A three-judge panel of the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Texas’ new anti-abortion law, a classic of the genre insofar as it uses late-term abortion restrictions to mask a more general effort to shut down abortion clinics via medically dubious “health” requirements.
You can expect conservatives to make hay of the fact that all three judges on the panel are women (one of them the famous conservative judicial activist Edith Jones, who wrote the opinion). But they certainly had no sympathy for the women affected by their action, arguing that it’s no big deal if they have to travel across or beyond Texas to obtain abortion services. MSNBC’s Irin Carmon assesses the damage:
The Supreme Court has held that laws restricting access to abortion can’t put an “undue burden” or have the purpose of putting a “substantial obstacle” in the path of a woman seeking an abortion. But in a decision written by Judge Edith Jones and signed onto by Judges Jennifer Elrod and Catharina Haynes, the Fifth Circuit argued that Texas’s law wasn’t harsh enough to meet that standard. Despite the fact that the admitting privileges requirement has been rejected as medically unnecessary by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Fifth Circuit opinion accepted the state of Texas’s reasoning at face value – that it was intended to protect women’s health, not end access to abortion.
The Fifth Circuit wasn’t impressed at how much harder it has become for Texas women to have abortions, both because clinics whose providers have been rejected for privileges have closed outright and because clinics with doctors that have been able to get privileges are operating at reduced capacity. According to a map by RH Reality Check’s Andrea Grimes, “As of March 6, there are 25 open abortion clinics, six of which are ambulatory surgical centers, in Texas.” There were 36 abortion clinics in Texas at the time the law was passed, meaning that the dire prediction that a third of the clinics would close has come true. When requirements that abortions be provided in ambulatory surgical clinics go into effect in September, that will leave only six clinics, plus another one Planned Parenthood is building in San Antonio.
Since the 7th Circuit reached the opposite conclusion in striking down a similar law in Wisconsin, it’s now almost certain the Supreme Court will have to weigh in, giving Justice Anthony Kennedy a fresh chance to recite his paternalistic approach to women’s health, and the Court’s conservative bloc the best chance they’ve had in years to weaken the “undue burden” standard for abortion restrictions.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 28, 2014
“And You Thought Christie Was Bad”: Report, Scott Walker’s Jobs Agency Pouring Money Into Red Districts, Neglecting Others
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has long been criticized for his state’s poor jobs numbers — but now the potential 2016 presidential candidate is under fire for the locations of the jobs that have been created.
In 2011, under Walker, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation was established as the state’s largest private-sector jobs agency. The WEDC’s purpose is to develop and facilitate economic programs that create new jobs or subsidize already existing ones. Using taxpayer money, the WEDC awards, grants, and loans money to businesses across the state.
According to a Citizen Action of Wisconsin report released in February, however, data reported by the WEDC shows “[jobs] impact concentrated in a handful of legislative districts” – specifically, districts represented by Republicans.
Furthermore, because red districts in the state are benefiting more from the WEDC than other districts are, members of the Republican Assembly who are in leadership positions benefit from a disproportionately increased number of jobs in their districts.
Using numbers reported by the WEDC, the report finds that Republican assembly districts have approximately 86 percent more jobs projected in the first quarter of the 2014 fiscal year than Democratic districts. While there are 453 jobs projected per Democratic district, an overwhelming 842 jobs are projected per Republican district.
Additionally, while over 6,000 jobs are projected to be created in just one GOP assembly district alone, 14 districts have zero jobs projected, which calls the WEDC’s methods of distributing funds and impacting job creation into question.
“There’s a real question about what’s actually being done with public money, and whether or not the resources are being distributed fairly across the state,” says Robert Kraig, the executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.
WEDC spokesman Mark Maley denies the agency has committed any wrongdoing, explaining, “What we’re really focused on is economic development all over the state. We absolutely do not make any political favorites or geographical favors, when it comes to granting awards.”
WEDC’s own data, however, proves inconsistent jobs impact across districts not only represented by different parties, but also home to varying socioeconomic classes. As Citizen Action points out, there is one job impacted for every 36 residents in Wisconsin’s Waukesha County, but one job impacted for a whopping 166 residents in Milwaukee County. The difference between the two counties extends beyond partisanship: Waukesha’s average income is 73 percent higher than Milwaukee’s, and its poverty rate is 75 percent lower.
Maley denies that the impoverished county — which also happens to be Democratic — is not being helped by the WEDC. In fact, he says, a million-dollar grant has been awarded to the city of Milwaukee to renovate an automotive facility, but the grant will not show up in the report because it was not part of the WEDC data used by Citizen Action.
Governor Walker also denies that any particular districts are favored under the WEDC and blames the “completely biased and partisan” Citizen Action report for painting a different reality.
