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“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

March 20, 2013 Posted by | Governors, States | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ideology Over Sound Policy”: Republican Governors No Longer A Force For Moderation

Republican governors, who actually have to govern, used to be a moderating force on the most extreme aspects of Republican ideology. No longer. In major areas such as health care, taxes, and jobless benefits, ideology is trumping sound policy judgment in many gubernatorial mansions and state legislatures.


Antipathy toward “Obamacare,” not reasoned analysis, seems to be why many governors have expressed hesitation, if not outright opposition, to the Medicaid expansions under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government would pick up almost all of the costs. A similar antipathy (and probably a hope before the Supreme Court decision and 2012 election that the law would go away) led many governors to pass on the chance to use the flexibility that the it afforded them to design their own health insurance exchanges—new competitive marketplaces in which individuals and small businesses can choose among an array of affordable, comprehensive health insurance plans that the Affordable Care Act requires.

I’ve previously explained why Medicaid expansion is a good deal for the states. But as the map below from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ report on the healthcare law’s Medicaid expansions shows, many states remain undecided or are leaning against expansion:

The Center’s report on the state health insurance exchange implementation shows that 26 states, including most of the states leaning against Medicaid expansion, have declined to either operate a state-based exchange or partner with the Department of Health and Human Services in designing their exchange. Under the law, that means they default to a “Federally facilitated exchange” that HHS will establish.


In another disturbing development, numerous states are considering—or have already enacted—sweeping tax and budget proposals that follow recommendations of the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC. As this CBPP report explains, ALEC’s recommendations for deep tax cuts and limits on revenues and spending reflect extreme “supply side” and antitax arguments that mainstream economic research discredited long ago.

CBPP’s most recent assessment finds that at least five states (Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, and both North and South Carolina) are considering eliminating income taxes. At least 11 others (Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin) are considering deep tax cuts. And at least three states (Arizona, Arkansas, and Kansas) are considering harsh revenue limits.

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment Insurance is a joint federal-state program in which states have traditionally offered up to 26 weeks of benefits to qualified workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and the federal government typically provides additional weeks of emergency unemployment compensation when national unemployment is high. In the current jobs slump, by far the worst since the 1930s, seven states have cut back on the maximum number of weeks of regular benefits they offer. Because the maximum number of weeks of federal emergency benefits is proportional to the maximum number of weeks of state benefits, that means jobless workers in those states have seen a significant reduction in support while they look for work in what remains a tough labor market.

Research shows that Unemployment Insurance is valuable not only to unemployed workers and their families but also for the additional spending that it injects into the economy. States that have cut back on it are hurting struggling families and their own economic recovery.

The North Carolina Trifecta

North Carolina is the poster child for these disturbing trends in state governments.

The Tar Heel State is one of the five considering eliminating its income tax. The new Republican governor supports legislation that would prevent the state from expanding Medicaid or establishing a health insurance exchange. And, in July, the state will become the eighth to have reduced the maximum number of weeks of Unemployment Insurance it offers. Moreover, North Carolina also cut the maximum level of benefits which, under the “maintenance of effort” requirement for receiving emergency federal benefits, requires the federal government to cut off all emergency Unemployment Insurance to North Carolina.

Republican governors used to fight for Medicaid and Unemployment Insurance because they recognized how much their states benefited. Now, many are leading the effort to cut valuable programs in order to finance tax cuts for high-income households and businesses, while letting the chips fall where they may for those of more modest means.


By: Chad Stone, U. S. News and World Report, February 22, 2013

February 23, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, States | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Red State America”: Moochers Against Welfare

First, Atlas shrugged. Then he scratched his head in puzzlement.

Modern Republicans are very, very conservative; you might even (if you were Mitt Romney) say, severely conservative. Political scientists who use Congressional votes to measure such things find that the current G.O.P. majority is the most conservative since 1879, which is as far back as their estimates go.

And what these severe conservatives hate, above all, is reliance on government programs. Rick Santorum declares that President Obama is getting America hooked on “the narcotic of dependency.” Mr. Romney warns that government programs “foster passivity and sloth.” Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, requires that staffers read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” in which heroic capitalists struggle against the “moochers” trying to steal their totally deserved wealth, a struggle the heroes win by withdrawing their productive effort and giving interminable speeches.

