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“There Are Limits”: Yes, A Backlash To Conservative Extremism Is Possible

I think it’s safe to say that the single greatest source of frustration to progressives today is the relatively small price the Republican Party appears to be paying for the extremism that has gripped its ranks since (at least) 2009 (the second greatest source of frustration may be how Democrats have dealt with that phenomenon, but that’s a subject for another post). It seems that no matter what havoc the GOP has inflicted on the country before and during the administration of Barack Obama, the bulk of the blame will be assigned to the president and his party, rewarding the conservative wrecking crew for its irresponsibility.

But as Greg Sargent notes today, there are two places where Republican extremism is bearing surprisingly bitter fruit:

A new batch of NBC/Marist polls released over the weekend showed Democratic Senator Kay Hagan hanging on to a four point lead in North Carolina, while independent Greg Orman now leads incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts in Kansas by 10 points. The North Carolina finding is in sync with the average, while the Kansas one isn’t, though the Kansas average does show Orman leading.

It would have been awfully bold to predict six months ago that Republicans would be trailing in North Carolina and Kansas. But what’s notable here is that both these states are home to two of the nation’s leading experiments in conservative state-level governance.

Greg goes on to observe that Thom Tillis’ leadership role in what he himself proudly called a “conservative revolution” in state government is clearly an issue in the NC Senate campaign. And there’s little doubt that a revolt of moderate Republicans against KS Governor Sam Brownback has spilled over into the Senate race there, lifting independent Greg Orman into an otherwise inexplicable lead.

Suffice it to say it’s unusual for state-level politics to infect federal contests to this extent; usually it happens the other way around. But it should be a message to Republican pols, and to the right-wing oligarchs playing such a conspicuous role in these two states (the Koch Brothers in their native Kansas, and the most conspicuous Koch Lite, Art Pope, in NC) that there are limits to what they can inflict on subject populations.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Voter ID’s Last Stand”: Let’s Finally Declare Laws What They Are – Racist On Purpose

This week, the US Department of Justice and the state of Texas started arguments in the first of what will be a summer-long dance between the two authorities over voting rights. There are three suits being tried in two districts over gerrymandering and Texas’s voter identification law – both of which are said to be racially motivated. In its filing, the DoJ describes the law as “exceed[ing] the requirements imposed by any other state” at the time that it passed. If the DoJ can prove the arguments in its filing, it won’t just defeat an unjust law: it could put the fiction of “voter fraud” to rest once and for all.

These battles, plus parallel cases proceeding in North Carolina, hinge on proving that the states acted with explicitly exclusionary intent toward minority voters – a higher standard was necessary prior to the Supreme Court’s gutting of Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) back in January. Under Section 3, the DoJ had wide latitude to look at possible consequences of voting regulation before they were even passed – the “preclearance” provision. Ironically, because the states held to preclearance had histories of racial discrimination, some of the messier aspects of the laws’ current intentions escaped comment.

But meeting that higher standard of explicit exclusionary intent comes with the opportunity to show some of the many skeptical Americans the ugly racism behind Republican appeals to “fairness” and warnings about fraud. Progressives have tried, and mostly failed, to show the institutional racism underpinning the sordid history behind voter ID laws; that may have been too subtle. In courts in Texas and North Carolina, the DoJ will make the jump from accusations that laws have a racial impact to straight-up calling voter ID laws racist.

This ought to be interesting.

The DoJ filing in Texas lays it all out pretty clearly, putting the voter ID law in context of a concerted legislative strategy to deny representation to the state’s growing Hispanic population, including Republicans advancing more and more aggressive voter ID bills over the years. The filing points to the anti-immigrant rhetoric that laced the floor debates over the law, and to the measures taken by the Republican-controlled state house to limit the participation of Democratic minority lawmakers in considering or amending the legislation (the bill was heard in front of a special committee selected by the governor, on an expedited schedule). And, the DoJ notes, lawmakers produced “virtually no evidence during or after enactment of SB 14 that in-person voter impersonation – the only form of election fraud addressed by the identification requirements of SB 14 – was a serious problem.”

Perhaps the most significant piece of context in the voter ID suit is how Texas’s voter ID law came on the heels of the redistricting that the DoJ claims was also racially motivated. In the redistricting cases, DoJ’s allegations of malicious intent have been helped along by the admission of the state that it had malicious political intent. The Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, chose as his defense in that case what only can be called the Lesser Evil Strategy – stating up front that the state’s GOP legislators had ulterior motives, but not the ones that the VRA outlaws:

[R]edistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats … [They] were motivated by partisan rather than racial considerations and the plaintiffs and DOJ have zero evidence to prove the contrary.

