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
“Wall Street Takes Over More Statehouses”: Public Pension Wall Street Feeding Frenzy About To Get Worse
No runoff will be needed to declare one unambiguous winner in this month’s gubernatorial elections: the financial services industry. From Illinois to Massachusetts, voters effectively placed more than $100 billion worth of public pension investments under the control of executives-turned-politicians whose firms profit by managing state pension money.
The elections played out as states and cities across the country debate the merits of shifting public pension money — the retirement savings for police, firefighters, teachers and other public employees — from plain vanilla investments such as index funds into higher-risk alternatives like hedge funds and private equity funds.
Critics argue that this course has often failed to boost returns enough to compensate for taxpayer-financed fees paid to the financial services companies that manage the money. Wall Street firms and executives have poured campaign contributions into states that have embraced the strategy, eager for expanded opportunities. The election results affirmed that this money was well spent: More public pension money will now likely be entrusted to the financial services industry.
In Illinois, Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn was defeated by Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, who made his fortune as an executive at a financial firm called GTCR, which rakes in fees from pension investments. Rauner — who retains an ownership stake in at least 15 separate GTCR entities, according to his financial disclosure forms — will now be fully in charge of his state’s pension system.
In Rhode Island, venture capitalist Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, defeated Republican Allan Fung. Raimondo retains an ownership stake in a firm that manages funds from Rhode Island’s $7 billion pension system. Raimondo’s campaign received hundreds of thousands of dollars from financial industry donors. She was also aided by six-figure PAC donations from former Enron trader John Arnold, who has waged a national campaign to slash workers’ pensions.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, handily defeated his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, after raising millions of dollars from the finance industry. The New York legislature is set to send Cuomo a bill that would permit the New York state and city pension funds to move an additional $7 billion into hedge funds, private equity and other high-fee “alternative” investments. Cuomo has not taken a public position on the bill, but his party in the legislature passed it by a wide margin, and he is widely expected to sign it into law.
In Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker appeared early Wednesday to have secured a narrow victory over Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Baker was on the board of mutual funds managed by a financial firm that has also managed funds from Massachusetts’ $53 billion pension system. Baker is also the subject of a New Jersey investigation over his $10,000 contribution to the New Jersey State Republican Party just months before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s officials awarded his firm a state pension deal.
In all, Republicans won 18 gubernatorial races thanks, in part, to the robust fundraising of Christie’s Republican Governors Association. Some of that organization’s top donors are the financial investment firms that manage public pension systems.
Former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Edward Siedle said campaign cash from the financial industry is fundamentally shaping the debate over how to manage state pension systems.
“Why have all pension reform candidates concluded that workers’ retirement benefits must be harshly cut, but, on the other hand, fees to Wall Street be exponentially increased?” said Siedle, who has published a series of forensic reports critical of politicians shifting ever more pension money to Wall Street. “The answer, of course, is that more money than ever is being spent by billionaires to support a public pension Wall Street feeding frenzy.”
After the 2014 election, that feeding frenzy is only going to intensify.
By: David Sirota, Senior Writer at The International Business Times; Published in The National Memo, November 14, 2014
“Blacking Out The Vote”: Republicans Impose Second-Class Citizenship On People Who Threaten The Status Quo
Voters are facing an ugly surprise on their way to the voting booth on Tuesday. What most people don’t realize is that since 2006, some 34 state legislatures have worked diligently to chip away at the fundamental right to vote — and overwhelmingly, people of color are the target.
This year alone, 14 states have implemented legislation that would end same-day voter registration, limit early voting, and require voters to present forms of ID that many voters lack and cannot easily obtain. What do these measures have in common? Each would disproportionately impact African-American voters, making it more difficult for them to vote or have their vote count in a meaningful fashion.
To make matters worse, the Supreme Court pulled the rug out from under decades of effective voting rights protections in its decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The court’s decision gave a free pass to state and local politicians manipulating voting laws for their own gain, allowing them to pick and choose who will be able to vote. That is why the right to vote is in danger across the country.
Some of these state legislatures, while attacking the right to vote, also diminish the value of each vote counted through all kinds of creative methods. Some recent examples include drawing boundaries of an election district to ensure that minority voters cannot constitute a majority, and “packing” minorities in only one or a limited number of districts to ensure they are a majority, which weakens the voting power of minority groups that could otherwise constitute an influential voting bloc. Smaller districts can also be drawn in such a way that the voting power of a minority group is reduced by dividing minorities into several districts that are predominantly white.
I know, the term “voting matters” has probably lost its value over the years because of over use, but it really does matter. Voting isn’t just about electing candidates. It’s about feeling a sense of dignity and empowering people to take part in the democratic process. It’s about influencing policies and holding the federal and state governments accountable for promoting social and economic equity for ALL people.
Withholding the right to vote is a way to impose second-class citizenship on people who threaten the status quo. Throughout our country’s history, the right to vote was denied to white men without property, African-Americans, women, Native Americans, Chinese-Americans, and adults under 21 years of age.
While the 15th Amendment was adopted in 1870 and prohibited denial of the right to vote on account of race or color, in reality, African-Americans who wanted to exercise their right to vote were beaten, chased by dogs, bludgeoned by police and sometimes killed. It’s somewhat unimaginable that African-Americans were only able to vote within recent memory — with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But that’s all history, right?
Some claim today, that America is no longer plagued by the racial injustice of the civil rights era. Unfortunately, less overt strategies have been implemented more recently to block African-Americans and other minorities from the ballot. I can’t believe how close we are to losing what many fought so hard, and sometimes died, to achieve.
Now more than ever, new tools are needed to prevent voter discrimination before it happens. In January 2014, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA) to repair the damage done by the Shelby decision. Congress had the opportunity to pass a new, flexible and forward-looking set of protections that work together to guarantee our right to vote — however, they failed to act on it.
In September, voting rights advocates, including myself, delivered petitions from over 500,000 voters seeking to restore VRA protections to the office of Speaker John Boehner. We found ourselves confronted by a locked door, perfect symbolism for the disenfranchisement many voters of color will experience come Tuesday. Next year the Voting Rights Act will be celebrating a dubious 50th anniversary, unless Congress acts immediately to pass new protections. Next week, voters of color will be immersed in the least protected election since the passage of the act in 1965.
The Voting Rights Act was born from the premise that all Americans have the right to vote — regardless of race or language proficiency. It was critical to the civil rights movement, turning hateful policies like poll taxes and literacy tests into historical footnotes. We cannot allow those footnotes to be rewritten into modern forms of vote suppression.
By: Laura W. Murphy, Director of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union; The Huffington Post Blog, November 3, 2014