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“Honest Conviction And Straightforward Argument”: For Democrats, The Right Lesson From 2014 Is To Be More Liberal

Republicans will probably take control of the Senate in the 2014 elections, according to the latest projections. It’s a grim result for liberals, particularly when you consider the likely consequences: the mountain of garbage legislation that will be dumped on the White House…the possible gutting of the Congressional Budget Office…the total halting of the confirmation process for judiciary and executive branch positions.

But if Democrats do lose, they must try to keep their cool, and refrain from sinking into the usual pessimism. Because make no mistake, centrist sellouts like Will Marshall are going to descend on the Democrats’ routed supporters and proclaim that the party must turn right to have a chance of victory in 2016. It’s critical that Democrats ignore these calls, not only because they betray a pathetic spinelessness, but also because they’re not even close to being true.

Here’s why Democrats are behind in 2014, in descending order of importance: 1) In the Senate, Dems are defending the 2008 wave election, which means they have to beat back challenges in 21 out of 36 seats; 2) Democratic voters are systematically less likely to turn out in midterm elections; 3) the House has been heavily gerrymandered to give Republicans a large handicap; 4) President Obama is fairly unpopular, especially in the states where the races are tightest. All together, Republicans have a significant advantage overall in a contest that will come down to turnout operations.

The bellwether for this cycle is the Senate race in Colorado, where the Democratic incumbent Mark Udall is slightly behind Republican Cory Gardner in a tight race. To his credit, Udall isn’t being cowed by Very Serious Person hand-wringing. He’s making a hard play to turn out the Democratic base (basically minorities and women), and isn’t backing off his strong anti-torture and pro-civil liberties positions, despite being viciously terror-baited for it.

This isn’t just a noble stand — it’s probably his best strategy as well. Though ObamaCare is basically working (especially the Medicaid expansion part), neither the law nor the Democratic Party are very popular in the state. A progressive agenda at the state level has led to an enraged rural backlash, and Udall has had setbacks in other areas (in particular, an utterly moronic endorsement of Gardner from The Denver Post). Playing to the center simply would have further alienated Latinos and women. It’s worth noting that in the 2010 Colorado Senate race, Michael Bennet eked out a surprising come-from-behind win on the strength of Latino turnout.

And while there isn’t much hard data to support it, I stubbornly hold to the premise that honest conviction and straightforward argument garner more support than today’s politicos, usually focus-grouped to within an inch of their lives, tend to believe.

That brings us to 2016. During presidential election years, three out of the four issues I outlined above will be neutralized: Republicans will have to defend more seats than Democrats, Democratic turnout will be at its highest, and Obama will not be on the ballot. The electorate will also be measurably less white than in 2012 due to demographic trends. Thus, there’s every reason to think that a Udall-esque strategy of turning out the base (as opposed to the traditional Democratic move of snidely dismissing the base in a “bid for the center”) will work quite well.

Additionally, when you look behind the advantage that Republicans hold, you find Democrats seriously contesting some races in some totally unexpected places. Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Georgia ought to be easy Republican locks, but have turned into competitive fights. Independent candidates have upended the races in Kansas and South Dakota — the latter is especially interesting, since the Democrat is running on a platform of unabashed economic populism.

Bottom line: don’t listen to the aging New Democrats. The 2016 election ought to be run on a confidently liberal platform.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, October 29, 2014

October 30, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stealth Personhood”: Colorado Antichoicers Have Gotten Craftier About Framing Their Next Ballot Text

Since there’s been more discussion of “Personhood” initiatives this year than in past years, and since Colorado’s a state where such initiatives have been voted down twice, it’s worth being aware that the Colorado antichoicers have gotten craftier about framing their next ballot text. This time around, they’re trying to amend the state’s criminal code and wrongful death law to include the “unborn” in the definition homicide. Here’s a report from TNR’s Jessica Schulberg:

The initiative has tied its campaign to the story of a 29-year-old woman named Heather Surovik. In 2012, Surovik was 8-months pregnant with her third child when a drunk driver struck her car. The unborn baby, whom she planned to call Brady—the initiative is also known as the “Brady Amendment”—did not survive the crash. The driver, Gary Sheats, pleaded guilty to drunk driving and vehicular assault. But Surovik felt that at 8 pounds and 2 ounces, Brady warranted the same protections under criminal law as a living being. She wanted Sheats charged with homicide as well.

