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“Real Incremental Progress Is Happening In Blue States”: State Legislatures,The Primary Vehicles For Real Progressive Action

It’s often easy to become discouraged at the state of national politics. Given Republican control of the House, there’s very little chance of either Clinton’s or Sanders’ policy priorities going anywhere. But that doesn’t mean that progress isn’t happening in blue states around the country.

Consider again the example of California, where rules finally went into effect allowing women to get birth control without a prescription:

Women in California of any age can now obtain birth control without a doctor’s prescription from any pharmacy in the state. Under the new rules finally in effect, any woman merely has to fill out a questionnaire at the pharmacy to get access to a variety of contraceptive measures, according to KABC. Though the new rules were technically passed by the state legislature in 2013, the law was tied up in regulatory discussions until Friday. Under the law, any woman can get self-administered hormonal birth control.

California is not the first to put this into place; Washington and Oregon already have similar laws.

This also, of course, comes on the heels of $15 minimum wages being passed in California and New York as well. California alone has a wide bevy of new progressive laws ranging from automatic voter registration to air quality standards, wage theft, sexual consent and much else. Blue states continue to be the successful laboratories of democracy where Republicans in Congress are failing to act, even as the red state economic model is being proven a failure in places like Kansas and Louisiana.

Until the 2020 census makes it easier to change control of Congress, it will remain the case that state legislatures are the primary vehicles for real progressive action. One can only hope that those seeking a political revolution will remain engaged regardless of the result of the Democratic primary, and get involved in making their states as progressive as possible until the demographic tide makes a national change in direction inevitable.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 10, 2016

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Blue States, California, Progressive Action, State Legislatures | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Old Songs With New Refrains”: ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Are About Freedom To Discriminate

Across the land, heroic male legislators are rising up to protect the lives and virtue of women and girls from sexual predators.

They are not, as one might hope, enacting laws that would prevent men convicted of domestic violence from owning firearms, even though that would surely save precious female lives.

Nor are they working with colleges and universities to ensure fair investigations of campus sexual assault, even though this would greatly help many a female coed.

And, alas, they aren’t doing anything to help or prod police agencies to process the backlogs of rape kits, even though this would surely put many more violent sex offenders behind bars.

No, the state legislators — instigated mostly by Republican members — are obsessed with women and girls’ use of the bathroom. They’re freaked out that someone who was born male but who now identifies as female could wind up in the neighboring stall.

North Carolina is the latest state to mount this little charade of chivalry. In a special session Wednesday, with mere minutes for members to read and digest the bill’s language, the legislature decreed that municipalities could not pass antidiscrimination laws protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In other words: People in the state must use the bathroom designated by the gender on their birth certificate.

The move is part of a broad backlash against the American public’s growing acceptance that sexual orientation and gender identity are privacy issues that deserve respect and civil rights protection. It flared up in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling clearing legal obstacles to gay marriage.

When it comes to bathrooms, legislators express concern about sexual predators using more open bathroom access to attack vulnerable women and girls. Yet there is no trend of such attacks. A more honest conversation with transgender people would make that point. But honest dialogue isn’t how this is playing out — although it did play a decisive role in convincing South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard to veto his state legislature’s bathroom bill.

What proponents can’t get over is that national attitudes have shifted rapidly in regard to lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people. People have by and large given LGBT people a fair hearing and have decided they deserve fair treatment. Much of what remains of the opposition is draped with the cloak of religion. Hence the plethora of so-called religious freedom laws and amendments, whose real aims are such things as keeping homosexuals from becoming foster parents or barring transgender people from using the restroom they choose — in other words, keeping them from being accepted in society. Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas are a few of the states where such bills have been passed, executive orders have been issued, or where such measures are under consideration.

Corporate and sporting entities see the danger. The NFL has warned Georgia that it could lose the opportunity to host the Super Bowl. The NCAA has made its intolerance for legalized discrimination known to Missouri and Indiana. And companies as diverse as Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Disney and MasterCard have also asserted their distaste for doing future business where these proposals may pass into law.

The companies get it. They know that “open to the public” means all of the public. No one is saying that anyone’s church must marry gay people.

Here is what proponents of the bills do not tell you: Sexual orientation and gender identity are not universally protected in America. In many cities and states, you can be fired, denied a house or an apartment simply because the boss or seller or landlord believes that you are gay.

