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“Running Scared”: Democrats Are Turning Georgia Blue; Republicans Never Saw It Coming

In 2008, under the best possible conditions for a Democrat, Barack Obama lost Georgia by just over 200,000 votes, or 5.2 percent of Georgians who voted. Four years later he lost again by just over 300,000 votes, or 7.8 percent of Georgians who voted. By any measure the state is a reach for Democrats. And yet, the party is optimistic, both now—Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter, its Senate and gubernatorial candidates, respectively, are running close races—and for the future.

The “why” is easy to answer: Georgia has roughly 700,000 unregistered black voters. If Democrats could cut that number by less than a third—and bring nearly 200,000 likely Democrats to the polls—they would turn a red state purple, and land a major blow to the national Republican Party. Or, as Michelle Obama said during a campaign rally on Monday, “If just 50 Democratic voters per precinct who didn’t vote in 2010 get out and vote this November—just 50 per precinct—then Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter will win.” Given 2,727 precincts in Georgia, that’s just 136,350 new voters.

Enter the New Georgia Project. Led by Stacey Abrams, Democratic leader in the state House of Representatives, the project is meant to do just that—register hundreds of thousands of blacks and other minorities. Their goal, says Abrams, is to “directly or indirectly collect 120,000 voter registration applications.” That could be enough to push Democrats over the top. And it makes the project one of the largest voter registration drives in recent Georgia history.

So far, it’s been a success. “In addition to the 85,000 we have collected as an organization directly,” says Abrams, “we have also supported the efforts of 12 organizations around the state. We know there are groups doing registration in the Latino community, in the Asian community, and in the youth community, and we wanted to support their efforts as well.” These groups, she says, have collected 20,000 to 25,000 applications, putting the New Georgia Project in striking distance of its goal two months before Election Day.

Which brings us to this week. On Tuesday, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp—a Republican—said his office was investigating allegations of voter fraud from the New Georgia Project, following complaints about voter applications submitted by the group. To that end, Kemp has issued subpoenas to the group and its parent organization, Third Sector Development.

“Preliminary investigation has revealed significant illegal activities’ including forged voter registration applications, forged signatures on releases, and applications with false or inaccurate information,” he wrote in a memo to county election officials.

To Abrams, this has less to do with protecting the process and more to do with suppressing the registration effort. After all, she notes, Georgia law “requires that we turn in all application forms we collect, regardless of concerns over validity.” It’s the job of the secretary of state, she says, to determine the status of the applications. “We do not get to make the decisions about whether or not a form is valid or not.”

She’s right. “A private entity shall promptly transmit all completed voter registration applications to the Secretary of State or the appropriate board of registrars within ten days after receiving the application or by the close of registration, whichever period is earlier,” says the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office website. Nowhere are private organizations asked or required to filter or discard applications.

There’s little information on the scope of the alleged fraud. But there is an aggressive subpoena that, Abrams says, “essentially demands every document we have ever produced.” She calls it a “fishing expedition” meant to “suppress our efforts.” A spokesperson for the New Georgia Project, the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, was a little more explicit. “I see this move by the secretary of state as the latest effort in voter suppression in the state of Georgia,” he said.

Kemp insists that this investigation is impartial and nonpartisan. “At the end of the day this is not going to be about politics,” he told a local reporter. “This is about potential fraud which we think happened.” At the same time, Abrams and Warnock are rightfully suspicious. Not only was Kemp a vocal supporter of the state’s divisive voter identification law, but he’s a Republican in a state where the GOP has worked hard to dilute the strength of black voters.

Under the old Voting Rights Act, Georgia officials had to clear voting changes with the Justice Department, and for good reason: The state had a long history of disenfranchisement, and “preclearance” was a way to pre-empt discrimination or prevent it entirely.

That changed with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder last year, which struck preclearance from the VRA. Now, along with other Southern states, Georgia was free to change its laws and procedures for voting. And it did. That year, in Augusta—which has a large black population—officials moved municipal elections from their traditional November dates, a change with huge, negative effects on turnout. (For a case study, look to Ferguson, Missouri.)

