, cut safety costs — and earn thieving CEOs bigger bonuses.
But who, you might ask, would help these corporate crooks in their callous and calculating scheme to rob workers of their hard-earned benefits? Why, that would be the work of ARAWC — the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation.
When you come across a corporate lobbying group claiming to be pushing “Responsible Alternatives to Such-and-Such,” you can rightly assume that it’s really pushing something totally irresponsible, as well as malicious, shameless, self-serving and even disgusting. Mother Jones magazine reports that ARAWC is a front group funded by these hugely profitable retail chains and corporate behemoths that want to weasel out of compensating employees who suffer injuries at work. By law, corporations in nearly every state must carry workers’ comp insurance, but the ARAWC lobbying combine is pressuring legislators to allow the giants to opt out of the state benefit plans and instead substitute their own, highly restrictive set of benefits.
What a deal! But it’s a raw deal for injured workers. In Texas, which already has this write-it-yourself loophole, more than half of the corporate plans — get this — pay nothing to the families of workers who’re killed in job accidents! Similarly, under an ARAWC-written opt-out provision that a Tennessee senator sponsored this year, employers wouldn’t have to cover artificial limbs, home care or even funeral expenses of on-the-job accident victims.
Also, the Tennessee bill lets a company simply walk away from maimed workers after just three years or after paying only $300,000 in expenses. Corporations always claim to “value” their employees — and this tells us exactly how little that value is.
By the way, the CEO of ARAWC also happens to be the head of “risk management” at the mingiest of workplaces: Walmart. And that’s what this opt-out scam amounts to — corporate profiteers hoping they can manage to escape paying for risking the lives of America’s workforce. Yes, this shifty move is a scurrilous crime, but it’s a crime that pays richly for those at the top. And the money can fill the hole in their souls where their honor used to be.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, April 15, 2015
It’s official: the phrase “open carry” has entered the American lexicon. That’s because gun extremists from Virginia to Washington to Texas and all across the country have started showing up in restaurants, state capitols, and other public places openly carrying loaded semiautomatic rifles. Occasionally donning kilts or gas masks and other attention-getting attire, these extremists look as though they are headed to battle instead of visiting their legislators or picking up milk at their local Kroger grocery store.
Why are we seeing these open carry displays more and more often? Because the radical rhetoric of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) leadership tells us that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” And that myth propels the idea that a loaded AK-47 is necessary when dining at Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, just in case you encounter a bad guy.
Thanks to the gun lobby’s insidious and formerly unchecked influence in our state legislatures, open carry is legal in more than 40 states. And in a majority of those states, it’s perfectly legal to open carry a long gun with absolutely no training, permitting, or even a minimum age requirement.
Add to that cocktail of crazy the fact that our lax federal gun laws allow criminals and other dangerous people to easily access firearms. Given that millions of guns each year are sold without a criminal background check, there is no way to know if a person who is openly carrying a semiautomatic rifle is a responsible gun owner, or if that person is a threat to moms and our children (and the gas masks don’t help either).
Law enforcement leaders have come out in opposition to open carry because it forces them to ask questions that jeopardize their ability to ensure public safety, like “Does this person have a permit? Is he a felon?” And it’s a drain on law enforcement resources as well. As this video posted by open carry extremists highlights, there is nothing normal about seeing men marching around carrying rifles; it causes genuine concern. Subsequently, when people call 9-1-1, a police officer must be dispatched and forced to deal with difficult open carry extremists.
In Texas, an open carry activist with an arrest record for interfering with police duties recently posted a video threatening Texas state legislators with death if they oppose legislation to legalize unlicensed open carry of handguns. These same gun extremists were responsible for forcing the Texas state legislature to install panic buttons in their chambers last month.
This extremism is dangerous and, not surprisingly, encouraged by NRA leaders given their support and continued push for open carry expansion. For decades, the NRA has attempted to normalize behaviors that are unsafe, and expanding open carry is simply an attempt by the gun lobby to make it acceptable for anyone to openly carry guns anywhere.