Abbott’s smugness – and his apparent faith in partisanship as a permissible and distinct form of discrimination – will take center stage as the DoJ presses on with both suits. In court, Abbott will be asked to prove his ignorance of demographics for the very state in which he is currently running for governor. Out of court, other GOP defenders of the law will have to do more or less the same. And they will need to defend the outrageous details of the law – such has how a concealed carry permit is a permissible form of voter ID but a federally-issued Medicare card carried by an elderly woman is not.

Some people of Texas may support the kind of bullying Abbott has prepared to defend, and most progressive activists are hardened to it, but I think average Americans hate it. Putting malice under a national spotlight might be the best way to turn people against voter ID laws in general.

Right now, Americans support the idea of voter ID laws by huge margins: polls show favorable attitudes toward a generic “ID requirement” to be between 70 and 80%. Approval exists across all demographic groups – even among black voters (51%), one of the groups that is, of course, disproportionately disenfranchised by these laws.

But the reasons that the public supports such laws aren’t the same as the GOP’s reasons for pursuing them: Republicans want to prevent specific types of people from voting; the American public wants voting to be fair. That’s why conservatives have had to hammer so hard on the false narrative of “voter fraud” – to convince everyone that it’s what the laws are really about.

Add context to the “ID requirement” poll question that Americans get behind, though, and public support changes dramatically. A survey in North Carolina (taken as the state was considering taking up an amendment on the issue) found initial support for voter ID to be 71%. Pollsters then drilled further down and came up with numbers that speak to a truly democratic impulse:

  • 72% say it’s wrong to pass laws that make it harder for certain people to vote.
  • 62% say they oppose a law that makes it harder for people of one party to vote.
  • 74% say there should be demonstrated problems before legislators apply a fix.

If nothing else, these results suggests that Abbott’s argument that supposedly party-based redistricting isn’t the free pass – at least, from the public’s standpoint, if not the court’s – that he thinks it is.

In North Carolina, pollsters found that support for the law decreased as the 2012 election neared and voters started to pay attention and become educated on the issue. Voting rights advocates filled yet another suit based on disenfranchising young voters, which could make a further difference. (Way to keep pissing off millennials, GOP!)

That context effect is true nationwide. A different survey found that informing respondents that “Opponents of voters ID laws argue they can actually prevent people who are eligible to vote from voting” brought support for voter ID down by 12 points.

Pollsters have not publicly investigated whether Texan voters would show a similar shift, though it could be significant that support in the state for voter ID has remained at around 66% for the past two years, less than its support nationwide. Of course, 77% of Texas believe “voter ID laws are mainly used to prevent fraud,” an alternate-reality bubble that attention to these cases may just yet pop.

It’s the Department of Justice that’ll have to bring this to pass. The GOP has always easily waved away “systemic” racism charges, like those made under the non-gutted VRA, as either outright inventions or the result of looking for equal outcomes rather than equal opportunities. Making clear the racist intent of voter ID laws will bring the discussion back to where it belongs: on equal opportunities, in the voting booth.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian, July 16, 2014

July 17, 2014 Posted by | Racism, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Really Stepping Into It”: When ‘Traditional’ Apparently Means ‘White’

North Carolina State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) fairly easily won his party’s U.S. Senate nomination this year, after presenting himself as the most electable center-right candidate to take on Sen. Kay Hagan (D) in November.

He may have oversold his electoral qualities a bit.

We learned a month ago about remarks, first aired by msnbc’s Chris Matthews, in which Tillis argued in 2011, “What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance.” The Republican lawmaker described a vision in which policymakers pit those in need against one another, in order to cut off benefits for those on the losing end of the fight.

This morning, TPM reports on another striking quote from Tillis’ recent past.

State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC), the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in North Carolina, said that the “traditional” voting bloc of his home state wasn’t growing like minority populations in an interview he did in 2012.

In context, the host of the Carolina Business Review television program asked why the Republican Party was struggling with minority voters, most notably Hispanics. Tillis responded that he believes the GOP’s message is “appealing to everybody.” As for his party’s demographic challenges, he added, “The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It’s not growing. The African-American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers.”

It sounded an awful lot like Tillis sees the “traditional population” as the white population.

The Republican’s campaign manager said this morning that Tillis was referring to “North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations” when he used the word “traditional.”

That’s one way of looking at it. But the words themselves are hard to ignore.

Tillis wasn’t talking about migration or new populations that have recently arrived in North Carolina. Rather, he described three demographic groups by name: the African-American population, the Hispanic population, and the “traditional population.”

NBC News’ First Read added, “It appears North Carolina GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis stepped into it,” which seems more than fair under the circumstances.

Tillis was already likely to struggle with minority-voter outreach, especially given his support for some of the nation’s harshest voting restrictions. It’s safe to say his “traditional population” comment won’t help.