Sympathetic as this story is, the amendment could have truly damaging consequences for women’s reproductive freedom. “Amendment 67 is extremely misleading in its language,” said Diana Hsieh, Ph.D, in a recent press release by the Coalition for Secular Government. “The proponents of the measure apparently want voters to believe that it is about protecting pregnant women from vicious criminal attacks, but the reality is that the measure would treat women as murderers for getting an abortion or even for using certain types of birth control or in vitro fertility treatments,” she added.

It’s an even bigger bait-and-switch than all those “medical regulations” that are shutting down abortion clinics around the country under the guise of protecting “women’s health.” And its prospects rely entirely on perpetuating that deception. It’s unlikely to work, but it’s still reprehensible. Colorado voters clearly don’t want to make zygotes quasi-citizens, or create a legal foundation for attacks on early-term abortions, IV fertility clinics, or contraception. Tricking them into indicating otherwise won’t exactly enhance the already thin reputation for integrity of the antichoice folk.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 14, 2014

October 15, 2014 Posted by | Personhood, Reproductive Choice, Women's Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Next Stop, Twilight Zone, Colo”: Cory Gardner’s Hedging On Personhood, Birth Control And Abortion Laws

Rep. Cory Gardner’s, R-Colo., campaign got some more bad news this weekend. A new NBC News/Marist poll showed Gardner trailing Democratic Colorado Sen. Mark Udall by six points, 47 percent to 42 percent. A similar NBC poll in July showed Udall leading by seven points.

With mail-in ballots dropping on October 14, Gardner’s window of opportunity has closed and he has no discernible path to victory. Polls have consistently shown Udall leading with the key voter demographics here. The same questions that were asked when Gardner announced six months ago – how does he win Colorado Latinos and suburban women – have been answered: He can’t.

Worse yet for Gardner, the NBC poll showed his favorable/unfavorable rating in bad shape, at 40/38. This says the Udall strategy of hammering Gardner on his support for birth control and abortion bans in a pro-choice state like Colorado is paying off.

This also explains the panicked move by the Gardner campaign, which ran an ad on birth control and Gardner’s denying the existence of a federal birth control and abortion ban bill, the Life Begins at Conception Act, that the congressman co-sponsors. When asked about his co-sponsorship of the federal “Personhood” bill by Denver’s KUSA/NBC political reporter Brandon Rittiman, Gardner said this:

Rittiman: How do you square your recent change on personhood at the state level with the bill that you still are on in Congress. The life begins at conception act?

Gardner: Well, there is no federal personhood bill. They’re two different pieces of legislation, two different things.

Rittiman then noted that other co-sponsors of the bill say it is federal personhood legislation. “But it’s still a piece of legislation that says abortion ought to be illegal, no?” Gardner responded, “No. It says life begins at conception.”

This is Twilight Zone material, a clear indication that Gardner is losing because of the issue. And props to Rittiman for asking the follow-up and making Gardner answer the question about what his legislation actually does.

According to, these are identical bills:

We don’t see how the Colorado initiative and the federal bill, which supporters in Congress describe as a “personhood” measure, are different on this point. And neither does one of the groups supporting the state initiative. Jennifer Mason, a spokeswoman for the Yes on Amendment 67 Campaign, which supports the ballot measure, told Colorado public radio station KUNC: “Obviously [Gardner’s] a victim of some bad political advice, there’s no reason for him to pull local support while he’s still 100 percent behind the federal amendment. It doesn’t make any sense.”

We agree. And we didn’t receive any further explanation from the Gardner campaign on the contradiction. We asked Nash at the Guttmacher Institute if there was something in the federal bill that would preclude the concerns over birth control, but Nash agreed that the “moment of fertilization” language was the reason these types of proposals had the potential to prohibit access to hormonal forms of birth control.