Walker adds that “…you have a significant number of business leaders more often than not [who] happen to be Republicans vs. Democrats. We measure success not by party affiliation. We measure success by whether those employers are creating jobs.”
But as Kraig counters, the conservative governor’s logic suggests that Wisconsin families should “move to Republican districts where they can live in closer proximity to the supposed ‘job creators,’” which not only is an unrealistic and unfair expectation, but the answer to an already shaky defense.
By: Elissa Gomez, The National Memo, March 17, 2014
The political and pundit class loves to identify “outsider” candidates for the presidency, looking in particular to governors who have not been tarnished by the compromises and corruptions of Washington. But the trouble with being an “outsider” candidate is that, eventually, you face the same sort of scrutiny as the insiders.
Just as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suffered a blow when the media started to examine the extent to which he mingled politics and governing, so Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is now taking a hit that will inspire serious doubts—even among his admirers—about whether he is ready for the political prime time.
The release of 27,000 pages of e-mails from the seized computers of a former Walker aide who has since been convicted of political wrongdoing, along with more than 400 documents from the first of two major probes into scandals associated with Walker’s service as Milwaukee County executive and his gubernatorial campaigns, is shining new light on the extent to which the controversial governor’s legal, ethical and political troubles will make his transition to the national stage difficult.
The e-mails offer a powerful sense of how Walker and his aides appeared to have blurred the lines between official duties and campaigning when he was seeking the governorship in 2010—taking actions that would eventually lead to the convictions of key aides. Walker, who has steered hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign account into a legal defense fund, has not been charged with wrongdoing himself. But the e-mails and legal documents paint a picture of an elected official who was so focused on political positioning that he felt it necessary to order daily conference calls to “better coordinate” between aides in his Milwaukee County Executive office and campaign staff.
Walker’s county aides used a secret e-mail routing system to coordinate campaign events and fundraising, and to trash the woman who would eventually serve as Walker’s lieutenant governor as “the bane of your existence.” They circulated crude, sometimes racist messages. And as news outlets sifted through the e-mails, they found one from a top Walker appointee, administration director Cynthia Archer, telling another aide who had accessed the secret network that she was now “in the inner circle.” “I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW…” wrote Archer.
Scott Kevin Walker identified himself on e-mails as “SKW.” Indeed, among the thousands of e-mails released Wednesday was one from a top Walker aide—Tim Russell, who has since been convicted and hailed. In it, he forwards a link to video of Chris Christie yelling at a reporter with the line: “skw should talk like this.”
The largest paper in Wisconsin, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which endorsed the governor in the past, featured a banner headline on its Thursday edition that read: “Records Link Walker to Secret Email System.”
Walker—who the e-mails reveal thought “9 out of 10 requests [from reporters] are going to be traps” and ordered his county aides to generate “positive and bold stories”—was scrambling Wednesday to dismiss the download of e-mails and legal documents as “old news.” A particularly defensive governor griped about all the attention to the e-mails and documents, saying, “these people are naysayers who want things bad to happen in Wisconsin so they are going to be circling again today. It’s exactly what’s wrong with the political process that they’re hoping for something bad to happen in Wisconsin. It’s not.”
At the same time, the Republican Governors Association—which is chaired by Christie—made a six-figure television ad buy in Wisconsin to protect the governor’s position in a 2014 re-election race where polls show him leading but with support levels below 50 percent.
The e-mails and documents—which media outlets have sought for months—were released by a judge dealing with ongoing legal wrangling over the conviction of former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch for misconduct in public office.
Rindfleisch did not just work for Walker before he was elected governor. She was also associated with him after he took his state post, as a key fund-raiser who traveled with the governor while he raised money nationally. And her name has been linked to a new John Doe probe that reportedly has focused on wrongdoing by individuals and groups that backed the governor’s 2012 campaign to beat a recall vote.
That’s not exactly “old news.” And it comes at a particularly unfortunate moment for Walker, who cannot have been happy with a Wednesday Washington Post headline that read: “Scott Walker, eyeing 2016, faces fallout from probes as ex-aide’s e-mails are released,” and “E-mails may spell trouble for Scott Walker.” Or a Thursday New York Times report that said the emails and documents portray Walker as “having presided over an office where aides used personal computers and email to conceal that they were mixing government and campaign business.”
There’s no question that Walker wants to be considered as a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Even as he seeks re-election this year, he has been busy touring a new book that conservative commentators say “reads like one gigantic presidential trial balloon,” making the rounds of the same talk shows once frequented by Christie, and maintaining a relentless schedule of national appearances to aid Republican candidates and raise money.
With one-time GOP front-runner Christie mired in scandal, pundits who don’t know much about Walker like to imagine that he might be the next “shiny penny” for Republicans seeking a candidate from outside Washington.