The next question, of course, is whether remarks like these also alienate a broader voting base.  In 2006, for example, then-Sen. George Allen’s (R-Va.) “macaca” comments were offensive not just to minority voters, but also to anyone concerned with racism. It’s not hard to imagine Tillis running into a similar problem, alienating anyone uncomfortable with the notion of white people being some kind of “traditional” default.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 17, 2014

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“So What’s The Point?”: Mandatory ID ‘Isn’t Just For Voting Anymore’

As part of a broader voter-suppression campaign, Republican policymakers in many states now require voters to show a photo ID in order to cast an election ballot. This step, ostensibly intended to combat voter fraud that doesn’t exist, is a hurdle that’s never been necessary before, and which studies show disproportionately affect Democratic constituencies. There’s ample evidence of registered voters already being blocked from voting because of these measures.

But as my msnbc colleague Zack Roth reports, “For Republicans, requiring photo ID isn’t just for voting anymore.” It’s now being applied to recipients of government benefits.

North Carolina’s GOP-controlled legislature – which last year passed a voter ID requirement as part of the nation’s most restrictive voting law – advanced a bill Thursday that would make recipients of jobless benefits also show a photo ID. It’s expected to pass next week. […]

Other Republican-led states are even moving to require photo ID to buy food. Starting in July, welfare and food stamp recipients in Maine will have to show photo ID, under a program pushed by far-right Republican governor Paul LePage. He said transactions records show food stamp cards were used thousands of times at strip clubs, smoke shops, and bars, which isn’t allowed. Georgia recently passed a similar requirement for food stamp recipients.

Given all of these efforts, one might assume that fraud is rampant and that ID requirements would save money while preventing illegal schemes.

Except, that’s not quite right.

As Zack’s report made clear, fraud does exist when it comes to the distribution of government benefits, but most of the wrongdoing is the result of “concealed-earnings fraud,” which refers to people who have financial resources they mask in order to remain eligible for benefits, cheating the system.

How would forcing these people to show ID prevent this fraud? It wouldn’t.

For that matter, because food-stamp benefits are distributed by way of Electronic Benefits Transfer cards through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, ID requirements wouldn’t reduce fraud here, either.

So what’s the point? Proponents will have to answer these questions themselves, though Zack’s report added a key detail:  ”Studies suggest around 11% of Americans – including one in four African-Americans – don’t have a photo ID. Among those who receive government benefits, that number is almost certainly higher.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 10, 2014

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From Farsightedness To A Laughingstock”: There Are No Mainstream Republicans Left In North Carolina

The national Republican Party is exulting that the “establishment” won in North Carolina’s Senate primary yesterday. That’s only because they have redefined the term “Republican establishment” to include adamant adherents of a far-right ideology.

In yesterday’s voting, state House Speaker Thom Tillis won the right to face Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat, in November. He beat a series of fringe candidates like Greg Brannon, who believes food stamps are a form of slavery and wants to save the poor by abolishing the Department of Agriculture. But in fact Mr. Tillis is a far more dangerous candidate than Mr. Brannon and the other Tea Partiers. While he generally refrains from nutty soundbites (though not always), he has been quite effective as the point man in the state party’s anti-government project.

As speaker, Mr. Tillis has helped preside over what our editorial last year called “the decline of North Carolina.” State government, we wrote, “has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot.”

Mr. Tillis cut federal employment benefits, and refused to pay back what the state owed Washington, leading North Carolina to become the only state at the time to lose long-term benefits. He cut back on education spending, prompting many talented teachers to leave the state, and repealed the Racial Justice Act, which gave death-row inmates a shot at proving they were victims of discrimination. He allowed new restrictions on abortion, blocked the expansion of Medicaid and rewrote the tax code for the benefit of the rich. He and his colleagues imposed also one of the most restrictive voter ID requirements in the nation, intended to keep Democratic voters, including minorities and the poor, away from the polls.

In February, a state judge blocked a program passed by the legislature to spend $10 million on school vouchers, allowing taxpayer money to go to private and religious schools. But Mr. Tillis and his counterpart in the state Senate tried to implement the program over the judge’s ruling. That led the editorial writers of the Raleigh News and Observer to say last month:

“It really is time to stop calling those who run the N.C. General Assembly conservatives. They are not conservative. They are reckless.”

On top of his actions, Mr. Tillis has made his own share of outrageous comments, suggesting in a 2011 video that Republicans need to get the truly needy to turn against those who are soaking government assistance programs.

“What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance,” he says in the video. “We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice, in her condition, that needs help and that we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government and say at some point, ‘You’re on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you.’ And we’ve got to start having that serious discussion.”

The right-wing project led by Mr. Tillis, which turned a state with a reputation for farsightedness into a laughingstock, has infuriated many North Carolinians, leading to regular protests at the state Capitol. Ms. Hagan will have a great deal of material to use against her opponent in the coming campaign, if she can scale the wall of unlimited money that he and his wealthy supporters around the country are about to construct.

 

By: David Firestone, Editors Blog, The New York Times, May 7, 2014

May 8, 2014 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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