…voters in Colorado should know Gardner still supports a federal bill that would prompt the same concerns over birth control as the state measure he says he rejects on the same grounds.

The campaign adage is that if you’re explaining, you’re losing. In Gardner’s case, he’s both explaining and losing his grip on reality.


By: Laura K. Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, September 8, 2014

September 10, 2014 Posted by | Cory Gardner, Personhood, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Do What We Tell You To Do, Or We Will Kill You”: The Right To Be Able To Walk Into A Clinic Must Be Protected

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Massachusetts buffer zone law violates the First Amendment; the justices were unanimous in the ruling. In case you weren’t up to speed on the case, here are the basics: Fourteen years ago, the high court upheld a Colorado law that created an 8-foot “bubble zone” around patients entering or exiting clinics. But Massachusetts’ buffer zone law prohibited demonstrators from standing within 35 feet of the facility, a length the justices seemed dubious of from the start. Walking that length — the size of a school bus — takes approximately seven seconds.

A lot can happen in those seven seconds. A lot can happen when protesters are allowed to enter clinics, physically confront patients or block doors. Massachusetts passed its law in response to aggressive and dangerous conduct from protesters stationed directly outside clinics, including an incident in 1994 where a gunman opened fire at two abortion clinics, killing two people and injuring five others. In its defense of the measure, the state argued before the justices that the buffer law is not a prohibition on speech, but a practical measure to keep access to these facilities “open and clear of all but essential foot traffic, in light of more than two decades of compromised facility access and public safety.”

Lawyers for lead plaintiff Eleanor McCullen argued that the law was an infringement on her First Amendment rights. “It’s America,” she said in an interview with NPR News. “I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody.” (Clinic workers and patients may not agree about the gentle and loving nature of confrontations with protestors.)

The high court’s ruling was limited, and doesn’t necessarily mean that all restrictions on protestors outside of clinics violate the First Amendment. As Ian Millhiser from the Center for American Progress noted on Twitter, the ruling “means that some buffer zones can stay, even if this one can’t.” Salon spoke with doctors and clinic escorts about what these laws can do — and can’t do — to protect access to abortion services, their safety and the safety of their patients and colleagues.

Dr. Warren Hern, a provider in Boulder, Colorado.

I think that the harassment of patients is unacceptable. The antiabortion fanatics feel good by making other people feel bad. The patients who come to see me are carrying a tremendous emotional burden to start with, especially my patients who are coming there to end a desired pregnancy because of some fetal catastrophe or their own medical issues. For those women, they don’t want to be here and have an abortion; they want to have a baby. And they’re there in tremendous pain because of that. And so the antiabortion people come and harass these patients and their families, in spite of the fact that they are in tremendous pain and emotional anguish. It’s unsupportable, it’s indecent, it’s indefensible.

So the buffer zone ordinance that was passed in Boulder in 1986 was an attempt to help that. A problem with the buffer zone ordinance is that it requires an actuation, an activity by the patient. She has to object to this and she has to call the police, and she’s not always going to do that. And it does not require the antiabortion demonstrator to keep a certain long distance within a few feet. Well, that’s enough to cause tremendous anguish and pain for the patient.

I accept buffer zones as an important symbolic expression of community sentiment, which they are. Our law is totally supported by the people of Boulder. We all believe in free speech; nobody’s saying they can’t go to the city park and say what they want or stand across the street and picket. But really, I think the bubble zone should be the distance a rifle bullet can travel. Or even better, New Jersey. Make the Boulder buffer zone end somewhere in New Jersey.

I can’t use the front door of my office and I can’t drive out the front driveway with the protesters there. Because all of the doctors who have been assassinated have been assassinated by so-called protesters. All the other people have been killed in Boston and Alabama and so on have been killed by so-called peaceful protesters who “went over the edge.” This is the ultimate expression of what they’re saying. If they can’t use the coercive power of the state to get people to do what they want them to do, they will kill them! And the message from the antiabortion movement, which is the face of fascism in America, is, “Do what we tell you to do, or we will kill you.” So while I believe in its symbolic importance, the buffer zone ordinance is useless against that kind of mentality. These people do not accept basic premises of civilized society and the legal process.