But Walker’s national prospects have never looked as good as his admirers imagine. Even after Christie’s downfall, the Wisconsinite was wrestling with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal for last place in most state and national polls of likely Republican caucus and primary voters.
Now, just as Christie faces fallout from an aide’s revealing e-mails, so Walker faces fallout from an aide’s revealing e-mails. The circumstances may be different, and Walker has certainly tried to present himself as a less politically contentious figure than the governor of New Jersey. But when the headlines in Washington are talking about a governor facing “fallout from probes,” and the governor in question is not Chris Christie, there’s a good chance that even the most ardent Republicans will start noticing the tarnish on their shiny penny.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, February 19, 2014
They say that misery loves company, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) may soon have a friend who can sympathize with seeing a 2016 presidential campaign threatened by a tawdry political scandal.
On Wednesday, more than 27,000 emails were released from a now closed investigation into alleged illegal activity by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) 2010 election campaign. Though Walker himself was never charged with anything, the new documents for the first time tie him directly to his staff’s shady campaign dealings, an embarrassing blow that could hinder his re-election bid this year and dampen his appeal as an establishment alternative come 2016.
A quick recap on how we got here.
Back in 2010, when Walker was still the Milwaukee County executive, his staff established a secret wireless network in the county office to coordinate strategy with his political campaign. Because such coordination is illegal in Wisconsin when done on the taxpayers’ dime, a probe into the effort resulted in convictions for six of Walker’s former aides and allies, including his former deputy chief of staff, Kelly Rindfleisch, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to a felony for her role.
Walker, meanwhile, came through unscathed — until now, that is.
According to the newly released emails, the investigation into the Walker campaign’s misconduct widened one day before the 2012 election, with raids targeting Walker’s campaign office, the Milwaukee County executive office, and the homes of some Walker staffers. As for that secret wireless router, the emails provide the first direct indication that Walker knew about it.
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“Consider yourself now in the ‘inner circle,'” Walker’s administration director, Cynthia Archer, wrote to Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch just after the two exchanged a test message.
“I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW and Nardelli. You should be sure you check it throughout the day,” she wrote, referring to Walker by his initials and to Walker’s chief of staff, Tom Nardelli. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
Now, the emails do not prove that Walker actually used the secret network while on the county clock. And many of the details in the unsealed emails have been known for some time. Still, the negative headlines they’re generating — and the subsequent investigative reports they’re bound to spawn — are a stain on the resume of someone many believed to be the GOP establishment’s next best hope after Bridgegate tarnished Christie’s once-glorious political career.
Christie’s downfall is an apt parallel.
Though Christie hasn’t been tied directly to the politically motivated traffic scandal, his aides and appointees have. That leaves just two conclusions to draw about Christie himself: Either he’s lying or he surrounded himself with devious incompetents over whom he had little control. Neither interpretation reflects favorably on a chief executive’s character.
So while Christie is innocent (so far) of any personal wrongdoing, his popularity has taken a massive hit.
That’s the same problem now facing Walker. The governor could still be found guilty in the court of public opinion of poor judgment for hiring law-skirting staffers. Indeed, the Democratic National Committee and local Democratic operatives are now lumping the two governors together under one big umbrella of shame.
“This wasn’t the work of a few rogue staffers,” Michael Czin, a DNC spokesman, said in a statement, “this was a coordinated effort that goes right to the top.”
“Just like in New Jersey, top aides used taxpayer resources to push a political agenda,” he added. “And just like Chris Christie, Scott Walker has a lot of questions to answer.”
The emails support that claim, to a certain extent. One correspondence shows that Walker instructed a top aide to coordinate a daily conference call between county and campaign staff. Again, though that doesn’t implicate Walker in any illegal activity, it suggests he might have encouraged it in his underlings.
Walker’s problems don’t end there, either. As the Huffington Post noted, the emails also revealed that Walker once wanted to fire a doctor because she used to be a thong model, a tale that would be perfect fodder for Democrats who want to trot out their effective “War on Women” message. And the emails also contained a racist, homophobic chain message about a fictional nightmare. (Punch line: “I can handle being a black, disabled, one-armed, drug-addicted, Jewish, homosexual… but please, Oh dear God, don’t tell me I’m a Democrat!”)
Meanwhile, Walker’s recall campaign committee — the governor defeated an attempt to remove him from office in 2012, which is what earned him the national spotlight to begin with — is believed to be the subject of a second, ongoing investigation. Depending on what that investigation finds, Walker could be in for yet another round of awful coverage.
The symmetry between Walker and Christie’s tales is remarkable. Both involve a prominent GOP governor with presumed White House ambitions allegedly using his office for underhanded political machinations. And in both cases, the governor claimed innocence and ignorance of his staff’s misdeeds.