Many readers of The Times were, therefore, surprised to learn, from an excellent article published last weekend, that the regions of America most hooked on Mr. Santorum’s narcotic — the regions in which government programs account for the largest share of personal income — are precisely the regions electing those severe conservatives. Wasn’t Red America supposed to be the land of traditional values, where people don’t eat Thai food and don’t rely on handouts?

The article made its case with maps showing the distribution of dependency, but you get the same story from a more formal comparison. Aaron Carroll of Indiana University tells us that in 2010, residents of the 10 states Gallup ranks as “most conservative” received 21.2 percent of their income in government transfers, while the number for the 10 most liberal states was only 17.1 percent.

Now, there’s no mystery about red-state reliance on government programs. These states are relatively poor, which means both that people have fewer sources of income other than safety-net programs and that more of them qualify for “means-tested” programs such as Medicaid.

By the way, the same logic explains why there has been a jump in dependency since 2008. Contrary to what Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney suggest, Mr. Obama has not radically expanded the safety net. Rather, the dire state of the economy has reduced incomes and made more people eligible for benefits, especially unemployment benefits. Basically, the safety net is the same, but more people are falling into it.

But why do regions that rely on the safety net elect politicians who want to tear it down? I’ve seen three main explanations.

First, there is Thomas Frank’s thesis in his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”: working-class Americans are induced to vote against their own interests by the G.O.P.’s exploitation of social issues. And it’s true that, for example, Americans who regularly attend church are much more likely to vote Republican, at any given level of income, than those who don’t.

Still, as Columbia University’s Andrew Gelman points out, the really striking red-blue voting divide is among the affluent: High-income residents of red states are overwhelmingly Republican; high-income residents of blue states only mildly more Republican than their poorer neighbors. Like Mr. Frank, Mr. Gelman invokes social issues, but in the opposite direction. Affluent voters in the Northeast tend to be social liberals who would benefit from tax cuts but are repelled by things like the G.O.P.’s war on contraception.

Finally, Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler points out that many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. She tells us that 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.”

Presumably, then, voters imagine that pledges to slash government spending mean cutting programs for the idle poor, not things they themselves count on. And this is a confusion politicians deliberately encourage. For example, when Mr. Romney responded to the new Obama budget, he condemned Mr. Obama for not taking on entitlement spending — and, in the very next breath, attacked him for cutting Medicare.

The truth, of course, is that the vast bulk of entitlement spending goes to the elderly, the disabled, and working families, so any significant cuts would have to fall largely on people who believe that they don’t use any government program.

The message I take from all this is that pundits who describe America as a fundamentally conservative country are wrong. Yes, voters sent some severe conservatives to Washington. But those voters would be both shocked and angry if such politicians actually imposed their small-government agenda.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 16, 2012

February 19, 2012 Posted by | States, Welfare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rick Perry’s Freudian Slip On The Voting Age

America had a good laugh at Rick Perry’s expense on Tuesday after the Texas Governor told students at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire to vote for him next November—but only if they’re over 21. Zut alors! Le gaffe! The federal voting age is 18, not 21; 21 is the legal drinking age. Perry also managed to get the date of the election wrong.

But maybe he had a point. In Perry’s Texas, as in various states across the country, Republicans have made a concerted push over the last half decade to make it harder and harder for certain Democratic-leaning constituencies—namely young people, senior citizens, and minorities—to vote. It’s an attempt to suppress voter turnout in the name of cracking down on voter fraud (Ari Berman can explain it all for you).

Texas’ new voter I.D. law, signed into law by Perry this summer, is a great example of that strategy. The law accepts concealed handgun license permits as a valid form of identification, but not student identification cards issued by state universities. The Department of Justice has blocked implementation of the law out of concerns that it discriminates against specific groups:

Democrats countered that there is no evidence of voter impersonation  in Texas and that the bill simply was an effort to make voting more  difficult for low-income Texas, students and the elderly, who typically  vote for Democrats.

The new law would require voters to show a Texas driver’s license, a  Texas concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, citizenship papers, or  a military identification card before they could cast a ballot.

Student ID cards issued by state universities, out-of-state driver’s  licenses, or ID cards issued to state employees would not be accepted.