Dr. Cheryl Chastine, a provider in Wichita, Kansas.

Buffer zones help providers feel that their safety is respected and protected. When I travel into my clinic, I know that I am mere feet from people who want to stop me by any means necessary. That’s very intimidating. We are lucky in that we have a gate and a private parking lot that patients can drive into; even still the patients are not able to get away.

They’re not able to prevent the protesters and picketers from approaching them and making personal contact with them. And so when patients come into my clinic, they’re very stressed about the fact that that contact was forced on them. I think that if they chose to make that contact, to seek those people out and talk to them, that would be one thing. But they come to the clinic knowing that they don’t want to speak to a picketer, and yet they have to go directly past them, and it makes them angry and upset and ashamed.

Katie Klabusich, a writer, media contributor and clinic escort in New York, New York. 

Buffer zones don’t stop the harassment, they just make it easier to get people inside.  And just because they haven’t been able to shut down the clinics in your community doesn’t mean that there isn’t a gauntlet that people have to walk to get into their doctor’s office. No matter where you live, that should horrify all of us.

Even before I was standing between patients and people from [extreme antiabortion group] Abolish Human Abortion in New Jersey, I have always seen this as a nationwide fight. Particularly if they can overturn Roe v. Wade — and they have a plan to do this — this is national.

But at the smallest level, the right to be able to walk into a clinic must be protected. There is now a buffer zone in place at the clinic where I escort patients, but before that we had a patient flee in the street — with traffic coming — paralyzed with fear because they were all screaming at her. She started to cry in the middle of the street. You can hear the protesters in the waiting room, in the counseling room. You can hear them blocks away. It’s terrifying.

And I have been targeted for this work. These protesters take images of the people entering and exiting clinics. It is aggressive. They film patients. They film escorts. They are there to be intimidating. The woman who wrote the blog post sharing my photo and name said, “This is a war.” They are using violent rhetoric. They knew anti-choice outlets would pick it up and circulate this violent rhetoric. The idea behind these threats is about “the greater good.” By sharing my name and face and the names and faces of others in this movement online, the message is, “If something happened to those people, it would be OK.”

If this isn’t the intent, then why put our names? Our faces? Our cities?  It’s an escalation. That’s the part that I feel. The visceral feeling is that it’s not OK that they target providers, but they have a history of doing that. They publish their addresses. In a sad way, we somehow almost expect that. Now they are targeting the media and activists, too. This should worry people. We should all be worried.


By: Katie McDonough, Politics Writer, Salon, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Abortion, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Have To Do Better”: We Can’t Just Play Defense On Voting Access, It’s Time To Make Voting Easier

When I think of the 2012 Obama campaign, I am proud of so many things we accomplished. But one thing I wasn’t totally satisfied with was voter turnout.

It’s not that we didn’t meet our goals—we actually surpassed them, especially in key states. The numbers were stark: We won nine of the ten battleground states, registered 1.8 million new voters, and built a grassroots army of more than 2 million volunteers who made 146 million calls and door knocks over the course of the electoral cycle. Yet the really telling stats are the ones no one is discussing—specifically who failed to cast his or her vote in either this past election or any election in the last decade.

In 2012, 60 percent of eligible voters (129 million American citizens) headed to the polling booth, including the largest number of voters ever among African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans, and large numbers of women and young people—many of whom voted for the first time ever. But when 40 percent (86 million American citizen adults) are not voting, the simple fact is our society—and democracy writ large—suffers.

The fundamental problem is that the way we exercise our right to vote remains trapped in the 19th century. Some election officials still use unwieldy reams of paper to check off voters, voting machines vary from precinct to precinct and frequently break, and voters are driving to city hall or the public library to get their voter registration forms in many states.