In Tennessee, the law allows permit holders to carry guns openly or concealed, but last year, the NRA sponsored legislation that would remove the permit requirement to open carry in Tennessee. This would have made it legal for stalkers and certain other criminals to openly carry loaded handguns in Tennessee, and it would be legal for anyone to openly carry a loaded gun without any gun safety training whatsoever.
But just like Rick Perry (someone I never thought I would cite as an example), who said this week that he was not “all that fond of this open carry concept,” Moms are not willing to go down the NRA’s slippery slope. We know that respecting the Second Amendment requires responsible gun ownership and practicing gun safety.
The safety of our children and families in our communities is paramount, and open carry is not a step in the right direction. We refuse to have to consider whether people who are open carrying around our children and families are members of law enforcement sworn to protect us, or if they are activists making a political statement, or dangerous criminals we should run from.
And while we wait for legislators to do their jobs instead of catering to extremists’ tantrums and pass laws that protect people instead of gun lobby profits, we expect businesses to do their part. Simply following state and local laws is not enough. In states where no background check is required to buy a semiautomatic rifle and carry it openly in public, businesses have a duty to protect their employees and customers.
This is why Moms are asking retailers like Kroger and restaurants like Raising Cane’s to prioritize customer and employee safety. And it’s why we’ve worked with other restaurants and retailers like Chipotle, Sonic, Starbucks and Target to stand up to this extremist behavior and ask their customers to leave their firearms at home.
Open carry extremists have shined a bright light on the NRA’s vision for the future of America, and it’s not pretty. Moms won’t let the concerted efforts by the gun lobby and open carry extremists to put our families and communities at risk go unchecked. With rights come responsibilities, and for the safety and security of our restaurants, state capitols, and other public places, we must push back on armed intimidation. After all, there are no panic buttons for the public.
By: Shannon Watts, Founder, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America;The Blog, The Huffington Post, February 13, 2015
“The GOP’s Color Bind”: Something Tells Me There’s A Glass Ceiling Above This New Crowd Of Diverse Republicans
Beyond noting the irony of an anti-affirmative action party promoting diversity, a New York Times report on successful efforts by state-level Republicans to recruit and elect candidates of color compels us to ask a few questions.
As Republicans took control of an unprecedented 69 of 99 statehouse chambers in the midterm elections, they did not rely solely on a bench of older white men. Key races hinged on the strategic recruitment of women and minorities, many of them first-time candidates who are now learning the ropes and joining the pool of prospects for higher office.
They include Jill Upson, the first black Republican woman elected to the West Virginia House; Victoria Seaman, the first Latina Republican elected to the Nevada Assembly; Beth Martinez Humenik, whose win gave Republicans a one-seat edge in the Colorado Senate; and Young Kim, a Korean-American woman who was elected to the California Assembly, helping to break the Democratic supermajority in the State Legislature.
In Pennsylvania, Harry Lewis Jr., a retired black educator, won in a new House district that was expected to be a Democratic stronghold; he printed his campaign materials in English and Spanish. Of the 12 Latinos who will serve in statewide offices across the nation in 2015, eight are Republican.
“This is not just rhetoric — we spent over $6 million to identify new women and new candidates of diversity and bring them in,” said Matt Walter, the executive director of the Republican State Leadership Committee. “Most of these chambers were flipped because there was a woman or a person of diverse ethnicity in a key targeted seat.”
That the GOP, on a state level, appears to recognize the merits of racial and ethnic diversity is good thing. What about the benefits of ideological diversity?
It is not clear yet where the new Republican elected officials fall on the ideological spectrum. Several who were interviewed for this article, including [newly elected New Mexico State Representative Sarah Maestas Barnes], said they were focused on economic issues like job creation, not social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Ms. Barnes said that she had made it clear to party leaders that she would entertain good ideas no matter which party floated them, and that she had been promised the freedom to vote her conscience.