The lack of legal protection for the LGBT people is what these disingenuous legislators are using as a basis for further deceiving constituents. They want the right to discriminate, enshrined and in many cases codified as a religious right, even when they are operating in a public square.

That’s what is most offensive — invoking God as a pretext.

Those who stood for slavery and against civil rights tried that ploy. Proponents of the anti-LGBT measures don’t like the comparison, but the shoe fits.

Ratcheting up fears in response to social change and then claiming that it’s your religious right to discriminate is an old trick. Alongside housing covenants, bank red-lining, scare tactics about crime, including sexual assault by black men, these arguments were shamefully hypocritical. These are old songs, with new refrains.


By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, March 25, 2016

March 26, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Freedom, State Legislatures | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hey, Democrats; Relax Already”: Reports Of Liberalism’s Imminent Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The meme of the past week or two in my circles is that the Democrats are screwed. Not necessarily in terms of the presidential election, which, one year out, their front-runner is reasonably well-positioned to win. But everywhere else, from Congress on down to dogcatcher.

Matt Yglesias kicked this off over at Vox on October 19, arguing that while the presidency obviously matters, “there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republican hands.” Democrats, he wrote, have no plan to do anything about this.

People panicked, and the Twitter cyclone hit. Then came Tuesday’s elections, which from Kentucky to Houston seemed to confirm the thesis. Then Lee Drutman followed up in Vox agreeing with Yglesias  and citing research suggesting that all this was happening because—how to put this politely?—low-information voters toward the lower end of economic spectrum vote according to an ideology that doesn’t align with their economic status. He means white working-class people who vote Republican. And on the website of Democracy, the journal I edit, Nathan Pippinger responded to Drutman by writing that Democrats are in trouble not because of “false consciousness among working-class voters, but because conservatives’ state-level policies helped to undermine the paths through which those voters might become more involved in the political process.” He means mostly unions. But he basically buys the future of “liberal disappointment.”

Wow. Is it really as bad as all that? No, it’s not. And here are the two main reasons why.

First: The party that controls the presidency for eight years almost always gets killed at the state level over the course of those eight years. And it stands to reason—if people are unhappy with the way things are going, which they typically are about something or other, they’ll vote for the out-of-power party.

So political scientist Larry Sabato has studied this question going back to FDR’s time and found that every two-term presidency (he’s counting things like the Kennedy-Johnson period from 1960-68 as a single two-term presidency) except one has taken a huge beating at the congressional and state levels. You’ve perhaps read recently that during Barack Obama’s term, the Democrats have lost 913 state legislative seats. That’s a hell of a lot, but it’s not that crazily out of line with the average since FDR/Truman, which is 576. Only Ronald Reagan managed to avoid such losses—the GOP actually gained six state legislative seats during his years, which was the time when the Dixiecrats and some Northern white ethnics started becoming Republicans.

Sabato’s piece, which ran last December in Politico, is even headlined “Why Parties Should Hope They Lose the White House.” You win at 1600, you start losing everywhere else. Granted the Obama-era losses are unusual. I’d suppose they’re mostly explained by the lagging economy and stagnant wages. Race has to have something to do with it, too, and Tea Party rage, and of course the fact that Democrats don’t vote in off-year elections. Indeed this last factor may be the biggest one, because the Democratic Party has become more and more reliant in recent years on precisely the groups of voters who have long been known not to participate as much in off-year elections—minorities, young people, single women.

So sure, it blows to look at a map like the one embedded in Yglesias’s piece and see all that red indicating total Republican control in some state capitals where that shouldn’t really be the case: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio. And it blows harder for the people who live there, although obviously a majority of them don’t think so.

But I would make a couple quick arguments here. First, 2014 and especially 2010 were unique election years, with high unemployment in 2010 and high-octane right-wing fury in both. That flipped some state houses and executive mansions that will return to the blue column eventually, in more normal times.

Second, there are a lot of blue states that still elect Republican governors, whereas there aren’t many red states that will elect a Democrat. Three presidential-level red states have Democratic governors (Missouri, Montana, and West Virginia), and they’re about the only ones you could imagine doing so as you look down the list. Whereas nine blue states have Republican governors. Most of those governors are comparatively moderate, and it doesn’t really change the fundamental nature of Massachusetts that it elects a Republican governor some of the time.

But—the party affiliation of the man or woman in the White House does change the fundamental nature of the United States. And that brings us to my second reason why the Democrats aren’t yet finished. They have the presidency. What did Elvis Costello say—“don’t bury me cuz I’m not dead yet”? Well, you’re not doomed yet as long as you’re living in the White House.