What’s more, it’s costing Americans to participate in the process both in terms of the time and effort they must invest in order to register and vote—and in taxpayer dollars. In Oregon, where voter turnout is remarkably high in comparison with the rest of the nation, the state spends $4.11 to process each voter registration form. Meanwhile in Canada, the average cost is less than thirty-five cents.

At the same time, lines to cast a ballot have been getting longer and longer, especially in urban and minority communities. Analytical studies of the 2012 election show the problem extends far beyond the anecdotal evidence of Florida early voters waiting for hours to enter the polling booth. In fact, MIT scholar Charles Stewart III found that while two-thirds of American voters waited less than ten minutes to vote, voters in low-income neighborhoods with high percentages of minorities often waited more than an hour. On average, African American voters across the country waited two times as long to vote as whites. Similarly, Hispanic voters waited a third longer than white voters.

The good news is the same innovative spirit and technological savvy that is making so many aspects of our lives easier—from travelling paper-free, to banking from home, to tracking on our smartphones how miles we’ve run or how many calories we’ve consumed—can also fix the problems with the way we vote. Digital technology and big data systems are continuing to change the world in which we live by helping us track massive amounts of data, protect against fraud, and democratize things that used to be the sole property of the elite and well-connected. It makes sense that those tools can help lead us to a more just and effective voting system as well.

The solutions already exist, and the policies are simply waiting to be adopted and enacted. In particular, by expanding online and automated voter registration, permitting no-excuse vote-by-mail, extending early voting, and implementing portable and Election Day registration, we can finally bring our voting system into the 21st century

If we do all these things we will not only improve democracy in America—we will save significant taxpayer dollars in the process.

One state leading the way on making voting both easier and more accessible is Colorado. In May, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a sweeping measure passed by both houses of the legislature that not only requires ballots be mailed to every single registered voter in Colorado but also permits registration through Election Day. Among the provisions included are a longer early voting period, a shorter time required for state residency to qualify to vote, and the ability to vote at any precinct within the voter’s county. What’s more, the law leaves it up to voters how they choose to cast their ballots during early vote or on Election Day—by mail, by dropping off the ballot, or in-person if that’s their preference.

We’re also seeing results in places like Washington State, which is a great case study on the benefits of expanding online and automated voter registration. Thanks to automated opt-in voter registration in the state’s Department of Licensing (DOL) offices, Washington saw cost savings amounting to $126,000 in 2008 alone, according to studies conducted by the Brennan Center. In addition, voters saved more than $90,000 in postage that would have been required to mail in their registration forms. It’s no wonder that Washington’s system has been popular with both the state and voters. In 2004, 15 percent of total registrations were completed at DOLs. By 2009, just a year after the state fully adopted and implemented online and automated registration, that number had jumped to 70 percent of total registrations.

While online and automated registration are key to easing the process for new voters, we know that increasing overall electoral participation can only happen if we improve the accessibility and convenience of voting, particularly for low-income and minority communities. That’s where policies that permit vote-by-mail and expand early voting come into play.

Oregon, Colorado, and Washington have already shown us what vote-by-mail can do for turnout. Oregon and Washington have instituted universal vote-by-mail, and both states have experienced voter participation rates that are significantly higher than the national average. Similarly, Colorado instituted the vote-by-mail option in 1992, and as awareness and education for this option increased, so has turnout. In 2012, Colorado had 70 percent turnout—and fully 82 percent of those voters cast their ballots before Election Day.

Instituting in-person early voting is another important piece that will help make it easier to vote, but this approach must go hand-in-hand with increasing early voting administrative resources and hours. In most states, early voting hours coincide with business hours and are shorter than Election Day hours. There are typically far fewer voting locations than on Election Day, and they are staffed with fewer poll workers and fewer machines. As a result, early voters have no choice but to travel greater distances to vote, and the expanded opportunity can be offset by the inconvenience.