That excuse didn’t work for Christie, and there’s no reason to believe it will work any better for Walker.
By: Jon Terbush, The Week, February 20, 2014
On the very day that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s scandals became big national news, Politico’s Mike Allen is out with his Playbook Snapshot 2016 – the top 16 Republicans most mentioned in Beltway chatter – and Walker is at the top of the list (along with erratic Tea Party Sen. Rand Paul). It’s a perfect example of how and why Walker has persisted as a top presidential contender: the national media knows little and cares less about Wisconsin politics.
Walker is an interesting contrast with embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Poor Christie. Live by the media, die by the media. There’s no question that the national media made Christie, though he gave them plenty to work with. He is an outsize personality, and the fact that he’s the governor of New Jersey and used to be a federal prosecutor working in the world’s major media market played a huge role in his rise as a national figure. Now, though, the attention of the national media is (however belatedly) focused obsessively on Christie’s troubles, and every new subpoena, every wronged mayor, and every unsavory crony tied to the George Washington Bridge scandal is a major story.
Scott Walker, by contrast, has actually managed to benefit from his distance from the national media. Sure, it kept him only in the second tier of potential 2016 candidates – but tough media scrutiny would have excluded him from any tier. No one has ever explained how a governor can have six associates convicted of illegal campaign activities – including three “top aides who sat just feet from his desk,” in the words of the Wisconsin State Journal — and come away from it entirely unsullied. At minimum it raises questions of management and judgment.
But even leaving aside the two John Doe investigations that have ensnared his office, Walker has never been ready for national prime time. He’s a charisma-free divider who got big attention for ending collective bargaining for public employees and then surviving a union-led recall election. All of that made him a hero on the right, of course, but Walker was never going to survive close inspection. He’s given to dim-bulb platitudes, like defending a state law requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion by saying blithely, “I don’t have any problem with ultrasound. I think most people think ultrasounds are just fine.” As though the procedure involved looking at kidney stones, not invading a woman’s privacy. In a cycle when Republicans are supposed to be trying to solve their problems with women, that’s not all. Walker signed a bill repealing Wisconsin’s equal pay for women law and has crusaded against Planned Parenthood.
Personally, I thought Walker was toast when he got pranked by someone pretending to be David Koch, and he yukked it up about how “stereotypical blue-collar workers” supported his attacks on unions, but I was wrong about that. No one really cared.
I firmly believe that if the global media establishment was based in Milwaukee, the idea that Walker had the political talent to become a top tier presidential candidate would never have taken hold. Even Mike Allen would know better.
Well, the treasure rove of 27,000 emails related to the first John Doe investigation of Walker’s office – which led to the criminal conviction of six Walker staffers, including three top aides – is forcing national reporters to pay attention. In the last 24 hours we’ve learned that Walker staff set up a secret email system, complete with a separate router, where public workers could plot strategy with campaign staffers – and Walker regularly participated in the email round-robin.
“Consider yourself now in the ‘inner circle,’” administration director Cynthia Archer wrote to Walker deputy chief of staff Kelly Rindfleisch (who was convicted in the first John Doe probe) after they exchanged a message to test the system. “I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW [Walker] and [Walker chief of staff Tom] Nardelli,” Archer confided. “You should be sure you check it throughout the day,” she wrote. Walker defenders say the governor didn’t know about the secret email system though he participated.
The newly released email also featured staffers forwarding racist jokes, making light of the death of a mental hospital patient because “no one cares about crazy people,” and recording Walker’s personal decision to fire a public health doctor because she had once modeled thongs. The emails show Walker ran a daily conference call that mixed his public and his campaign staff “so we can better coordinate sound, timely responses, so we all know what the others are doing,” according to Nardelli. Although the first John Doe investigation ended in convictions for six associates but no charges against Walker, a second probe, into whether his recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside right-wing backers, is ongoing.
Now, some in Wisconsin say even the new revelations won’t doom his reelection, though it certainly makes it more of a fight. But Mike Allen notwithstanding, it seriously damages the boomlet that has made him the potential establishment “front-runner.” To benefit from Christie’s stumble, and become the big donors’ new savior, Walker had to be squeaky clean, in contrast with the investigation-tarnished Christie. With his own ethical troubles now growing, and renewed attention on the scandal he survived, Walker is almost as bad an investment for donors as Christie.
As I’ve written before, that “deep bench” of Republican 2016 contenders has completely splintered. Walker was a second string candidate who was on the verge of becoming a contender only because of the troubles of Christie, toxic Ted Cruz, Florida’s Marco Rubio, Louisiana’s deeply unpopular Gov. Bobby Jindal and disgraced former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
But hey, there are always folks ready to step up. Allen’s Playbook 2016 list features South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as “rising.” If only.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, February 20, 2014