Is that promise valid? What happens if these Republicans of color embrace views that might offend certain special interests or donors? What if they take a position ALEC doesn’t approve of? Will they be run out of town, the way heterodox Republicans are on a federal level (think ex-US Representatives Wayne Gilchrest and Bob Inglis)? What if they call out racism in the party?
Something tells me there’s a glass ceiling above this new crowd of diverse Republicans. If any of them step out of line ideologically, they will be bloodied by the shards of that ceiling as it falls on top of them.
By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 29, 2014
“Changing The Way The Votes Are Counted”: Republicans Revive Bold Scheme To Rig Presidential Elections
After Republicans failed to capture the White House in 2012, they dusted off a tried-and-true plan to improve their future electoral prospects. No, they wouldn’t moderate their views or expand their appeal to win votes. They would just change the way that the votes are counted!
The plan: to rig the electoral college with the ultimate goal of squeaking out a Republican presidential win, even in an increasingly challenging electoral landscape.
Here’s how it was supposed to work.
Before the 2010 election, Republican strategists focused energy and resources on gaining control of state legislatures, and succeeded in flipping party control of legislative chambers in blue states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. This allowed Republican legislatures to draw congressional districts, gerrymandering their states to ensure future Republican gains even in states where Democrats tend to win statewide.
GOP strategists then took it a step further. What if Republicans used their control over these blue states and their favorably gerrymandered electoral maps to make it harder for Democrats to win presidential elections?
Under the Constitution, each state determines how it will distribute its electoral votes to presidential candidates. All but two states (Maine and Nebraska) have a “winner take all” system, in which the winner of the state’s popular vote earns all of its electoral votes. The Republican plan would keep the “winner take all” system in big, solidly red states like Texas. But it would change it in big, blue states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, ensuring that a Democratic candidate who wins the popular vote in the state doesn’t go home with all of its electoral votes.
For instance, under the plan originally proposed in Pennsylvania after the 2012 election, which would have divided the state’s electoral votes up by gerrymandered congressional districts, Mitt Romney would have won 13 of the state’s 20 electoral votes, despite having lost the state’s popular vote. Last year, the Republican-controlled state house in the presidential swing state of Virginia put forward a plan to do something similar. If the Virginia plan had been in effect in 2012, Mitt Romney would have carried away nine of the state’s 13 electoral vote, despite having lost the state’s popular vote to Barack Obama.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus made the goal of the scheme clear when he endorsed it last year, saying, “I think it’s something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at.”
The proposals in Pennsylvania and Virginia sank after groups like People For the American Way got out the word and residents realized the proposals were part of a blatant political ploy. But this month, the scheme was resurrected in Michigan, where a Republican state lawmaker is proposing his own plan to dilute the power of his state’s reliably Democratic electoral college block. Under the plan introduced by Rep. Pete Lund, Michigan’s electoral votes would be distributed according to a formula tied to the popular vote. It’s not as blatant as the original Pennsylvania and Virginia proposals were, but it has the same goal: If it had been in effect in the last presidential election, it would have cut President Obama’s electoral total in Michigan down to 12 from 16.
These plans can initially seem reasonable, even to progressives, many of whom are wary of the electoral college system. But this isn’t a good-government plan to change the way our presidential elections are conducted. It’s a targeted plot to get more electoral votes for Republicans, even when they’re losing the popular vote. It’s no coincidence that these plans have often been quietly introduced in lame duck sessions, when voters are paying less attention. These measures, if allowed to be passed quickly in a few states with little debate and attention, could have national implications and change American political history.
Voters should be allowed to pick their politicians. But this is yet another case of politicians trying to pick their voters. Like with voter suppression schemes and extreme gerrymandering, the GOP is trying to change the rules of the game for their own benefit. Voters can’t let them get away with it.
By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Huffington Post Blog, November 20, 2014