One state that showcases how early voting can work well is Nevada. In 2008, 67 percent of Nevada voters voted early and 90 percent of Nevada early voters lived within 2.5 miles of an early vote site, further demonstrating the correlation between voting convenience and turnout. In 2012, Nevada offered two full weeks of early voting prior to Election Day with both permanent and mobile locations. Instead of the typical handful of staffers, mobile locations were run by teams of 10-12 election workers—and these locations changed sites every few days to ease the geographic burden on would-be voters. It’s not surprising then that in 2012, 69 percent of Nevadan voters cast their ballots prior to Election Day.

Finally, a crucial element of fixing our voting system is expanding portable and Election Day registration. Twenty-nine million voting age Americans move each year—that’s approximately one in eight people who would be eligible to vote—and 45 percent of voting age Americans move every five years. Yet most states require voters to re-register when they move to a new address. Portable voter registration would allow voters to keep their registration when they move.

Ten states currently allow voters to register and vote on Election Day: Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—and when California’s new law goes into effect it will bring the total to 11. There is no reason why that number should be less than 50.

Fortunately, organizations like Turbovote are working to make this process easier for voters: Their goal is to ensure voters only have to register once in their lifetime. But if we want to modernize our voting system to reflect both our values as a nation and our technological capabilities, we will need to build the political will to do it.

Last November, former Florida Republican Party chair Jim Greer came clean about efforts to suppress the Democratic vote in his home state by reducing early voting hours, saying, “the Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates…It’s done for one reason and one reason only…We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us.”

We heard similar things in Pennsylvania when State House Republican leader Mike Turzai touted passing a law with serious voting restrictions, including “voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

And it’s no coincidence that Texas Attorney General and presumed Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott put that state’s voter ID law into effect just hours after the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act this past June. What’s clear is the Texas voter ID law is designed to make it easier for certain people to vote and harder for others—under this law, a concealed handgun license is considered acceptable identification for voting while a student ID issued by a Texas university is not. It’s no wonder U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has already announced plans by the Department of Justice to fight the Texas law and other efforts by states seeking to capitalize on the court’s decision.

In North Carolina, the state’s new Republican governor and Republican state legislature approved a sweeping law last month to reduce early voting, eliminate voter registration during early voting, require voters to obtain photo ID, and impose a tax on parents of students who choose to vote on campus. Like Texas, the North Carolina law further discriminates against students by prohibiting them from using their North Carolina student ID to vote.

What these extreme comments and actions indicate is that we need a “common sense caucus” on voting rights. There are moderate Republicans who believe that elections should be about who has the best ideas—not who can change the laws to make it more difficult for their opponents to vote. We need to lift up those voices.

The ideas outlined above are just common sense solutions—and lawmakers in Washington should be taking action to implement them. Ultimately, driving up voter participation and making it easier to vote will help not only urban voters but provide greater access to the political process for voters in rural communities as well. That’s a goal leaders from both sides of the aisle should be able to support.

But we can’t wait for Washington.

States need to begin passing laws that reform and modernize our voting system—and begin seeing results the likes of those in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. In fact this kind of a decentralized approach—using the states as “laboratories of democracy”—may be the only way to solve the problem

In Silicon Valley, former Obama staffer Jim Green recently started a venture called Technology for America (T4A). This group brings together the best and brightest of Silicon Valley together with mayors and other elected officials of either party who want to solve the big problems of our day. Every Secretary of State in this country should be banging down Jim’s door asking how they can partner with Silicon Valley to come up with smart technology solutions to create a better voting system. If they don’t care or have the audacity to lead on this, we should fire them and vote in better Secretaries of State who do.

In the last election, 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, and many of those who did waited in unacceptably long lines to do so. As President Obama said in his acceptance speech on election night, “we have to fix that.”

The facts are clear on this front—we have the technology and the brilliant technologists to help us do just that. The question is whether or not national and state lawmakers have the political will. If not, we need to start electing political leaders who care about our democracy and understand that participation in it is critical to our success.

We made history in 2012—and in 2008—and I was deeply honored to be part of both amazing, transcendent campaigns. But history isn’t enough. We have to do better.


By: Jeremy Bird, the New Republic, November 30, 2013

December 2, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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