Likewise, officials in rural Greene County implemented a redistricting plan previously blocked by the Justice Department, and lawmakers in Morgan County floated a plan to eliminate half the area’s polling sites, a move that would have its greatest effect on low-income and minority voters.

Then, Georgia Democrats realized they could play the same game. Last week officials in the large, mostly black area of DeKalb County announced plans for Sunday voting for the upcoming November election. The state’s Republican lawmakers have responded with outrage. “[T]his location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist,” said state Sen. Fran Millar, citing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway, “I’m sure Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter are delighted with this blatantly partisan move in DeKalb.” Millar is investigating ways to “stop this action,” and hopes to “eliminate this election law loophole.”

Against this backdrop of voter suppression, it’s no surprise Abrams is suspicious of the state’s investigation: From the harsh accusations of “fraud” to the aggressive actions from Kemp, it looks like another attack on efforts to increase participation and diversify the electorate.

With that said, there’s only so long Republicans can hope to win through such divisive methods. Six years ago, a “purple” Georgia was a pipe dream. Now, in a year when Republicans have the national advantage, it’s a possibility. The pace of demographic change is so fast that, soon enough, Democrats like Abrams won’t have to work to change the electorate—it will have happened on its own.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, September 12, 2014

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Georgia, Voter Registration, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obamascare Tactics In Red State Races”: Passing Laws That Prevent Any Future Governor From Accepting Medicaid Money

If I asked you to name two states where the incumbent Republican governors might lose reelection this fall, you would likely, I expect, say Florida and Pennsylvania. I doubt very much you’d offer up Georgia and Kansas.

But lo and behold—the contests in both of those states are right now a little closer than you’d expect. In Kansas, Sam Brownback is the governor. You remember Brownback—he was a senator for a spell, best remembered (by me anyway) for his prominent role in that hideous Republican appropriation of poor Terry Schiavo in their zealotry to “promote life.” In Georgia, the bossman is Nathan Deal, also a former Congressman, whose term is best remembered for the way he announced a departure date for his gubernatorial run. (He realized that the House would be voting on Obamacare shortly thereafter, and delayed his departure so he could vote against it.)

It ought to be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy for right-wing Republicans to get reelected in those states, but recent polls have shown them dangling along the margin-of-error cliff. Deal leads Jason Carter (yep, Jimmy’s grandson) by just 3.4 percent in the realclearpolitics average, and Brownback actually trailed Democrat Paul Davis 42-40 in one February poll. Brownback’s approval rating is also deeply underwater. So it’s conceivable—that’s as far as we should prudently go—that both could lose.

Now, here’s the rub. Both, naturally, oppose the expansion of Obamacare into their states. They say no force on earth or in heaven will make them take that Medicaid money. It’s estimated that 600,000 Georgians and 78,000 Kansans would benefit. But they’re having none of it. And that’s their right. But what they’re doing now, in cahoots with friendly legislators, is a step beyond: In both states, they’re passing laws that would prevent any future governor from accepting the Medicaid money.

It works like this. Under the Affordable Care Act, the process by which states decide to accept the money is entirely up to them. Some states determined that legislative action should be required. You may have read about the Republicans in the Florida legislature rebuffing GOP Governor Rick Scott for the five minutes he was toying with taking the money. New Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe wants the money badly, and his Democratic State Senate is with him, but they’re hamstrung by the GOP-controlled House of Delegates, which is against.

Initially, Georgia and Kansas were states where it was just the governor’s call. Which was fine as long as the Republicans looked like sure things. But the polls tightened up, and people started getting a little antsy. Hey, what if a Democratic governor got elected and said, ‘Okay, Barack, write me that check?’

And so Brownback signed his state’s law last Friday. His office just announced it this week. Why the delay? Shouldn’t one such as Sam Brownback be proud of signing this socialism-blocking law? Well, it turns out that it was originally a law about something else, requiring the state to provide quick payment to certain in-state Medicaid care providers. This provision was tacked on late. A Wichita Democrat, Jim Ward, said: “That bill is what I think is endemic with this legislative process under this governor and this speaker and Senate president. There was no hearing. There were no opportunities for people who have a stake in Medicaid expansion to come in and talk about it.”