Really, Perry’s gaffe was that he asked college students to vote.

By: Tim Murphy, Mother Jones, November 29, 2011

November 30, 2011 Posted by | States | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Campaign Financing: Small House In Tampa Ground Zero For Mega Millions In Campaign Donations

A little over a year ago, no-party gubernatorial candidate Bud Chiles stood outside an off-white single-story building with a carefully manicured lawn in suburban Tampa and said, “This building behind me is ground zero for what’s wrong with Florida politics.”

The building’s address: 610 South Blvd., a designation found on the financial disclosure forms of countless political committees in Florida and all over the country. The unassuming building nestled in an unassuming neighborhood is a veritable political action committee mill, churning out millions of dollars and influencing elections all over the country.

The kicker: What is happening at 610 South Blvd. is completely legal.

Chiles — who eventually dropped out of the race and endorsed Democratic candidate Alex Sink — was echoing the thoughts of millions of Americans who feel that too much money goes into our country’s political system, and we know way too little about where it comes from.

610 South Blvd. provides insight into a commonly overlooked aspect of campaign financing: Because so few people understand the nuances of campaign money, politicians and activists have a limited number of places to turn to when starting a committee. That leads to a high concentration of candidates and committees at a few select addresses, none more infamous in Florida political circles than 610 South Blvd.

Nancy and Robert Watkins together run Robert Watkins and Co., the accounting firm located at 610. Thirty-nine political committees are currently registered under the address with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The committees registered there have conservative leanings and ties exclusively to Republican politicians.

The organizations range from leadership PACs, 501(c)4s and 527s to campaign committee PACs and even a handful of Super PACs — a new and controversial type of PAC that allows groups to raise unlimited funds from corporations, individuals and unions. And these groups tend to bring in big money. In 2010, one of the Super PACs at 610 raised more than $4 million.

Watkins and Co. also has 19 state PAC clients filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

Nancy Watkins says her firm’s impressive number of clients exists because she has been in the business for more than 25 years. According to her, 610 South Blvd. is an “official address” for many groups “for a lot of reasons.” Mostly, she says, the firm provides a reliable and “durable mailing address” for all her clients.

Meredith McGehee — the policy director for The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works in the area of campaign finance and elections — tells The Florida Independent there are no rules against multiple PACs sharing an address.

McGehee calls the FEC’s rules for what passes as coordination among these groups “ridiculous,” and says that even if groups follow FEC rules, their activities would probably not “pass a smell test for regular people.”

According to McGehee, as long as the groups do not coordinate with each other in a way that violates FEC laws, they can communicate, work together and share an address. She calls the FEC’s rules for what passes as coordination among these groups “ridiculous,” and says that even if groups follow FEC rules, their activities would probably not “pass a smell test for regular people.”

“The rules are so loose,” she says. “So there is a lot they can do. They can coordinate in common sense terms — just not legal terms.”

McGehee says these groups, for example, can share an office and “talk about general strategy” and still not violate FEC coordination rules.

Watkins says the fact that all her clients share her address “does not create a relationship between them.” She says everything done at her business is ethical, and that she does not talk to one client about another.

Federal policy-makers from all over the country turn to Watkins and Co. for their services. Former Sen. Mel Martinez and Reps. Katherine Harris, Rick Renzi and Pat Roberts are among those with ties to 610 South Blvd. In 2008, Mike Huckabee registered his Florida presidential campaign committee with the firm.

Most have created their own leadership PACs with the company. Leadership PACs are political action committees that “can be established by current and former members of Congress as well as other prominent political figures,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Center, a nonpartisan research group, explains that “leadership PACs are designed for two things: to make money and to make friends. In the rough and tumble political game, elected officials know that money and friends in high places are very important to winning elections and leadership positions.”

Watkins and Co., however, are not only providing leadership PAC services for folks in D.C. The firm also houses the paperwork for a number of state PACs, or committees of continuous existence, associated with GOP members of the Florida Legislature. Steve Precourt, Ellyn Bogdanoff, Jack Latvala, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Anitere Flores, Steve Crisafulli and Kevin Ambler, to name a few, all run campaign finance activity through 610 South Blvd.

