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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

“Tea Party vs Establishment”: Who Won The GOP Beauty Pageant In Georgia?

You’ve probably heard that the GOP establishment won big in Tuesday’s Republican primaries, with Tea Party favorites losing out to candidates backed by business groups. Take Georgia, for example, where an 11-term congressman and a businessman worth at least $12 million will now embark on a nine-week runoff, while the two nuttiest candidates were easily weeded out, having secured less than 10 percent of the vote apiece.

What the establishment “won” in Georgia is a future nominee that will be easier to sell to voters in the general race against Michelle Nunn, the Democratic pick. The GOP’s first place finisher, David Perdue, is a telegenic management consultant and a former executive at Dollar General Reebok. He rose to the top of the heap via a campaign ad that depicted his opponents as crying babies. “Help me change the childish behavior up there,” Perdue said, while onscreen squalling infants crawled across on the grass in front of the Capitol. His opponent in the runoff will be Jack Kingston, a political veteran with support from the Chamber of Commerce and conservative figureheads like Sean Hannity.

What happened last night in Georgia was a beauty pageant, not a contest of meaningful political distinctions. Degrees of polish aside, there were few substantive differences between the establishment and the Tea Party candidates. Perdue sold himself as “the outsider” and a “hard-core conservative.” He doubts climate science, opposes gay marriage, wants to get rid of Obamacare, and has called raising the minimum wage “backward thinking.” He’s promised to oppose Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader. Herman Cain, the Tea Party choice in the 2012 presidential primary, said on his radio show that Perdue “looks like a mirror image of Herman Cain.”

Though his deep ties to Washington are fodder for attacks, Kingston is no moderate. He suggested that children should sweep floors in exchange for school lunch meals. He ran an ad—set it in some alternate America plastered in Help Wanted signs—bashing welfare recipients for “choosing a handout rather than a hand up.” He talked up his support for the Fair Tax, a regressive national sales tax scheme. He pledged never to stop fighting Obamacare. He’d like to repeal Dodd-Frank. He has a staunch conservative record in the House, voting for things like a “fetal pain” bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks.

One thing that did distinguish Kingston and Perdue from their competitors was the amount of money behind them. Perdue used more than $2 million of his own money ahead of the primary, and has said he doesn’t know if there’s a limit to how deep he’ll reach into his own funds. Kingston attracted the most outside funding, with the Chamber of Commerce spending some $1 million in ads to support him.

So who lost in Georgia? It wasn’t the Tea Party, which succeeded in turning the contest in Georgia—and many others across the country—into a race to the right. If the terms Tea Party and establishment mean anything now as features of a candidate, they are distinctions in marketability, financing, and rhetoric, not of ideology. As Matt Kibbe, president of the Tea Party group FreedomWorks, told The Washington Post, “Everybody is running against Obamacare and against overspending in Washington. It wasn’t always like that with the Republican establishment. I don’t even recognize [Kentucky Senator Mitch] McConnell from where he was a few years ago.” The establishment candidates beat the wingnuts by showing up at the same party, but in better suits.

In Georgia, it was the voters who lost. Turnout was anemic, down by tens of thousands from 2010 even among Republicans. The choices before them were narrow, the airwaves full of attack ads. Most of the money spent by outside groups—upwards of $4.6 million—went to advertising, dwarfing direct campaign contributions by a nearly four to one ratio. Now Georgians will get another nine-week dose of the same, as Kingston and Perdue duke it out.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, May 21, 2014

May 21, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , , | 1 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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