In Georgia, it’s easier. The legislation was passed about a month ago. If Deal doesn’t veto it, it becomes law. And since he supports it—indeed, since his staff helped write this law that willingly hands gubernatorial power over to the legislature—it will. And into the bargain, the Georgia legislature also passed—on the next-to-last day of the session—a bill that blocks state employees from helping Georgians sign up for care under the ACA.

So stop and think about this. Kansas and Georgia have just taken what was a gubernatorial decision out of the hands of not only current but future governors. You can argue plausibly that the people’s representatives should have a say in such a decision, on principle. But principle wasn’t at work here. Political expediency was. Legislators in the two states know that Republicans are likely to have control as far as the eye can see. And they’ll never say yes. And they’re doing all this in the name of what? In the name of denying 678,000 people a chance at health-insurance coverage.

It gets worse. The ACA makes cuts to certain current Medicaid programs on the assumption that states would take this new Medicaid money. It cut funding for hospitals that serve the poor, cuts intended to be mitigated by the fact that a large number of poor would now be insured once the states they live in accepted the new money. But in states that did not, those people are suffering even more. Several rural hospitals in Georgia have closed. They could be saved if the state took the Medicaid money.

Carter vows he’s going to make this skeezy law, and the Medicaid question generally, an issue. The Georgia law has sparked large protests and arrests and might end up being the most important issue in the campaign. In Kansas, Davis supports Medicaid expansion—and according to a recent poll so do 55 percent of Kansans, against just 39 percent who oppose taking the money. So maybe there’s not as much the matter with Kansas as we thought. With the people, anyway. The governor and the legislators are another matter.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 23, 2014

April 24, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicaid Expansion, Obamacare | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Georgia’s ‘Guns Everywhere’ Bill”: The Most Insane And Extreme Gun Bill In America Expands “Stand Your Ground” Law

Just a few minutes ago, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed sweeping new gun legislation into law, and while it’s technically the “Safe Carry Protection Act,” NBC News’ Gabe Gutierrez noted that many have labeled it the “Guns Everywhere Bill.”

One of the most permissive state gun laws in the nation, it will allow licensed owners to carry firearms into more public places than at any time in the past century, including bars and government buildings that don’t have security checkpoints.

The law also authorizes school districts to appoint staffers to carry firearms. It allows churches to “opt-in” if they want to allow weapons. Bars could already “opt-in” to allow weapons, but under the new law they must opt out if they want to bar weapons. Permit-holders who accidentally bring a gun to an airport security checkpoint will now be allowed to pick up their weapon and leave with no criminal penalty. (At Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, a record 111 guns were found at TSA screening areas last year.)

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group co-founded by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, has called the legislation “the most extreme gun bill in America.”

Despite the opposition of gun-safety reformers and Georgia law enforcement, the bill was passed with relative ease. The governor’s Democratic challenger, state Sen. Jason Carter, voted for it, too, though he made it slightly less extreme, helping eliminate some provisions, including a measure allowing guns on college campuses.

Regardless, the new state law, which takes effect in July, also expands on Georgia’s “stand your ground” policy by “protecting convicted felons who kill using illegal guns.”

Frank Rotondo, the executive director of Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, told The Guardian, “One of the biggest concerns is it expands stand-your-ground. The way it’s written, a felon who is not permitted to have a weapon could use a weapon in defense of his or her home and not be charged for having the weapon.”

Oddly enough, a similar bill recently passed the Arizona legislature, though it met a different fate.

In a bit of a surprise, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed two pro-gun bills yesterday, including a proposal to expand guns in public buildings.

One bill would allow gun owners to bring weapons into public buildings or events. A summary of the bill says that it would allow gun owners to keep their firearms unless the building had security guards, metal detectors and storage for the weapons. Many Arizona public buildings do not have the first two, according to local reports. […]

The other bill would have limited local governments from enacting gun control statutes that were stricter than state law and imposed a fine up to $5,000 on any local officials who administered such a statute, according to a summary. Those officials would also be at risk of losing their job.