Let me ask you this question. Assuming this Sabato correlation between White House control and losses at other levels holds up, how many of you Democrats reading this would take this deal: Democrats lose the White House next year and in 2020 in exchange for, say, 1) retaking control of the House of Representatives in 2022 and 2) picking up 576 state legislative seats over the next eight years?

I guess some Democrats would take that deal, but I think a small minority, and rightly so. Losing the White House means a 7-2 conservative Supreme Court majority for 30 more years. That could well mean, would likely mean, a decision in the next few years overturning same-sex marriage, and a dozen other horrors, from campaign finance to corporate power to religious issues to civil rights matters to a number of Fourteenth Amendment-related issues including Roe v. Wade. It means, combined with GOP majorities in both houses of Congress, God knows what legislatively; the end of the federal minimum wage? A flat tax, or at least a radically reduced top marginal rate? Entitlement “reform”? And don’t forget not just what they’d do, but what they’d undo. It means repeal of Obamacare, legislation that effectively rescinds Dodd-Frank, all of Obama’s work on immigration and carbon ripped to pieces, and on and on and on. And, you know, like, another war.

In the face of all that, I’m supposed to give a shit who the governor of Michigan is? Please.

The Democrats have only one problem in this realm. They have to get their people to vote in midterm elections. Period. That’s it. Now that isn’t easy to do; could take between 10 and 20 years. And it will cost a lot of money to do it right. But if it gets done and done right, then the red tide can be arrested, at least to the extent that Sabato’s numbers suggest. But anybody who’d rather give up the White House for control of eight more governors’ mansions and 11 more state legislatures needs his coconut examined. If bleeding at the state level is inevitable because of White House control, then let it bleed.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 7, 2015

November 9, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Liberals, State Legislatures, Voter Turnout | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Hurting A Large Number Of Their Own”: Republican Refusal To Expand Medicaid Could Come Back To Haunt Them

Republican legislatures in state after state, from Tennessee to Wyoming, are rejecting the Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act for no other reason than pure spite against poor people:

On Friday, the Wyoming Senate shot down Gov. Matt Mead’s expansion plan, and a House committee then pulled its bill. The double whammy effectively killed the state’s chances of enacting the Obamacare option this year.

Lawmakers there acted just days after the Tennessee Legislature shot down an expansion proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam. Together, the two rejections diminish the momentum that Medicaid expansion supporters were enjoying last month, when Indiana Gov. Mike Pence won federal approval of his particular plan and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson agreed to extend that state’s “private option” program for 18 months. Both Pence and Hutchinson are also Republicans.

There’s simply no good reason for any of it, even within the confines of conservative economic orthodoxy. The money for the Medicaid expansion comes from the federal government; the states themselves are at no risk of further expense for many years to come if at all. Republican governors are trying to get the funding for the healthcare of their citizens. Better access to healthcare means fewer illnesses, better productivity, and more money in the pockets of the sorts of consumers most likely to spend in the economy. More money for Medicaid creates a virtuous economic circle at no cost to the states.

No doubt there is a great deal of racism in the motivation of conservative state legislators to deny healthcare to their poorest residents. But in fact, the majority of those on Medicaid are not minorities–and poor whites are overwhelmingly Republicans. So even from the jaundiced view of a bigot these GOP legislators are hurting a huge number of their own.

And it’s starting to cause problems for them. Republicans in Kentucky are doing backflips to pretend to their constituents that there’s some big difference between Kynect, Kentucky’s state exchange, and Obamacare. And even now some Republicans are defecting over it:

Former Republican state Sen. Tim Johnson on Wednesday announced he’s switching parties and challenging incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves this year.

But the noted Elvis impersonator said he won’t be appearing as the King on the campaign trail.

“Why join the Democratic Party and run for lieutenant governor?” Johnson said before a cheering throng of supporters at a Capitol press conference. “I’ll tell you: We are all Mississippians first. Elected officials should be in the business of helping all Mississippians, not picking out who to hurt.”

The Republican Party has relied for decades on cultural and racial resentment to keep them afloat. But there’s only so long a political party can only abuse the entirety its own people without even an eye toward sowing cultural division, without it coming back to haunt them.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, February 7, 2015

February 9, 2015 Posted by | Medicaid Expansion, Republican Governors, State Legislatures | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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