Furthermore, these state PACs associated with Florida legislators have raked in a lot of money. In the year 2011 alone, these committees have brought in about $400,000. Latvala’s PAC has raised about $230,000 this year.

The office building also serves as the home for four Super PACs, controversial independent expenditure-only committees. Super PACs are a new kind of political action committee created in the wake of the federal court case v. Federal Election Commission, which loosened up previous campaign finance regulations.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Super PACs “may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.” Thanks to new rules, Super PACs can receive unlimited amounts of money from a corporation’s treasuries (i.e. profits), something that was previously illegal.

Super PACs do have to report their donors to the FEC on a monthly or quarterly basis; unlike traditional PACs, they cannot contribute money directly to political candidates.

As of Oct. 18, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that 156 committees are registered as Super PACs and have already “reported total expenditures of $2,596,787 in the 2012 cycle.”

The Super PACs listed under 610 South Blvd. include a conservative committee called the Coalition to Protect American Values; the Ending Spending Fund, a group that ran attack ads in Nevada against Harry Reid; the We Love USA PAC, a Super PAC famous for saying Obama is a “socialist” who “detests America”; and Dick Morris’ Super PAC for America.

The Super PACs listed under 610 South Blvd. include a conservative committee called the Coalition to Protect American Values; the Ending Spending Fund, a group that ran attack ads in Nevada against Harry Reid; the We Love USA PAC, a Super PAC famous for saying Obama is a “socialist” who “detests America”; and Dick Morris’ Super PAC for America.

The firm is also contracted by more traditional PACs, such as the American Issues Project. The group is known for spending $3 million on ads during the 2008 election tying the former founder of the Weather Underground Bill Ayers to Barack Obama. Most recently, the group focused on attacking the president’s stimulus legislation in 2010.

Also at 610: Florida Working Families, a PAC funded primarily by Big Sugar, notorious for its significant political reach in Florida and all over the country. Working Families launched negative ads against Jim Davis, attacking him for missing a vote in support of Israel, and successfully attacked Mary Barley, an environmental activist who ran in the Democratic primary for agricultural commissioner in 2002.

Watkins and Co. also provides services to a PAC funded by developers, lobbyists, builder’s groups and the Florida Chamber of Commerce called Floridians for Smarter Growth. The group was among the political forces opposing last election’s Amendment 4, known as the “Hometown Democracy” amendment. According to Ballotpedia, the amendment “proposed requiring a taxpayer-funded referendum for all changes to local government comprehensive land-use plans.” Floridians for Smarter Growth launched a successful attack against the amendment and coined (.pdf) the phrase the “Vote on Everything Amendment.”

In total, about 50 different PACs get their financial assistance and guidance from Watkins and Co.

According to the IRS’ records of tax-exempt groups, there are also four 527s using the address. 527s are advocacy groups that electioneer, and spend millions on a variety of positions and issues. While they may not explicitly tell voters to cast their ballots for a specific candidate, they clearly affect the way voters see a candidate or issue.

Watkins and Co. also handles the finances for a handful of tax-exempt nonprofits, including 501(c)4 organization. New rules now allow these types of groups to spend the money they raise anonymously, because their “primary activity” is lobbying.

McGehee says these sorts of details “reveal how the system really works” in elections.

Most people, she says, have little to no participation in this part of the political process. “About .08 percent of the population will spend more that $200 in an election cycle,” McGehee says.

Echoing Watkins, McGehee says that only a select few have the campaign finance expertise that Nancy and Robert Watkins provide, which contributes to the high number of clients 610 South Blvd. works with.

According to McGehee, there is also “a desire among these groups to know what everyone else is doing.” She says that is why the firm works exclusively with conservative groups and GOP policy-makers. ”It is rare that someone is serving both sides,” McGehee says. “It’s not accidental.”

The high concentration of key players in campaign financing — whether it is contributors or accountants — has led to a situation in which the political process is dominated by very few people. McGehee says that people have noticed, even though new rules have done nothing to correct the situation.

“There has always been this populist strain, whether its the tea party or Occupy Wall Street,” McGehee says, “that knows — and is angry about — our political system being dominated by monied interests.”

By: Ashley Lopez, Florida Independent, Published in The Washington Independent, October 24, 2011

October 25, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Conservatives, Democracy, GOP, Ideology, Income Gap, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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