For all of Brewer’s conservatism, she occasionally surprises me.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, April 23, 2014

April 24, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Making The GOP Pay For Medicaid Obstruction”: National Democrats, Especially, Need To Stop Equivocating About The Benefits Of The Law

Jonathan Martin wrote a primer this weekend on why many nervous Democrats won’t take President Obama’s advice – or mine — and run on the Affordable Care Act in the 2014 midterms. To me, it seems like a chicken and egg problem: Vulnerable Democrats won’t run on the ACA because key groups of voters don’t like it. But why should voters like it if even Democrats won’t defend it?

But there is one ACA issue where Republicans seem to be on the defensive, and that’s on the question of Medicaid expansion. Even Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn and gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter, who have been wishy-washy on the law, support Medicaid expansion – and that’s partly because polls show 59 percent of Georgians support it too. Gov. Nathan Deal has tried to pass the decision off to the state Legislature, which is widely seen as an effort to pass the buck. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback just managed to do the same thing, on Friday signing a bill that gave the Republican-dominated Legislature the power to decide on Medicaid expansion – but they won’t meet again until 2015.

In Florida, newly minted Democrat Charlie Crist is hitting Gov. Rick Scott hard for his refusal to accept Medicaid funding. Much like in Georgia, 58 percent of Florida voters want to see their state take the federal funds. Crist leads Scott in the latest polling.

And Republican Senate candidates Scott Brown of New Hampshire (it seems wrong not to write Massachusetts, Scott), Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Terri Lynn Land of Michigan have all refused to take a stand on Medicaid expansion, which might make them the biggest cowards of all.

In Louisiana, Democrats are trying to bypass Gov. Bobby Jindal and let state voters decide whether to accept $16 billion in expanded federal Medicaid funding, to cover 242,000 newly eligible Louisianans. The federal funding would create 15,600 new healthcare jobs, according to Families USA. Vulnerable Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu has been hitting Jindal hard on the issue, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune just called on the state Legislature to back the referendum notion, blaming Jindal’s presidential ambitions for his decision to turn down the funds. Even conservatives, the paper suggested (perhaps with a little sarcasm), ought to back an effort to give voters a say on the matter. What are they afraid of? Well, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, for one thing, which has promised to campaign against Republicans who support Medicaid expansion.

Still, we know what Democrats are afraid of, at least in red states. Martin’s piece laid out some of the math. There’s a huge racial divide: In a December New York Times/CBS News poll, 41 percent of white voters said the ACA would hurt them while only 17 percent said it would help; those numbers were essentially flipped among African-Americans. You’d think that might help Democrats in Georgia, where 30 percent of registered voters are black. But because black turnout tends to fall at least 5 points in midterm elections from the presidential-year level, Nunn and Carter are wary about embracing the ACA as a whole, not just Medicaid expansion.

But there’s that chicken-and-egg problem again: Maybe black voter turnout wouldn’t fall as much if white Democrats weren’t so wishy-washy about Obama’s signature achievement?

David Axelrod says one problem is that unlike Medicare and Social Security, the ACA “is viewed more as a social welfare program than a social insurance program, but that’s not right because it is social insurance.” Axelrod means well, but there are two problems with his analysis. First, opponents hit Medicare and Social Security as welfare programs, too, back when they were being debated, and neither was immediately popular; Democrats had to defend and expand them. Two, the actual “welfare” portion of the ACA, Medicaid expansion, is actually pretty popular, according to polling even in red states. In Virginia, where Gov. Terry McAuliffe is working hard for expansion, even 55 percent of Republicans back Medicaid expansion.

National Democrats, especially, need to stop equivocating about the benefits of the law. Republicans will try to “welfarize” it, to use Brian Beutler’s term; that’s what they do. Democrats who run away from it are letting Republicans define it, and they probably won’t get away from it, anyway.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, April 21, 2014

April 22, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, GOP, Medicaid Expansion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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